Sanjay Shah bootstrapped his technology startup from nothing to $250 million in revenue before accepting private equity funding.
Bootstrapping may not be as common as raising big money these days, but it certainly worked out for this entrepreneur. When you can pull it off, it puts you in a much stronger position to choose strategic investors later and can provide a great sense of accomplishment.
I recently interviewed Sanjay for an exclusive episode of the Dealmakers Podcast. He shared his 10,000-mile journey, what he has learned on the way, his unique take on launching a business, and the steps in evolving as an enterprise-level startup.
Getting Out Of Your Bubble
Sanjay Shah was born and raised in Mumbai, India. He says his whole life, including college and family, was centered in a one-mile radius. It was a comfortable bubble, but still a very small bubble.
He decided to jump on the bandwagon, and travel 10,000 miles to attend business school in America.
Coming from a family of accountants, he elected to do his MBA in finance. Then the next logical step was to go work in accounting.
He picked up a job as a staff auditor with PwC right out of school. He lasted a whole six months before realizing that accounting just wasn’t a profession he wanted to be stuck in.
Clearly, it is a very valuable skill to have when starting your own business, just not a very fulfilling career for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit.
There are many startups that seem to start out very well and gain some success but then fail horrifically because their cash flow and budgets don’t add up. Then everything implodes.
Knowing accounting can be extra beneficial when you are trying to bootstrap your own venture, just don’t get stuck too deep in it.
Sanjay says he wanted to go get some real operational experience before launching his own company.
He applied to General Motors. The only position they would give him in operations was in Canada. He took it. He got to see the inside of the supply chain and how things are built and put together.
Then intrigued by software Shah took a job with SAP as they were beginning their venture into North America. He was one of their earliest employees.
He learned the value of finding cheerleaders for your ideas and spent time in their R&D department at the headquarters in Germany. He even spearheaded their Platinum Consulting division that went out to troubleshoot problems around the globe.
Making The Leap Into Entrepreneurship
He began pitching his own ideas to SAP. They wanted him to work on his projects there in Germany. Sanjay and his family wanted to return to the US.
At the time his wife was six months pregnant with their second child. He had a very good package with SAP, including stock options.
His wife thought he was crazy to cash it all in to begin working on his own. It turned out to be very fortuitous timing, right before the big crash of 1999.
Sanjay’s idea was to begin writing software for ERP systems. He thought that if he spent his first efforts on selling the services that would allow him to fund developing his product. He started bootstrapping.
Some early successes enabled him to begin to make his first hires. He began recruiting engineers, of which some of the earliest are still working with him today.
Eventually, the business grew to an enterprise software company, providing solutions to drive customer growth and partner relations by increasing revenue, improving margins and controlling costs with rebate, rights & royalties, sales performance, channel partner, pricing, vendor, and trade promotion programs so that it all adds up.
Today, Vistex has around 1,600 employees, on-prem, cloud and hybrid software, as well as offering professional services. They have grown every single year, despite having gone through two major recessions.
Sanjay waited until they had grown to $250 million in revenue before considering taking outside money. When he did, it certainly wasn’t for the money at all.
The move was primarily a way to gain a strategic partner with great operational experience in scale, sales, and taking things to the next level.
They found one of Silicon Valley’s most notable private equity investors was willing to come in for a minority stake. That was Accel-KKR.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Sanjay was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
Private Equity vs. Venture Capital Funding
Venture capital investors tend to invest in the earlier stages. An average of around two and a half years in. It’s more about belief in the founders and idea.
Sanjay describes the difference in private equity being investors as funding more mature organizations with high growth and high potential. They are investing in an already built platform, and their operational and go-to-market expertise. They come in to accelerate growth.
Vistex also benefited from a relationship with SAP. When you are bootstrapping you tend to be stingy on marketing and sales budgets. You may be mostly made up of engineers. Though you aren’t going to last long without sales.
They struck up a partnership with SAP that gave them tremendous reach. SAP has its own sales team of thousands of boots on the ground around the world. They started working together in North America and then rolled out to Europe, Asia, South Africa, and South America.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Sanjay’s approach to building it and letting them come
- Tackling enterprise sales
- The fun and challenges of bootstrapping your startup
- How to grow yourself as a leader every day
- His top piece of advice before launching a business