Calcuttaweb: Are you from Calcutta ?
Gautam: I spent my childhood in Calcutta. Then my parents moved to Kanpur. I did my schooling at Ramakrishna Mission at Kanpur. After that I went to BITS, Pilani and did engineering graduation from there. Then I came to USA to do Masters in Electronics at Polytechnic Institute of NY at Brooklyn. Then I joined ITT and met Dr. Santanu Das there. He was like my mentor. I moved to California and started a company named Mayan Networks in 1997. At the end of 1998 I left Mayan. Basically I hired a CEO and left the charge with him. Then I joined a public company where I met Rajan who is my co-founder in Accordion. Rajan choose the name Accordion. It is a musical instruments with many tubes and the idea is that our product will be also versatile like that.
Calcuttaweb: When did Accordion Networks start ?
Gautam: Accoridon started around end of August 1999. Almost two years.
Calcuttaweb: The idea of Accordion came up in a restaurant.
Gautam: Yes, one day we went for lunch in a restaurant nearby. We saw one accordion hanging on the wall. Below was written – “in case of fire save the accordion” ( before saving the restaurant ). We liked that idea and picked up the name to be Accordion.
Calcuttaweb: What is your product, what does it do exactly ?
Gautam: There are small to medium businesses all over the country. Their set up needs voice, telephone, wireless, internet access, data and video in some instances etc. Our product will allow to have one channel or pipe to get all of these services. Our customers are service providers.
Calcuttaweb: So, let us see. Suppose a business has phone service from one provider, high speed internet access from another and some other services from other providers. You provide a platform to combine all of them. What about billing ?
Gautam: We provide a set up for billing so that the service providers can easily bill their portion of charges. Our direct customers are service providers, mostly Telecommunications service providers
Calcuttaweb: How long did it take for you to come up with a product like this ?
Gautam: Around 2 years.
Calcuttaweb: Are there similar competitive products available in the market ?
Gautam: So far we haven’t heard of any . But there may be some other start up company doing same thing.
Calcuttaweb: Recently you received one round of big funding from Intel. How did you approach them ?
Gautam: We are backed by a very well connected group of investors. One group from them introduced me to Intel. Then I gave presentation to them.
Calcuttaweb: All these people here working in your company – are they mostly networking experts?
Gautam: Mostly networking engineers. We have sales people too. We have one sales office at Dallas.
Calcuttaweb: How do you start a “start up” company ? There must have been an idea, but coming from having an idea to this stage, must be a long way.
Gautam: Yes, you have to cross many hurdles. Life as an entrepreneur is extremely intense. Commitment has to be 150-200%. Whatever happens, whether you have enough money or not, your focus should be fully committed. Having ideas are not enough. Best ideas can come when you work on that area. When you are investigating a problem which others are not able to solve. And you think you have a better solution. You think you can help customers more efficiently , can benefit them more. You have some idea to advance technologically, will jump to next generation or latest technology. But the business validation of the idea is more important. In venture capitalists’ language , “will the dog bite the food?” Will anyone buy the product ? This is the main thing. If you are from relevant industry, you have lot of derived experience. Then you have to form a team. Get people to build. It is always better if you have people whom you worked with before, if they come together. We have been very lucky that way, we were able to recruit good people. Last year market was tough for hiring. This year is much easier. We have around 90 people. Right now little less. But quite a number of people. Our product is almost done.
Calcuttaweb: What is your suggestion to the new start up companies?
Gautam: The most important thing is that if anybody has any idea , the concept should be formalized. If you cannot clearly explain your idea in less than 5 to 6 sentences to a layman then your idea is not very clear. And you have to continuously market the idea. As a founder or CEO, you have to explain the concept to the investors, your employees, the customers. And then the important thing is validation. Is there really a need for this ? Is the concept saleable ?
Calcuttaweb: What is your opinion about the current down trend in technology sector ?
Gautam: In some sense , I prefer this situation. What was happening before is that, any idea was getting funded as a start up company. And sometimes, the real good ideas were not getting the right attention. Now the real best ones will survive. In this situation companies should be tight, be extremely careful with the money. Make sure they can survive in any situation.
Calcuttaweb: Why this downtrend ?
Gautam: I think over investment in technology and some hype. Prices, costs went up. Even though the technology sector is mostly hurt, but whole economy has slowed down.
Calcuttaweb: What is your typical weekly routine ?
Gautam: I am not an early riser in general. I am here between 9 and 10 AM every morning. But I leave late, usually not before 10 or 11PM. Sometimes in 1 AM next morning. I am here seven days in a week, Saturdays and Sundays too unless I am traveling.
Calcuttaweb: Do you think it is tough maintain this schedule with family ?
Gautam: It is little difficult. But it is possible. I have seen people doing it. I have seen my mentor , Dr. Das, maintaining both.
Calcuttaweb: Why do you do this ? Is it just money or being involved with something as a founder.
Gautam: It is a test of mental strength. It is not just money. I am sure there are plenty of easier ways to make money. Biggest thing is getting involved with a workforce, helping them lead to a direction.
Calcuttaweb: Do you have any plan to do something in India, say in West Bengal ?
Gautam: Our product will fit in Indian market. My goal is when Accordion is in a big shape and I am more relaxed, I will try to set up something in India, may be in Calcutta. In my previous jobs, when I was in Intel and 3Com , I tried to do this once. It was little hard. Now I have recruited some people from India, mostly from Delhi.
Calcuttaweb: Thanks for your time.
Gautam: Thanks for visiting us.