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Andrew Warner: Hey everyone, it’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. You know what we do here. Every day I bring in a different businessperson to talk about how he or she is building a business. Find out what they learned along the way, the milestones, the setbacks, how they got over those setbacks, why they are able to build a successful business while so many people struggle all so that we can find out how they did it. We bring those ideas back to you and my audience hopefully will take those ideas, go out there, and build incredible businesses. I am finding more and more that the guests who are coming on here to talk about their successful companies are also fans who have heard past interviews. We end up spending a little bit of time after the interviews talking about the ones that they liked. Today I have with me Jahanzeb Sherwani. He is the founder of iTeleport. When common wisdom said that iPhone apps had to be given away for free or maybe max, max sold for 99 cents, this guy blew everybody away by announcing that not only was his bootstrap one man operation selling an app for $25 in the app store, but he talked about how much money he was making with that app. He really stunned people and changed their perspective. We’ll find out how much he earned. I’ll let him say it. We’ll find out what iTeleport is. We’ll hear the story of how he did it. Welcome to Mixergy.
Jahanzeb Sherwani: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: How did I do with the pronunciation of your name, by the way?
Jahanzeb: Pretty good. It’s Jay-han-zebe Shay-wan-e. I actually go by J normally, but that was pretty good.
Andrew: Just the letter ‘J?’
Andrew: You did what I did. I had a name that was too complicated for Americans to pronounce. I said, ‘You know, I can either battle them forever and try to explain it to them or I’ll come up with Andrew.’ That’s what I ended up doing. You went with the letter J.
J: So, what was your first name?
Andrew: How long have you been doing that, by the way? I’ll get to the business part, but I am curious.
J: Well, I got my PhD in 2003 at Carnegie Mellon. I quickly realized that people weren’t getting my name. I just figured, well, my friends were even calling me J back home. I figured I would just go with that.
Andrew: Where’s back home?
J: Pakistan. That’s where I grew up.
Andrew: I can see Pakistani entrepreneurs are so proud of you. They are studying you. I see you on different websites. For very accomplishment that you have there seems to be another blog post or a website. I found one in my research announcing that you are the first Pakistani entrepreneur to get his app into the iPhone app store. You are one of the top entrepreneurs in the tech space, there is another blog post about it. It is really interesting to see that we’re in a world where everything is small. We’re all identifying and working with each other. However, I also notice that when one of ours does well, we seem to feel like, ‘Well, it’s possible for us.’ I get many emails from women entrepreneurs every time I do an interview with a female entrepreneur saying, ‘You know what, that really helped me.’
J: Yes. I totally agree. I think you always want role models. You always want to have someone you can look at and say, ‘This guy did it, and I am kind of like that guy.’ I think that really helps. I really like that. I encourage people who have questions and who are afraid to take the first steps to just contact me. I am very accessible. We’ll have a chat about what they are doing.
Andrew: Wow. All right. We’ll get your contact information and put it in the post so that people can follow up with you. How much revenue are you making with iTeleport?
J: that’s the end of a long story, but since you asked, over the last few months we’ve given the new iPad app and the new iPhone additions we’ve done, we are looking at $1 million plus. That is a great milestone that we’ve managed to achieve and we are pretty proud of it.
Andrew: There is no outside fudging in this business from what I’ve read, right?
J: We have never taken a cent. In fact, even the first domain name was something that I did through the revenues that I got from the app. It’s been completely bootstrapped.
Andrew: Wow. I didn’t realize it was to that extreme. What is iTeleport today? What’s that app that we’re going to be talking about?
J: The app right now is simply a remote desktop app that lets you access your computer from anywhere in the world using your iPhone or iPad. The app started out as just a really great way to do remote desktop at a time when all the other interfaces out there were not as useable. Now there is more competition, but we still think that we have an offering that differentiates itself from everything else that is out there.
Andrew: All right. How did you get started? Let’s find out how you got here.
J: That story starts in February 2008, a little over two years ago. This is when I had my iPhone. I was actually doing my PhD research at the time. My work was on voice applications for low-literacy users. I was actually back in Pakistan working on my PhD. I had this iPhone. There weren’t many apps on it; there were just what you had. There was this great vibrant jailbreak community at the time that was hacking at the other apps and going beyond the boundaries that Apple had laid out for them. Just making these incredible proof of concept things that actually worked fine and could be used. I had an itch. I was always VNC user, so I had remote desktop access. I was excited by the idea of controlling my computer from my iPhone. There was actually an open source VNC client called VNsea. That took one of the open source VNC projects and ported it to the iPhone. In theory, it sounded great. From a usability standpoint, it was hard to use. My idea was, ‘Let’s just start by taking away the remote desktop access, the screen view, and all of that. Let’s just make an iPhone that acts as a wireless touchpad.’ Imagine taking the touchpad out of your laptop and you can control the mouse and keyboard from your iPhone. That is actually who it started. The first app was called Touchpad. I made a YouTube video about it; put it up on a Touchpad.blogspot.com or something of that sort. No domain name even. I just put it out there to see what people would do, thinking it was like a weekend hobby project and I would move on and continue with the rest of my life.
Andrew: It took you just the weekend to create it. I saw an old blog post leading up to this app. Many people were, before they even explained how to download it, they explained how to jailbreak. You mentioned that people had to jailbreak. Why? Why wasn’t it just in the app store? Why did you go jailbreak?
