Take many risks, but be conservative in spending funding. That’s the advice that I would not only give to myself, but to today’s budding entrepreneurs.
Vinod Gupta is the perfect embodiment of the self-made success story. Born in India in 1946, the businessman and entrepreneur turned a $100 bank loan into a company that eventually sold for $680 million. Recognizing a gap within the business-to-business marketing information niche, Gupta’s list-compiling company InfoUSA took off steadily. In his former role as the CEO of the company, which later became known as InfoGROUP, Gupta acquired several companies, eventually creating a juggernaut within the field of information technology. Currently, Gupta’s investment firm, Everest Group, provides venture capital for database technology startups, and acquires struggling businesses, with the focus of utilizing information technology to foster success.
Vinod takes great pride in providing employment opportunities for underserved populations, and has been touted by former President Bill Clinton for his inclusive hiring practices. He devotes extensive resources throughout his varied charitable organizations, including the funding of several schools in India.
Where did the idea for InfoGROUP and Everest Group come from?
Upon graduating from the University of Nebraska, I was employed by Commodore Corporation, a local company that manufactured mobile homes. Within the role of Marketing Research Analyst, I was given the task of compiling a thorough list of mobile home dealers within the US. When I realized that such a list didn’t exist, I recognized the time-saving benefits for businesses that would utilize such expansive lists. Thus, I set out to create this database on my own, and invested in creating direct mail marketing to target businesses that would benefit from this list. Very quickly, I received a large amount of orders for this compiled list, and recognized the demand for business-to-business information. American Business Information was born from that.
After many years in the business, InfoGROUP began acquiring other companies, and I garnered experience in the world of utilizing the methods that I have developed, implemented, and perfect in previous years in order to yield success for these struggling companies. Naturally, Everest Group came from those years of operational experience, and was formed as a means to continue to delve into the niche realm of database technology, on a broad and globalized scale.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Now, I tend to spend more time on long-term planning, and building upon the longevity of the company, rather than investing time in day-to-day operations. I find that long-term goals are extremely important in maintaining the success of a company, and attempt to focus more on the future, rather than smaller tasks on the operational side. I found myself to be much more productive, and able to devote ample energy to long-term planning, after implementing a trustworthy core team that I trust to handle day-to-day operations. Everest Group is acquiring companies at a steady pace within the realm of digital printing, background checks, operations platforms, and other niche fields of information technology. In order for me to devote the time needed to successfully work with those companies, and bring them success, I have to be able to trust that the operations are running smoothly without my direct hands-on involvement in operations.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When considering new technologies, products, and ideas, I find market testing to be integral. I believe that limiting field testing is a mistake that many entrepreneurs make, especially when they are overconfident in their idea, product, or service. They may have a great idea, but unless there is a true market need for their idea, it will quickly become obsolete.
What’s one trend that excites you?
With the growth of artificial intelligence, we will be using our database for decision making, in a much more streamlined and automated manner. This, of course, will open up a bigger market for us within location-based applications, which are only made possible by the growing technology behind them.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
As technology evolved, I consider the idea of expanding the need for the databases already in existence, and try to ponder how many ways our products can be used, increasing the productivity, usability, and longevity of the products we already utilize.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take many risks, but be conservative in spending funding. That’s the advice that I would not only give to myself, but to today’s budding entrepreneurs. Knowing what I know now, I would have certainly done a few things differently. On the other hand, however, the experiences that I have faced have taught me many lessons, and have shaped my business savvy.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
When I started out composing databases, people used to tell me that I was going to go broke, that I was wrong, and that nobody was interested in purchasing my product. However, my gut told me that there was a need for the product that I was creating, and I persevered. Upon conducting an internal cost-benefit analysis, I decided to move forward, though no one agreed with me in regard to this idea.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The previously mentioned cost-benefit analysis is crucial toward keeping tabs on investments. I tend to be fairly cautious, and if I know I am investing a substantial amount of money into a particular venture, my threshold for risk will be much different than if the investment was less sizable. I recommend this practice for all entrepreneurs, investors, and individuals within the business world.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We have utilized technology to open new markets that are available to us. In today’s globalized economy, there are more opportunities for various applications, websites, and models to utilize our products. For example, as people plug their location into Google, they want to know where the closest bars are located, or where to drop off their dry cleaning, all of which are automated processes that did not exist previously. Thus, one of our strategies is to leverage the evolving and expansively growing nature of technology to open new doors for our businesses.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Though no one likes to admit failure, I have certainly experienced setbacks within my career. However, I wouldn’t discount these experiences as total losses, as they have all provided me with valuable lessons, insight, and the desire to succeed in the future. In a few previous cases, I have overpaid for the companies that I have acquired. Additionally, in a few cases, we did not retain existing management teams after a company’s acquisition, which resulted in losses, or perhaps did not invest enough resources into bringing a company up-to-date for the purpose of increasing their success. As a result of these mistakes, I’ve certainly learned to develop a more concise valuation of companies, and to keep existing management that is already successful within their respective roles.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Since there are drone simulators currently available, I have always wondered why there weren’t driving simulators made available to the general public! There is a huge hole within this niche industry of driving instruction, and the product would resolve many current issues. On a state level, having a digital driving simulator would allow driver testing centers to eliminate the need for a physical testing course. In turn, this would allow more driver testing centers to operate within urban areas, where space is somewhat more limited. With the common availability of these simulators, laws could also be implemented that would require drivers who need to renew their license to have to pass a driving simulator examination, further proving their ongoing good driving habits every 5 years. Finally, within the educational sector, these simulators would provide larger schools with the resources needed to tackle many new drivers, without the liability of taking students out on the open road.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I don’t know about the best $100 that I’ve spent, but the best $3-$4 I spend daily is on the Wall Street Journal, and local newspaper. I deliberately spend about an hour daily reading the newspapers, garnering insight about world trends, and developing a continued understanding of business. Additionally, taking this time to focus solely on reading is relaxing, and rejuvenating on a personal level.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
We use hundreds of different software programs professionally to keep us on track, whether we recognize it or not. Digital platforms, social media platforms, and web based marketing services aide in productivity, as they allow a company’s message to be received by a broad audience almost immediately. However, I have found these items to also be more easily discarded. Thus, our company does also utilize direct mailing services, and physical collateral.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t believe this book remains in print, but one of the most profound books that I have read is entitled “Managing“, written by Harry Geneen, the man essentially responsible for putting together ITT. I’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons from the book that I have been able to successfully implement within my own professional scope.
What is your favorite quote?
Within the book I previously mentioned, Geneed writes to “take focus on the business, and if you are a businessman, don’t try to be a social activist”. I have found this to be humbling, and entirely true. Business leaders aren’t necessarily equipped for political endeavors, or social leadership. Additionally, taking so much focus away from one’s business goals is a surefire way to diminish success.
- Look for opportunities to expand your market, audience, and scope of influence within the changing world of technology. With convenience, automation, and streamlined processes being the driving force for today’s personal technology, the market’s needs will continue to grow in sync with these AI advancements.
- Rewarding integral team members for their hard work, loyalty, and role in the success of the business is crucial toward maintaining motivated core teams that can be trusted to run an operation smoothly, passionately, and efficiently.
- Distressed assets can become successful ventures by cutting costs, streamlining processes, investing in customer service, developing sales processes, and utilizing new technology.
- Maintaining a brand’s identity is important, even when tarnished. Brand recognition is integral, and will yield a higher reward for the company once discovered shortcomings are resolved, rather than redeveloping a brand’s identity.
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