Transcript of Interview with Gurbaksh Chahal
Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans. This is Dan Lok and today I’m so excited, I have the privilege of bringing you a true tech titan, a die-hard entrepreneur, an author, a true visionary who sees opportunities and creates markets where none exist before so we are going to talk about how he went from a high school dropout to selling his company to Yahoo for $300 million dollars in cash – and also maybe his insight on where the internet is going and where the future is heading as well. G, welcome to the show!
Gurbaksh: Dan, thank you very much and like I said happy to be on this show with you and honored to have the privilege to talk to you about my story.
Dan: So maybe take us back to the beginning. What was it like growing up in the US as an immigrant? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Gurbaksh: Sure. You know I would kind of say it kind of has that fairytale beginning where when you grow up and you realize, oh my God – things could’ve been different because if x,y,z didn’t happen. It really humbles you and puts things in perspective on realizing how lucky you actually are and my parents, you know, they came here when I was just three years old. They settled for a year here before I came in 1986, so I was a month shy of four, and you know I was here in this strange world of America and just to give you some perspective – where we lived was a place called [?] and it’s a small village town, very close to Amritsar, Punjab.
People don’t have that opportunity. Getting that diversity system that we got proved a couple of things. It proved the determination of my father at trying to bring us into this new world and his journey of trying to dream big and hustle harder, you know, as I always say. And you know being able to go ahead and take his kids into a world of opportunity and so I’m blessed for that because you know what? I’ve been there and I’ve been there several times and I look around and I look around at the poverty, I look around at the life and you know the life I could’ve had had that experience not taken place and brought me to this amazing country.
Dan: So when you first got here, what was life like? Were you quickly able to kind of fit in? Or was there a period of time that was kind of a little bit rough?
Gurbaksh: It was extremely rough. I mean, I was lost you could say. And you know the idea of being lost as a kid can be overwhelming because you’re growing up, your conscious is growing up, you don’t know why people treat you differently, you are the visual person – I did grow up in a very religious family and I wore a turban for the first 18 years of my life and well, you know I’m still very religious but I looked very different in the beginning of the 18 years of my life and it was easy to spot me because I had my turban and it was easy to make fun of me.
And whether it was a teacher making a sarcastic comment or a student trying to pick a fight or whether it was just trauma day after day and you know, I got used to it sadly enough because it made me realize one thing: you know, age is just a number and I’m not going to go ahead and let negative energy control my outcome and I think I really have my grandmother to thank for that because anytime I did have those down moments, anytime I did have those sad moments, I would always come home and she’d be there for me; and she’d be there to tell me that things would work out, things would go on for the next day and it’s just going to get better. And hearing that from her, you know, that essentially made her my role model. So, a lot of times in the world of business people read a book, or they read a story or they read a headline and they see something that has a feeling attached to it or some success story around that and they consume themselves and try to make themselves admire that entrepreneur or that success story and consider them their role model.
I don’t look at life that way because I think that if someone can teach you the ideals of love, if someone can teach you the capacity to go ahead and fight another day, fight the battle, make the best of yourself, there’s no better other role model out there.
Dan: So how did you go from that – you were having a rough time in school and what triggered you to kind of start your own business?
STARTING A BUSINESS
Gurbaksh: So I was 15 and I had this crazy idea of wanting to watch CNBC and see all these dot coms in the valley just instantly become these instant billionaires and instant millionaires, right? And it sounded just too good to be true and I was like, why is everybody doing this? And there’s like 10 IPOs today and it just fascinated me to go ahead and say OK obviously I’m not the most popular kid in school so I have a lot of time to myself in terms of what I can explore with my time and I love the idea of business.
I love the idea of everything about you can do with the world with a business and that the internet allowed us to connect with one another without physically being there; without requiring a lot of money to go ahead and start a business – it just basically brought opportunity and my first business started off as buying domain names and I thought I would make this get rich scheme.
Dan: Like a get rich quick type opportunity, right?
Gurbaksh: Those infomercials that they show you late at night how everybody is going to be a millionaire and just to go ahead and do this scheme. My scheme was as a 15 year old, I realized that these domain names were going beyond dot com so I actually remember buying the domain name, hp.net, buying the domain name dell.net, buying the domain name of any tech company you can imagine just because they had opened up dot net as a domain extension and as a 15 year old I typed up a letter and sent it and emailed it to headquarters and within 24 hours I got a fedex envelope to cease and desist.
