The early years. Vinod was born on the Fourth of July in the mind 1940s, north of New Delhi in the village of Rampur Manhyaran, near Saharanpur. He grew up without electricity, roads, running water, toilets, televisions or cars. In 1964, Gupta was commissioned in the Indian Air Force as a Flying Officer in the Engineering Unit. He resigned in 1967 with the rank of Squadron Leader in the 14th Squadron. After receiving his high school education in a village school, Vinod Gupta enrolled in I.I.T., Kharagpur, majoring in agricultural engineering. He received his B.Tech. degree in 1967. Upon his graduation, Vinod received his admission and graduate assistantship at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Department of Agricultural Engineering, under the leadership of Professor Bill Splinter. Dr. Splinter had been a visiting professor at IIT Kharagpur.
Quite the beginning of the American Dream, Vinod’s family borrowed the money for his plane ticket, and in the summer after graduation, Vinod flew to Nebraska with one suitcase of clothes and $58 in his pocket. Receiving his American engineering degree two years later, Vinod spent another two years at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, earning a Master’s degree in Business Administration.
The first job. After completing his formal education, Vinod moved to Omaha, Nebraska, finding work as a marketing research analyst with Commodore Corporation, a manufacturer of mobile homes with eighteen plants around the country. While at Commodore, Vinod was asked to evaluate the performance of rival companies. To solve the problem, Vinod took charge of acquiring a list of every mobile home dealer in the United States. It was then that he found that it was difficult to get information and that information gathered also tended to become obsolete in no time. He felt he could do better, and he was right.
Vinod ordered all available 4,800 Yellow Pages phone directories and set out to compile the list himself. With the help of his boss, Vinod sorted the books state-by-state. Commodore then told Vinod that he and his boss could work on their own time, and the company would consider buying the list from them. When the list was completed, Vinod gave Commodore two options: pay $9,000 for exclusive rights to the information, or receive it free of charge and permit Vinod and his partner to sell it to Commodore’s competitors. Reluctantly, and balking at the cost, Commodore chose the latter option.
Vinod invested borrowed funds – $100 from a local Nebraska bank – in mailers that he then sent to other mobile home manufacturers. In less than a month, he’d received checks for $13,000 and orders for $22,000. Vinod had found his niche, and his career was about to take off.
Launching the career. Well before the internet and search engines, Vinod founded Business Research Services & American Business Lists (ABI), and he left Commodore a year later. Hiring two part-time employees, the company created lists from the information available in telephone books. These lists became cost-saving marketing tools for mobile home manufacturers that needed sales prospects and warm leads.
The business expanded quickly. With a philosophy of identifying the customer’s needs and offering solutions backed with first-class service, Vinod methodically added other industries to his database. Motorcycle, bicycle, boat, automobile, tractor, and CB radio dealers were among the first focus groups, and Vinod found that the demand for accurate business-to-business marketing information extended to just about every industry. The possibilities were endless.
In just about a decade, ABI finally had the entire Yellow Pages in its database, ready to be accessed in any form that customers wanted. Vinod, however, continually and wisely reinvested his profits into his growing business to meet the increasing demands of his customers. Later, he made strategic decisions about the growth of the company. With the acquisition of such giants as Donnelley Marketing, Database America, ProCD, Walter Karl and JAMI, and rapid internal development, the company increased its presence in consumer databases and greatly magnified its ability to provide database marketing and analytical services. As a result, the name American Business Information, Inc. no longer adequately captured all of the company’s business activities. Instead, the company rebranded itself as infoUSA.
What made infoUSA so powerful was that its information the company utilizes was derived from 5,200 phone directories covering the entire U.S. and Canada. Data was also gleaned from company annual reports, 10K’s, SEC information, government publications, trade journals, business magazines, newsletters, and top newspapers. Millions of customers used their proprietary databases and services for direct marketing, telemarketing, marketing planning, lead generation, sales planning, customer analysis and credit generation.
