by Rebekah Rombom '08
Satin Mirchandani ’90 has found success as an entrepreneur by learning not to do everything quite so right. The computer science and economics double major now heads an eight-year-old company called MessageOne that is taking on projects so rapidly, he doesn’t have time to dot every i and cross every t.
"Being an entrepreneur forces one to live by the '80/20 Rule,'" he says. “It’s impossible to get everything right – the key is to identify the really important choices and decisions, and then get them ‘about right’, but in a timeframe that allows the execution to have real impact. Sitting back and examining grand thoughts is a luxury that doesn’t exist in my world.”
Mirchandani joined MessageOne as a board member in 2001 and became CEO the following year. The company focuses on providing business continuity for corporations, particularly during disasters, “making sure that no matter what happens, our clients’ critical business applications, particularly e-mail, keep working through a disaster,” he says. “The world has always been a dangerous place, but the attacks of 9/11 really punctuated the extent to which the times are changing. It became clear to me that disaster recovery and Business Continuity was a huge market just waiting to take off.”
But while he was at Dartmouth, Mirchandani never thought he would be running a small business – he figured he’d end up climbing the corporate ladder at a large company. “Entrepreneurship just didn’t show up on the radar screen at Dartmouth in those days. I don’t recall a lot of my classmates talking about wanting to run their own outfit,” he says. “The funny thing is, a liberal arts education from Dartmouth is the perfect training to be an entrepreneur – you’re constantly being overloaded with conflicting priorities, information and choices, and your job is to reduce all of that down to some simple tradeoffs that are meaningful to your personal growth. It’s like being at a military boot camp – all of those pushups, sit-ups and laps are just a way to ‘stress the system’ and build judgment and the capability to make sound decisions while under duress.”
So after a six-month internship with Microsoft his junior year and during which Mirchandani realized that he craved interaction with people, not computers, he went through on-campus recruiting and landed a position as a business analyst with consulting giant McKinsey & Co., where he worked for two years. As a continuation of that program, he went to the Harvard Business School to get his MBA, returning to McKinsey’s San Francisco office in 1994 so he could work with clients in the high tech industry.
By 1998, it was time to move on. “I had had the best business training in the world. McKinsey had given me plenty of practice with the 80/20 Rule. The McKinsey culture focuses on up front problem definition and on being hypothesis-driven. Or, as one of my mentors liked to put it: ‘Sometimes wrong, but never in doubt’. This philosophy, steeped in a willingness to take measured risks and adjust assumptions based on new information, built perfectly on my Dartmouth experience.”
Eager to apply his training to an entrepreneurial venture, Mirchandani moved to a technology firm called pcOrder.com as Vice President of Business Development, where he helped take the young company public. At 29, he was one of the oldest employees at the company. “It was very different from anything I’d ever done before,” he says, “a huge breath of fresh air. Just a bunch of incredibly smart, driven folks that were out to change the world.”
The company sold software that enabled the computer industry to sell products online, a fledgling concept when Mirchandani joined pcOrder.com in 1998. “The late nineties was an incredibly exciting time – technology was no longer this thing off in the corner. People like me that understood both technology and business were in a unique position to bring the two disciplines together in a creative way”, says Mirchandani.
The companies that formed pcOrder’s customer base – companies like Hewlett Packard, IBM and Compaq – were all striving to follow Dell’s lead in bringing their businesses to the web, and pcOrder.com aimed to help them achieve that relatively new goal. It was in the process of helping build a company to aid Dell’s competitors that Mirchandani met Michael Dell, who in turn introduced him to his brother, Adam. Adam Dell is the managing general partner at Impact Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in “innovative companies offering information technology products and services,” according to the firm’s website, and MessageOne was one of Impact’s investments when Mirchandani joined Impact in 2000. After being elected to the MessageOne board the following year, he says, he developed a real passion for the business and for its potential to help clients in their moment of need.
Mirchandani is remarkably bullish on the value of a liberal arts education for building the judgment and intuition required for business success. “You can afford to operate the way I’m operating when you’re surrounded by committed professionals who focus on the big issues and make sound decisions,” he says. Throughout his career, Mirchandani says he has continued to ask those big questions, then tried to surround himself with the smartest, most innovative people he can find to help solve them.
He stresses this type of environment as ideal for recent grads. “Get on a great team with the smartest, most challenging peer group you can find,” he says, “[and] make sure they push you really hard. It will pay off in a big way. After all,” he says with a chuckle, “all adult learning occurs through discomfort.”
Last Updated: 6/21/12