Dan: Yeah that’s what I thought you would get, exactly.
Gurbaksh: My mom handed me over that envelope and she was just wondering what the hell’s a 15 year old getting a fedex letter from the general counsel of Dell so I think that was an eye opener for me because I realized that there is no shortcut to success and there’s no such thing as a get rich scheme. I mean everybody is talking about this Powerball ticket, I mean sure that’s the lottery, that’ll get you a 1 in 300 million chance.
But life is not a lottery and you’ve got to put in everything you got and so I quickly went in and said, OK well what can I do? And I realized that every weekend I would go to the flea market and I found this inventory of printers, hp printers; so I moved from domain names to printers and I basically saw that I could buy them for $50, refurbished printers that worked and were in great condition and I could sell them for $150 or $200 on ebay. Basic rules of supply and demand, right? So here I was trying to go ahead every week, see my inventory, seeing how many sales I got and I was blown away and that’s how I got my initial five, ten thousand dollars in investment capital to actually start my real business.
Dan: Well back then I mean at 15 years old that’s very good money; that’s a lot of money!
Gurbaksh: Yeah it is I mean I think for a period of time I didn’t really consider it because to me I was always trying to realize what else I could do, you know? Money’s never been an object of desire for me to chase because when you chase money, you know it’s one of those evil desires that never satisfies you. When you chase opportunity, when you chase other things in life that are important such as making a better life for your family or making a better life for yourself or creating an opportunity that you can be proud of one day, I think those are the intangibles that live forever.
Dan: So you were selling stuff on eBay kind of like a young hustler and then how did you go from that to then Click Agents?
Gurbaksh: I did my own research and landed on this world of online advertising so at 16 I started my first company and it was interesting because people think I just dropped out of high school and started it. No. What ended up happening was obviously high school wasn’t treating me well so I always wanted the exit strategy and there’s a program in high school that said you didn’t have to go to high school, you can go to college as your third year and whatever college courses you took, they would be applied to your high school degree.
So for me that meant I didn’t have to wake up at 8AM anymore to go to high school so that was a breath of relief but it also gave me time, it gave me opportunity, it gave me the ability to you know explore what else I could do and I remember any break I got going into the college library and starting this company and going from researching online how to incorporate a company to incorporating it to create a business license and all the boring stuff that are associated with it and you know, in a matter of days I was in business and by ethnicity I’m Indian so everybody thinks that I’m a programmer at large. I wish I was. But I actually don’t know anything about programming; I excel more at product sales and marketing.
So I can tell people what needs to be built, I can’t build it myself. So I actually found a person that could build a prototype of this technology that I wanted to build and I basically promised him that I would pay him after I tested it out for 90 days. So once I received the prototype, 90 days thereafter I spent every minute and every day I had to make up every phone I could of anybody that wanted to buy advertising. The good thing was that the value was booming and VCs were funding every single startup and every single startup needed advertising so I just needed that first break and in those 90 days I got my break. I generated $100,000 in revenue and that gave me the courage and opportunity to explain to my parents in plain English what I was actually doing and I got their support to actually drop out and fulfill my dream to be an entrepreneur.
Dan: This is very profound because sometimes a lot of young entrepreneurs may be thinking, well I don’t have enough money, I don’t know enough people, I don’t have capital; but you didn’t either, you were thinking outside of the box, negotiating deals you know, you pay the guy 90 days later and you just hustle. So what’s your take on that when you hear entrepreneurs say they have those types of excuses?
FEAR IS NOT AN EXCUSE
Gurbaksh: I think a lot of people have excuses because they believe in fear. And there is something called fear that is ugly because when you spend all your time devoting towards fear, it basically gets you closer to failure and you know I’ve heard many excuses where I need x million dollars to create my prototype. No you don’t. I can tell you that flat out. Unless you’re trying to create some spaceship that’s going to take you to Mars I mean you probably don’t need that much capital to start something to get traction. That’s just rule number one.
The other excuse that I get is you know people think they need a mentor or help from someone else to guide them and tell them what to do and that’s exactly the wrong principles of entrepreneurism. The principles of entrepreneurism are about creativity; they’re about having an open field of your imagination and connecting the dots from A-Z on your own because you’re creating that path yourself whether it’s called the hustle of being able to prolong a payment in order to get what you want and then being able to make up the deficit in those 90 days; that’s all part of the imagination – that all comes down to being able to drive home execution because another common mistake I get from entrepreneurs is I have the next billion dollar idea.
