“The ability to make changes in the way that technology impacts the lives of people,” he said. “Not many people know us directly but they know, and are impacted by, the affects of our technology because of our client base and deployment. This is an exhilarating feeling that can’t even be described.” — Sanjay Parekh
Editor’s note: Atlanta Beat is a regular feature on Mondays.While most children are learning to improve their reading at age 7, Sanjay Parekh was learning to write programming.
Today, he’s recognized as an inventor by the U.S. Patent Office and as one of the rising stars in technology by none other than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When MIT recognized Sanjay Parekh as one of the rising 100 stars in technology last year, he couldn’t help but smile.
“To receive this honor as a Georgia Tech graduate, I was quite thrilled,” he said, then added tongue in cheek: “Even though MIT is the Georgia Tech of the North.”
A patent awarded earlier this year for technology he developed that led to the creation of Atlanta-based Digital Envoy added further to his reputation. But Parekh insisted the MIT honor and other success coming the way of the firm is not his alone.
“The MIT recognition was based on Digital Envoy’s technology and the progress of the company,” he said. “In addition, the award is based on possible future potential as well as past accomplishments.”
The firm is winning customers based on technology that Parekh began to develop in the late 1990s to satisfy what he saw as an unmet need. Gaining intelligence about online customers has become a multi-billion dollar business these days, from data mining to customer relationship management. But only five years ago, much of the information companies take for granted today was simply not available.
Such as, where does an online user coming to a web site live?
Out of that hole in customer awareness came the inspiration to create a new technology called “geo intelligence” by Parekh.
“One evening I was surfing the web and I went to the IKEA (home furnishings) and FedEx Web site,” Parekh recalled. “Both sites, even to this day, first ask you to identify your country prior to showing you any useful content.
“I was surfing on a dial-up modem back then and realized that this was not only painfully slow on the user, there was an inherent cost in bandwidth and customer dissatisfaction on the information provider’s side. So that evening I architected a solution to
the problem and the next morning the company was born.”
Five years after its launch by Parekh and two other co-founders (Rob Friedman and Dennis Maicon), Digital Envoy has evolved to provide a variety of other services and information. Parekh is the firm’s chief strategy officer. Friedman handles corporate development and Maicon is the chief financial officer.
A salute from Accipiter
Accipiter, which is based in Raleigh and is one of the market leaders in online advertising solutions since 1996, is one of Digital Envoy’s many high-profile customers.
“Digital Envoy’s geo-targeting capabilities were a nice complement to Accipiter’s ad management expertise,” Brian Handly, CEO of Accipiter, told LTW. “By complementing our AdManager or AdBureau solution with a geo-targeting module, our customers can identify specific geographic locations of site visitors and offer their advertisers better value for geo-targeted campaigns.”
Other big-name customers include Google and NetBank.
“Digital Envoy’s clients use us in a number of different ways and there aren’t any ‘better’ than others,” he explained. “We span the spectrum from fraud detection, advertising, analytics, digital rights management, security, personalization, and content delivery network optimization. Each application is interesting in its own right and the impact for the user is always positive.”
The Atlanta-based firm now offers a tremendous amount of information about online users, such as:
Digital Envoy also recently launched “IP Inspector” services to fight online fraud. More uses are coming, too, Parekh predicted.
“We are looking to leverage the technology that we’ve built to date in as many ways as possible,” he explained. “We have come to a maturation point where our focus has turned to deploying our knowledge in as many useful and impactful niches as possible. Additionally, we are continuing to research and develop new base technologies for future commercialization based on our past experience and in recognition of what we feel is needed on the Internet.”
All the technology dates to Parekh’s original brainstorm, which won a patent on June 29. The company has several other patents pending.
“In 1999, no individual or company was addressing the problem of providing real-time, intelligent, accurate information about users,” he recalled. “The technology of the day relied on third-party or user-supplied data and cookies.
“Digital Envoy’s technology was ahead of the curve in providing an avenue that is not only needed but also required in many online businesses. If our technology didn’t exist, many enterprises would not be able to conduct business online or would conduct business in a severely hampered fashion.”
Asked to explain the technology in layman’s terms, he explained: “Digital Envoy’s technology is very similar to a search engine. Instead of indexing and cataloging content, we index and catalog the infrastructure of the Internet. By doing this, we can overlay a geographic map on the Internet and take any IP address and provide a geographic location for that IP address. Important to note is that we don’t know anything about an
individual user, where they’ve been, etc. We only know general, non-personally identifiable information (like the geographic location down to a city level) about the IP address a user is using.”
