Minnesota seems to be developing well as a hub for tech startups. With a strong culture of bootstrapping, we’re seeing a lot of entrepreneurs building high growth businesses.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your personal journey. Tell me a bit about where you were born and raised and in what kind of circumstances.
Praful Saklani: I was actually born in the United Kingdom. My family is from North India. When I was four years old, we moved from the UK to Minneapolis. Throughout that whole process of growing up in Minnesota, I also traveled back to India, at least, once every two years. We’d spend a lot of time with my family there. I would say that I actually grew up both in the US and India. Even when I visit India, I would actually spend time in villages and up in the mountain. It’s a nice broad perspective of a good mid-western upbringing and a good north Indian upbringing too. That’s a bit of a cultural context.
Sramana Mitra: I spoke to somebody else who’s from rural Minnesota who has built a $5 million company with no outside financing just before you.
Praful Saklani: Minnesota is a surprising community that way. There’s so much innovation but I think because of the Scandinavian roots, they don’t talk it up a lot. The Twin Cities is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies. Most people would not know that because it’s not a place where you beat your own drum. That’s not surprising.
Sramana Mitra: Tell me more about what happens after college?
Praful Saklana: I went to college in Philadelphia. I graduated in 1995 and there was a lot of buzz about the whole dot-com scene. I saw all these great companies being created. I decided that technology was an area where I wanted to focus. Even though I was an Economics major, I first got into Internet consulting. It was nice to be young and be a world expert at something just because I knew HTML.
Sramana Mitra: Even though you didn’t know anything else.
Praful Saklani: Exactly. It’s funny because now I see the 23-year-old entrepreneurs, they have so much to learn. When I was 23, I used to say that experience is overrated. In 1998, when I was 25, I co-founded my first company. It was called Yatra Corporation. What we were focused on was this notion of how can you use artificial intelligence algorithms to help large companies better manage their travel procurement. I’m sure you might be aware that the word yatra means journey in Sanskrit and in Hindi. That’s where the name for the company came from. We were actually very successful. We had some big Fortune 500 companies as customers. Then we sold the company in late 2000 to a travel technology company. That was my first taste of the type of value creation and success that you could quickly build.