Shaunak Roy always wanted to start his own company.
But as he finished his technology master’s degree at MIT, it just wasn’t in the cards. Roy, who grew up in India, needed to work at a company if he wanted to stay in the country. (Editor’s note: Another Philly entrepreneur has found that out the hard way.) Everyone around him was going into banking and consulting. So that’s what he did. He went into consulting, put his dreams on hold. He flourished in that world for the better part of a decade, until he landed a job as an executive at FMC Corporation, a job that brought him to Philadelphia.
A few years later, he got the visa that gave him the liberty to be his own boss. It had been nearly ten years since he graduated from MIT and things were different now: Roy had a wife, a daughter and another on the way. Still, he immediately started thinking of what company he would start. Soon after, he quit his job at FMC to start Yellowdig, like Slack for universities.
It was one of those now or never things. It was also a long time coming, Roy said.
That was two years ago. Roy, now 37, just finished a stint at 500 Startups, a West Coast startup accelerator. (An acquaintance and 500 Startups alum suggested he apply, so he did on a whim, just three days before the deadline, and got in.) After a year of running free pilots at schools, he has his first three paying customers, including Duke and the University of Virginia’s business school. Yellowdig’s base price is $10 per user per year. He also got a shoutout in TechCrunch.
Roy spent the first half of the year traveling between San Francisco and Philadelphia. He told 500 Startups he couldn’t relocate full-time because of his family (he lives with his wife and two daughters in Haddonfield, N.J.) and they were understanding, he said.
The accelerator, which invests $100,000 for 5 percent equity and is focused on startups that have already proven their model and earned some revenue, was especially helpful in crafting his investor pitch and making connections with Silicon Valley investors and potential partners, he said.
He’s now focused on finding customers (he hired Scott Barnette, a former Hitachi exec based in North Carolina, to run sales) and raising capital. When we met with Roy late last week, he had recently gotten back from San Francisco but was planning on heading back out there shortly to meet with investors. He said there’s a “winner take all” attitude on the West Coast and money plays a big role in determining those winners.
He doesn’t plan on relocating to Silicon Valley, though. Maybe he’ll open an office over there, he said, but he’s rooted here in Philly.
Roy has a small team of developers in India, which he said he chose to keep costs low, though he hopes to grow a local dev team and open an office space in Philly. (He spent some time working out of Center City coworking space Seed Philly last year.) Those are the next steps in his plan: now that he’s fulfilled his dream of launching a startup, he’s on to the next part — making it successful.
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