Akash Desai, the Buffalo Investment Scene and Pandemic Silver Linings

Akash Desai is a software entrepreneur and an investor in cybersecurity and education technology companies. He may attribute much of his success to good luck, but he still knows a thing or two about growing a business, particularly when it comes to developing and motivating teams and building trust with a target market. When we sat down to chat, we discussed the Buffalo investment scene, the workforce shift toward independent contractors and entrepreneurs, and much more. Enjoy!

Akash and CJ Discuss SaaS Startups, the Buffalo Investment Scene, and Pandemic Silver Linings

 

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Episode Overview

  • Entrepreneurship runs in Akash’s family on his father’s side. He shares the story of his troublemaking grandfather moving from India to Africa and working his way from a kitchen to running his own restaurant and finally to founding a successful importation business. 
  • With a window into the inner workings of business management via his family’s business and an ability to write code, Akash and a college friend developed a product for a small segment of the healthcare industry, which was a fortunate success, as Akash puts it. This was his first personal taste at business startups. 
  • His next venture was an IVR technology company which evolved into a customer engagement as a service platform, which finally was sold to General Atlantic ten years later. 
  • After years of profitable entrepreneurship, Akash’s latest passions are education technology and cybersecurity, which he actively pursues today. 
  • One such pursuit is Ink Labs, which manufactures interactive flat panel displays--a newer generation of Smart Boards. These interactive panels support synchronous instruction--teaching online and in class simultaneously (perfect for pandemic teaching).
  • How do business dealings in the world of education differ from those in the healthcare industry? In both cases, partnerships have been key. Akash’s businesses have focused on the technology providers that already exist in the space. He provided products to assist them, at good margins, to ultimately get the technology into the hands of teachers. In WNY, he sells direct to school districts, and it’s a hairy process. But it always comes down to building relationships based on trust. 
  • Akash’s first piece of advice for any entrepreneur: focus on getting the right people in the right seats. As an example, he described how one of his ventures began at the outset of the pandemic, and ended 2020 with over $2 million in sales. He attributes the growth to the people in the seats who know what they were doing even when Akash didn’t know how the business ought to be run. 
  • If the people in the seats are vital to a company’s success, it follows that company culture is important. Culture is what encourages your people to be resourceful and innovative according to Akash. He’s still learning how to develop company culture, especially after experiencing culture shocks as he merged companies in the past. 
  • What’s the startup culture like in Buffalo right now? Akash notes the money that’s available in the area right now, and pairs that with the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. His takeaway is that good people with good ideas have less to risk right now by taking the leap into entrepreneurship, and lots to gain. He also sees small, sustainable, debt-free businesses as a major asset to the area’s economy. 
  • Entrepreneurship is the new type of job security. Rather than being at the mercy of an employer, a freelancer or business owner calls the shots on his or her future. 
  • Should businesses be ready to embrace independent contractors over payrolled employees? Akash reminds us that freelancing and entrepreneurship aren’t beds of roses; they come with their own challenges. He hopes to see 21st-century-style social safety nets come on the scene to accommodate the changing workforce. 
  • CJ and Akash wrap up the conversation with food, family, and pandemic silver linings. If you’re a foodie, keep listening!

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