February 24, 2021

The Boss: The Vending Machine Kid

One day, when I was 13 or 14, I was driving my mother crazy, so she asked one of her customers to take me with him to fill the machines. We drove to the first machine, and I asked him how long some of the slots in it had been empty. He said, “How am I supposed to know?” The machine at the second stop was full, and I said, “Why are we here?” He shot me a look as if he regretted taking me along.

I didn’t fully understand the implications of what I had seen, but it didn’t make sense from a business perspective. I knew the operators should know more than they did before visiting the machines. That idea was the genesis for my company.

In 1998, I enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, in computer science. A professor predicted that the country would run out of Internet protocol addresses at some point because so many devices would be using them. I recall thinking that vending machines would eventually have I.P. addresses, too.

During my sophomore and junior years, I interned in a manufacturing area at Cisco Systems and learned about quality control. I got into Stanford for graduate school but decided to stay in Los Angeles and set up a company with Anant Agrawal, a fellow student from U.C.L.A. who is now our chief marketing officer. I figured I could do one thing well or two things half-baked.

My brother Rob was graduating from high school at the same time I was graduating from college. At our graduation party, my father gave a speech saying that he and Rob had had their difficulties, but that my brother had matured and he was proud of him.

When he got to me, he said, “And Mandeep, he thinks he’s too good for Stanford.” I understood his disappointment and laughed, but the guests were uncomfortable. When a friend’s father jumped up and told some stories about me, everyone relaxed.

At the same time, my father supported me, asking what he could do to help with the business. After all, my parents were entrepreneurs. They suggested that my co-founders and I live with them until the company got off the ground, so Anant and I and our three partners at the time moved in. We ended up staying 18 months. My parents let me know they were still upset about grad school, but then they’d teach us about accounting and business plans.

One of our founding partners, Eric Chu, is responsible for our name. The five of us had developed a list of possible names and, as a joke, someone had written Cantaloupe. As we were crossing off other names, Eric suggested that we go with Cantaloupe. The rest of us said no, but a few days later he came back with a color scheme and business cards. That was all it took to sell us on the name.

Our company allows vending machine operators to log into our system to track the inventory in their machines. We also enable their customers to pay by credit card at the machine, and we alert the operators if a vending machine door is open at an odd time. A few have caught thieves as a result.

A new employee once commented that he didn’t understand how Anant and I could appear to be at each other’s throat one minute and be goofing around the next. But when you have tremendous respect and trust for each other, you can have heated conversations and no one gets offended.

My parents still have their company. Every once in a while, they half-jokingly mention working for me. I just smile and change the subject.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=09d2f5e27806eeaf2ec7190b52e28d6b

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