It started out of frustration while traveling abroad: Difficulties getting connected, unreliable service, roaming charges that were more than a mortgage payment--all these hassles finally took their toll. As for Ravi Rishy-Maharaj, he saw an opportunity. He was presented with a problem that would forever change his life, and the lives of silent roamers as well.
"I was pissed off at the mobile operators for charging such huge rates for roaming and I wanted to do something about it. As a telecom engineer, I was qualified to understand the problem and to architect a solution, and it was worth doing; it was worth doing--since I'd bring some fairness to the world of mobile."
Ravi is the founder and CEO of GigSky, a mobile technology company that makes it easier and more affordable for people to use mobile data abroad. It wasn't just the issue of high cell phone bills that pushed Ravi into GigSky, it was his own entrepreneurial failure just prior.
Ravi has been involved in numerous ventures, but it was Kinaare that helped lead him to GigSky. Founded in 1999, the company focused on intelligent consumer devices and services. Ravi invested his savings into the company and he lost it all.
"I lost millions of my own money at Kinaare Networks."
Ravi was fortunate enough to see this as motivation and not a failure.
"When I invested in Kinaare Networks, I lost my shirt. I had to do something that would lead to building back an asset base. I felt my best opportunity was doing something I was qualified to pursue."
Ravi used his experience in telecom to help build GigSky, now the world's leading platform for data plans overseas. The company allows you to purchase data plans by using its GigSky SIM card and mobile app. No need to purchase a new SIM card for each country you travel to. And, you can purchase data from one source as opposed to dealing with numerous carriers.
It wasn't long until the larger players took notice of GigSky. It went from your run of the mill startup to a healthy relationship with Apple.
"Apple discovered GigSky and reached out to us after we launched our consumer service. They told us about their Apple SIM project and asked us if we were interested in integrating our service into iOS. It took about a nano-second to decide to say yes, but 14 months to complete the (version 1.0) project. We are a different kind of partner with Apple - collaborating with them on deep technology development, marketing and on a commercial relationship."
Ravi's path to entrepreneurship was a long one. He move to Canada from Trinidad when he was 9 years old. This was in 1966 and he grew up in what he describes as two cultures, "East Indian (Hindu) and Canadian (Hockey)." Ravi unashamedly admits he's still a die-hard Maple Leaps fan.
He played sports growing up and worked his first job at the age of 12 as a paper delivery boy for the Globe & Mail. "I'd deliver the paper every morning at 5am. My route was 45 minutes in the summer, and took nearly 2 hours when it snowed in the winter. There were some very cold mornings, to say the least. When I go home, I usually read the newspaper."
After stints at various jobs in high school, including McDonald's where he won employee of the month several times, Ravi began the growing pains of being an entrepreneur.
"The first company I started was Digital Microsystem, a company designing microprocessor-based home security and energy management products for the consumer market. I eventually sold the designs and IP to another company for what was a fortune back then ($50,000). At the time, I was doing the startup at night and working full time as an engineer."
Ravi went on to work for various companies including Nortel, Sun Microsystems, and Apple. He has also been involved in numerous other startups including Powerplex Technologies, CNG Fuel Systems, Open TV, Omnitrol Networks, Kinaare Networks, and of course GigSky.
His success as an entrepreneur did not happen overnight.
"Growing pains come to mind first--everything takes longer than planned, it takes more money than planned. Hiring great talent is hard to do. Getting funding to solve a problem with complex elements is hard to do. Running out of money 3 times is hard. Making big deals with carriers and OEMs is a challenge for sure."
His work with GigSky has paid off. Currently, the company is working with Apple on their e-SIM technology. e-SIM technology is something GigSky has been at for a while, starting with a reprogrammable SIM they worked on for years prior to collaborating with Apple.
"Now, GigSky is a member of GSMA and participating on the Remote SIM Provisioning committe. Our CTO, Tony Wyant, is actively working with the standards body in the eSIM space."
And from Kinaare to GigSky and all the growing pains in between, Ravi offers a little advice for all aspiring entrepreneurs:
"Wake up on the right side of the bed every day. You need to be self-motivated and inspired...no one else is going to do that for you. No matter how good it gets, there will always be the next challenge to comfront."