Over the years infoUSA, now infoFree, evolved into a cloud-based software-as-a-Service (SaaS) system that helps businesses grow their sales. Customers get unlimited sales leads, a free CRM, proprietary clonelytics software, and a mobile applications with mapping features. The product also has a basic contact management software and mapping ability. A small business can get all the sales leads and mailing lists for only $300.00 per month. The Company also launched an unlimited business credit report service called Credit.net. A customer can obtain unlimited business credit reports for only $150.00 per month.
infoFree was Google before Google even existed. And that’s what makes Vinod’s vision so compelling: from Vinod’s original $100 investment, the company had grown into an organization of over 1,800 employees with $302 million in sales in 2002. It went public in 1992 and was sold in July 2010 for $680 million.
Giving back to the next generation: education. Vinod has pledged to donate all of his wealth to charity, and has made access to quality education a primary focus of his charitable contributions. He has recognized the value of education in his own life, and as a result, he has made school systems in India and the United States primary beneficiaries for his charitable contributions. Through his foundation in his own name, Vinod has helped advance education across fields including: business, science, information technology, communications, intellectual property law and wildlife preservation.
For example, the Vinod Gupta School of Management (VGSoM) was set up as the first school of management within the high-education Indian system in 1993. Vinod envisioned a school that would provide its students with both a technological and management background, along the lines of Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Today, the school offers several programs for its students (MBA, Executive MBA, and PhD in Management) and hosts many seminars, Management Development Programs (MDPs), and workshops for students and faculty. VGSoM, in fact, has a unique curriculum that stresses data analytics and supply chain management for its MBA students. The school also offers a unique need-based scholarship to its students with the sole aim to ensure access of deserving students to world class management training. Highly qualified faculty with outstanding academic credentials and diverse industrial/consultancy experience associate with colleagues in India and abroad to provide the best possible learning environment for the students. After twenty-five years since its inception, the school has grown holistically, celebrated many accolades, and set up new benchmarks for continued excellence. The school enjoys access to state of the art infrastructure, one of the most well equipped libraries in India, and a very large, well established network of alumni.
Vinod also donated $1 million to establish the Ram Rati Gupta Polytechnic, a women’s polytechnic in his native town of Rampur Maniharan, a small town near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh state. This school was the first of its kind.
Vinod’s academic interests likewise extend beyond business management into the legal system. The Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law (RGSOIPL) at IIT Kharagpur has been ranked first in the research and professional practices category of the rankings and number four overall in law institutions of India. Within the area of research and professional practices, evaluators looked to the quality of publications produced, patents filed, granted, and licensed, and the footprint of projects, professional practices, and executive development programs. The school currently offers three different programs to its students (LL.B with specialization in IP Rights, LL.M in several specializations, Doctorate in Law) and has a technical collaboration with George Washington University Law School (GWU) in Washington DC.
Vinod also established the Ben Gupta Endowed Fund for International Legal Education, named after his son. The scholarship supports students from developing countries seeking JD or LLM degrees, and those pursuing educational opportunities at the law school on a non-degree basis. In addition, the school invites guest faculty, adjunct faculty, and industry experts to help students build practical exposure in varied areas of law. With a belief in holistic growth, RGSOIPL strives to produce students with interdisciplinary strength.
In the United States, Gupta has donated $2 million to establish a curriculum for small business management at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the place where it all started. He has also donated an additional $500,000 to set up a scholarship fund for minority students who want to enter its science or engineering schools.
Vinod’s life today. Today, Vinod continues to be honored and give back to the countries – both home and adopted – that has given him so much. He has donated over $50 million to numerous philanthropic endeavors in the United States and India. U.S. President Bill Clinton praised Vinod in his book, writing that “he has made a concerted effort to hire people who were on welfare, as well as people who are disabled or who have to support themselves after getting out of unsafe domestic situations.”
Vinod was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Monterey Institute of International Studies and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Nebraska and I.I.T., Kharagpur. He was appointed by President Clinton to serve as a Trustee on the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He was nominated and confirmed to be the Unites States Consul General to Bermuda. President Clinton also nominated Vinod to be the United States Ambassador to Fiji, but due to business commitments, he withdrew his name from consideration. Vinod serves with distinction on other various civic and educational boards. And he recently started Database101.com, a new database company for salespeople.
“Work keeps me happy,” Vinod is fond of saying. “My dad said, ‘never stop working.’ He’s 95 and is still working. To me, work is a holiday compared to growing up in a village in India, with no running water, no toilet and working for $40 a month. Just like my friend Warren Buffet says, ‘I tap dance to work every day.’” And the work has sure paid off.