Review of The Dream by Gurbaksh Chahal

June 23, 2009 · Print This Article

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I’m sitting in the corner of the Starbucks at the Southpoint Barnes and Noble in Durham. I’m reading The Dream by Gurbaksh Chalal (nickname ‘G’), a 26 year old internet entrepreneur from India and San Jose, California. G has a compelling writing style in the beginning, writing of the difficulties he encountered growing up as an Sikh Indian-immigrant. Here are my notes from the book.

G dropped out of high school at age 16 to start a performance-based advertising network called Value Click.

Growing Up a Sikh Immigrant Indian in San Jose

Some of the stories in the first part of the book that initially struck me were:

  • His father and him day trading on margin in 1997 and doing equity research together. In October 1997 (right before the Asian Market Crisis) the market had a small dip and in fear of the market falling further and not being able to cover his margin sold at the very bottom, which caused his father shame and nearly to lose their new house.
  • G being forced to remove his turban at knifepoint when playing basketball in the ‘hood’ of San Jose.
  • G taking a public speaking class in high school and having to give a speech as a very traditional Sikh about the randomly assigned topic of Viagra.

Here’s how G. got started…

  • Buying the and domain names in 1997 and sending a letter to the companies offering to sell the names back to them for $10,000–and then receiving threatening cease and desist letters and giving the domains back for free.
  • Starting to sell printers on eBay, then starting a performance-based advertising network Click Agents
  • Setting us his very first deal in a very ‘Elliot Bisnow’ type of way–by getting one ad agency to commit one $30k insertion order (IO) at $1 CPC and only after having it, building his ‘consortium’ of web sites to traffic the ad at a 50/50 rev share, all along using the fake name Gary Singh.

Results Matter

An excerpt from p. 59:

“All the knew was that Gary Singh delivered, and that’s all they cared about. They had no idea they were dealing with a sixteen-year-old kid because I presented myself as a serious professional. Once again, perception is realty. That’s not a kid on the other end of the line. It’s a guy who delivered on his promises.”

On page 80, G tells a story I can relate to, his servers went down for a week due to a vengeful vendor. His story reminds me of the week in December 2003 our server went down due to hardware failure. An excerpt:

“We were offline for an entire week… A week without the Web. Well that was the lifeblood of my business, and that week almost put us under… Time in the Internet is measured in dog years .For that entire week, Click Agents had ceased to exist.”

Ideas Vs. Execution

Gurbaksh makes a good point about the value of ideas vs. execution on p. 100.

“If you have an idea for a company, that’s just the beginning–that’s your entry point. What really matters is execution. Don’t think about the millions you’re going to make, think instead about creating a company that will be worth millions… The difference is huge. Success is laregely about substance. If your company is about real, tangible assets, and you’re looking the the long term, you are going to be handsomely rewarded for it.”

Struggling With Bureaucracy at ValueClick

On page 117, G laments in an amusing paragraph, working for the slower, bigger, public ValueClick. VCLK had bought Click Agents in November 2000 for $40 million.

He notes, “…in this new environment, I couldn’t move forward without official approval. I had to sell an idea to one guy, then to a second guy, and then to two or three more guys after that, and they all seemed incapable of making a decision. I guess that’s what people mean when they talking about the bureaucracy. It’s a place where absolutely nothing gets done. And the larger the organization, the less one is able to accomplish…I couldn’t understand how corporations actually accomplished anything, since the bureaucracy seemed to be designed solely to steer you into one brick wall after another.”

Getting over The Fake Excitement of Materialism

Around page 136, G. begins to talk of all the Ferraris and Lambourghinis he purchased after selling his ValueClick shares. I was disappointed by the materialistic focus of this part of the book, but I could understand it in my own imperfection. I owned a 350z for two years when I was 21 to 23 before I sold it due to what it was doing to my personality.

On p 139, G writes, “I was breaking one of my own business rules. Need versus necessity. Did I really need that king of luxury.? No. Then again, maybe I’d earned it. So I Lived with it. After all, as they say, all work and no play makes G a dull boy.”

G was close to coming to the conclusion that the two luxurious $240,000 Lambourghini’s he bought was a little over the top but didn’t quite get there. I was disappointed in him at that point.

