Entrepreneurship@BU Newsletter: February 2012
View from the Trenches
Lessons from Failure and Comeback as a Corporate Entrepreneur
Sudha Jamthe, GSM ’99
Written by James Newton, GSM’12
“The biggest personal lesson from Coola, Inc. was to not be afraid to fail, and to learn to make fabulous comebacks.” -Sudha Jamthe, GSM ’99
When Sudha Jamthe launched her start-up venture, Coola, Inc. in 1999, the company seemed primed for success. A mobile middleware platform that was very similar to what we see in today’s Android, Coola quickly saw its software being adopted by one of the biggest mobile business devices at the time, the Palm Pilot. The company became an attractive investment for Angels and VC’s, and within 40 days of its initial launch Jamthe successfully raised over $1 million in Series A. With a talented development team and her husband, Shirish Jamthe (GSM ’98) on board as co-founder, her Boston-based startup was well positioned for the future…until the bubble burst.
Like many of its software and web counterparts of the time, Coola fell victim to the dot com bubble. The crash crippled the businesses of both their customers and the companies around them. As CEO, Jamthe was now forced with a decision no company head wants to make.
“When the dot com bust happened, we were in the process of taking on more money,” she recalls. “I had a Series B term sheet for $15 million, and needed to make a decision that would impact the future of the company. Ultimately, we did not proceed with the round and closed the company while we still could by selling off our assets.”
Jamthe is the first to admit that the venture was a failure, but the experience left an indelible impact on the rest of her life and career. After three exhaustive years of running a business, Jamthe decided to take a step back and start a family. With more free-time on her hands, and so many lessons to reflect upon, Jamthe launched her start-up blog, Coolastory.
“The Coola experience made me realize that the core of the company is people – the Angels, investors, the customers and employees – and they are what matters most in decisions. All of our lives were spun together into a fantastic speed ride as we went to create something that was way ahead of its times.”
Once Coola closed its doors, Jamthe decided that she would not be part of another start-up venture. Instead, she took her learning experience to the MIT Venture Mentor Program (VMS) where she began to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs in marketing, business development and fundraising. But it was the hard life lessons she realized from her failed venture that motivated her to help these hungry entrepreneurs from making the same mistakes she made.
“Much of what I would tell them, which still rings true today, emphasized the importance of staying paranoid, building good teams and executing with speed. My main advice is that money is not the biggest scarcity for a startup, it is time. If you build the right team, and your product solves real customer problems, the money will come. But, in order for that to happen, you need to be first to the market. It is always a race against time.”
The lessons learned from Coola gave Jamthe a new focus and outlook on business. She began to involve herself in many pet projects. This time around, however, she decided that her focus would be the journey, not the destination. With a keen interest in the social media, Jamthe developed Social Mints, a virtual currency for the Facebook economy, Tmeet, a location-based Twitter and iPhone application, and Moomli, an e-commerce site setup to help nonprofits in India. Her involvement in these projects allowed her to stay on the cutting edge of technology and understand the size and scope of evolving social media trends. An active presence on Twitter, Jamthe quickly became an expert in the social media space and even wrote a guest column for the social media business website, Mashable.com. This expertise landed her back in the corporate world where she began to work as a Strategy Consultant.
“I had worked with large corporations before my startup, but when I returned to these big organizations I realized that as an entrepreneur I had built some competencies that came with me, which facilitated my foray into corporate entrepreneurship.”
As a strategy consultant for AOL, Intuit and PayPal, Jamthe created new divisions and guided the companies through their adoption of social media – an experience not too dissimilar from launching Coola. In each instance, she had to build out a team of startup minded people who can innovate and create structure within an organization. Jamthe attributes this ability to work so well within teams and different work environments to the lessons she learned at BU.
“The unique curriculum at BU that emphasizes teams and strategy still applies to every job I have had after all of these years. In particular, the courses that combined IT, Strategy and OB helped me learn to collaborate across multiple groups in global companies. I have even found myself referring back to old marketing cases to gain new insights on how to approach new strategies and decisions. I honestly don’t think I could have neither started Coola nor made my come back as a corporate entrepreneur if it weren’t for my BU MBA.”
Jamthe now works at eBay as their Social Media Strategist, focused on Social Commerce and is looking for corporate entrepreneurs to start a new group to measure social commerce analytics. You can follow her on Twitter at @sujamthe and access her blog via http://coolastory.com/.