Monday Jul 2, 2012 by Keith Cline - Founder, VentureFizz
BC Krishna is one of the many reasons why we love our Octane series. He keeps a low profile, yet he is a proven, multiple time successful entrepreneur in Boston. He's definitely someone that we can all learn from.
BC has been the founder and either CEO or CTO of three startups in Boston. His first company, FutureTense, was acquired by OpenMarket in 1999. His second company, Memento, was acquired by FIS earlier this year.
MineralTree is his most recent startup and they recently raised $6.3M in funding. MineralTree is a maker of cloud-based, secure payments solutions specifically designed for small and medium businesses (SMBs).
VentureFizz: Can you provide an overview as to your background and professional history?
BC Krishna: I am a CS major and a software engineer. I cut my teeth writing very bad code at places like DEC. My boss at the time (Alex Shayan, who is now the VP of Engineering at MineralTree) was very tolerant with me, and somehow put me in situations where I could always make something of a professional contribution.
I've always had an interest in design, typography, color -- having grown up around it (my Dad was a cartographer and map printer, and watching him hand-draw these glorious, detailed maps was a formative experience) -- and also worked earlier in my career on the first desktop publishing systems.
It is these twin interests -- software for publishing, and an interest in graphic design -- that drew me to the MIT Media Lab, and its Visible Language Workshop, where I studied under the late, great Muriel Cooper. The early '90s -- It was a wonderful time to be at the lab, with Nicholas Negroponte running it, and you just knew that the revolution in online information was coming. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, but he did visit the lab, along with a diverse collection of very inspiring people -- Taj Mahal, Michael Douglas, Errol Morris, Peter Gabriel --
You can't escape entrepreneurship at MIT. So many of my classmates went on to start companies -- it was the yardstick by which I measured myself. You had to do it.
VF: What made you take the leap of faith from DEC as an entrepreneur and start FutureTense?
BC: After I graduated from the Media Lab in 1994, I returned to DEC, and had the good fortune to land in an "advanced technology" group. The group dabbled in a lot of different things, and allowed me to continue to explore my interests in electronic publishing, automated layout and design, and generally the idea of creating dynamic, personalized news publications.
Watching my classmates at MIT start companies was inspiring. DEC was going through a transition at the time. My boss at DEC supported me in my efforts to start FutureTense. It was scary, and not, at the same time. My wife had a full time job looking after our two kids; we had a mortgage, really no savings to speak of.
But hey, it was a unique time, and I felt that I had to try it.
VF: You have founded many companies over your career. How do you go about identifying opportunities in the market to start a company?
BC: I wish I could say that this was a structured process. Perhaps it is, for others. For me, I've started out with some kind of vaguely formed concept, and followed my nose, I guess. Talk to lots of people. Reformulate your hypothesis, discard, rinse and repeat. Eventually, it kinda feels right. But I do think you have to be totally immersed, engaged, and committed to the process. I've found it hard to do part-time. Once I get going down a path, I'm thinking about it 30 hours a day.
There are lots of opportunities out there -- literally too many -- but to turn them into companies, there are two important filters, I guess, that I've tried to apply to the opportunity. Is it big (and often, does it i feel big)? Is it easy to describe? And that takes ever more iteration and nose following.
Generally, I've tried to focus on a business problem, rather than a "hot" category.
VF: What are the most valuable lessons that you have learned from starting companies?
You get to meet so many people -- some briefly, some you live in trenches with -- that you learn a lot about people. I'm always fascinated by this -- over the years, I've tried even harder to learn to read people. And inevitably, to try to understand what they're like when the chips are down. I think tough circumstances bring out the best and worst in people. And I've been very surprised sometimes with how people that you think you trust, can behave when the shit hits the fan.
I've tried very hard to always be myself, and hold and preserve values that I consider very important to my soul, and being able to sleep well at night: humanity, humility, empathy, compassion. I've learned that it is often very tempting and easy to stray from that path, and it takes work to stay the course. Especially when things are not going as you hope.
VF: You have raised capital from many different VCs. What advice would you give entrepreneurs around raising funding?
BC: Man, so much has been written on this topic that I wish I had something new to add.
My advice is fairly generic -- think long and hard about who you want to do business with. Very often, it's not really about the firm (important, but capital is a commodity), but the investor on your board (people are unique, and definitely NOT a commodity).
VF: What professional accomplishments are you the most proud of?
BC: The products that we've created -- to help the Washington Post publish online, to help JP Morgan Chase stop employee fraud, and now at MineralTree to help a raft of small businesses make payments more securely.
VF: What advice would you give entrepreneurs in the Boston area who are starting a company?
BC: Take the risk! Always. It is such a unique, and empowering experience, that I just cannot imagine why one would not. Even in failure, you succeed.
VF: You have started multiple companies throughout your career. Why do you continue to take the entrepreneurial journey?
BC: Because I love the creative process that you undertake to solve large, unsolved problems: there's so much satisfaction in finding new and compelling ways to do it. I think in any field, people do what they love to do, and I love the entrepreneurial process.
VF: Your latest startup is called MineralTree. What problem is the company solving?
BC: The MineralTree solution is a secure, cloud-based payments and cash management solution that meets the needs of companies with annual revenue of $500,000 to $50 million.
Very small companies -- micro businesses with no employees -- use paper checks and online bill pay systems to manage and process payments. Very large companies rely on complex and expensive treasury management solutions. However, more than 3 million SMBs are stuck in between these two extremes and are left to use a variety of poorly integrated, ad hoc, manual, paper-based processes that make their lives unnecessarily complex, and expose them to security risks and control weaknesses. MineralTree offers a simple, streamlined solution that brings new efficiency, security and convenience to payment processes.
VF: The market has been very active in terms of hiring and talent is in short supply. What has worked for you, in terms of hiring and building your teams throughout your career?
BC: We try to find people that share the same values as we do -- work hard, focus on customer value, and recognize that the team is what makes it all happen. I find that people who are mercenary, in it for the salary alone are not a great fit for us.
VF: Any suggestions around managing your time while building a company & product that you can pass along?
BC: Again, I can only speak in cliches, on this. People much smarter than me have more insightful things to say. The old adage about this being a marathon, and not a sprint is appropriate, I guess.
VF: Outside of work, what other interests do you have?
BC: My family is really important to me. We are very close, we spend a lot of time with each other. I read a lot -- all manner of things. I run a lot, and usually have a few long runs (marathon/half-marathon) on the annual calendar to force me to be in training mode all the time. We just acquired a young pup from a shelter (Beagle-Basset Hound mix), and he's a piece of work, and requires some amount of rigorous training. So, yeah, i'm enjoying learning to be a dog-whisperer as well!