Zafar Khan is the founder and chief executive officer of rPost, a company that provides registered email services. His previous experience includes has strategy consulting and finance jobs with Braxton Associates/Deloitte Consulting and Goldman Sachs. Khan has invented two U.S. patents, holds a bachelor of arts from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, an International Business Certificate from The Georgetown University School of Business, and a master of business administration from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.
Sramana: Zafar, let’s start by reviewing your background. Where are you from? What kind of childhood did you have that led you down the path you are on today?
Zafar Khan: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up going to public schools in the Boston area. I did my undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University after which I worked for a number of years before going to the Wharton School for my MBA. During that time I had worked for a short time with Goldman Sachs in investment banking and Deloitte consulting as a strategy consultant. I then took a risk and quit so that I could help another gentleman take a concept and turn it into a business with a very specific goal.
My partner, Terrence Tomkow, has a PhD from Cambridge University. We were both living in Los Angeles and he had bought a Palm Pilot online and sent an email to cancel that order, after which he bought a Cassiopea. When he received the Palm Pilot in the mail he called the Web retailer and asked them if they had received his cancellation email. The retailer told him they did not receive his email. He pulled up the email from his “sent” folder and told them the time and date he had sent it, and they insisted they had not received it. He then offered to forward the email from his sent items box, at which time they told him they would not allow that since he could change the forwarded email to say anything he wanted to say. Ultimately. he missed the 48-hour cancellation window and he was stuck with the device.
This was clearly a problem. There are traditional ways he could have addressed that problem. He could have sent a certified letter with a return receipt or have sent a fax and maintained a copy of the log. With email, without the opportunity of the recipient to confirm receiving, there is really no way to get proof of who said what, when. He looked around and realized the underlying issue with most issues in the world is who said what, when. When you do that via email it is very easy to manipulate. Email is not magic; it goes through a number of processes, so he felt there should be a simple way for a layperson to prove what was sent when, and to whom, via email. He decided to call that registered email.
We built a business around this notion that there should be a registered email capability. We built prototype products in 2000 and tested it in the marketplace at Internet World in 2000 and a blogger happened to write about our free test version. That version started getting used in 22 countries around the world virally. We knew we were on to something then.
There are a couple of key steps there for an entrepreneur. First, when you see a problem you can conceptualize the solution, but you need to act on it. You need a plan, prototype, and test the market. When you realize there is a market you then have to turn it into a commercial service. You also must do that in a way that gives you a sustainable advantage in the marketplace.