Dan: Yeah you probably get pitched a lot of that.
Gurbaksh: Or, I have the next Facebook. And you know what, here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as that. There is no next Facebook, right? There’s probably going to be something else out there that we use that Facebook does but it’s not going to be the next Facebook; it’s not going to be a copy-paste of an entire piece of code with a different name on it, right? People need to realize that part of entrepreneurism is that 99% of everything that you do to succeed is about execution and 1% is just merely the idea. Because the idea is going to evolve. I mean my fourth company I started July 17, 2014.
Dan: Which is your birthday, right?
Gurbaksh: Thank you for reminding me how old I am. I started it and I remember the drawings I had in my table of what I thought I was going to create. I actually opened the first media kit that I created for the product and you know what? 18 months later I didn’t know I was going to acquire 15 companies. I didn’t know I was going to have 450 employees worldwide. I didn’t know we’d be in 18 countries. I didn’t know our products were going to go ahead and go from what we just imagined on paper to be something that competes with Adobe, competes with Salesforce, competes with the marketing pods who have spent billions of dollars out there.
So, you know, that itself tells you what imagination can do and creativity can do. You know, if I as my fourth company can dictate I want to compete with Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce on building the next generation of a marketing cloud, I’m going to start probably with the basic idea; just like any painter does, right? You paint and you make your first drawing but you know what by the end of it when it’s done and it turns into a masterpiece it’s probably never going to be done for you. You’re always going to go ahead and invigorate towards it. That’s why I even have a code name for what we call our products. It’s called the Mona Lisa and the reason why is because Leonardo Di Vinci obviously painted the Mona Lisa and as he painted it, rumor has it, he took it with him wherever he went because he never thought it was done.
Even though it was this devoted masterpiece that got millions and millions every year attention to see it, for him, to his dying day, he took it with him every which way because maybe there was a stroke, maybe there was a brush of something that needed to be altered. And that’s what artists are at the end of the day. Entrepreneurism is a form of art because it’s not static, it’s dynamic. It’s about everything that you can do and realizing you can do it without making any excuses.
Dan: That’s fantastic. I have a saying; I believe entrepreneurs that our business is our art, it’s our creation and that’s where we exercise our creativity. So, from there, like the new company you’re competing – have you ever done a hundred page business plan or anything? Are you a believer in that?
ARE BUSINESS PLANS NECESSSARY?
Gurbaksh: So I actually, in between my companies, I’ve gotten the luxury of being invited by some of the greatest schools that as a kid I thought I’d probably never get accepted to. So whether it was speaking at Stanford or the London School of Economics or Cambridge University or even a university in NY that is very dear to me, Pace University, where I have a scholarship and so forth set up for entrepreneurism; I got the opportunity to share some insights and I looked at the professor, every single time and I said, you know what?
You’re probably going to learn how to make a business plan and let me be the first one to tell you, that’s the biggest waste of time. Right? Because in this day and age time happens so fast, right? And there’s a principle of another idea of Darwinism that plays a significant role in people that survive and the companies that survive. It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, it’s the ones that are most adaptable to change, right? So Charles Darwin said that and that is exactly what is happening in the current age that we live in. I mean the social media age where it’s all about short attention spans and it’s all about making things now and not thinking about five years from now. I mean I’ve never written a five year plan on what financials or what the business is going to do because I kind of laugh at that. I just want to make sure that I’m around next month.
Dan: I see. So by the time we put ink on that piece of paper, it’s probably something has changed any way.
Gurbaksh: That’s the beauty of it is that you know what just take my example I said to you when I started my fourth company. Having done this my fourth time you think, oh he probably knows what he’s doing, right? Well, I have these drawings and I save them and I’m probably going to bring them one day but had I stuck to that core concept of what I wanted to create, it was so small in comparison to what we’ve created today in just 18 months.
Dan: So when you started Click Agents, have you ever thought you would sell the company for like $40 million in just a couple of years? Like what was going through your mind back then?
SELLING A COMPANY
Gurbaksh: Again, I have a lot to thank for when it comes to my grandmother and the way that she raised me and you know, things have never been about the money for me. Yes, it does buy comfort. It does give you that moment and you know what in my book I talk about it; I went through the car phase, I bought every single sports car that I thought I could buy or I needed as an impulse, right? So I went through that phase. And guess how many cars I own now?
Gurbaksh: Zero. I walk or I take Uber or I take a taxi.
Dan: Wow. Wow.
