#50over50: Anil Godhwani
The Person(s) Behind Personality in my #50over50 list today is a first-generation internet entrepreneur, co-founder of Habitera, Simply Hired, and AtWeb. Meet Anil Godhwani!
More than a decade ago, my friend Anil Godhwani took me to a small hillock next to his home and showed me the view from there and said “Lakshmi! I am building a beautiful space here so that you and any other friend can host all your events here”. The area on top of the hillock was flattened with beautiful green space and I could already imagine the interviews I would do in that space, concerts I would host, and conversations among the diverse set of minds who would gather. Anil loved social gatherings and was always the life of the party. He has always been very generous with his resources and encouraged everyone to share. In the last two decades, he has moved from a name on the list of successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to being a great friend. On every visit, I count on visiting his home with an orchard in the backyard, performance space with a view and a kitchen where healthy meals are cooked each day.
When I spoke to him recently, he had just returned from picking Mulberries from the farm that he owns and was getting ready to talk to an internationally acclaimed Table Tennis champion who is being nurtured by him. He practices Table Tennis at least 2 to 3 hours every day and is also a cheerleader to his 16-year-old son to take a gap year from school to pursue Table Tennis to be one of the best in the sport. He cleared his calendar of all the activities to start afresh to pursue food and farming. This bears no resemblance to the Anil I met close to two decades ago who was the center of every social gathering. He is really taking his time to do only what he wants and nothing else. And to understand this journey of Anil, you need to know his background.
Anil has a great nose for trends. And once he picks something, he throws himself into it and goes all out to bring out the best possible outcomes. Anil and his brother Gautam Godhwani were one of the first generations of internet entrepreneurs who started Atweb in 1996. To really appreciate how early they were in their thinking and how smart they were in their execution, one has to time travel and go back to a time when everything that we associate to being online today – like Google or Facebook or Twitter was not even present. WWW (World Wide Web) went public in 1991 amidst no fanfare and started a revolution that was unfathomable. Net Scape was formed in 1994 and had a glorious IPO just a year later. Altavista, Excite, Ask Jeeves were all popular search sites that were heavily funded and each had a plan to take over the world, not knowing that Google that would make it’s appearance much later would wipe them out of existence. It was a time of large dreams, stupendous successes, and spectacular failures. Anil and Gautam occupied two bedrooms that their parents spared and started Atweb, a software company that allowed businesses to manage their website promotion, maintenance, and membership services. It was the internet boom era and they sold their company to AOL/Netscape for $95.1M that made their investors, Sequoia Capital, happy and made them personally wealthy. If that was all they did, it would have been commendable but what he did with their wealth makes Anil special to me. Even though the brothers do everything together, I am going to feature Anil as he is the only one who qualifies for being over 50 ☺
First, the wealth was used to take care of the extended family. There was a new development being built. So, five homes were bought in the same development – not necessarily in a row but in the same complex – one for each of the bothers, third for their parents, fouth for their aunt and uncle who were like parents to them and fifth for Anil’s wife’s parents. This way, they all could live closeby and yet have separate lives. Then, they made the largest gift to the bay area community by setting up the India Community Center (ICC). It is one of the best centers in the US for the Indian community.
With state of the art auditorium (where marriages were hosted that were streamed to families in India – many years ago), cafeteria, meeting rooms, workout spaces, and a daycare center that took care of your toddlers while you attended events in the center, it was modeled after Jewish Community Center. In addition to this, Anil was a great supporter of many philanthropical initiatives from the American India Foundation to Akshaya Patra and many more. He was the life of the party at the fundraising galas at the India Community Center and worked tirelessly with members of the community. He never had any airs about his success and always shares whatever he has with his family.
As a way to stabilize ICC, they came up with the idea of zoning in on one sport and make that sport as famous as possible. They picked Table Tennis and over the years, hired the best instructors and coached a whole generation of champions. Today, top talent from across the globe visits the center, trains the students there and many alumni have achieved international acclaim. It’s a great case study to see how singular focus can achieve unbelievable success. Along the way, Anil’s son became a top-ranking player and Anil himself has gained mastery to be one of the top players in his age category. He has reinvented himself so many times and each time, he makes what he does so compelling that you simply want to be part of this dream.
If I have to describe Anil in one word, it would be commitment. He is totally committed to whatever he takes on and whenever I talk to him, my energy is renewed and he reminds me not to give up on the dream no matter how far it may seem and how difficult it may sound. And most importantly, he is someone who shows up every time a friend is in need, no questions asked. I look forward to following him on his new journey with food and farming and hope to design some fun activities together.