J: This is actually, as you can imagine, at that time it was before the iStore existed.
Andrew: Wow. Okay.
J: Apple launched the iPhone in the summer of 2007. They launched the app store in the summer of 2008. Between that time, all you had was the 7 or 12 apps that shipped with the iPhone. It was only through the jailbreak process that you were able to get other apps on. One would think that there wasn’t that big of a community that would be doing this, but when I put the video up it hit 100,000 hits on YouTube within a few days. It was on the front page of Digg, Gadget, Gizmodo, and a bunch of other blogs. Thousands of people around the world started downloading the app, using it, and asking for features. That was something that totally blew me away. I was completely unprepared for that. Here I am a mild-mannered PhD student, now thee is this app that people across the world are using. As any hacker will tell you, once people start asking you for stuff you tend to just start doing it. That’s how things started.
Andrew: Can you talk a little bit more about the motivation for creating that first app?
J: I often think back to that time and wonder what it was, what I wanted that actually lead me to do this. I think the thing was that I had a TV that was connected to my computer. If I wanted to watch a movie or any TV show that I downloaded, I’d have to actually walk over there. I had a laptop that was VNC over at the computer. I think, effectively, laziness was what brought me to make the first app. ‘If I can use my iPhone that would be way easier than having a wireless keyboard or a laptop with VNC.’ That’s where it started. That’s why I didn’t really care about seeing the remote desktop on the phone; it just had to be a wireless touchpad. That’s where things got started.
Andrew: I see. Did you do many projects like this? Where you were just hacking things away?
J: Yeah, I think I kind of did. Even before the PhD when I was an undergrad I just threw together a random project for fun. I think in high school my hard drive had crashed and I wasn’t able to get into Windows, but I had a floppy disc and I think I had a programming BASIC so I was able to play music on the keyboard. Many years later in grad school, I tried to take some of the doxology I was working on in my research, which was speech interface and the ability to communicate with your PDA. I halfway set up a start-up with some friends trying to take that commercial. A few years later a bunch of different friends and I started what we called Mindkin which was a combination of social networking and online gamming. A bit of online dating as well. It was the idea that we could take the concepts that work well in each of these individual domains, put them together, and have a fun way of getting to know people. All of these experiences I think added up and helped me do what I did with iTeleport. Many time things just don’t work. The idea isn’t that good. The implementation isn’t that good. The team isn’t that good. One of those things happens. You learn and you grow from that. That is how things went for me as well.
Andrew: I see. OK. I see a lot of this in my interviews. Entrepreneurs who before they had the big hit were just trying different things, experimenting with little projects. What I am seeing also is that in the back of their minds there is always a search for the business. It’s not that the project happens to be so big that they get dragged kicking and screaming into entrepreneurship, it’s just that in the back of their heads they are always looking for that opportunity and when the project is big enough they say, ‘You know what, this could be it.’ Does that explain your situation?
J: I think actually I would fall into the other category that you mentioned. Each of these things that I did, I think what I was excited most by was the idea that I’d made something that potentially hundreds of thousands or more people around the world were using. Not only using, but deriving some sort fi value from it. Even with iTeleport for the longest time I never met to make money off it. The original app started as open source. It was GPL licensed which meant that I had to put out every update I’d have to put out the source code as well. That meant there was no way I could charge for it because someone else could just go out and put it out themselves. I actually didn’t charge at all for the longest time. Eventually I made this other app, a companion app to the iPhone app. It worked in just Windows. You could control Media Player, WinApp, or iTunes. I charged $5 for that, just to see what would happen. People started buying that. At that point, it wasn’t much; it was just a few thousand over a course of time. For me even that was more of a barometer to gauge interest in value rather than, ‘Okay, I want to make a whole lot of money from this.’ In fact, the first day when I actually started selling the screen view feature, which way back in May 2008 that made $5000 the first day, that was the moment in which I was like, ‘Wow. This is really serious. This is more than twice what I make in a month as a PhD student. Is this something that I actually want to invest more time on or is this going to remain a weekend hobby kind of thing?’ That’s when I decided, ‘You know what, this is actually bigger than I imagined. It is kind of dragging me in. Let me go in and see what is happening.’ I think I would fall into the accidental entrepreneur category. To begin with at least.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s continue with the story. You have this iPad, excuse me, this iPhone application. It works on jail broken iPhones. It gives people a remote control that is like the touchpad that I have here on my Mac. How did you get the first money from it?