Gurbaksh: Because, at the end of the day, you know what when you’re a kid yeah you do stupid stuff like buy stuff out of impulse because it makes you feel good but you know what, when you do things for monetary gain – and that’s also a big, big problem that I see in people who are real entrepreneurs and the ones that are fake. The ones that are real never do it for the money. They’ve never, ever thought about how much money they’re going to get.
But then there’s a whole breed of them that just want that paycheck that has enough zeros on it or that exit as you can call it because they’re trying to hit that lotto and if you’re trying to hit the lotto, go to Vegas, right? Go play the lottery. Go play the Powerball, right? I wish you luck there but if you’re trying to play the game of entrepreneurism, if you’re trying to play the game of business, it’s the most – I guess the best way to put it – it’s the most rigorous and the most cutthroat business of life and probably the most rigorous sport out there. Because it plays with your mind every day. If you want to be good at it, it plays with your mind because it makes you realize one day you’re on top of the world, the next day you’re trying to scramble and just make sure you’re part of this world.
Dan: That makes a lot of sense. So, during the first two companies what was your growth strategies? Like what were you doing marketing wise or sales wise to grow those companies?
Gurbaksh: I’m a very hands on CEO and I think everyone should be that’s successful. I am hands on maybe I’m not saying hands on like I micromanage my people but I am very detailed as in like I can name you the font that we used on our website that is on one specific product page. I can tell you the clients that we just won in the last week, I can tell you about the clients that we’re pitching and are about to close in the next week, I can tell you about the marketing collateral that’s about to go release next week because most of it was written by me and I’m not necessarily trying to gloat about it. I’m just saying if you want to be successful, if you want to play this game and it depends what type of game you want to play; if you want to play in the majors, right? You have to act like a major. You want to be a billion dollar company? Start acting like a billion dollar CEO.
Dan: So in the beginning of the conversation you were talking about like today you’re actually working harder than you’ve ever worked – what’s driving you today because some entrepreneurs may be like oh you know what, I can take it easy, I’ve got all this money in the bank you know maybe I’ll just work a few days a week. But no you’re more driveN than ever. Why?
WHAT CONTINUES TO DRIVE YOU?
Gurbaksh: You know a lot of people, if they were following the traditional footsteps right? One or two exits, right? You know so what happened to me was I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do with my life. I’m 25 years old, sold my second company for $300 million and I started getting interviewed. And I got interviewed by – you can probably find that yourself – the top venture capitalist in the world that has a great profile and I interviewed there for a job as a partner because typically you’re an entrepreneur, you end up becoming a VC afterwards and I’ll be honest with you – I suffocated during those interviews. I couldn’t see myself ever, ever trying to go ahead and be that laid back and I’m not saying VCs don’t work hard – actually I take that back – 99% of the VCs don’t work hard. And it’s the entrepreneurs that do. And I realized that was my calling; you know, being an entrepreneur. Building great things, building great teams, building and sharing it with the world. Two years later I started my third company and five years after that I started Gravity4.
Dan: I’m curious – how do you analyze what’s a good opportunity? What research do you do? How do you validate if the idea is good or not?
Gurbaksh: You know I’ll tell you the answer before I answer your question. Normally, you know you’re a good marketer when people start copying it. So what I’ve realized is people like using buzzwords, people like using acronyms and stuff like that to sound sophisticated and so forth. And a lot of people end up copying what we’re doing and I don’t mind that.
Dan: It’s a compliment, right?
Gurbaksh: It’s a compliment to saying OK I guess everybody wants to be a marketing cloud these days, OK I’m glad. I mean let’s hope that helps your valuation, right? But the way I look at opportunity is very simple. Money. Revenue. Supply and demand. Basics, right? You’ve got to look at how much it’s going to go ahead and cost to market. What is it going to take to build and how are you going to sell it? How quickly you can sell it and how many have you already sold?
Dan: So unlike a lot of tech companies thinking oh we’re going to get x % market share or x amount of users, the rate in 2-3 years we’ll sell or exit or take it public – but you’re just going back to the Warren Buffett principles of revenue and profit.
Gurbaksh: I’m a very un-traditional CEO and entrepreneur because let’s put it this way – kudos to the founders of YouTube, kudos to the founders of Instagram, kudos to the founders of WhatsApp – I mean some of their stories of how they’ve grown up and the challenges they’ve faced and how they became very successful is inspiring to me but you know their business was pre-revenue when they sold it. And they sold it for a lot more than I’ve sold my businesses, right? But it’s not a competition that way. I just can’t wire my brain around thinking like let’s get a bunch of users, let’s get an audience together and we’ll worry about the business model later, right? I like to go ahead and look at simplicity right? Supply and demand. And most importantly, how are we creating the value in between?
