Gurbaksh Chahal, San Francisco, CA, introduces himself as a diehard entrepreneur, loving to innovate, build and execute, and also as the founder of ClickAgents, BlueLithium, and now RadiumOne. A recent tweet in ‘gchahal' announces “touchdown Punjab! Feels great to be back where it all began,” followed by, “ parathas in Punjab for breakfast! Oooh reminds me of my childhood...”
Tracing his life from Tarn Taran, near Amritsar, is The Dream: How I learned the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and made millions (www.landmarkonthenet.com). At age 15, already in the US, he saw how the market crash on October 27, 1997, made the family's half-completed dream home almost unviable. Yet, the lesson he learnt early on was, ‘Never give up,' even if that meant hefty sacrifices and belt-tightening. “You will make mistakes and you will get hurt, but you have better things to do than to wallow in self-pity,” writes Chahal.
Eager to do something in the world of Internet advertising, like DoublClick, he began looking for opportunities, during his school days. “I noticed, for example, that a lot of blue-chip companies had been slow about adapting to the Web, so I went out and bought a dozen domain names for twenty bucks apiece. The process was simplicity itself: I went online and registered names such as Dell.net, HP.net, and so forth, then parked myself in front of the family computer and wrote e-mails to each of the companies, offering to sell them their own domain names for $10,000.” Denouement, however, was in the form of cease-and-desist orders, asking for the surrender of the domain names, alleging trademark violations!
Promising himself that the next venture would be better researched, Chahal goes to a local flea market and finds refurbished printers being sold for $50, while identical printers were on sale on eBay for $300. “So I bought his entire inventory, put them on eBay for an unbeatable $200, and made $150 on each,” he recounts. “Every week I would go back to the flea market and take the printers off the guy's hands, and every week I was making money.”
The tremendous opportunity, though, was in performance-based advertising, felt Chahal, seeing the entry of companies such as ValueClick, Advertising.com, Flycast and so on, with software that could track when someone clicked on an ad, and the advertiser was charged only when a buyer dragged a mouse across the screen and clicked through. His first company ClickAgents was born at a cost of $99 for incorporating online, but it had to be in his brother's name because Chahal was still a minor. As the ‘marketing director', his pitch to ad agencies was, “We have a ‘consortium' of Web sites. I can get your ads on those sites, and I will price them on a per-click basis.”
In two days, he struck gold, receiving a response from the agency that had Infoseek as its client. With a contract for $30,000 to deliver 30,000 clicks in six weeks, Chahal began contacting every Web site that carried advertising and gave them the other part of his pitch, thus: “If you make room for my ads for Infoseek, I will share my revenues with you, fifty-fifty.” Results were good, and the next month saw the doubling of the numbers! Importantly, a day after receiving the first cheque, the author decided to overhaul his company Web site to make it look like the portal to a very serious corporation because public perception is key.
A valuable lesson in the author's view is that it is a myth to think your venture has to be something new and dazzling. Deriding venture capitalists for propagating such a myth, he notes that the first question the VCs ask you is what makes you different. “What they fail to understand, however, and what most people fail to understand, is that a company can be similar to the competition as long as it has the right people and the right leadership, and as long as it is committed to being better than all the other players.”
Though ClickAgents was ‘a small fish in a big pond' because performance-based advertising was already around, what got him noticed was performance, delivery, and professionalism, narrates Chahal. “My attitude was simple: I knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it better, but I also knew that I wasn't going to be the best coming out of the gate. I would begin by catching up with the other guys, the guys who got there first, and then I'd leave them in the dust. And that's what I did: I over-executed the competition.”
Engaging tale of entrepreneurship.