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Interview Series: Tete a Tete with Rutesh Shah on His Journey From There to Here … Part 1

Last week, I had the privilege of talking with Rutesh Shah, President and CEO of Apexon about his journey in taking Apexon from there to here. His struggle, inspiration, belief , values and determination to make Apexon successful by providing the right value to the market. Here are a few snippets from that.

Q: Talk a little bit about your values and your determination to be successful?

A: What keeps me going is the new challenges that our thrown at me every day.  The game changing technologies that we’re dealing with affect our business everyday.   And, it is exciting to follow these trends on a minute-to-minute basis and understand its implications on our business. I also believe that a business needs to be very lean and agile and change and adapt to the changing market needs. There were several such crossroads for us when we had to steer the boat in another direction pretty quickly to avoid the storm. Another key mantra to be successful — make sure you’re serving your stakeholders and understand what the market really wants. You need to hire smart people and get out of their way and make sure you do regular reality checks. Reality checks to ensure that you’re providing a service that is resonating, making sure that you’re honing the right talent and aligning the team to the overall company culture.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about perseverance in the face of adversity?

A: Life is not easy and I thrive when I have to transform tough situations into opportunities. As I mentioned, technology has been changing very rapidly, and we had to adjust to this change and keep ourselves relevant. And we did.

Q: Were you an independent thinker? Did you take any risks in making your business successful?

A: I took the road less traveled. I was a proponent of a business model that was not well accepted in the market. I firmly believed that I should be selling the solution instead of licensing the technology. I could have taken the advice of my well-wishers and just sold the technology and sat on a load of cash. But I decided to something different.

Q: What is the history of Apexon?

A: We have a very strong enterprise quality background.   And when I say we, I mean Manish, Siva, Mistry and I.   And when we acquired our   first mobile device which was a Blackberry, we figured that we could only do a couple of things well with it — emails and calendar. This quickly created a case in our minds that quality needs to be built in to applications designed for these devices.   And this idea saw the birth of Apexon which was created to leverage technology to create top-notch user experience and establish sturdy quality.

Q: What was the source of the original idea? What inspired you to start Apexon the way you did?

A: Our vision was based on using technology as an enabler.  It was all about making the licensing costs almost close to zero and make money on subscription which was the solution in our case. The largest successful example in front of us was Google.   Google had a search engine technology which they never sold as a license. They understood that consumers want the search results and that technology is sitting between the consumer and the businesses. They connected the dots and started charging businesses to populate in sponsored search results.   That gave us the strength to take our technology and do things differently with it.

Q: What were the difficulties in launching and building the business? What were some of the personal and financial risks?

A: We decided to start Apexon a little differently — without any seed capital. We wanted to make the company scale on its own. Instead of convincing VCs in the board meeting we decided to spend our cycles on understanding the market and adjusting our strategy based on the market needs. The other big risk that we took was the belief in our business model which was focused on selling a solution rather than licenses.   Many times we were tempted by the market to sell our IP and exit with loads of cash. But we stuck to our gut and our vision that the applications market is going to explode. This was pre Android and iPhone. If these guys were not born, it would have been the end of line for us.

Q: What were some of the significant obstacles overcome in the industry?

A: There were times when we had difficulties doing the payroll and there was a million dollar business at the table if we sold the license. It was very tempting.  We had to turn down Apple and AT&T and they did not use our technology which was a big setback. It took another year to establish and work with other OEMs. We were a two people company in Silicon Valley trying to change the dynamics of the market we were playing in — carrier market. We accepted the fact that we were in there for a long haul and jumped into the cold waters. The other challenge was when we were ready to scale, we knew that we could not scale in the US and needed to go offshore. This was the time when we actually had to give out the controls to someone outside. It was a difficult decision for us especially because our IP was involved. But today I am proud to say that has paid off and our offshore team has become a hallmark of everything that we stand for.

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