Dan: So you look at how big can it get to, how much can it grow, how much it’s going to cost and how fast you get your money back as an investment.
Gurbaksh: Yeah. And the way we’ve looked at Gravity4 and our thesis has always been is that you know, there’s Oracle, Adobe, SalesForce that have built marketing pods – they’re software companies, they think like software but they don’t understand paid media and there’s only 8 companies in this world that have software that have revenues of $2 billion or more. In about 2 years, the digital advertising market will become $200 billion. So our thesis is simple – if we can use software and we can give away software for free and help automate digital marketing and just capture one percent of the market, we’re the 9th largest software company in the world.
Dan: Makes sense. So basically you’re disrupting the industry and well most of these companies, I mean software is not the easiest thing to sell. And now you’re going and basically saying we’ll do it for free. So what’s the business model? How do you monetize? You offer the software, the service for free – the back end is it through paid advertising? How does that work?
HOW TO MONETIZE
Gurbaksh: Yeah. It’s basically a percentage of media spent. So it’s basically saying, we’re going to activate all of these audiences that you’re using through social media, email, CRM, and all of these different applications that you’re probably paying money for right now. We’re going to give you them for free and we’re going to go ahead and aggregate these audiences in real time and we’re going to let you go ahead and run media through search, native, Facebook and digital through programmatic advertising all basically through a one, singular platform, versus working in silos.
Dan: And then who would be your ideal clients?
Gurbaksh: Typically they are agencies that represent big brands. So we work with just like for example in our Asia pac region alone we work with 500 of the top brands in Southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand.
Dan: I see. So when you started Gravity4, were you thinking about like, because basically you’re now in the acquisition kind of model – were you thinking you were going to acquire this company versus building something? What was that like?
Gurbaksh: I think the way to think about it is that it’s not like we’re like Costco. We’re not just buying a bunch of stuff for the sake of buying it. We’re buying great talent, we’re buying entrepreneurs that want to connect on a vision that’s bigger than theirs right now and we’re integrating them to our technology platform that we’ve built from scratch. So what you see and some of the organic products that we’ve put together are really what we sell. I mean that’s what we’ve built. Now there’s portions and large portions of maybe applications, maybe features and so forth that we’ve acquired through these companies. And these companies have been around for like five, ten, fifteen years. So it’s great to add that experience into it because we’re not an 18 month old company, right? We’re actually much more mature than that.
Dan: So when you have these companies, how do you integrate the culture? Like as the lead of the company, how do you make sure the team works well together and also all over the world? What do you do? What’s your leadership style? What’s your management philosophy?
Gurbaksh: I spend a lot of time making sure that I can hire people that share one quality – because if they can share this quality and have it, they’ll have it in return from me – and that’s a characteristic called loyalty. And the fundamentals behind that are very clear because if I have for example, Tom Bay he runs Europe for me, I have Kevin Wang – he runs Australia for me, I have Dan – he’s my co-founder here, I have Alan he’s my global CFO – I have great people all throughout the world, right, that have shared this quality. Loyalty is one of those foundations of trust; foundations that basically say we’re going to have good days and we’re going to have a lot of bad days. But that’s OK. That’s when we can look at each other in the eye and say, I got your back because you’ve got mine.
Dan: How do you tell if someone is loyal or not, like in the beginning? Or do you just kind of work with them and kind of get a feel pretty quickly?
Gurbaksh: I mean I probably still make mistakes here and there in doing it because I have an open heart and you know but it’s easy because you know 17 years into this, I’ve interviewed thousands of people; I’ve hired over a thousand people, right? So it gets easier to the point of trying to look at someone in the eye in the first five minutes when they walk into a room and you can basically realize, what are they really there for and does that match your philosophy, does that match the company’s DNA?
Dan: Yes, yes. What about compensation? Like with all your senior management how do you structure that – do you pay them a good salary and then like profit share? How do you structure your compensation within a company?
