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|March 24, 2000|
Amazing success story of a teen techie
Anand Lal Shimpi brings new meaning to words like "passion" and "tireless". Not to mention "teenage."
The 17-year-old high school senior who is the CEO and creator of an Internet company (www.anandtech.com) that reviews hardware, juggles school and 60-hour workweeks, a steady girlfriend, time with friends and, as their only child, a close relationship with his parents.
On weekends he even finds time to watch movies and basketball games. In fact, Shimpi is having so much fun that sleep is the last thing on his mind. With a site that gets almost 1.5 million readers a day and ad revenues nearing a $ 1 million, you can't blame Shimpi for being a workaholic.
Who needs sleep when motherboards, processors and video cards charge up your adrenaline?
Shimpi's typical day is needless to say far from an average one. He is up by 6 getting ready for school. His school day usually begins at 7.45 am and ends at 2.30 pm. Shimpi is back home a little before 3 and immediately sets to work on his site. He is takes a break at about 7.00, 7.30 for a quick 10, 15 minute dinner. He is back at his computer after dinner and works without a break till midnight when he then takes some time to do his homework.
Homework done, he is back to work on Anandtech and hits his bed usually only at 2, 3 am.
"He has always been getting straight As, only since last year he has been getting a few Bs because of the pressure of business," says his father.
The lack of sleep doesn't really bother this inferno of energy. The extreme passion he has for his work seems to override any symptoms of sleep deficiency.
"In the end it comes down to how you prioritize your time. The lack of sleep does not add to the stress, it is in the business side of things that the stress comes in. The only social life I have is during the weekends, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice," said Shimpi.
Over the weekends, he puts work aside and becomes a swinging teenager, who likes to hang out with his girlfriend of two years, and watch movies and basketball games with his friends.
"It is my job to see that his friends get enough food to eat when they come over for the weekends," said his father, laughing.
Anand Shimpi's girlfriend, Amy Wheeless, a junior at Enloe High School in Raleigh, is the soundingboard for feedback on his articles.
"She is not as hardcore a computer enthusiast as my readers, or me, which is good. Because it'll be crazy if there is another me. I send her my articles and if she gets an understanding of what I'm talking about, I know they are okay," said Shimpi.
He draws great inspiration from his father, Lal, a computer science professor at St Augustine's College in Raleigh. Lal Shimpi came to this country in 1976 with $ 13. He borrowed the airfare to fly from Bombay to Boston. He had a full scholarship to study at the University of Boston, but with next to no money in his pockets, he worked in the kitchen of a Punjabi restaurant, getting food in lieu of pay.
"Anand keeps telling everybody, 'if my Dad can do it, so can I'," said Lal Shimpi.
It was Lal who first injected the computer bug in his son. This was one virus that would set off a love fever that would never subside. When Shimpi was in third grade, his father enrolled him in a computer course. The other participants were undergraduates in their twenties.
When he was in his sixth grade, Anand built his first PC with the help of his dad and was soon building PCs for others.
"My interest in computers came from my father, but my interest in hardware came from my mother. She is the handy person in the house interested in electronics and carpentry," said Shimpi.
He exudes a maturity and humility that doesn't go with either his age or his success. He interacts with Intel executives, jets around the country to attend computer conferences, socializes with corporate VIPs and has been featured in Fortune, CBS Morning News and other frontline media. But to his friends he is still a goofy, regular guy and to his parents a "dream son."
His only indulgence is an electric-blue BMW he drives to school.
"I'm no different from the guys I sit with in class. There is nothing that has changed about me as a person. I've gained experience about running a business, but I'm still the person I was when I started the site," he said.
His amazing story actually started in April of 1997 when as a 14 year old he started anandtech.com. He initially started off reviewing the hardware he had on his own computer, since he could not afford to buy expensive computer parts.
But within months, he found that there were thousands who shared his passion for hardware and his site was bombarded with hits. When his first advertiser, a hardware manufacturer came calling, he refused to take money from him. Instead he asked for hardware to review.
Two years later, the ads are pouring in and a California-based advertising agency looks after the site's advertising operations.
The volume, range and objectivity of the site have made it one of the top three hardware sites on the Internet. In the Fortune article, an Intel spokesman has said 'Anandtech is as good as any other website. What's unique is Anand's age.'
Shimpi employs 12 reviewers, a graphics artist and a site developer. His mother, Iranian-born Razieh Shimpi quit her bank job to take care of accounts and bookkeeping. Shimpi himself does about 5 reviews a week, some of them running to 20 to 30 pages.
Last June, his parents bought a bigger house in West Raleigh, since business was booming and there just wasn't enough room for all the hardware that was coming in from manufacturers. Shimpi has converted the upper level in the new house into a testing facility. An office premises is under construction and by next year Anandtech should be in its very own office.
The phenomenal readership of Anandtech and the influence it exerts on their buying decisions has manufacturers vying for reviews on the site. "We have contacts with all the major manufacturers -- we're talking about hundreds of manufacturers," said Shimpi.
Of course, unfavorable reviews have roused the ire of many manufacturers. Not that Shimpi and his editors care. They take their responsibility of separating the PR fluff from the real stuff very seriously.
"Whether it is a $ 50 product or a $ 1,000 product it is essentially somebody else's money and you have to be careful when you tell people what to do with their money. When manufacturers submit a product for review they know how tough our standards are and how strict we can be. So they are aware of the risks associated with it," said Shimpi.
Unlike other hardware sites, over 99 per cent of Anandtech's readership are hardcore computer enthusiasts who have either played around with their PCs one time or another or currently run their PCs with components they chose or custom built.
Anandtech's success has led to the creation of affiliate sites for Windows 98, Windows 2000 and even one for movie reviews called movienut.com. "We are trying to funnel the readership of Anandtech to these sites," said Shimpi.
There have been numerous buy out offers, but Shimpi would like to keep his options open. The sheer joy of producing his site cannot be matched by any hefty check.
"The future of Anandtech is kind of set. I'm young and have my entire life ahead to make money. I'm enjoying this and so is the entire team, but you never know what the future brings," said Shimpi.
What he has decided to do is to study engineering at North Carolina State University this fall. Life is obviously two-tracked for this teenager who seems to have his feet nicely balanced in both. On the one hand there are the normal teenage stuff like school, college, girlfriend and friends and then there is the more serious, adult side to him in his business. Of course, he is constantly warned about burnout, not that Shimpi loses any sleep over it!
"I think the men who burn out are the ones who stop enjoying doing what they are doing. I'm honestly enjoying doing what I'm doing," said Shimpi.
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