Dhiraj Rajaram, ’03, founder of the fast-growing analytics company, Mu Sigma, never thought of himself as an entrepreneur.
But as a freshman associate working at Booz Allen Hamilton, he evaluated various business analytics units within many client organizations and discovered a “systemic dysfunction” in them that eventually led him to launch his own company. In these groups he discovered a common theme among many companies in corporate America: “It was difficult to find and keep good people, and there was not enough quantitative talent in the market with the right kind of expertise,” he said. “One particular client had more than 72 open positions in analytics with salaries ranging from $100,000 to $230,000 that the firm was not able to fill.”
Rajaram explained his path at the Indian Entrepreneurs Speaker Series at Gleacher Center July 18, an event hosted by the student-led Booth India Club.
When Rajaram realized that there exists a vast demand for people with applied math backgrounds in an environment that is experiencing exponential increase in data, he decided to start a company that offered analytical expertise by tapping the talent available in India. He found some angel investors, sold his home, and put his life’s savings into Mu Sigma.
“The first six months were very difficult,” he admitted. “The question was how to approach people and convince them to give us projects. It was a combination of personal credibility that comes from past relationships, and explaining the impact that the idea could have. I was not very polished and I think that helped with making me more believable. I believed in what I was selling and that I was creating a win-win proposition for customers.”
He joked, “The process of starting companies needs two things: ignorance and arrogance. You need a little ignorance, so you don’t get scared by seeing all the problems ahead, and a little arrogance, to believe that you can solve those problems.”
Microsoft gave the company its first break with a small project. After its success with the software giant, more clients came aboard. Mu Sigma now has 475 employees and works with 20 clients on the Fortune 500 list. The recession has not slowed growth. In the last seven months, Rajaram’s firm has added five more industry leaders to its impressive clientele including a large airline company, a consumer electronics retail giant, a leading apparel brand and a large food and beverage retail chain to its list of customers.
He advised future entrepreneurs to find investors whose thoughts are aligned with their own thinking. “I chose an investor who gave me more control in the company so I could build it the way I wanted. Also make sure that investors have similar expectations of the business as you do.”
Other advice that Rajaram imparted was to “be shameless about asking for help,” and to know how to network. Entrepreneurs also need to be “extremely stingy” when first building a company, and to save vociferously in order to make a strong personal investment in their company.
Rajaram said the education he received at Booth helped him become a successful entrepreneur. ‘The quality of professors here is simply astounding,” he said. “Soak it in. You have an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When (Eugene) Fama, (Steve) Kaplan, (Jim) Schrager, and (Marvin) Zonis teach, be there. The strong theoretical foundation that you get at Booth is extremely valuable.”
Mary J. Paleologos