J: Right. The first, first money was actually donations. I made a YouTube video that 100,000 people had seen. I said, ‘If you like what you see, here’s my PayPal address, donate.’ I learned the hard way that nobody donates. That was actually a very good lesson. You always imagine, ‘There are so many open source projects, I am sure people donate to this stuff.’ It turns out that everyone else also thinks the same way. They are sure that someone else donates. Nobody actually ends up donating. I think I made $15 or something in that donation time. Then I started charging for this other app that I mentioned. It was nothing much to write home about. What I also did was put up a webpage on the website using an app that they’ve taken away now that allowed users to put up features and then vote for them so they can sort by the crowds. That was actually incredible. Very quickly, the features that people actually want trickle up to the top. The topmost feature was, ‘Let me see the screen on the iPhone while I am controlling it.’ That actually made sense in hindsight, but it was great to hear people say that. I tired to figure out a way to do that in an effective way such that the interface that I had already started off with would still work and all the indications of the existing open source app that I had started from, those problems would go away. I came up with this new idea where you see the remote desktop on your iPhone but you still control the mouse like it is a touchpad. I think that was the fundamental innovation that separated this from everything else out there. By the time I was finished building the app and making sure that it working, I kind of had the feeling that this was something big. I didn’t want to just give it away for free. I decided to just put it out at $15 or 15 Euros if you are coming from anywhere other that the States and see what happens. The hidden demand was just so high that in the first day of sales of the app it had raised $5000. Sales were stable after that as well. That is the first real money that was made off the app. It was called Touchpad Pro at the time and it was still jail broken. There was still no app store. I was making serious money before the app store even existed.
Andrew: You were selling $15 or 15€ depending on where the user is in the world, by the way, great discount for Americans, right?
Andrew; Fifteen dollars/fifteen Euros depending on where they were coming from for the app that people would install on the iPhones. The desktop was what? Was it just a VNC client or was it something you created?
J: It was just a VNC server. I think that’s part of the success of the app. Stand on the shoulders of giants. VNC is such an established protocol. Many people around the world use it. I use it as well. It is just way easier to leverage that then grow your own, on both ends.
Andrew: Okay. VNC by the way is incredible. For the longest time I didn’t realize that it was available. I thought you had to pay for a program that would let you see the computer that you had in your office from home, and it turns out there are these free clients out there. Okay. That’s what you leveraged. How did you get so many people to come to your site that on day one you got $5000 worth of sales?
J: It’s a combination of things. First of all, there were very few people out there doing the same sort of stuff. At the same time, there was a huge population, billions of iPhone users around the world. At the time, if you weren’t in the US by definition you had to jailbreak your iPhone. All these people outside the US and in the US as well had jail broken phones with that installer app that would let you download any app, but there weren’t any good quality apps. There weren’t many good quality apps out there. There was a hunger for good apps. It was easy. Now you have the app store with 200,000+ apps. At the time, there was the scarcity of good developers. There was also the fact that I had built up a following through the YouTube videos and the open source, the free apps. There were many people who came onto the platform. This feature was actually just bridges that I hacked together at the time. There were more than 100,000 users of the free app. When they updated the app they saw, ‘Okay, this is another feature.’ Many of them were unsold onto the new feature.
Andrew: I see. If I understand you right, that free app that people had in the past, they could buy the upgraded version from within it. There was also that app store for jail broken phones and that’s where people bought. I didn’t realize that existed so early on.
J: It did. It was completely garbled together infrastructure. It just kind of worked, which was pretty interesting. You could, everyone who had a jail broken app had this app called Installer, which was the app store at that time. There was no payment. It was all free apps. There was no payment for downloading an app. You went to the apps, you downloaded the app, and then you had it. It was between the developer and the user how the payment had to be done.
Andrew: All right. I’ve got a jail broken phone right here. There is still an app store in there. I think it is called Cydia. I can download jailbroken apps there. Okay. What was the next milestone?
J: The next big milestone was, ‘Okay, this is serious stuff.’ It was still the jailbroken community. It was still open source. There was an impending launch of an app store coming in a few months. Is it worth going for? The revenue shouted out, ‘Yes, it is.’ I made a decision to go for that. For a few days, I was tinkering with the idea of the code I already had, keeping it open source and seeing where it would go. Part of me was uneasy with that though. If you are building a business where the carpet can be pulled out from beneath you at any time, it is not very firm. I decided to actually go in and invent the entire app from scratch. I threw out all of that code. I started with a blank project. I said, ‘I am going to make this app from scratch.’ The beauty of that was, I think that was one of the best decisions that I ever made. Before when you are working with someone else’s code there is always some magic somewhere. ‘I don’t know how this guy is taking the frame bumper and running through the screen graphics perimeters, but I just leave that because I don’t really care. I don’t want to know.’ When you are forced to do it though, you figure out better ways of doing it. You understand every single aspect of the app and you can optimize it much more. The app that I ended up with was much better than anything that I had built before. It had many more features. It was much smoother. When the app store opened, I think the first app store app that I released came out two weeks after the app store. I was hoping to hit it on the day of the launch, but I had a PhD that I was doing at the same time. We launched July 28, 2008, two weeks after the July 11th launch. The app was called Teleport at the time. Since day one, it was doing phenomenally well. I think over the next few months the world saw a financial recession. All hell was breaking loose. I’d look at my revenues and be like, ‘Is there really a recession happening over here? Because it doesn’t look like that from this perspective.’
Andrew: [laughs] Let’s talk about the names. I see different names for this. You said at the time it was called Teleport. Now it is called iTeleport. I remember seeing Jaadu VNC, I still see that on there. What’s Jaadu VNC?
