Vivek Ranadivé founded TIBCO in 1985. He is also the author of the New York Times business bestseller “The Power of Now: How Winning Companies Sense and Respond to Change Using Real-time Technology” (McGraw-Hill, 1999). He was one of InfoWorld’s 2002 Top Ten Technology Innovators and was recognized by Ernst & Young as a 2002 Software Entrepreneur of the Year.
Prior to founding TIBCO, Vivek founded a UNIX consulting company. Prior to that, he held management and engineering positions with Ford Motor Company, M/A-COM Linkabit and Fortune Systems. He earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. He received both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
SM: Vivek, where does your story begin? Where did you grow up and what was the environment like?
VR: My story begins in Bombay and yes, I still call it Bombay.I grew up there, and I was in a family where the bar was pretty high. My grandmother used to have competitions for all of us cousins when we were kids. Family get-togethers would often be competitions in drama, math, and different things.
SM: Your grandmother set that bar; was she a matriarch?
VR: She was one of the first women judges in India. She set a high bar and expected a commitment to serving people. When I was young I was the classic pre-engineer kid. I would take apart clocks and build model airplanes and cars. Like all the other kids, I did the IIT entrance exam when I was 15. They obviously made a mistake because my name was on the admission list, so I started at IIT.
When I was growing up I saw a documentary on MIT. I decided that was where I wanted to go. They showed kids working on projects and building things outside the classroom. They were creating, not just lectured. I found that quite appealing. I like to joke that IIT was so hard that I had to find an easier school to go to, so I transferred to MIT fairly quickly.
I arrived in the US with $50 in my pocket. In those days, and it is still partially true, the rupee was not a convertible currency. I had to figure out a way to get some foreign exchange, and I had to camp out at the door of the head of the Reserve Bank of India to convince them to give me a little bit of foreign currency. He gave me enough to pay for one semester, and I literally had $50 left in my pocket when I landed. I was 17.
I always had an entrepreneurial mind. When I was at MIT I made friends with a guy who wrote software to automate scheduling for schools. It could handle classes, buses, and things like that. We commercialized it and tried to sell it to high school districts. That did not pan out.
I also looked at ads in the Boston Globe. I saw companies advertising to hire programmers. I would call these companies and try to convince them to let me do the work for them as a freelancer instead of hiring a programmer. I sold some jobs doing that, and I would hire MIT students to do the programming.
I had the entrepreneurial bend right from the start. I wanted to work from myself. I am not sure where that came from, but that is how I always felt.