News Find/Feedback/Site Index
January 25, 2000


Search Rediff

The case of the 'reluctant immigrant'

E-Mail this feature to a friend

Kamla Bhatt in Santa Clara

Sitting hidden behind a pile of files, Venkatesh Shukla is busy signing check after check while listening to a group of volunteers who stand around him.

For a fleeting moment Shukla reminds you of an Indian civil servant. In fact, he was one. He spent almost 10 years as a member of the Indian Administrative Service.

In many ways Shukla's life can be described as a "happy combination of fortuitous circumstances."

In spite of the punishing schedule at his new start-up,, Shukla, 44, unfailingly spends 3 to 4 hours up almost every Tuesday evening at the Santa Clara-based Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization. He is the president of FFE, which helps needy and bright students in India complete their education.

Occasionally, you can catch him at the FFE office on Saturday mornings reviewing and approving the hundreds of applications that pour in from students in India.

A "reluctant immigrant" to the US, Shukla has made a successful transition from the stodgy, rule-bound Indian bureaucracy to the intensely competitive Silicon Valley. It was competitiveness and perseverance that helped him get into the IAS. It is again these values that helped him become a successful angel investor and entrepreneur, and the CEO of a hot start-up. is a privately-held Santa Clara Internet company that is poised to make a big splash in the mobile computing world that analyst predict is the next growth area in the ever-changing Internet world.

Technology Partners recently gave the company the "Investors Choice Award". It was identified as one of the 'Top 10' companies to succeed in the computing area.

Sitting in his well-appointed conference room at everypath, Shukla recollects how different it was growing up at Akalthara in Bilaspur district.

His father had insisted that he attended the village patshala.

"There were only two chairs in the classroom: one was for the teacher and the other for the zamindar's son. That is how feudal the system was there."

But Shukla was able to get beyond that and went on to study at some of the better-known educational institutions in India.

After completing his engineering degree in electronics from the Regional Engineering College, Bhopal, in 1976, he joined the IAS, essentially because many members of his family, including his father, were bureaucrats.

"All I ever wanted to be was an electronics engineer. I never aspired to become rich or an entrepreneur," he says. "My entire family is in bureaucracy. But I am also the first entrepreneur in my family."

It was his marriage to Abha that made him a "reluctant migrant to the US," he says. Soon after his marriage he took a leave of absence and joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from where he got his MBA. He rejoined the IAS after completing his studies in 1986.

He returned when different departments were beginning to be computerised. He sought that he be allowed to be part of the process. But, instead, he was carted off to Salem in Tamil Nadu.

"I was a deputy commissioner of Salem, Tamil Nadu for one day in 1986 and resigned the next," he says.

There is a hint of embarrassment when he recounts the story. After resigning, he flew back to the US to join Abha, who lived in California, and then he began taking an interest in the computer industry. The couple has two sons, Aseem, 10 and Amar, 8.

Although trained as an engineer, he has never worked as one. His first job was with Teradyne in their sales and marketing division. He subsequently joined Cadence Design Systems and quickly became an its vice-president. He got his first taste of entrepreneurship in 1994, when he became the founder and VP, marketing and sales, of a new company called Systems and Network. Cadence, his former employer, owned forty per cent of the new company.

After a three-year stint, he left the company to join Ambit Design Systems in 1996. Ambit was a hot new start-up where he eventually became a major shareholder.

"I was the first professional manager at Ambit and, within two years, we sold the company to Cadence for $ 260 million," he says.

Following the Valley trend, Shukla retired from his job and thought he would spend some time enjoying life.

It was during this period, at a social event, that Shukla bumped into Piyush Goel. Goel said he was seeking some financial backing and Shukla gave him a reference of an investor and wished him luck.

Goel and his friends, Prakash Iyer, Amitabh Sinha and Rajeev Mohindra had come up with the idea of delivering content via non-PC devices. "We realized that the Internet is a new delivery mechanism. How do we take the Internet to the people was the challenge? The idea was for people to dial in, using server technology," says Iyer.

"Initially, we were focussed on voice delivery and the idea was to use off-the shelf component," says Goel.

However, a month later when Shukla met Goel at another social gathering he casually asked him how his project was progressing and discovered that the reference had not worked out.

Sensing that Goel was on to something, Shukla met him and his three partners and agreed to invest about $ 200,000 in their start-up. This was in late 1998 and, by the end of the year, Shukla had successfully raised $ 2 million from an impressive array of private investors, including Sabeer Bhatia, K B Chandrasekhar, Atiq Raza, Raj Singh, Gordon Bell ('father of minicomputers') and Chet Silvestri, former president of Sun Microsystems.

"We quickly realized that we knew how to deliver the technology but needed help with sales and marketing. We were technology-heavy but knew our strengths and limitations," says Goel.

Last April, Shukla finally became the CEO of the start-up, 'WebonPhone'. However, they soon changed the name of the company to everypath, to reflect the change in their technology. The founders expanded their technology and decided to "provide customized Internet content to non-PC devices like phones, PDA, smartphones and pagers.

"These devices are display-challenged," says Iyer.

The company's Java-based product has two components: a designer tool that allows the page to be customised, and a tool that captures the data. The server acts as a middle-man between the device and the Internet.

Typical customers of their product include big corporations whose names they are reluctant to disclose "since we are beta-testing our product and are still in stealth mode," says Goel.

While all this work was in progress, Shukla was busy meeting with venture capitalists. By the end of 1999, he managed to raise $ 12 million in the first round of funding from VCs Sevin Rosen Funds and US Venture Partners.

The company faces competition from Oracle Corp's 'Project Panama', which aims to delivers dynamic web content through mobile devices. Among the other competitors are AvantGo, a start-up that provides content over palm pilot and calls itself "the authority in managing mobile information."

Shukla and his technical team don't mind. And once they have their product out, they hope to even have an Initial Public Offering by the end of this year.

Rekhi's Payback Time Comes With $ 5 Million Donation

Next: No Khalistan connection in gurdwara shooting: worshippers

Tell us what you think of this report