J: When Teleport launched it was actually the name that I really liked. I wanted to keep it that way. But it turned out that there was another app for Mac called teleport. The developer actually contacted us and said, ‘Hey, you know I have this app. If you could rename your app that would be great.’ At that time, I was still sort of doing my PhD. There was no business set up around this app. I just figured, ‘Okay, let’s not step on anyone’s toes right now. Let’s just do something else.’ In Pakistan, Urdu is my native language and the word jaadu actually means magic. It seems like an interesting thing. To take this exotic sounding word, put it together with VNC, which is a protocol that everyone knows, so if you search for VNC it will actually come up, and see what happens. Consistently all the people from India, Pakistan, or Iran where the word actually means the same thing in all of these countries, these guys love the word. When I came to the States, I realized that nobody was figuring out how to pronounce it. It was jay-do or ja-do or whatever. It didn’t make sense to people. People were afraid of the word, I felt. In the emails or in the tech support I was getting people would tiptoe around having to type the word, I felt because they weren’t sure how to pronounce it. When you have a brand that people are afraid to say or even type that is a bad situation to be in. Then we went the proper way. We registered a trademark for iTeleport. We set up the company name with iTeleport. We brought the app over and called it iTeleport as well. Now we are going with this iTeleport branding. As you can see, we have t-shirts as well. That is going to be the face of the company and the app for the foreseeable future.
Andrew: Okay. You weren’t able to get iTeleoprt.com, right?
J: Right. Therefore, even now there is a website out there, iTeleport.com. I think that in the future when we get to the point where that becomes a bottleneck we’ll look at it. For the time being I think Google has almost replaced the need to type in url anymore. If you search for ‘iTeleport’ we are the number one search result, obviously. In fact, if you search for ‘iPhone VNC’ we are actually within the first five search results, which we are very proud of.
Andrew: What about, I noticed when I went into the app store that you guys are listed in the productivity and the business categories. Almost like tow different apps. Is that one of your techniques for marketing? Being in both of those categories?
J: I think to be very honest the decision of what category to put the app in was something that we looked at two years ago. We set it and forgot it. We have not actually revisited that to see if changing things makes a difference in terms of revenues. The idea was, ‘Well, it is a productivity, a utility, and a business app.’ Utilities I think was crowded with these 99-cent flash player level apps. We just figured, ‘Okay, let’s stay out of that and see what we can do in productivity.’ That’s kind of how we got there.
Andrew: But you’re in two categories.
J: There’s one where you can actually set yourself with a primary and a secondary category. However, I think what you might be referring to is that there is another app that is in the business category. That is the app that does the most, the RDP protocol as opposed to the VNC protocol. In the future, we actually want to combine all this into just one app, which does everything to simplify things for the user.
Andrew: I see. I might have gotten confused by that. There is one app that can just work with VNC and another one that works with your desktop client.
J: No. It’s the Windows RDP client. RDP service. Windows comes bundled in with the protocol called RDP.
J: The other app supports that protocol.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I’m getting too deep into the trenches. I just need to go a little higher level. When did you know that you were on to something big here? That this was big?
J: I would say that it was, I guess there were three milestones. The first was the first YouTube video that I put out that 100,000 people saw. It was on Dig and the big tech blogs. People started using it. That was one thing that showed me, ‘This is different than anything you have ever done before. So, pay attention.’ The next big milestone was when I saw the real revenues, you know, $5000 in one day. Then I said, ‘Okay, not only are people are interested, they are willing to pay real money for this.’ Then it was getting into the app store and seeing, ‘Is this something that people will actually use once it’s in a proper app store or was that just like the wild days of the jailbreak community?’ That showed that it was actually a mass market out there. People wanted it. That was two years ago now. Since then I would say that kind of set the stage for showing that this was a real business. Around a year later when I set a company up around the app and tried to take it off, I had a years worth of sales data that showed me, ‘Hey this is actually stable,’ and that if I want to bring someone on . . . I am one of those guys that I feel really bad if I brought someone on, changed what they were doing in life, they joined me in working on the start-up, and then it just collapsed beneath out feet. I would feel bad that I screwed this guy’s life up. The stability of the revenues was the other thing that showed me this wasn’t just a one hit wonder. It was something that is actually hanging around for a while and that we can build something bigger out of this. That is the other thing that has been interesting.
Andrew: What size daily revenues are you doing?
J: I have not looked at them for a while. The one metric that is easy to remember is that we have never done less than $1000 a day. That has been really reassuring. With the iPad launch, we saw a huge spike. With some of the additions we made to the iPhone app, we made it universal and that has skyrocketed as well. In the last few weeks and months we have seen just incredible growth. We are now actually looking to hire people. Actually, I should step back. We is myself and Vishal Kapur who joined the team six months ago. Working with him has been an incredible experience. I am really glad that one of my main interests was finding someone else to work with and having found Vishal I cannot think of anyone better to work with right now.
Andrew: You guys have such good chemistry that for a while there I assumed you were cofounders. It was not until I did research for this interview that I realized, no, no. At one point, you were in The Wall Street Journal talking about being a one-man band.
J: Right. You know, it’s one of those things. I think that I have always been a team player. I have always liked working with people. Working on my own was one of those things that was like, I had to do it because I was in Pakistan, or I was a PhD, and I couldn’t bring someone else in. It was always one of my main goals to have a great person to work with. I almost feel like the way Vishal and I work together now is an accident of history that it just so happened that I was working on my own. The way we work together, we kind of treat each other as cofounders. I want both of us to have the feeling of ownership. We are both taking this company forward. I think we have managed to do that.
