Although we see Vinod Gupta for his entrepreneurial success and relationships with prominent figures like Warren Buffett and the Clintons, he truly comes from humble beginnings and hard work.
Born and raised in the small Indian village of Rampur Manhyaran, one-hundred miles north of New Delhi, Vin spent his childhood without electricity or running water. But that didn’t stop him from studying in the village school and earning admission to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in 1962, where he later graduated with a Bachelor of Technology degree.
With $58 in his pocket, he left for the United States and settled in the plains of Lincoln, Nebraska, where he became a dual Master’s candidate at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, studying engineering and business management.
Earning his Master of Science in Engineering in 1969 and Master of Business Administration in 1971, Vin soon launched his career as a Marketing Research Manager in Omaha and quickly recognized the importance of information and database management. With a borrowed $100, he ordered all the yellow pages in nation, compiled and categorized them entirely, and started his first company, American Business Information, which went IPO in 1993 and was valued at $650 million by 1997.
Since then, Vin has sold the company and ran many others. His most recent endeavor, Infofree.com, is a return to his entrepreneurial roots with the goal to help small businesses build their marketing efforts, obtain quality information, and find new prospects grow their sales.
Where did the idea for Infofree.com come from?
In my previous life, I was the founder of a database company, which I started in 1972. I started the company from scratch, built it up, and then sold it. Infofree is an extension of my previous life and an answer to the question of “how to help small businesses or salespeople grow their sales.”
Infofree helps them find new customers, analyze their customer base, and get more prospects. It’s a pretty simple solution and the software we have, even somebody’s grandmother can use it. It’s that simple. So, if you’re an insurance agent looking to sell to people turning 65, you’re able to find all of the prospects for any zip code, any city, any county.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I own several businesses and every day I keep a watch on those businesses. I get daily reports from the managers as to how they’re doing, any problems, and on their sales. And then I help them with marketing and advertising. What we preach at Infofree.com – how to get new customers – I put into practice in my businesses. This means making sure our existing customers are happy, finding out and correcting what we did wrong to get lost customers back, and searching for new customers to enhance our customer base.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When there is an idea, I explore it with my management team to see what they think. A lot of times we have bad ideas that get shot down immediately. But, for every idea we have, we talk about it. If we come to a consensus, even if it’s a crazy idea, we’ll try it. Next comes figuring out how to implement it, putting it into practice, and figuring out if it’s working through our feedback system. Nine times out of ten, the idea fails and that’s fine. Failure is good, it’s a part of learning. You only need that one idea to work to be successful.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The whole e-commerce scene is growing so fast and it’s making people more productive and that’s exciting. Electric and self-driving vehicles are also something that fascinates me. There’s just so much happening in the world today, it’s amazing.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Reading. Every day I spend two hours reading, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal, the local paper, or the New York Times. I get a lot of ideas just from reading. It allows me to learn about what’s new and happening around the world, which I can then take and use in both my personal life and business life.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn, learn, learn. Education is so important and it never stops. The more you learn, the better off you are.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe integrity needs to be placed higher on the list priorities for businesses. Although it is something that’s typically “agreed on,” it is not always something that is practiced in business and doesn’t carry as much weight as it should. There is too much focus on the end result and not enough on how you get there.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Always listen to the customers. By listening the customers, you can not only learn what makes you successful but also what is holding you back. Putting that into practice will bring success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Always follow through on the execution of an idea. Most people have ideas but don’t know how to execute them or they give up too early. I believe that execution is important and you need to make sure that you communicate with your team members and employees. Don’t hide from them but bring the team along with you in execution and if it fails, don’t criticize them. Always take the blame for failure but with success, always praise and give credit to your team.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Oh, I’ve had a lot of failures. One that sticks out is when I was importing products from India in the ‘70s and everything got stuck at customs due to circumstances outside of my control. This led to me going in debt. So, that was my first major failure. What I learned was to never give up. You can always get up and try again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s a big need for driving simulators for driving schools and testing. Flight simulators are common but when you’re starting to learn how to drive, they put you in a car and that can be dangerous. There could be a big demand for that with motor vehicle driver testing all over the world.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just bought some fresh fruits in Maui. They’re delicious and healthy. It’s important to remember the little things we enjoy. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, your health, and your happiness.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I would say email. It makes us so productive but we take it for granted. In the old days, we had to coordinate and make multiple phone calls and that could take a long time but now you can just write one very clear message, copy ten people anywhere in the world, and email it to them. It makes us so much more productive and interconnected.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One book I read many years ago was titled Managing by Harold Geneen, the former CEO of ITT (International Telephone & Telegraph). I think from a business perspective, that’s one of the best books for business owners or CEOs. It has a lot of great content and helped me along my journey.
What is your favorite quote?
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi
- Always admit to your mistakes
- Always be honest and maintain integrity; it will always pay off
- Listen to your customers, whether it’s positive or negative
- Practice what you preach
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.