Gurbaksh: Well I want to make sure I’m the most underpaid person in the company so I have never taken a salary for the last, I don’t know, 8 years of my life. Because the way I look at it is whatever a typical CEO salary makes, that’s the equivalent of probably 5-10 jobs and I rather go out and create 10 jobs than pay myself that. That said, you know we pay whatever is market but we also give senior management, as well as employees globally, equity in the company. Because at the end of the day, that’s where you create wealth, that’s where you create the big effect of knowing that you’ve made a dent in this universe by creating a great company.
Dan: So you have the buy-in and they’re now totally immersed and physically, emotionally, very much invested into the company. Like if someone comes to you and says, hey I’ve got this company and let’s say it’s doing $10 million a year now and I’m bringing in more people, I’ve got a team and I kind of want to give them maybe equity – what’s a good percentage?
Gurbaksh: I think it all depends but I think the general principle that everyone starts off with on a capitalization table is that 20% normally go to employees and 80% goes to founders and investors and so forth.
Dan: And for Gravity4 did you have any other – did you have outside investors or were you just kind of funding it yourself?
Gurbaksh: I’ve actually kept that confidential but the company is on a great trajectory and it’ll hit probably close to over $200 million in revenue this year and globally and that’s pretty hard to do on your second year.
Dan: Amazing, amazing. Now, throughout your career I mean people would look at you and say oh you have it easy man I mean you exit early, 18 years old and then 25 years old the 2 big exits – no but, during that time what have you sacrificed? And maybe what were some of the mistakes that you made that you’ve learned from?
SACRIFICES IN BUSINESS
Gurbaksh: I would say sacrifice – you sacrifice a lot. I mean I sacrificed my youth because I jumped into entrepreneurism. I sacrificed you know what a normal childhood, what a normal adult upbringing would be. I sacrificed a lot because I wanted the best for my family and you know along the way I did get hurt. I did get taken advantage of many times because you know there is no book that’s out there or a warning that’s out there saying, the minute you become successful, there’s going to be a truckload of people trying to take advantage of you, right?
But I wish there was and I wish I would’ve read that book because success and nowadays you know entrepreneurs sometimes have the influence as celebrities and I don’t agree with it, I don’t consider myself in any which way that but when you put yourself in that perspective, people try to judge you right? And they classify you based on what they want to go ahead and believe what they see to be the truth or what their realization of how hard you’re working and it could be as simple as oh he got it easy, he did it the second time, third time, fourth time. It’s not – I mean the stress that you have to go through and as I said you know at 31 when I had to make the decision of starting my fourth company, I didn’t have to. I could’ve you know kept all my cars, bought an island and checked out.
Dan: Yeah or just be a VC and just invest in some companies and just kind of sit back and relax, right?
Gurbaksh: Yeah or I could basically be a glorified VC with a lot of Twitter followers and tell them what to do, right? But instead I know what I’m good at and that’s being a great entrepreneur and you know what? The advice I have is you know what, as you become successful you reach a different level of admiration and you know just like you I mean before we started this interview you said you know my book inspired you and you read it three times. That to me is singularly one of the greatest gifts that I believe I personally receive. Because there’s people that I’ve never met that’ve said that to me and if I can help people in any which way – in inspiring them to realize that the rough days are going to exist and the bad days are going to exist, but you know what? If I did it, so can you. Because life gives you another chance, it’s just called tomorrow and you know what? You can make it happen.
Dan: So for startup entrepreneurs, what would you say to them? Let’s pretend you now today have to start from scratch, so take away your name, the capital that you have, the money that you’ve made – from zero. What would you do to build a company from ground up again?
STARTING FROM NOTHING
Gurbaksh: I think the same rules apply. And I think what it comes down to is there isn’t a formula of what it takes to create a company. There’s a formula for what it takes to actually be an entrepreneur and that formula is understanding the basic laws of supply and demand and creating value, understanding what product you’re going to create. If money is tight, knowing that you’re going to start small right? And you’re not going to be able to buy 15 companies in 18 months. Being able to go ahead organically starting where you think the lowest hanging fruit is because you want traction, right? You want to be able to put skin in the game, you want to inspire others to join your team so they see that the greater value does exist and you’re only going to get that through understanding execution is everything in this game and once you can execute, get traction, then the laws of business take over.
Dan: The way you see the way the internet is heading now with technology, like what do you think of the internet in like 3-5 years?
Gurbaksh: I think there’s a couple things that are probably going to happen. Personalization takes over and you know there’s going to be a whole dimension of devices that didn’t exist whether it’s virtual reality, connected devices, watches, etc that are going to keep us connected. So the downside is we’re probably going to get more and more intertwined with this real time in the moment now now now format.
