Carnegie Mellon University

sanjay patel

April 25, 2018

Serial Entrepreneurship: When Opportunity Knocks, Cash Flow Opens the Door

Serial entrepreneur Sanjay Patel has some advice for students aiming to become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk: If you want to be able to open the door when opportunity knocks, find some flow. Cash flow, to be more specific. Sponsored by the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, Patel returned to Carnegie Mellon University’s campus for a lecture in the Dietrich College Entrepreneurship Series.

Patel, DC 2000, is the founder and CEO of GuestBook, a software platform targeting short-term rental hosts and property managers. He returned to Carnegie Mellon’s campus to share some of his experiences as part of the James R. Swartz Leadership Series.

Opportunities, Patel told his audience, are rare – so he urged the students to create the kind of flexibility within their lives that will allow them to take advantage when one comes along.

“In life, you really want to end up with three or four big opportunities,” he explained, adding that the next step is to leverage them: “A big part of that is flexibility.” That means flexibility to travel to wherever an opportunity may lead, as well as the time financial means to invest in taking an idea from concept to reality.

If someone is struggling with a lot of debt, or is overwhelmed by job responsibilities, carving out time to go to an interview or research an idea will be too difficult – and then the opportunity might vanish, he pointed out.

That lesson was something Patel learned while he was still a student at Carnegie Mellon. During one summer, he worked as a consultant for a small company and earned a job offer. But while he started the company’s mobile division, he was earning less than he had as a consultant. Worse, the dot-com bubble burst, and within a year after he was hired, the company laid him off.

“The lesson I learned was that no matter how much value I create or effort I put in, it really wasn’t necessarily coming back to me,” he said. So he decided to work for himself, and he hasn’t looked back since.

He founded a project management service company called Perpetuating, a name he chose because he wanted projects that would pay him monthly and create a steady stream of income.

Patel made a point of living beneath his means, part of a concerted strategy to create more cash flow and flexibility.

“My overall attitude was, ‘I can travel the world, I can enjoy life… and by doing that, as long as I get a bigger project every year, my income’s going to go up,’” he said.

He traveled extensively, living in India for a time, an experience he strongly recommended to the audience as a means of fostering creativity, creating new experiences, and helping him create a bigger network.

“Travel enabled me to accomplish all my goals,” he said. “Thinking globally I think is critical, particularly in today’s market.”

He opened an office in India, eventually moving to a larger city, and bought some real estate. Later, he would also invest in real estate in the United States, which helped create additional cash flow. Thus, he was able to maintain flexibility and freedom even after getting married and starting a family. He also rented out many of his properties via AirBnB, which gave him the idea to start GuestBook in 2017. Having the capital from his other ventures allowed him to act on his idea.

“How does Elon Musk do so many things? He’s got the capital,” Patel said. “Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, I want you to be able to achieve that level of creative.”

The good news, Patel noted, was that Carnegie Mellon offers a robust network of highly accomplished alumni, many of whom the students in the audience could contact for advice or approach about the possibility of collaboration.

He urged the students, many of whom are thinking about their future careers, to consider entrepreneurship as an alternative to the corporate world.

 “Carnegie Mellon has the best network,” he said. “It’s really a matter of being in control of your own destiny.”