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February 14, 2000
Junglee guy goes after Purple Yogi
J M Shenoy
Purple is the predominant colour at the Mountain View, California start-up headed by Rakesh Mathur, the co-founder of Junglee who, after a short stint at Amazon.com, is back at doing something he seriously enjoys -- making a start-up fly.
The carpets are purple, so are the flowers and the chair seats. Even the yogis often wear purple at PurpleYogi.com. A new recruit recently came in wearing a beautiful purple robe.
While there is no picture of a yogi on the premises a visitor suggests that its absence should not be a problem. "You are all karma yogis," he says, much to the amusement of some of the staffers.
PurpleYogi.com, which is getting ready for an early launch, aims for "extreme personalisation of the Internet," says Ramana Venkata, founder and CTO. "It also offers complete privacy and security for its users."
"These are two big concerns today," he says. "There is a deluge of information on the Internet. It is like drinking out of a fire hose. Without spending a lot of effort, people cannot find and access what they want -- and do it day after day."
He also says the privacy issue is becoming more and more sensitive day by day, as witnessed by some recent headlines about privacy violations at some leading sites on the Web.
Ramana and his friend and peer at Intel, Ramesh Subramonian (founder and VP, engineering) began dreaming of their product about a year ago. When they were convinced that they had done enough ground work -- getting Intel's buy-in, hiring the initial team -- they went to Seattle to the hill-top home of Rakesh Mathur in mid-August and bombarded him for nearly three days, with their designs, plans and ambitions.
Mathur was finally persuaded to become a co-founder and CEO of PurpleYogi.com, even though he was planning to go on a 18-month vacation, travelling around the world, after having resigned from Amazon.com which purchased Junglee over two years ago.
Amazon.com reportedly paid about $ 280 million to acquire two Internet companies -- PlanetAll and Junglee.
Junglee, which provided a Web-based virtual database technology that aids shoppers in locating products on the Internet, interested Amazon.com which had till then limited its target markets to books and music. Junglee offered products that span a wide category of markets and allowed users to locate hard-to-find items for purchase on the Web.
While the other three co-founders of Junglee continued at Amazon.com, Mathur decided to quit.
"We knew he was longing to come back to the world of start-ups. Doing a start-up is one of the greatest aphrodisiacs known to man," Ramana says with a grin.
"So you rained on his vacation," a visitor says.
"Sure we did," Ramana chuckles. "But we know for sure he has no regrets."
Like PurpleYogi, Junglee too was based in Silicon Valley. It is like homecoming for Mathur, Ramana says.
How did they come up with such a "sexy name" like Purple Yogi, the visitor asks.
It was not the original name, Ramana says.
"Calpurnia was our original name, chosen on the birthday of one of the founders," he says. "We were looking for a name that would symbolise our efforts of creating maximum privacy. We are going to be the trustworthiest company."
Privacy is connected with trust and lack of any suspicion, he says. "And then we remembered Shakespeare and the quote about Caesar's wife being above suspicion."
But the name did not fly with their friends and investors.
The founders continued looking for something that piqued the curiosity, and yet was memorable and easy to spell. Mathur remembered how the name Junglee had made millions wonder about it -- and the business the dot company ran.
PurpleYogi thus joins a handful of other successful firms started by Indians that have intriguing names. Among them is imandi.com, co-founded by Raghav Kher and Arzoo, Sabeer Bhatia's new business.
"We thought of purple, because it is the colour signifying royalty and prosperity," says Ramana who also wanted, on second thought, something "sexy and funky." He agreed Calpurnia was too esoteric.
"After we settled on that, the word yogi came up easily. Yogi is not only the fountain of knowledge and discipline but also is someone we trust. We are imparting wisdom to the Web. So the name stayed."
The purple yogis include three JEE ranks, one IIT graduate, two Rhodes scholars with one of them having a Ph D in English literature from Oxford, an Emmy award winner, and the designer of a very popular CD-ROM series for children. From an initial group of five in early September 1999, PurpleYogi.com has already grown to be about 33 yogis strong. Each of these yogis is an amazing yogi, Ramana says.
"With an increasingly wise yogi on your computer, you will automatically and routinely get information to match your ever-changing interests," he continues. "You will not have to go look in a hundred different places to figure out what is relevant to you that day."
"Ours is a technology-based firm but we also have a strong foundation in people," Ramana says. And that is why the company has hired the likes of the English literature Rhode scholar.
Making money, then, is just one of the goals, he adds.
"We are proud of the culture and the ethics in our company, which is more like a family," he continues. "We would also like to be an excellent citizen of our community. It behoves each of us to remember what society gave us, and give it back something in return."
Those are words to live by, for many a citizen.
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