ThinkFest Recap: 5 Takeaways From Apu Gupta on Philly’s Tech Scene

"The unicorn thing is overblown."

Bob Moul and Apu Gupta in conversation at ThinkFest 2016.

Bob Moul and Apu Gupta in conversation at ThinkFest 2016.

Unicorns are overrated. That’s according to Curalate CEO Apu Gupta.

His startup may one day be valued at a billion dollars, but Gupta, in conversation with Bob Moul at ThinkFest on Tuesday, casually told the audience that it’s silly to measure a company by its valuation.

In the past, the tech community gawked in awe at startups valued at a million or more, and now the wonder lies with companies valued at a billion or more. But to Gupta, a company’s valuation has nothing to do with what it can build or the kind of impact it can have on people or a region.

Curalate has managed to raise $40 million with a team of 160 people across three offices, Gupta said, and the company is constantly finding new ways to change how people interact with images and videos online and ultimately how they discover and buy products.

Gupta’s path to leading one of Philly’s most successful startups has been winding: He quit his first Silicon Valley tech job and disappointed his immigrant parents when he did. A quarter-life crisis propelled him to travel the world for nine months. He started a successful pharmacy chain in India. He struggled to find a job during the recession and at one point founded a company that was essentially the Airbnb of parking and storage.

Through it all, Gupta has learned some important lessons about passion, hard work and Philly’s promise. From his ThinkFest talk, here are Gupta’s notes on Philly’s tech scene and what it takes to build a successful startup:

  1. Tech ecosystems grow when companies breed entrepreneurs.
    The Philly tech scene has a lot of maturing to do, according to Gupta, and a key way to grow is by producing more local entrepreneurs. Gupta’s idea to give rise to the next generation of innovators is transparency. “I want people to leave Curalate and say ‘I now know how to build a rapidly growing company,” he said.
  2. You can build companies anywhere.
    Building a company today is more about where you want to live and less about whether a region can support your company. This is especially true for the B2B space, Gupta said. You don’t need to move out West to start something.
  3. “Haters gonna hate.”
    People will always find reasons to say why Philly isn’t a viable place to start a business, but that shouldn’t be a distraction to entrepreneurs here. To Gupta, we should be past the discussion about whether Philly is a favorable place to establish a business. “As long as more of us succeed here, we will see the benefits,” he said. “We shouldn’t aspire to be the Valley.”
  4. The Kenney administration has shown up.
    Local government has the platform to put tech companies out there and they should do their best to act as cheerleader. Kenney has made his presence in the tech community known, said Gupta.
  5. Tech is important for Philly’s future.
    Gupta acknowledged that Philly’s tech industry isn’t the region’s biggest job creator now, but the industry represents a substantial amount of new jobs. Tech is reshaping everything and will be a big part of the city’s future.

View the full Facebook Livestream here:

Follow @fabiolacineas on Twitter.