Andrew: You’re a private company. You haven’t raised any money. Are you giving people like Vishal, are you giving your hires, shares in the business?
J: Absolutely. I think that’s . . .
Andrew: How are you structuring it?
J: Without going into the nitty gritty details, we’ve learned our own way that there are a lot of details, I eventually want us to be a company where we have a small team of awesome people working on amazing product that change the world. For that, I want to have, it’s great that we actually have the flexibility. Given that we don’t have a VC or an angel investor somewhere in the background pulling our puppeteer strings and saying, ‘Hey, do this, don’t do this, do that.’ We can call the shots. The idea is by giving significant amounts of equity to key people we can decide where this is going to go and feed enough ownership over it that we all feel that this is out baby. It is empowering in a sense. You have control over this team that you created with a group of people that you are happy working with. That’s it. You don’t have to answer to anyone back somewhere in Sanjil. It’s kind of an experience for us because we have never been in a company of this sort before. Vishal has worked at Oracle and TruView, which is a start-up that was acquired by AOL. He has a lot more engineering experience than I do. It is a great match of skills that we bring. We are both really excited with the idea that here we have a sort of playground where we are building amazing stuff but we are also creating something bigger, a business with a social mission that we are both interested in. We’re excited to see what is going to happen as we go in.
Andrew; Give me just a sense of what you have learned about giving shares or ownership position in anyway, maybe even options, to employees at a private company.
Andrew: It is easier, I think, when you have outside funding and you have already put the structure in place.
J: It’s easier and it’s harder. If you have fudging that has come in from the outside, you have somewhat already decided structure. You have already decided how much equity you can give out. Many of these things are put in place to optimize the VC’s experience rather than the employee’s experience. Without getting into the specifics of single trigger acceleration and so on, many of these decisions are made to be optimized for the VC or the acquiring company. The employees are stuck in the middle. Instead, we are in a position where I want to make things as effective for employees. I don’t care about the guys with the funding.
Andrew: How do you do that?
J: By making these decisions in a way that is looking at it from the employee’s perspective. For instance, single trigger acceleration is something that is very easy and we can just check off in a checklist. However, no other start-up does that because that is just not the way that start-ups work.
Andrew: That means that when the company is sold then vesting happens automatically.
J: Exactly. You get your pithy right there. You don’t’ have to wait for another three years or wait to be fired as in the case of the other options. Also, in terms of the significance of the equity pie that is available. With a VC funded company, typically you have 60% owned by the VCs, 40% owned by founders and employees and so on. Here we have 100% to play with. That is a lot more pie.
Andrew: How do you know this stuff? You’re a guy who I see doing your PhD. You’re studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon. You’re helping women in Africa with voice apps for three years. You’re not a guy who is studying start-ups and setting the venture community. How are you picking up all of these business ideas, all these business lessons, and all this business knowledge?
J: To be honest, the business knowledge and ideas are things that are dragging me towards them to be learned kicking and screaming. It’s learning about stock options, restricted stock, and all these things is something that I wish that I did not have to learn, but you kind of have to do that. For me, what is most exciting, to be honest, is the work and working with fun people making awesome stuff and the customers. People around the world are using our apps in ways that we never imagined. On our website, there are testimonials from people that had accidents that have left them paralyzed. They aren’t able to use computers anymore, but using our iPhone app, they are able to use the computer to get back at programming or back to their studies. These are the things that drive me. The other stuff is one of those things that you just have to deal with to make things work, but you don’t’ want to spend your life working on them.
Andrew: I would like to get that kind of testimonial. If anybody right now is in bed, can’t move, and somehow I am uplifting you with this interview or other interviews, send me an email: email@example.com. It’s all over the internet. You can find my contact information. Send it over. Preferably, something with a picture so that I can put it up on the website and get more traffic. Why are you revealing all these numbers? I am looking at my notes and I see $1 million, $5000 day, so on, so forth. Why do you reveal it?
J: I think that revealing numbers is something that most start-ups do not do and most people do not do. We are not any different. We did not reveal any numbers until a little while ago. At some point, we realized that there is more value that we can add to the world, in a sense, by just talking about these things. There is always a doubt and a fear that prevents people from talking about these things. I think it is an unfounded fear. What’s going to happen now that the world knows that we made $5000 on that first day or that our revenues are more than $1 million? I think it can only help in the sense that maybe other start-ups or other people who have been in similar situations will think, ‘Hey, those guys went from that to this. I can see all the steps in between. There is no magic happening there. Let me try doing something as well.’ Also, to tell people who we are, to make a name for ourselves, and hopefully to excite people about us to joint the team. We’re activity recruiting now. If there is anyone out there watching this and you think you would be a great fit for us with our culture, go to our website, look at our job postings, look at our vision, our company culture, and if you think you are interested just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can take it from there.
Andrew: Okay. Here’s what I have written for the reasons why you give numbers — to get people comfortable with coming and working with you, to establish credibility for the company. Absolutely. I never heard of you guys before. When I saw you in the app store I thought, ‘Well, can I really count on this or is this going to be another crappy VNC program?’ This helps tremendously there. Teaching others that it is not magic that goes into building a business. That there are specific steps that you take. That helps the world and I understand that. What about the other side? What about the fact that if somebody is at home right now or out running right bow listening to you talk about how you made a million dollars selling iTeleport saying, ‘You know what, I need to come up with iTeleportLeap or some other knock off version of this. It’s not that hard. This guy J created it in a weekend, or a few weeks to build a first version that ended up in the app store. I could do something like that.’ What about that kind of competition?
