|May 7, 2001|
By Eileen Colkin (email@example.com)
hen a 29-year-old out-of-breath woman storms into your office with a suitcase and a huge smile and declares in one breath, "I have four minutes to do this interview then I have to go because I told the taxi driver that he should circle the block three times and pick me up again so he can take me to my next meeting across town," it's hard not to listen.
The energy exuded by Anjali Kataria during that recent visit to New York is the secret weapon behind Riva Commerce Inc., a nascent Web-enabled supply-chain company for regulated businesses. Kataria sniffs out opportunities for funding, networking, or favors, and attacks them aggressively and efficiently.
Take, for instance, her recent pitch to 50 North Carolina investors who remain dubious of technology ventures after the whiplash suffered in last year's dot-com crash. All she remembers of the February encounter is that she was in her usual race mode, zipping out of a meeting with another group of investors before rushing to a Research Triangle Park auditorium to make her pitch to the Triangle Investment Group. Twenty minutes later, she dashed out of the hall to meet with the next group of investors.
For Kataria it was just another day, but for the Tri-State members it was a show-stopping display of intellect, charisma, motivation, and knowledge. As if her academic pedigree--a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University and two years of legal studies at the University of North Carolina law school at Chapel Hill--weren't enough, Kataria wowed the group with the roster of experts who are advising her startup, including UNC business professor John Hand, i2 Technologies senior director Hari Menon, and Relativity Technologies CEO Vivek Wadhwa.
Not surprisingly, the Tri-State investors awarded Riva an undisclosed amount of seed money. "When Anjali walked out of the room, people looked at each other and said, 'I didn't understand all that supply-chain stuff, but that is one smart woman,'" says Tom Skelton, the group's chairman and former chief operating officer of supply-chain software maker Manugistics Group Inc.
The idea for Riva materialized a year ago during dinner conversation between Kataria and her 22-year-old brother, Neil, who was wrapping up his undergraduate studies in business at UNC. They quickly realized the conversation about their seemingly disparate studies--she on regulatory cases and he on E-marketplaces--described a business problem with a high-tech solution: the use of Web-enabled supply-chain software to help regulated businesses comply with government rules. A business was born that night.
Upon graduation, Neil enticed his tech-savvy classmate Raj Naik to join them as head of strategic development.
This was a time of lean funding. All of Anjali's money, including the $30,000 saved for law school tuition, went into the project. Kataria's parents invested $30,000, the siblings borrowed from their credit cards, and Naik tapped $10,000 from savings set aside for graduate school tuition. They bought plane tickets on Priceline and moved Riva from Chapel Hill to Washington, D.C., to take advantage of free office space provided by Anjali's former boss.
With only 10 full-time employees, the Riva gang has managed to build a product almost to completion and sell it in advance of the beta release, all on less than $1 million in financing. Among their first customers: the Robert Mondavi Family of Wines and Louis Vuitton's Domaine Chandon Estates. "Not many companies have high-profile beta customers lined up who have guaranteed revenue when they haven't even seen the product yet," says Andrew Sachs, president of the Capital Investors LLC, a Riva investor. "Anjali's best quality is being able to bootstrap, and that's more important today than it was six months ago."
Practical means seeking freebies, a skill Anjali Kataria mastered while working as a fund-raiser for a not-for-profit group seeking to curb exploitative child-labor practices. "You've always got a bottom line attached to your vision, only nonprofit isn't measured by liquidity but substance," she says. "But the execution and the passion are the same."
Ironically, labor is among the freebies the company seeks. A common Riva practice is to have potential hires take real-life tests, such as preparing a supply-chain implementation strategy report as Steve Greenberg did during his interviews last month. Job candidates do it, just like the investors, because they want to be on Kataria's ride to success.
"She's a very sharp, very charismatic, very impressive woman," says Greenberg, Riva's new director of product strategy and development. "I met her and came away thinking, Wow, whatever she's doing I want to be part of.'"Photo of Anjali Kataria by D.A. Peterson
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