Dan: Instant gratification.
Gurbaksh: Yeah, instant gratification. And I think there’s going to be – I mean I think Samsung just launched this refrigerator drinks EA right I’m blown away by it – it’s amazing what technology is going to go ahead and do. I never thought a refrigerator would be a computer but you know that’s the way things are headed, you know? And if you look at what Apple TV could eventually become where you don’t need to go ahead and have expensive broadcasting fees, you can actually create a TV network through just an app – how amazing would that be, right? And then if you look at the data like we check our phones 200 times a day, if we have smartwatches – I don’t – but people do and they track your location, they know where you go, when you sleep, where you live, all that information and all that is going to go ahead and fuel multiple industries at once.
Dan: So maybe robots cooking for us, cleaning for us, who knows? And so with all these changes, what fascinates me is you’ve always been very focused – you kind of stay within the online advertising space, that’s kind of what you know and what you’ve been doing for many, many years. I’m sure you have plenty of opportunities to do something like an app or something so different. But you didn’t, you just focus. How important do you think it is for entrepreneurs to stay focused?
FOCUS IS CRITICAL
Gurbaksh: You know focus is one of the most critical things to survive because if you don’t focus on your objective you’re going to end up getting lost in so many different dimensions and it’s going to ruin the opportunity that you probably had of making your idea come to life. And I’m not to say you know what you can’t do other industries – I know plenty of people and you know there’s plenty of brilliant entrepreneurs like Elon Musk who has just done wonders when it comes to the internet to space x to tesla to all the different great things he’s doing. But you know what, that’s one type of entrepreneur and I am one type of entrepreneur; I am good at my comfort zone which is software, advertising, data, marketing and you know what? It’s not like it’s the same company. Click Agents is not Gravity4. Gravity4 is probably my biggest Mona Lisa you could say but it’s a completely different beast on its own.
Dan: You utilize what you’ve learned from the past, all the knowledge and experience that you have to build this of course. That’s absolutely amazing. I’m curious – what’s your daily routine like? You have a lot of obligations, you’re very busy, everybody wants your time. How do you manage your time? How do you manage your day to day?
Gurbaksh: No day is the same and you know I basically realized that you’ve got to basically make time for everything that is important. So, you know, one of the other things that I like to spend at least ten percent of my time is on my foundation and it’s something that I created in my nonprofit. It’s called Chahal Foundation and we actually just announced our 2015 initiative – for 17 days we’ll be in India and we’re going to rebuild and reinvigorate 20 schools in Mumbai and New Delhi and even my hometown in the hopes of getting rid of child labor and being able to work with children in helping them realize what dreams are and hey if this little kid did it 17 years ago or started that dream, you can do it too.
So it’s great to be able to go ahead and do those kinds of things when you’re successful because it makes you realize why you’re really doing it, right? It puts life in perspective. Because life can be a journey of its own where you’re constantly trying to go ahead and question why you’re doing what you’re doing and for me, what I’m doing is to preserve my grandmother’s legacy and you know sticking to what I’m really good at and if that requires me to change my day to day schedule to accommodate whatever those needs are, you’ve got to be dynamic and I’m a very dynamic personality and CEO.
Dan: How do you set goals? How do you stay productive like I’m curious what tips do you have for entrepreneurs?
Gurbaksh: You know if you like to sleep, you’re probably not going to sleep. Some of my best ideas like literally occur to me and the older you get it sucks because you think you’re going to forget; like if I’m at the gym or taking a shower or if I’m on the way walking to work and I’m like oh my God this is a great idea and then I immediately jump on it or if I’m sleeping I will literally daydream about something and I realize and I force myself to get out of bed, type that email up so I don’t forget. So my advice is impatience is something that you’re going to have to learn very well because you’ve got to be impatient if you want to be successful.
Dan: So you come up with good ideas any time and so do you use any kind of time management system or you just manage through like Google calendar? Because like for entrepreneurs, I mean for someone imagining running a company your size – what’s it like?
Gurbaksh: It’s like I said – no day is the same but I also sometimes you know realize that you know you do get overwhelmed. Those days do exist and they’re perfectly normal and I sometimes have to dedicate my Saturdays just to try to catch up on the entire week but that comes with the territory. I’m not complaining but sometimes you have to go ahead and spend extra time to catch up and there is no perfect calendar app; there is no perfect way of it because you know what? Business is dynamic and there’s going to be days you wake up and there’s a fire drill you have to do and that takes out 20% of your day right there. Or you’re going to wake up and realize you’re sick all of a sudden because you got the flu and that’s going to go out and take a toll on your body, right? Or you’re going to wake up and realize that all of a sudden you have this great client opportunity and you only have an hour and a half to prepare and your team is fully engaged but not prepared yet, right?
