Shane started as a solo entrepreneur and built two companies, bootstrapped both, and found successful exits for each.
Read on for more on his journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background did you have?
Shane Neman: I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My parents were immigrants from Iran in the late ’70s. They came during the Iranian revolution. My father was an architect and my mother was an English teacher. They were living a nice life there until their life was turned upside down. They escaped as refugees with nothing and came to America. They came to New York where I was born thereafter.
I grew up in New York, mostly in Queens and Long Island. After that, I went to NYU for my undergrad studies. I was pre-med so I did the entire pre-med track. Pre-med is just a track; it’s not a major.
I decided to major in computer science. That was in the mid-90s. This was mainly because of having a backup plan of not getting into med school. I was asking myself what I was going to do then and where I was going to go.
At that time, being a computer science major was not a typical thing to do. Even at NYU, the curriculum wasn’t so mature. Most of the electives that I had to take were graduate-level classes, because they didn’t have a robust program at that point.
I studied that and I spent a good part of my college career working. I was a senior-level type developer. The beginning of the dotcom boom was happening around this time. I got a taste of that life and that experience. I spent time working there getting paid a lot of money for a 22-year-old. I was working as a programmer working on pretty interesting projects, but then I went to med school after that.
I went to NYU med and let’s say within the first three months, I got recruited out of that. I made a decision to leave and go join another startup as a senior developer even though being a doctor had been what I thought would be my career course or dream.
I think my passion changed later on and I realized that software and tech were my main passion. It was a hard pill to swallow because the path to get into medical school is a difficult, time-consuming, and emotionally draining one. To give all of that was a difficult decision.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you make this decision?
Shane Neman: That was in 1999. That was during the heyday of the dot com boom.
Sramana Mitra: Soon after that the market crashes.
Shane Neman: The market mostly crashed in 2001.
Sramana Mitra: It was crashing already in 2000.
Shane Neman: It didn’t hit rock bottom until a little bit later than that but yes. In 1999, I left med school and I went to work for a startup. I was doing software development as a senior developer at a startup. These were former publishing guys who were trying to make an online publishing platform. This is more commonly known as a blogging platform now. The word blog just didn’t exist then.
Sramana Mitra: I was one of the early technology bloggers. Omalik, if you remember, was one of the pioneers of the technology industry blogging. He is the one that got me into blogging in 2005.
Shane Neman: We were way too early for it because the word blog never really came up at that time. Typepad was the first major platform to get traction as a blogging platform. We essentially a blogging platform with subscription and all the other things that take for granted right now. We built the product.
What happened to me during that time is a little while into that. My roommate at that time was working at Goldman Sachs. I was living in Manhattan with him. He was in the heart of the technology boom and the stock trades that were going on. He brought my attention to Citrix Technology at that time.
Citrix was pretty new. Their remote desktop feature was new at that time. What they had done was they delivered a way for you to deliver a desktop remotely but also you can just do a specific app. You could use your Excel, QuickBooks, or any Window based application.
It looks like it is natively running on your computer but it is just a remote desktop where it is running on a server somewhere on the cloud when there was no word for the cloud then. No one used the term cloud.
My roommate and I decided to quit our job. I would be the CTO and he would be the finance and the business guy. During that crazy time, we went and raised a few million dollars from people who thought it was a smart idea to give that money to 22-year-olds who have never done anything like this before.
That was how it was back then. We did it. We built a company called Offyx which was an online portal for small to medium businesses. It was an app store. You could go in and you could pick which apps you wanted. At that time there was no word for SaaS either. They called them ASP.
We were considered as ASP. Even the licensing schemes for doing these things were very new. It was essentially Microsoft 365. No one was thinking about recurring revenue models and that kind of stuff. MRR wasn’t a term that people used. No one really understood how to value these things. It was very new.
We called it utilizing computing. That is how we would sell it to our customers. We would say, “Just like how you would pay your utility bill for your electricity and water, you should just be getting your computing and software and just pay a monthly fee for it. It is the most up-to-date.”
We built this AppStore dropbox where we hosted your files. It was an all-in-one portal for small to medium-sized businesses to get their apps from. In the portal, they would click on the Excel icon and it would launch Excel through Citrix technology on their desktop. It wasn’t running on their computer, it was running on our servers. Their files were being stored on our servers as well.
The whole pull was that you could work anywhere, access your apps from anywhere, and from any computer. Needless to say, we became a victim of several factors. We built a viable product. We had some early adopter customers but we were too early to get scale.
I don’t think that the general business environment was open to paying for things monthly. The dot com bubble burst so everybody in tech faded away. The money dried up. The investors didn’t keep the commitments that they made to us so we didn’t get the rest of the money.
Ultimately, we were too early for this type of technology. I had put in all the money that I had saved. My partner did the same. I was completely broke, I could not pay my rate broke. I had to move in with my girlfriend in Manhattan at that time.
Just getting a job as a computer programmer was not even happening at that time because the dot com bubble had just burst and the demand for developers if you can imagine was not there. 911 happened at that time as well. A lot of things converged during that time especially in New York that was pretty dark.
Sramana Mitra: Can you pinpoint the exact time for me?
Shane Neman: This was in 2001. It was 2000 when I started and then it was mid-2001 when it all fell apart.