Interview by Vivian Chung ’16. Published July 30, 2014
I came to the US for boarding school and tennis was what pretty much guided the most formative years of my life. The goal was for me to be a professional tennis player and thankfully that didn't happen. I did play on tour for a bit and while it was an awesome experience, I love the other experiences I have gone through thus far.
I have always been a numbers guy and when going through the syllabus, I just remember being enamored with the engineering classes. Every class description I read was awesome. Came to find out I could do both BME/EE together so why not J. I liked it, I loved it…the intensity was great and when you can solve one of the hard questions, there is no feeling like it. I did economics because I don’t think I ever wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to be a banker so it felt natural to add an Economics major as well. I knew the Investment Banking world like Engineers since we are technical but if you add econ to that, you are both technical and financial – seemed to be a good fit and one that would provide a lot of opportunity for me.
Lastly, I also had to figure out ways to differentiate myself from so many other smart and competitive people. Doing three majors always got the double look and is why I feel I had a lot of success in my early job hunting days.
You started Co Co. Sala. Tell us the story of how it got started.
You are also a founding member and Senior Vice President of Sales at Cvent, Inc. Tell us what types of things your role entails. What are you responsible for?
You started out as an investment banker at Salomon Smith Barney, how was that experience helpful in starting your own company?
Banking is perhaps one of the best entry points into the working world and it was my first job. You learn so many things and frankly, I would say more than many other jobs. You learn to work hard, really hard – 18 to 20 hour days, 10 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday. You learn that you have given your life to customers for the time you are in banking. So working hard was natural to me but this put it into a practical sense. You also learn very early on to treat this as a “career” vs. just a “job” so the extra attention to detail came early on, responsibility and the fact that you are accountable came very early on. It has set an AMAZING foundation for me once I got to the working world and lessons to this day that I practice and preach to my colleagues.
Having spent a lot of your life around the world, how does this experience help you in your work?
Having perspective is a great asset and being a worldly and an experienced traveler only adds to that. I think you get richer in life in every way because of these travels and become a better business man or woman is just one of the benefits. In 2012, I believe I went to 21 countries, mostly for work and some personal as well. Directly however it has helped since we sell our products all over the world. And how you sell in the US is very different than Europe and entirely different than Asia Pacific. These differences are immense and how you handle negotiation, presenting, conflict resolution, pricing, etc. are all different. The more you can immerse yourself in a culture and understand how business gets done there, the better and more successful you will be. The worst thing to do is assume others do business the same way you do or are used to doing. One has to be respectful of different business cultures and adapt to a large extent.
Thinking back to when you were a student, were there things you wished you'd done differently to prepare for being an entrepreneur? And what did you do as a student that you are glad you did?
This is a very tough question only because Cvent has been so successful and I feel had I have done things differently, maybe I would be down a different path. We went from 5-10 folks in 1999, with 0 everything…customers, product, investors, and believers to a public company (we went public August 2013) with 1,450 employees, several products and offices and almost 12,600 customers. So I really have no large regrets at all. Sure there are other things I wish I did but that would be more for personal enrichment…I love history. I am fascinated by world events and how much more intertwined the world is becoming. I would have loved to have learned more about this and what better place to do this than Duke.
I think the one thing I did is I more so than many others embraced the people at Duke and am still in touch with so many folks. I always knew the value of people both personally but also professionally. I became very involved as an alumni, donor and in fact chaired my 10th and 15th year reunions and loved it. The value of our network is insane and funny enough how I got to Cvent. Chuck Ghoorah who has become my best friend is the co-founder of Cvent and in 1999 told me to leave the world of banking and join Cvent. He is triple Duke (Undergrad, Grad and Law). This is something I will always value because Duke folks are special…very special! Our network is pretty phenomenal.
What is some advice you would give students who are thinking of working at a large company before starting their own company?
In fact I think the opposite…work at a smaller company because you will learn more. If you go to a large company, you are too far removed from what the finance does, what is marketing’s role, how do all the aspects of sales work, etc. So my advice is to join a smaller company since you can make a larger impact and I think you learn a lot more. Now I didn’t do that because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do…as I said, I thought I was going to be a banker and the notion of being a “Wall Street Guy” was what I wanted. That quickly changed when I wanted to do something that had much more impact.