Ex-Goldman Sachs banker Rajeev Gupta is a man with a dual purpose. First, he is cultivating his facial hair. Second, he is trying to revolutionise the way people use social networking sites.
“Rameet Chawla, is not the only man who’s left banking and grown a beard,” Gupta tells us. “I’ve grown a beard too! – There are a lot of ex-bankers running around the world with beards now.”
Like his bearded counterparts, Gupta has quit banking. After nine years working for Goldman Sachs in Asia as a technology banker and investor followed by two years working for Tribeca Investments and three years at Macquarie, he’s decided to do something different. Most people leave finance for venture capital or private equity, says Gupta – they want to “drive a company” rather than work for someone else providing advice on mergers or fund raising. He tried that, but after working in technology investing, he’s now become a technology entrepreneur himself.
“It’s a big decision to leave banking – it pays well and you work with incredibly talented people, but sometimes you have to take risk,” adds Gupta. “I have a wife and four children. I’ve taken as much risk as anyone would take.”
“My father advised me against leaving banking,” says Gupta. “He told me that at my age I ought to be consolidating not expanding into something new.“ His wife was the catalyst for quitting the finance job: “She encouraged me. She told me it would be tough starting the business and that we’d have a lot of family risk but she said that at least I’d be in control of my life – and at least she wouldn’t have to hear me complain about being unhappy! If you want to do something that changes patterns and behaviours you need to be bold.”
Gupta’s attempt to change patterns and behaviours for the better centres around GeckoLife, a social networking site intended as the behavioural antithesis of Facebook. “We think social should be less instant,” says Gupta. “Social networks shouldn’t be about being on technology all the time, but about creating archived events that can be revisited.”
In its quest to create a more reflective social network, Gecko Life doesn’t allow live chat. Users create specific groups with a focus on a particular event or subjects. Schools and clubs are prime targets, and pay for use of the site – a school trip might be the occasion for a group, for example. Children’s connections can be monitored, along with the content they upload. “We want our users to be responsible digital citizens,” says Gupta. “Social networking habits are changing and we aim to be at the forefront of that change.”
So far Gecko Life has 5,000 users, whom it’s acquired organically, 64% of whom are in Asia or Australia, where Gupta is based. As with most bankers turned entrepreneurs, Gupta says he’s working no less hard than he did in his former finance life. “I’m probably working longer hours now” he says. “I’m on my device, if not a computer pretty much all the time – this is a technology product and it doesn’t turn off. If a user is having a problem – no matter what time it is – they want an answer.”
What he’s lost in terms of disconnection from work, Gupta says he’s gained in terms of autonomy. – “While I was in banking I missed three anniversaries with wife and various birthdays of my children, but in the past 18 months I haven’t missed anything – I have the flexibility to plan my own schedule.”
There are downsides to escaping finance. Gupta says he misses the drive and attention to detail of financial services professionals. People in tech tend to be a bit more laid back and to have an attitude that nothing can ever be finished because technology is always changing. He doesn’t yet draw a salary – “It’s all about the business.” And Gupta’s wife may have a few new bugbears of her own. “I don’t miss family events now,” he tells us, “but when we’re watching a show and I’m on my device communicating with users, my wife says I’m not really watching it with her. Then again, at least I’m actually there.”