Student Profile: The Entrepreneur
Touradj Barman '07
I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug. As an undergraduate at MIT, I helped start a company Eyeshake. The idea was to develop an instant messenger that would interconnect all the different instant messengers out there, similar to the way that Webcrawler made a meta of the different search engines before Google came along. We raised money for it and eventually sold it, when I was a junior. We got a lot of stock and no cash – pretty typical for the times, but also a reflection of our enthusiasm. This was right before the tech boom ended. I didn’t make millions on the stock. It was all about the experience.
After college, I went to work at inCode, a consulting firm focused on strategy issues in the wireless industry. It was a step away from being an entrepreneur, but I always knew I’d be back to trying to start up a company. I was drawn to Yale because I felt that SOM was stepping up to an exciting period of growth. It reminded me of the way that I was accustomed to building myself or to starting a new firm. I felt that people who are self-starters, who are trying to make things happen, would have a place here. My impression of what the school was doing just fit very closely with my own values and interests.
I’ve always been excited about Instant Messengers. I’ve been a user for about fourteen years now. We all know how IM works: you sign in, you get your buddy list, but it's just a list of individuals. What if you also wanted to IM with groups? People don't always communicate one-on-one. With IM, you can create a chat room for groups, but after everyone leaves, it’s gone. I think there's a lot of room to innovate there. So I had the idea to create an instant messenger that was based on groups. I created an interface that sits along the bottom side of your screen, where instead of lists of individuals, you see tabs of groups. And then, within the groups, you can see all the members that belong. You can share files. And you can have these cool short or long-lived conversations, each one represented by “cards”. And with the growth of social networking, it really inspired me to add some more media-centric features. So now I've made it so people can drop in videos, photos and music and even build and share plug-in applications of their own.
I call it GoGroups. I think it's a really exciting program. Right now, social networking is really big and this takes social networking to the next level. Facebook and MySpace just let you showcase your friends and leave notes to one another. The interaction is still kind of static. GoGroups brings it to life. I've seen reports that say kids are using IM 80% of the time and almost never use email. IM is on the cutting edge, replacing email, because it's instant and people don't like waiting anymore. But if you look at IM you see so much that is missing. GoGroups fills these gaps. We’ve already filed a patent. And we’re in negotiations with a large publishing company to launch a science version of GoGroups, to help connect scientists throughout the world. It’s all really exciting.
People ask me a lot how I’ll get this out into the marketplace. I think the best way to do it is to build it up in one big community that's very connected, and then have it expand from there. Facebook took off because they built it out of Harvard, and obviously Harvard got it off very quickly. Ideally this could be a Yale thing — get people first at SOM and then in the colleges to use it, and then hopefully the same phenomenon, where it would spread.
The feedback is so invariably positive that I just know this really has a chance to change the way people communicate and the way people interact, and to bring people closer together. I decided not to do an internship last summer so I could focus full time on getting GoGroups off the ground. So long as I have the opportunity to give it a run, I will do whatever it takes. I really want to make it happen. I think it's a really amazing technology, and I just can't give up trying to make it a success. Maybe if I ran out of money and I'm homeless. But even then, I think I’d find a way to work on it.
Interviewed on April 12, 2007.