One of G’s ‘lessons’ later in the book that he shares is “Forget noble motivations.” On this, more than anything else, I disagreed with G.

Blue Lithium

After his three year non-compete agreement with ValueClick was up and after G sued ValueClick for securities fraud, he started BlueLithium in 2004 at the age of 22. He raised $11.5 million from 3i and Walden VC when the company was doing $200,000 per month in sales in February 2005. I’m not sure what G was thinking, but as part of this deal he agreed to a 5 person board, of which 3 were selected by the investors.

In my view, it is not in an entrepreneur’s best interest to let investors pick a majority of the board (and thus effectively control the entire company for a minority investment). It seems like G did not have a choice based on the amount of money raised and the stage but I would have thought he would have had more ability to set terms in the round having had a nice success previously. On p 186, G describes the difficulty he experienced with his Board believing in him when ValueClick sued BlueLithium claiming he had stolen trade secrets.

In the end, BlueLithium did well with its behavioral targeting ad technology that was able to show relevent ads to consumers based on their internet browsing history. They sold the company to Yahoo on September 4, 2007 for $300M when they were about the same size iContact is today. They had good timing and in retrospect sold at a good time, following the DoubleClick/Google, aQuantive/Microsoft, and 24/7 Real Media/WPP Group transactions.

The Secret Millionaire

In Chapter 6, G describes how he ended up being part of the current Fox show The Secret Millionaire. The premise of the show is that an American millionaire (in this case, G) lives in a distressed community for one week and talks to people and then decides at the end of the week how to allocate $100,000 to non-profit organizations in the area.

As an aside, relevant to the premise of The Secret Millioniare, last night at Crunkleton’s (bar in Chapel Hill), I had an in-depth passionate debate with my friend Jess last night about Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden and whether any benefactor or philanthropist, including myself, can legitimately and morally go into a distressed community for just one week and then appropriately contribute funds without knowing fully how they will be used and whether the impact will in fact be positive or sustainable.

I made the point to Jess (who spent 2 months in Uganda at the Sachs’ Millennium Village Project in Ruhiira last summer) that I had visited Uganda in July to see the impact of the small funds I’d already contributed and to see with my own eyes how the funds were being used and whether the organizations could efficiently and and positively utilize more in the future. I argued that some BHNs like education, healthcare, and clean water were simply fundamental to humanity and that the core issue with aid that Easterly described were mainly caused by bi-lateral government to government aid that was not reaching the people. Instead, providing aid directly to grassroots organizations run by locals in which you could see the impact yourself was qualitatively a better method. The show has gotten some criticism here and here and of course on ValleyWag multiple times, but I’ll hold my view until I can catch an episode.

G’s Entrepreneurship Lessons

Finally, G ends the book with 27 lessons on entrepreneurship. They are:

  1. Listen to your heart.
  2. Forget noble motivations (one I disagree with)
  3. Adjust your attitude
  4. Figure out what you’re good at
  5. Trust your gut
  6. Do your homework
  7. Be frugal
  8. But don’t be frugal with hiring
  9. Hire smart people
  10. Don’t expect perfection, but strive for it
  11. Learn to listen
  12. Own your mistakes
  13. Never compromise your morality
  14. Never lose sign of the competition
  15. Watch your back
  16. Don’t procastinate
  17. Don’t do anything by half-measures
  18. Be nice to people
  19. Negotiate from a position of strength
  20. Expect the unexpected
  21. Perception is reality
  22. Don’t get emotional
  23. Be fearless
  24. Pick your battles
  25. Grow a think skin
  26. Take chances
  27. When you commit, you really have to commit.

Overall, I would recommend the book as for me it was good to understand the process of professional and personal development of a similarly aged internet entrepreneur. It did not provide much how-to and was more biographical in nature.

I’m sure I’ll meet Gurbaksh soon enough at one of Elliot Bisnow’s get-togethers for young technology entrepreneurs sooner or later, and I look forward to the day. I could relate to much of the bananas G went through including being bullied when young for being different, sacrificing other opportunities to build a business, raising venture capital at 21, and finding flow every day by being immersed in a company.


One Response to “Review of The Dream by Gurbaksh Chahal”

  1. Akhona on July 24th, 2011 7:20 am

    “G” is a great motivator and entreprenuere. I look up to this young man

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