Madhan Kanagavel is Founder and CEO of CodeLathe Technologies, a privately-held software company headquartered in Austin, Texas. Over the last 15 years, Madhan has worked on diverse systems and technology, including building highly scalable MMORPG game server technology, high speed real-time video acquisition systems, digital video engagement solutions, and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He is an open source enthusiast, and holds a Master’s of Science in Engineering from Boston University.
Where did the idea for FileCloud come from?
We started with Tonido, a personal cloud software for consumers which made their desktop the center of their digital universe. You could store and access files easily, stream music and videos, and share with others without uploading files to a third party service or the public cloud. This was useful to a great many people as well as NAS and router companies who licensed our software. But it still didn’t perform well in terms of revenues. During this time, many small companies approached us looking for a solution to their problems around quickly sharing content without using the public cloud. We leveraged the technologies from Tonido and FileCloud was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts by scanning my inbox for any fires or critical issues that I need to handle right away. If there are none, I start off early with a daily status call with our engineering team as well as our customer support team where we discuss newly reported issues from customers and any other pending problems. We also discuss how these requests affect our product and how we can address them through new features in our next release.
The afternoon is when I work on replying to longer emails that require a timely response. After that, I work on product ideas, improvements to architecture etc., until the end of the day and again for a few more hours after dinner. I find that turning off all incoming notifications from email, chat and mobile helps me avoid distractions and allows me focus on one thing at a time.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas are fragile and can come to life from many different directions—from immersion in work, customer conversations, bug reports—and so on. Once an idea arrives, I usually write it down somewhere and in the next possible opportunity I bring it up for discussion with the team. We try to poke holes in it, and if it looks good, we start creating a detailed implementation plan and schedule the update for a release.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The marriage of robotics and AI is unlocking and automating many tasks that were previously only possible in the realm of the imagination.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I work to maintain Inbox Zero. My email inbox functions as my action list. All the other clutter is deleted, archived or quickly replied to. I only keep emails that I need to track even after replying so my inbox is easy to manage.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
There were no horrible jobs but several bad experiences. One time I had a manager that maintained a strict policy that you had to be at your desk for eight hours every day, no matter what. I left that company to found CodeLathe where we don’t worry much about completing a 40-hour work week but care more if things are getting done.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Mistakes have been essential to getting us where we are today. Without the journey, our results would be far less meaningful. If there is one single thing that I wish I had realized earlier, it is that a business is not purely about technology but more about a business model.
The other important thing I realized was that failure is not eternal and neither is success. So many people go around life avoiding failure, which is a surefire way to avoid success.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Perspective. It is important to look at things from many different viewpoints until you can really gather what a thing really is, until you really grasp what the essence is. Being too close, too emotionally attached or narrow-minded can make it harder to really see what is in front of you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The one thing that has helped grow our business is a fanatical focus on customer support. For us, great customer focus means quick, accurate help that allows our customers to succeed. To do this we have developers and engineers join customer support calls so that we can discuss issues holistically as a team. We make sure to work with good fit customers and are able to customize our solutions. Additionally, we don’t distinguish when a customer is just trying out our software, or whether they are a mega-corporation or a small business. We treat them all with the same priority and importance.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One major failure was in coming from a technology background, I thought that technology was the answer for every problem instead of understanding the capabilities of a larger business model. Shifting perspectives on this made a huge difference.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Entrepreneurs still struggle with non-essential stuff every day as they grow their business. There are a variety of resources like QuickBooks online, tax preparation software and so on but there is a lack of structure that can help people learn how to organize and manage a business. I think that a service or course doing just that would be incredibly useful.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The Amazon Echo Dot has been phenomenal. It reminds me of things, starts quick timers, adds items to my grocery list, plays the radio as well a bunch of many things I don’t know about. Every entrepreneur should have one on their desk to keep them organized. It’s perhaps the best $50 you can spend.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
There are many services that make my job easier. Our company uses Skype and of course, we use FileCloud for company-wide file sharing. We also use services like GrassHopper, Join.me, WordPress, YouTrack and Discourse. These offerings make it effortless to collaborate and work on materials, even when our team spans five continents.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The One Thing” by Gary Keller was a good read and teaches the value of a laser sharp focus.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Inspiration comes in many forms and it is hard to pinpoint a few things as definitive. But a few important influencers are Ayn Rand, Joel Spolsky, Guy Kawasaki, Paul Graham, Marie Kondo and Barack Obama.
- So many people go around life avoiding failure, which is a surefire way to avoid success.
- The one thing that has helped grow our business is a fanatical focus on customer support.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.