What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be – and at some point I might be actually – a pilot. I always wanted to see the world from a completely different perspective, and I don’t think there is a better perspective than being up in the sky looking down and seeing the world in a different way. None of us get a chance to do that often. At some point I do want to get a mini pilot’s license and just fly around Georgia or something so I can see the lands that I live on.
You have a bachelor’s from Nagpur University in India and a master’s from the University of Alabama, both in computer science, what were you hoping to do with that degree?
I wanted to get my masters and that was the easiest way to get it because I did my bachelor’s in computer science. If I wanted to do anything else, there’s no way I would’ve gotten assistance. So to me that was one step in that direction. I really wanted to explore the States, and I didn’t really think too much about it outside of ‘It would be cool to have a master’s degree. People would regard me, that I’ve gotten a little education under my belt.’ It wasn’t to become a computer science or work at NASA or anything like that. It was simply a means to get here [to the US] and be part of the process, and really explore it and understand, and see why my brother was so excited about the idea of me being here.
I know you as a marketer, and a business owner, so where does that come into this equation?
I was with Deloitte for a couple of years, then I was with a company in Atlanta. I got married during that time and my wife didn’t want me to travel as much so with a couple of buddies of mine, we began thinking about doing something together. For three years we ran a startup, while I was doing all these other jobs, but it went nowhere. We had no customers. We didn’t do anything, but in that process I learned about marketing a company, building a product, and what it takes. All three of us were doing something else, and I learned a very valuable lesson. That you can’t really do a startup half-heartedly. You have to put your heart and soul, everything into it for it to even have a heartbeat.
Those three years were really when I realized, wait a minute, I can add value in all of these areas. Marketing was an area that I really took an interest to, because I love storytelling, I love the idea of understanding what happens and how people emotionally react to stuff. I think that part really drove me into marketing. Those three years are what I consider my best three years of learning, because I learned more on that job than anything else I was doing.
How did you decide to go from a massive organization on a global scale to starting a startup business?
I’ve always gone against the flow, and going back through a little bit of history, this was the time for me to make a decision. At that point we had our second baby. My wife had quit her job because I was working for Salesforce, getting paid really well. I had a moment, I don’t know if it happens to everyone or if it happens more than once to anyone, to have this moment of clarity. To know that you can see something happen in front of you, even though it hasn’t happened at all, and you just have this feeling in your gut. That ‘Oh man, I can touch it. I can feel this thing even though I’ve never done this, how the hell am I going to do it?’ You just have this amazing pull, like a magnetic pull towards something, and that’s what I really felt. It was definitely a spiritual thing for me.
So I went back and told my wife that I really think I should do this thing. We’re not going to have much money for the next few years. We would living paycheck to paycheck, but I really have this feeling that this is going to work. She took a week to think about it then said something to me that is really why I have been so driven in the last year. She said look, this is very unconventional, and you are a first-generation immigrant here. I am a first-generation immigrant. This is all crazy and insane, but if you are so driven, I am going to give you one year. Within one year, you have to prove that this thing has real legs, and if it doesn’t, then you have to go find a real job. So I said deal.
So for one year I had to hustle. Driving 100 percent and trying to only get through one year and trying to prove that I could do it. Since she put a condition on it like that, it made me do things that I don’t think I would’ve done otherwise. I think I owe it to my wife to even have the amount of success that we have as a company today.
Takeaway quote: Push yourself to think as big as you possibly can, then come back to it and see what you can really achieve. I think those two processes are extremely important to do anything beyond a standard level.
Connect with Sangram at:
@SangramVajre on Twitter
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.