Is Naveen Jain the Donald Trump of the Internet?
“I enjoy cutting deals,” admits the president and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based Info-Space.com. His company, launched in 1996, makes a profit off delivering some of the least sexy content on the Web–yellow and white pages listings, classified ads, maps–to computers and information appliances like cell phones and pagers. The company’s success comes from a simple insight: Utilitarian information is called utilitarian because people want it.
InfoSpace.com became profitable within a year of launch because it had to. The $250,000 in seed money came out of Jain’s pocket. No venture capital crossed his palm. “The way most people look at it,” Jain says, “since a company’s market capitalization is 20 times revenue, for every dollar you earn, you’ve made 20. But I think, if I spend a dollar, I want a $1.10 back. We became profitable because we did deals to make money instead of doing deals to lose money.”
Jain, 39, originally left his native India after being recruited from the MBA program at Xavier Institute of Management near Calcutta by Unisys in New Jersey; he soon headed west for the warmth of California. A few failed startups led him to Microsoft, where he was program manager for Windows 95, then group manager for Microsoft Network. He learned, among other things, that it’s OK to be aggressive.
In fact, you could call Jain brash. One of his favorite anecdotes recounts a meeting at a very major Internet company. “I sat down in a room with about 20 people, and I said, ‘I’m here to do a deal. Can anyone in this room sign off on a deal?’ They all shook their heads, so I said, ‘Well, then, what are we sitting here for? Get someone in here who has the power to make the deal.'”
Jain insists most are not put off by his approach. “The people I talk to are CEOs, they have as little time as I have. By respecting other people’s time and being upfront and honest, deals get done much faster.”
Bill Gates, the god of Redmond, is invoked frequently in Jain’s discourse. He says, “Bill is probably my idol, probably the smartest guy I know of.” That only makes Jain’s success sweeter. “Bill said that on the Internet, content is king. I said distribution is king, that those who own distribution will own the Internet. Now guess what? All the Microsoft properties are paying InfoSpace.com to distribute their content.”
Donald Trump might do well to take Jain’s advice: “Do a deal that’s a win/win situation. Leave the last penny on the table.”
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