J: That’s a very good point. I think the reality is those people exist whether or not there is an interview where you have spoken about this stuff. You can go to AppAnnie.com today, a website that tracks iPhone app rankings and so on and you can see the rankings for top grossing apps. You can track them over time. If you did a small amount of business research there, you could see what class of apps is doing well. You could then look at, ‘Well, how long does it take to make one of these things? How can I make that?’ I think the information is actually out there for someone to just kind of put two and two together. For us, it wasn’t’ a big enough reason that, ‘Hey, we’re making it one step easier for someone to figure that out.’ The irony is that there are people like that all over the world right now and they are probably making iTeleport knock-offs and other app knock-offs. I think the value that we bring is more than just the code. There is technical support behind that. We have some great reviews from customers that say they really like the support that they get. We have a unique way of continuing to add features that are hard to replicate. We are going to be working on some stuff over the next few months that I think is going to make a significant difference in how people control their computers, which will most likely set us apart from everyone else out there, including companies that have gone IPO last year, have million dollar market apps, and are competitors. It is about being a nimble start-up that is able to do these interesting, exciting things. I think that is really where our strength lies, not in establishing a business that is a silo that will never be encroached by outsiders. That is not how the world works. We just need to keep our game up. Keep innovating. That will be what keeps us going rather than keeping things secret.
Andrew: I see. In the live chatroom ‘B’ in the audience, says, ‘Hey, I am watching this from my iPad right now using remote desktop.’ Now with iTeleport, he can watch us but he cannot hear us. Is it possible that he can actually, on the iPad listen in?
J: If he uses Jaadu RDP, which is our RDP app, it actually has audio support.
Andrew: Oh, wow, okay.
J: He could listen in using the iPad.
Andrew: Okay. Wow. I don’t know if he is. In fact, I know he is not using yours. I don’t’ know what his set up is. However, it is pretty incredible that you could do that. What was the website that you said earlier lists all the top apps?
J: AppAnnie, A-P-P-A-N-N-I-E.
Andrew: You’re an experienced person in this space. You look at that website. Who do you see that is making money?
J: We look at the website to get a sense of where we are relative to our competitors. We also see the family of apps that is doing well. For us, as a start up we need to look at the adjacencies. For us, what we think is very exciting is, like I mentioned before, there is the iTeleport app, but there is also the iTeleport business. Where we see the business going is inspired by what you just said. What else is doing well? What we feel is doing well is apps that let you control your stuff from anywhere. We do your desktop, but your stuff is a broader category of things. It could be your music. It could be your videos. It could even be a webcam that you want to stream remotely for security purposes. The idea is accessing your stuff from anywhere in the world. That is our company vision. We want to expand into making apps that work in any platform but let you access all of your digital stuff whether it is videos, music, files, file system access, or the desktop, in easy to use interfaces that just work. There are so many issues with ach of these things that I said. For instance, network connectivity is a huge problem. Without getting into specifics of it, the fact that we have a limited IP address space means that your router is doing some network conflation and it isn’t trivial to access your home computer through your home router when you are connected to the internet. We already built some technology that enables you to do this traversal as it is called. We feel that we can leverage that in all these other spaces. iTeleport is essentially going to be your one-way ticket to get access to your home network or your work network from anywhere and access these apps that you care about.
Andrew: I see. I have all the data already on my computer at home. You are going to let me have access to it. Not like Dropbox that puts all the data that I have on my computer into the cloud, but more like Pogoplug that lets me physically access what is on my computer from anywhere.
J: You hit the nail right on the head. Dropbox, and we are big, big fans of Dropbox, by the way, is a great app. It does a great job. It requires you to know which 1 GB sliver of your hard drive you will need in the future. That works, but it is a hard problem. How do I know that I am going to need that picture to show a friend when I meet them at the bar? What you ideally want is to have access to all of your stuff so that you don’t need to make that decision. We are going with this directional world-view, which is, ‘Let’s push off on the cloud, which is what everyone else is talking about, and let’s focus on that network.’ Pogoplug is actually a great example again. That is an actual hardware device that is in your home network. It seems that they haven’t actually done the same networking stuff that we have talked about. You are connecting through the Pogoplug website. That is something a couple of people have talked about that they said leaves them uneasy because if the company goes than this plug is useless. One of our ideas that is in the pipeline is to make a free app for The Pogoplug that enables access using iTeleport in your home network with no other app or device needed. It would just be the Pogoplug enabling this access. It is interesting that you bring up all of these things. We often talk about Dropbox and Pogoplug. You’ve hit the nail right on the head.
Andrew: you know what, I wish that I could have a Pogoplug that didn’t require me to have that little device. I want to be able to access my hard drives from home, but I don’t’ want to buy another device and carry it when I travel. I just want to know that whatever is in my computer here, if I forgot a file at work, I can get it from home, I can get it from anywhere. It sounds like that is what you are working on.