The tracking also works for so-called dynamic IP addresses used by many Internet customers, he added.
“Digital Envoy is able to provide information about dynamic IP addresses. The reason is, that from a network viewpoint, IP addresses are always fairly static,” Parekh said. “For a dial-up user, they seem to get a different IP address every time they dial into a modem pool but, in fact, they are getting a different IP address associated with a different available modem. So, for the user, this is dynamic; for the Internet and our technology, it isn’t.”
A childhood fascination with technology
Technology is not something new for Parekh, who was one of the founding employees of Arris Interactive. He was the first systems engineer.
“I’ve been interested in technology for quite some time and was fortunate enough to have my addiction funded by my parents,” he recalled. “I started at a young age with a TI-99/4A computer and countless Radio Shack electronics kits. I progressed to an Apple //c and then on to a 486.
“I learned my first programming language at the age of 7 (BASIC, of course) and now know more than a dozen different languages.
“Most of these languages were self taught through books and trial and error. In addition, I was involved in the computer BBSing (bulletin boards) scene back in the early ’80s starting with a 1200-baud modem. This got me interested in communication and networking systems and, in fact, I programmed my own BBS system from scratch that ran on my Apple //c with something like 600k – yes, kilobytes – of storage space.”
Parekh was born in Lexington, KY. His family later moved to Atlanta. His love of technology helped him gain early entry to Georgia Tech.
“I applied for early admission after 11th grade on a random shot that I would be able to skip my senior year of high school. They accepted me and so I went,” he said. “Georgia Tech was a natural fit for me because I wanted to study electrical and computer engineering. The experience of Georgia Tech takes you rapidly from high school graduate to an individual who can handle any adversity in life.”
Parekh also believes quite strongly that the university prepared him to be an entrepreneur.
“Georgia Tech is well known for not being an easy school to get into or get out of, but if you are able to accomplish both, nothing else in life will seem as challenging,” he said. “Because of this, I was well prepared for the life of an entrepreneur. There are definite highs in the start-up life but the lows are sometimes much worse. If you’re not willing to see the project-idea-company through those dark times, then you aren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur.”
After founding Digital Envoy, Parekh also ran the business and helped raise a venture round.
“The biggest challenge has been continuing to grow the company during an economic cycle that hasn’t been entirely friendly to Internet companies,” he explained. “During the time from founding until we raised our first venture round of funding in 2001, I was able to direct the company and ensure our growth.
“We were fortunate to raise $10.5 million in 2001 which has helped us weather the storm and ensured our survival. The direction of the company has been difficult to steer since 2001 because of the significant unknowns and questions about the future. On the plus side, things seem to be improving over the last six to nine months, and we’ve been
accelerating our growth lately.”
Digital Envoy hired a new CEO in May — William Calpin, a former executive at Equifax. He replaced Dave Keller, who resigned.
Parekh has other interests outside of the company, including at one time being active in the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. He still wants to help aspiring entrepreneurs, in part because of an unmet need in his own case.
“I actually recently ended my membership with YEO because of time constraints. But in general, I try to help any entrepreneur who asks me for help,” he said. “I will listen to ideas and provide feedback, do talks at schools and conferences, serve on boards, and make introductions when possible.
“No one was around to help me with any of these things and so I feel a responsibility to give back to other entrepreneurs. My hope is that others can learn from my experiences, and perhaps their road to success will be a little bit easier.”
Parekh has not lost a love for science, either, despite a career focused on Internet technology.
“My interest is fairly wide and varied. I keep up on nanotechnology, biotech and stem cell research, energy generation technology (fuel cells, solar cells, and the like), and energy consumption technology (LED light bulbs and the like) to name a few,” he pointed out. “In terms of the Internet, I try to keep current on most everything going on although lately new Internet ‘inventions’ seem to just be incremental layering of old technology.”
As for motivation to go to work, Parekh has plenty.
“The ability to make changes in the way that technology impacts the lives of people,” he said. “Not many people know us directly but they know, and are impacted by, the affects of our technology because of our client base and deployment.
“This is an exhilarating feeling that can’t even be described.”
Digital Envoy: www.digitalenvoy.com