Anand Jagannathan, PhDFounder, Responsys
Founder, CEO, NewzSocial,
Founder, CEO, Engage.Social,
Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, 1974
Doctor of Philosophy, Computer Science, Rice University, 1978
Serial entrepreneur Dr. Anand Jagannathan, like many entrepreneurs, had always “been fascinated by people starting companies.” But, Dr. Jagannathan said, “I didn’t really know what it meant to be one before I went to Rice University in 1974. And during my term at Rice, I definitely got the bug to build stuff and build something new—that was part of the Rice culture—and it led eventually to an entrepreneurship path.”
In particular, Dr. Jagannathan cited three key moments in his Rice tenure that influenced his approach to entrepreneurship. All three were ways of “looking at something new.” First was his decision to write his master’s thesis on a new way to build computers, from a software point of view. That led to his PhD thesis “Software Directed Architecture.”
The second event was a course on microprocessors in 1976. “It was fascinating because here was this big, big computer Rice had built—the R2—and here was this new thing called ‘microprocessors’.”
The third event was “important but in a different way.” Dr. Jagannathan had access to a minicomputer and wrote a program to do a simulation. (His office mate at the time was Bart Sinclair, later a Rice faculty member and retired, May 2019, Senior Associate Dean of the Brown School of Engineering.)
“At the time I was talking to a lab tech who said, ’Hey, I need something to manage all the parts and inventory. Can you write me a program for that?’ So I thought that would be a cool project and I wrote the program.”
He said, “That’s when I realized that you need to find people who have a problem and are looking for a solution. Then you should go and solve the problem. Build something that someone needs, something useful.”
Beginning with his first company, Dr. Jagannathan has listened to customers. “I am a technology person, but I’m also the first sales guy. I need to understand who the customers are and what they want. What are the product issues? Is what I’m building relevant to solving the customer’s problems?”
He started his first company, Banyan Systems, in 1983, right after IBM introduced the PC. He and his two co-founders had technology backgrounds and they determined that “a PC would be like a telephone and would be on everyone’s desk. Like a telephone that was connected to a local telephone switch which was then connected up to the main telephone network, the PC was going to need a local information switch to connect it to the bigger mainframe and network.”
That’s what they built, Banyan VINES (Virtual Integrated NEtwork Service), a networking operating system. “The vision played out very well,” he said. “We made the right call at the right time. Banyan became a leader in the whole enterprise networking scheme. Sometimes it’s good to be lucky.”
When the dot com boom took off in 1989, Dr. Jagannathan started another company, Responsys. “At that time companies marketed by mailing these thick, thick paper catalogs twice a year. It was a $150 billion business. The catalogs were expensive to produce and you never knew what the trends were.”
He realized that “everything was going to change and everything was going to be electronic. Marketing was going to be done in a different way, with email.” When social media developed, Dr. Jagannathan saw that it would be the next way of marketing online.
Eventually Responsys, a business-to-consumer marketing software provider, grew to include email, mobile, social, display, and the web. Responsys was acquired by Oracle in late 2013 for approximately $1.5 billion.
Currently, Dr. Jagannathan is CEO of a company involved in marketing on social media, Engage Social (aka NewzSocial). He is also investing in, and mentoring, startup companies and giving talks to people to encourage entrepreneurship.
“I tell them, ’You don’t have to become an entrepreneur; you are an entrepreneur.’ Realize that and do something about it.”
In his presentations, Dr. Jagannathan describes three basic tenets which he follows. The first tenet is serendipity. “You see something very obvious and you think, ‘Oh, that can be an idea.’ What is the idea?”
The second tenet is a wave, like online shopping. “People say, ‘I missed the boat. The wave is gone.’ But there is always a new wave happening. You have to see it. What is the wave you recognized?”
The third tenet is describing a unique value proposition. “For every idea, there are other people thinking about it. So what is your unique angle?”
For Rice students, he believes that “if you have even the slightest entrepreneurial interest, you should go and try it out. You might be successful. And the cost of failure when you’re young is very low.”
Dr. Jagannathan says he is having fun “interacting with young people who are brighter and have more energy than me.” He doesn’t envision retiring. “What I bring is the level of the scars on my back.”