So everything is dynamic in those situations and the only thing that you really can do is surround yourself around a dynamic team. Surround yourself around a team that actually wants to succeed no matter what, right? People – I always make it very clear whenever I get my hands to my company is you can’t treat this like a job. If you treat this like a job, you’re going to fail. And if you treat this like a career, you can look around people in this room that 18 months ago were not directors, were not VPs, were not you know management capable but stepped up to the plate and realized this wasn’t a 9-5 job, right? They realized and they put their blood, sweat and tears and they gave it their all and at the end of the day sometimes if you can foster that in the DNA of a company, that’s when you know while even you’re sleeping you know that person that’s managing that team, that company or that location is inspiring that same message and is making sure that it’s heard loud and clear.
And it’s rewarding to see that come out from your company as well. Because it’s not like I’ve been working with a lot of these employees directly because they’re in different locations but when I do go to let’s say Copenhagen or Sweden or you know, Hong Kong or Singapore or the other offices that we have, it’s refreshing to see the excitement, right, that they have in realizing how global of a company this is. And it’s also refreshing to see how they bleed you for – they bleed the company because they want to see it successful and they’ll work toward making it happen with you.
Dan: Love it. How do you see as your role like what’s the role of a CEO?
A CEO’S ROLE
Gurbaksh: Well it’s really a title but what role you have – there’s different types of CEOs. There are CEOs that are very product centric, those that are very engineering centric, there are those that are very marketing centric, there are CEOs that are very sales oriented. Like I said for me, I can’t engineer anything but I know exactly what to build from a product perspective. So while I can’t write the code, I can tell how the Mona Lisa should look, right? And from a sales and marketing perspective, I can also tackle some of the hardest questions on how do you price it, how do you go to market, how do you realize and shine out the most biggest characteristics around this product that is actually going to make it sell? That is actually going to differentiate and the market is going to receipt towards that and that’s part sales, that’s part marketing.
Dan: Would you say, I think part of your recipe to your success is early on and at a very early age you know what you want, you know what your strength is and you know what to focus on and you just focus on that. Versus a lot of people who are lost, they don’t know what they want in life or they want to start a business just to make a little bit of money but it’s like your purpose, passion and skill and everything kind of lineup – would you say that’s the key?
Gurbaksh: I think that’s part of it. But I think that you know one of the gifts that I think I was given at 15, 16 years old was that you know what at the end of the day I was a kid, right? And when you’re a kid you don’t know what fear is.
Dan: We don’t know better. We’re too naive.
Gurbaksh: You don’t know what failure is, you don’t know what fear is, you can’t digest it and what I’ve seen is that as you become older and especially in this social media generation, you start to care what people think, you start to care about what societal pressures are, you start to think about what your family wants you to do, you start to think about all these things when they’re taking away time that you actually should be working on towards success. So if you can spend 100% of your time not being fearful and thinking that you’re going to fail before you even started – you know that quote, every journey starts with that single step.
Every entrepreneur’s journey starts with a single step; you gotta just do it, you’ve got to be able to just go ahead and execute and I’ve been lucky – I don’t know what fear and failure is and that’s why I always tell my employees if there’s a new office opening or people that I’m meeting for the first time is that if in your life you have a choice to work for one of two different personalities as a CEO – a person whose either greedy, thinks about money all day, or someone who is just crazy and just crazy in a good way like just wants to make it happy and win together – pick the crazy one.
Dan: That’s fantastic. And of course I encourage all readers to read your book, The Dream – I think at some point you’ve got to do another book!
Gurbaksh: Yeah I plan on doing that but you know what my foundation and Gravity4 are sucking a lot of my time so I know I’m a good multi-tasker but believe me I look forward to sharing more of my mistakes that I’ve made in my journey and hoping that it inspires entrepreneurs not to make them and you know giving more lessons of what to expect as my journey continues.
Dan: That’s fantastic. Well thank you so much for taking the time, I know you’re busy – for inspiring us today with just your amazing story and your ideas and thoughts. I appreciate it a lot, thank you so much.
Gurbaksh: Thank you, it’s always my pleasure.