My name is Nikesh Parekh (I go by my nick name Niki) and I feel very fortunate. I have seen a lot of different businesses and Internet models over the past 14 years between venture investing in start-ups, managing product and marketing at Internet marketing companies, starting a biofuels and chemicals company out of the University of Washington, running product management at the largest Saas sales and marketing platform in real estate, and managing all the new & upcoming businesses at the second largest real estate site in the US. My goal through this blog is to catalog and analyze different business models that I have seen in real estate, mortgage/financial technology, SaaS, and local marketing. My take is the Internet has enabled a lot of interesting and powerful business models, but all of them have fundamental assumptions and constraints. As a manager, executive or investor, the goal is to understand the constraints, embrace them, and plan around them as much as possible.
Here is a link to Nikesh Parekh’s LinkedIn profile if you want detail in terms of his background. Below is a brief overview of Nikesh’s background. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments, an interesting company or business model or job/consulting opportunity.
Venture Capital and Private Equity Experience:
Nikesh Parekh was lucky enough to work for four amazing individuals at a Seattle based venture firm called Second Avenue Partners founded by Nick Hanauer (founder of aQuantive, Gear.com, early investor in Amazon, owner of Pacific Coast Feather Company), Pete Higgins (16 year Microsoft executive running Excel, Office, and MSN before retiring in 1998), Keith Grinstein (executive at McCaw Cellular, AT&T Wireless, Nextel International and chairman of Coinstar), and Mike Slade (executive at Microsoft, VP of Marketing at NeXT, CEO of Starwave / Go, and consultant to Apple). Second Avenue Partners focused on seed stage investments in the Pacific Northwest with hands-on heavy lifting in weekly meetings with the entrepreneurs. Second Avenue invested in some great companies like the In Situ Group, HouseValues/Market Leader (NASDAQ: LEDR), and LocationLabs which have produced some great returns for investors. Like all venture groups, Second Avenue made its share of mistakes as well going into the Internet Bubble of 2000.
Simultaneously, Nikesh Parekh was a consultant to Europe’s largest private equity firm called CVC Capital Partners. CVC is one of the most successful European private equity firms over the last twenty years. They are a traditional buy-out firm and were looking for guidance from Second Avenue on technology deals. Nikesh spent two years flying around Europe with Senior Managing Director Marc St. John and Ron Collins (currently VP at Providence Equity) looking at large scale equity investments and buy-outs like the buy-out of Cesky Telecom, purchase of a towers company, satellites, and multiple directory businesses. In the end, CVC made a handful of investments. CVC invested in one US company called Malibu Wireless which was a good learning experience and made an investment in SEAT, purchasing Telecom Italia’s directory business.
From 2007-2008, I was an entrepreneur in residence at Madrona Ventures in Seattle. Madrona and I never found a project to work on together. Ultimately, I ended up working with an another company funded by another VC from the Bay Area called XSeed Capital. Being an entrepreneur in residence was a good learning experience. In retrospect, I would have organized it differently. Probably the subject of another blog post in itself. Good experience though.
From 2002-2007, I was an executive at one of the leaders in online marketing for the real estate industry called HouseValues. Having been at the VC that invested in HouseValues, I saw HouseValues from ten employees and a business plan to nearly 600 employees, 2 locations, and nearly $100m in revenue over a five year period. HouseValues had generated $11m in revenue in 2001 and just turned profitable. I joined in 2002 and ran product, business development, consumer marketing, the mortgage division and corporate development. In 2006, we saw softness in the mortgage market and I was called in to control costs and turnaround the division. In 2007, I was called back into the consumer marketing division to turnaround the division and get all the core metrics going in the right directions. After two turnarounds, I needed a break. I moved into a consulting role in mid 2007 and helped out with the acquisition of Realty Generator as well as a strategic investment in a real estate social networking start-up called ActiveRain.
The World’s Lowest Cost Source of Sugar: Seaweed
In 2008, I was approached by XSeed Capital to start a company called Bio Architecture Lab with technology out of Dr. David Baker’s laboratory at the University of Washington. David is the world’s leader in computational enzyme design to create proteins that are able to catalyze transactions that do not normally happen in nature. He also created a program called FoldIt which allows people all over the world to donate CPU’s and assist scientists in figuring out how to fold proteins. Dr. Yasuo Yoshikuni and Dr. Justin Siegel created a biological pathway to convert seaweed into low cost sugars and then into long-chain hydrocarbons that can be used for transportation fuels and chemical production. It was an exciting time. There was great promise for clean energy in 2007 and 2008, prior to the energy crash and Great Recession. As soon as we started, oil prices crashed from $120 a barrel to $30 a barrel and Bear Sterns and Lehman went belly-up. BUT we persevered. I spoke with 120 VC’s, applied for grants, and structure corporate partnerships. In the end, we were able to raise $35m in financing with only $8m coming from venture investors. We were awarded $12m in government grants from the US Department of Energy and the Chilean government. We also structured research partnerships with Statoil and DuPont. The company has operations in Chile and San Francisco. I commuted back and forth from Seattle, before we hired a great CEO from Shell named Dan Trunfio to run the company. Bio Architecture Lab’s technology was actually featured on the cover of Science Magazine in 2012. I am very proud of what we accomplished. If the technology works, we could generate fermentable sugars for about half the cost of Brazilian sugarcane.
Social Media & Saas Software
In 2011, I was asked to step in as CEO of ActiveRain which became the largest social network and blogging platform in real estate. We were able to grow revenue 40% and took the company to 10% EBITDA margins. Market Leader (NASDAQ:LEDR) purchased ActiveRain in October of 2011.
Then I ran ActiveRain as well as product management and strategy for Market Leader. Market Leader was the largest provider of Saas software in the real estate industry. Market Leader partnered with large franchises like Keller Williams, Century 21 and Better Homes and Garden Real Estate to provide a comprehensive sales and marketing platform. We had more than 200,000 customers on our platform and more than 300,000 members in ActiveRain. We this kind of breadth, we touched 1 in 3 agents in the real estate industry with our products. I have also been active in the acquisition, re-launch and management of RealEstate.com
To Trulia & Beyond
I led corporate development and strategy at Market Leader. We saw a future of rapid consolidation in online real estate due to the emergence of Zillow. In May of 2013, we announced the acquisition of Market Leader by Trulia for $380m. For the remainder of 2013, I led the strategy and product integration of Market Leader products into the Trulia product suite and played a key role in the launch of Trulia Seller Ads. In 2014, I switched jobs to lead Trulia’s New Ventures business unit which encompassed Trulia’s three emerging businesses of rentals, mortgage and new construction. The New Ventures group was a mix of operations, business development and mergers & acquisitions. We developed and starting executing on plans to go big in rentals as our differentiation from and flanker strategy against Zillow. In February 2015, Zillow purchased Trulia for $2.5Bn
In my spare time….
I am an adviser to the most innovative food products company in the world called J&D’s Foods who are the makers of BaconSalt, Baconnaise, BaconPop, KetchupSalt, and a variety of cool and kitchy products. Another good learning experience. I have also served as an adviser to Mixpo which is creating a very compelling video marketing platform. I also made angel investments in other Seattle businesses like Home Envoy. More about that in the future.