A Series of Forbes Insights Profiles of Thought Leaders Changing the Business Landscape: Vinod Gupta, Founder and CEO, InfoFree.com…
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Legendary pioneer of database marketing and lead generation services, Vinod “Vin” Gupta is at it again. After creating his first start-up, InfoUSA, in 1972, taking it public in 1993 and then selling it for $680 million in 2010, he’s out to disrupt the lead generation business once again with the introduction of InfoFree.com.
Launched in 2011 with no outside funding, Gupta’s InfoFree is a user friendly and inexpensive online resource that allows sales people and small sized businesses to market to their most relevant audiences by providing unlimited sales leads, mailing lists, business credit reports, e-mail lists, and other relevant databases that connect through a simple, but powerful CRM package for just $49.95 a month. InfoFree now has over 10,000 subscribers and 100,000 users through its freemium model.
“We built our CRM service ourselves. Our customers find CRM packages like Salesforce.com too complicated for their needs. I call it ‘CRM for Dummies’ with 3-4 simple but powerful functions. 90% of our customers didn’t use a CRM, so we asked them what they needed. We want to reach the least common denominator to develop the largest possible market. There are five million small businesses and 20 million sales people, that’s the size of the market we are going after.
We’re a self-service subscription model based in the Cloud,” says Gupta. “I remember meeting Marc Benioff at the Aspen Institute 10 years ago. He was telling me how he was going to revolutionize the CRM business and how he was changing the enterprise software model from licensing to recurring subscription revenue. It stuck with me,” continues Gupta.
Having risen to success, he lost all independence in the running of his business and faced both shareholder law suits and an SEC investigation, following which he sold InfoUSA in 2010. He plans to keep InfoFree private. “It’s run like a family company, which is the way I prefer it now. I’m no longer a prisoner to managing a board or investors. I spend my time helping customers. I just love being an entrepreneur. If you have a good product, at a great price and you’re proud of it–you just tell the truth. It’s not a hard sell. My goal is to have one million users paying $49.95 a month,” continues Gupta.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in agriculture engineering IIT Kharagpur, Gupta immigrated to the United States to seek his higher education. He earned both a master’s in engineering and a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He built his start-up in the ’70’s after arriving in the US with nothing more than $58 in his pocket. He grew a database business from his garage with 4,800 yellow pages books and turned it into a multi-million dollar, NASDAQ-listed corporation. “The first time I was compiling Yellow Pages. I said I was creating a list. I didn’t know at the time that I was an entrepreneur,” says Gupta.
His first created “sales list” sent 5,000 pages of Yellow Pages contact information via a WATTS line. He then decided to sell the list to others. His first year in sales were $44,000 with a profit of over $22,000. “I thought I was a millionaire,” says Gupta. Thus was born the idea for InfoUSA. Over the years, Gupta grew the company from a stack of Yellow Pages in his garage, acquired 45 companies, and took the company public in 1993.
One might think time and great success would slow the irrepressible serial entrepreneur. At 67 years old, Gupta has done and seen it all, yet he remains a man in perpetual motion. “I’m one month older than my friend Bill Clinton,” says Gupta, who like the former President, continues to work and devote time and money to philanthropic activities. He is active in a number of charities, sits on the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC and endows a number of schools in his native India. He set up a business and law school at his alma mater—I.I.T. Kharagpur—by donating $8 million of his own money.
“Work keeps me happy. My dad said never stopped working. He’s 95 and is still working. To me, work is a holiday compared to growing up in a village in India, with no running water, no toilet and working for $40 a month. Just like my friend Warren Buffet says, ‘I tap dance to work every day’,” concludes Gupta.
Bruce H. Rogers is the co-author of the recently published book Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Service Firms Become Thought Leaders now available on Amazon http://amzn.to/OETmMz