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April - 2000 - issue > Cover Feature
Siva Kumar
Friday, November 21, 2008

Age 41 years
Place of Birth Chennai

Residence Redwood City, CA

Family Wife and two kids

Came to the U.S. 1981

Education B. Tech, IIT-M; M.S., Penn State; M.B.A., University of Chicago

First job Intel

Companies started Impresse, onebox.com, Telera, ezClose.com

Year did an IPO (set for 2000)

Year became millionaire 1999

Favorite charity

Lifetime goals

Net worth

Philosophy of life

Most inspired by

Most excited by

Most expensive thing ever bought

Siva Kumar is what the Valley would call a serial entrepreneur. One of his companies has filed for an initial public offering; one was sold for $850 million last month; and two other ventures are in the works.

He calls himself a very private person, and shuns attention. But once he starts talking, Kumar is as cool, and as smart, as they come in the valley.

Entrepreneurship runs in the family. His grandfather started the famous AVM studios and produced his first movie at the age of 16. The studios also produced “Chori Chori,” reminds Kumar, still an avid watcher of Indian movies. Most of his family is in the film business and he may have joined it too. But he won admission into the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and everything changed.

What is the secret of his serial entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is like learning to ride a bike, Kumar says. Once you do it successfully, you can do it forever. “When you do one startup, you know how to execute and how to capitalize,” he says. And pitching an idea to the VCs is like pitching for a movie in Hollywood, Kumar contends. “All you need is a one-liner like: King Kong meets Godzilla.” Early on, Kumar says he didn’t do this too well even though he was never turned down by a VC. Now he thinks he does it well. He must be, if you look at the ease with which he starts companies.

Kumar has always hired a CEO for his companies, never taking that job. He has a rationale for it. Kumar says he asks himself three questions:

“Do you want to make a lot of money?”

“Do you love it so much you want to make it happen?”

“Do you want to be a CEO?”

According to Kumar, a smart entrepreneur says yes only to the first. “Entrepreneurs sell a vision,” not the company.

Impresse was the first company Kumar started. It is pretty low-tech on the face of it. Its expertise and technology allows companies to optimize their printing operations, which are still numerous even in a PC-centric world.

Impresse filed for an IPO in January. Onebox.com started off as a “Hotmail-plus-plus,” enabling free mail, free voice mail, fax etc. But that was not why Phone.com bought it. Onebox.com was picked up because it had also gained on wireless space, something Kumar says he never imagined for the company when starting it. If an entrepreneur tells you, they got it all planned, don’t believe it, says Kumar, citing Onebox.com as an example.

Kumar’s other two ventures are less known, but have been financed by major VC firms. To get to where he is, Kumar acquired the “ground floor or foundation,” as he calls the experience gained by working at large American corporations. Only years later does one realize why one did a certain thing a certain way, Kumar says of the learning that comes from working at these companies.

Like many, Kumar hopped on a plane to the United States soon as he graduated out of IIT in 1981. He earned a couple of masters degrees, an M.S. at UPenn and an M.B.A at the University of Chicago and joined Intel. In 1987, after three years at Intel, he joined Oracle.

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