J: Absolutely. In fact, today, if you were to use iTeleport, the only requirement is that your computer stays turned on. Even that is something that we are working on to fix so that you can even leave it turned off. If your computer is on, from anywhere in the world you can access all of your apps. We are working on apps that just let you access your fiel system. You can access your entire file system, email any file you want to anywhere. These things add significant value. It is often that you are somewhere and you need this one thing from home that you wish you had and you don’t. You can use iTeleport today to access that.
Andrew; What I would do today, I think, is just email it to myself or toss it into Dropbox and then wait and then go grab it.
Andrew: Let’s see what else I have here. One million dollars roughly over two to three years, right?
J: Well, our million dollar figure is now an annual figure. It is more than a million.
Andrew: Okay. You’re saying, more than a million, about a million every year in sales.
J: Right. Right.
Andrew: Can we say a million minimum every year in sales?
J: I’d have to go back to numbers to verify, but right now, our rate is definitely more than a million.
Andrew: Wow. All right. That just takes away all my questions from before. I was going to start taking away the money that Apple gets and then divide it by three . . .
J: Yeah, this is money that we get after Apple.
Andrew: Good Lord. This is incredible. I didn’t realize it was that big. All right. Then you ask the questions. What question haven’t I asked? What else do I need to know about this app?
J: The one thing that we are really excited about, which we feel is a unique thing for a start-up, my background, as you mentioned, my PhD was on voice applications for community workers in developing countries. Vishal has had some experience volunteering in community work. We really feel that as human beings on this planet we have a duty to have social impact in addition to everything else that we do. Often we find people working at companies like Google or Facebook or Yahoo or whatever who really want to impact the world in a positive way aside from work. It becomes a question of either or. Either you work at this company or you work for a nonprofit. There are pros and cons to both. We actually want to make iTeleport into a space where you can potentially do both. Khan Academy, which you had on this talk a couple of week’s back, he is actually the first person that we have started working with. The idea is that we want to eventually spend, in fact, we have already started this, we spend a day a week working on a completely different project with the goal that this project has a social impact.
Andrew; One day every week you are going to work on a side project that just has social impact that won’t put any more money in your pocket?
J: Exactly. To some extent that is an outcome of the fact, I mean, it is a luxury to be able to do that, for sure. We think that the fact that we have built up this business to what it is right now enables us to do that and we are very grateful for that. We both, Vishal and I, both want to be able to do this . . .
Andrew; How are you going to compete against GoToMyPC and LogMeIn, I’ve got both of them on my computer right now, and the tons of other programs that are out there if they have all that money, they have all the credibility, they are public companies in some cases, and if it is just a two man shop and maybe a couple people from my audience wind up going to work for you, and you guys take off one day a week? Twenty percent of your time is going and helping other causes. How are you going to be competitive?
J: I think a bit of it is bravado. We literally think that we are good and that we are going to be able to do this.
Andrew: You’re so good, this just reinforces your confidence in yourself and your teams’ confidence in the organization by saying, ‘We’re so good that we can afford to give 20% to do something right in the world.’
J: Absolutely. I think, you know, I think the way we feel about it is that in a sense it adds on to the work we do in the company. I think if you were just to work on one thing, this is true for me for sure, just one thing for a very long time, you start getting bored. You want some excitement. Something else. If you are just driving revenues and you just sit back and look at the world you don’t actually drive social impact. This is a way you cannot have to work nights and weekends to get that part of your brain taken care of. You can actually do it on the job. You can be working with other people, sitting side by side, in a way that I think no other organization lets you do. We’re trying to attract ‘Hackers with a Heart’ as we call it. People who have the ability to make incredible stuff, who are excited about technology, who are excited about start-ups, but who are also excited about having a social impact. We think that even if we can get 100 employees to do this with at some point, even if there are 5-10 awesome people to help do this stuff, they can make an amazing product-based company as well as help other organizations have a positive social impact. That’s I part of the experiment that we are doing here. We are pretty happy with the way things are going so far.
Andrew: Let’s go back to Salman Khan here for a second. You did something that was really nice. You had something come up in business, you weren’t able to do an interview with me a few weeks back when we scheduled, and instead of saying, ‘Hey, Andrew, go screw off, figure it out for yourself, I’ll come back when I have time,’ you said, ‘You know, why don’t you interview Sal Khan, I’ll make the introduction even. I’ll make it happen.’ Sal is a guy who is busy. He is running this little one-man operation. He doesn’t have time to do an interview or even look at email. You made that interview happen. First of all, thank you for doing that. What I learned from Sal was, he is a guy who is creating these 20 minute, 10 minute sometimes, videos where he teaches everything from first grade math to history to venture funding issues that we talked about today. What is your connection with him? How are you helping him?
J: I actually heard of Sal many months ago, just through an email that I had gotten about this incredible guy who left his hedge fund job, he is an MIT graduate, making a virtual school for anyone if the world to get the best potential education through YouTube. He was giving a talk in the Bay Area, he actual lives in the Bay area. Vishal and I heard about it and said, ‘Hey, let’s talk to this guy and see if he is looking for people to work on software.’ We kind of decided ourselves that we would be volunteering some of our time with an organization that can use software help because that is what we are best at. We met over lunch and it turned out that we were exactly aligned in exactly what we wanted to do. He is this one-man shop looking for help in making his web apps way better than they were so they could complement his videos. We started working with him and we are still working with him today. In fact, we are colocated in the same office space that he is at.
Andrew: He is in an office? Last I talked to him he was working out of a closet. Literally, a closet.
J: He is actually working with an organization that is a regular start-up. They have some office space that they have given him. He comes here once a week or so. We are no here as well. Sal is kind of the perfect partner for us because he is doing something that we really believe in, he is doing a good job of it, and he needs software help. I think those are the three kinds of things we are looking for in other organizations that we hope to partner with in the future. We actually hope to set up Hackathons where we vet the hackers that are going to come. It won’t just be any person off the street, it will be someone who has the credentials and the pull to do great stuff. We feel that quality over quantity is much more important in resources. A few awesome hackers and few awesome organizations like Khan Academy. There is another one called Samasource, which works kind of like CrowdFlower if you have heard of them. They give work to refuges, women, and youth in developing countries that can earn them a living wage while helping with outsourced jobs. Finding organizations like these that are doing amazing work but that need some help with software. Paring them up with developers and designers that can actually give them that help in a way that actually increases value for everyone. That’s what we hope to do with thee Hackathons that we are in the process of setting up. Hopefully also finding other people through these processes that can join iTeleport and work on iTeleport as products but also continue to work on the projects on the side with us.
Andrew: Your wife must be so in love with you when she hears you talk like this. You’re a married man, right? I’ve been seeing the ring?
J: I am.
Andrew; Actually, I heard that she helped you pick the price that you charged for the software.
J: That is true.
Andrew; Does she love to see, first of all, that you’ve made it, that you are now successful, and second, to see that you care about all these people in the world and that you are somebody who is actually going to do something about it?
J: It’s funny. Her and I, we have been going out since our undergrad in Pakistan. She also went to do her PhD at Cornell in sociology. We have actually both been committed to this idea of service from very early on. The other thing is that we were both PhD students, we both were grad students, so we have a very frugal lifestyle. All these revenues, it is great to have that, but it is not as if we are driving huge big cars and jet setting around the world. We have regular normal lives. She is also interested in doing similar stuff that goes out there and makes an impact rather than become the next huge big start-up. We are aligned on those goals. I think she is very excited that we are both getting to work on these things.
I just lost you audio.
Andrew: There we go. Sorry.
Andrew: Between you and me, I am sniffling because I have a cold here. It is winter in Buenos Aires. When I sniffle, I hit the mute button. If you saw me earlier and you didn’t hear anything that is what it was. I am wondering from the audience, please, can you guys hear that when I do that? Am I really cheating the audio system or are you on to me? Give me one thing, you’re not jet setting but give me one benefit, one great thing, of having made it?
J: I think the best part about it is not having to worry about money in a big way. Also, getting some luxuries that I otherwise might not have gotten. I’ve gotten an upright piano. I think it is a Yamaha. I have always been into music, guitars, piano, singing. Those kinds of things that I’d kind of like to have, I now have. I think for the most part it is just the idea that you don’t have to worry about money and it is just there if you need it.
Andrew; All right. That’s’ what I keep hearing from people. Don’t have to worry about money and freedom. Freedom comes up a whole lot. Freedom to do what you want.
J: Yeah, I think that is the other thing with the start-up. It is a start-up that started with an image of myself and now both Vishal and myself. We both have the freedom to make the start-up into something that we believe in rather than what a VC out there might impose on us. It is good to be bootstrapped and profitable as well.
Andrew: All right. Let’s leave it there. Thank you for doing this interview. Guys, if you want to, actually, J, if they want to come work for you, if they want to be a part of this goodness and have their wives look at them the way that your wife looks at you when you talk about how you’re saving the world with ne day a week, how do they do it? How do they find out about it?
J: The way to do it is send us an email to email@example.com. The can also Google ‘iTeleport jobs’ and they’ll find our jobs page. That also has a bit more about us as a company ad the culture that we are trying to set up. If this sounds interesting to you, definitely go to the website, Chek it out, and even if you are just kind of on the fence, email us, we can strike a conversation and see where it goes. Who knows?
I just want to add that you mentioned after the interviews you talk about how people like watching your show and watch the other interviews. I am also a fan. I have definitely seen a bunch of the interviews. The list is just so long that sometimes you are daunted, ‘I’m never going to go through all of these, so let me just find a couple of them that I can actually go through.’ I think I saw the one where you interviewed three ycombinator companies?
J: I am a huge ycombinator fan. I think those guys do awesome work. I also saw Jessica’s interview where she talked about the interviews she did for Founders at work, which is actually the first book I read when I moved out to the Bay Area. Those are some awesome interviews you have over there.
Andrew: I am so grateful to you for doing the interview because you have a great story, number one. Number two, because I keep saying that entrepreneurs can change the world. If I only talk to entrepreneurs who say, ‘Well, I did make a million bucks, I pocketed it, and it has been freaking awesome,’ I don’t’ think that lives up to the vision I have for the work here, for the audience, and for myself.
Thanks for doing the interview. It is really great to meet you. I hope I get to meet you in person sometime.
J: Likewise. Thanks a lot.
Andrew: Awesome. Thank you all for watching. Bye.
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