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26 yo, Rich As Shit, and HOT!

Rod Hagen
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The New York Times

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September 7, 2008

The Boss

First, $99. Then, Millions.



WHEN I was 3, my parents were gone for an entire year. They left because of instability in India, and stayed with friends in San Jose, Calif. I lived with my grandmother and older siblings in Tarn Taran in the Punjab. I came to the United States a year later, flying from New Delhi to San Francisco. My first schooling was in America.


My mother had been a nurse in India. Here, she started as a hospital orderly. My father was a police officer. Here, he became a security officer. We lived in San Jose in one room in low-income housing.


We’re Sikhs. The religion requires wearing a turban. Once when I was 10, I went to the local elementary school to play basketball. While I was playing, two kids were saying derogatory things to me. One said, “Come here.” He pulled a knife on me and told me to take my blue turban off. I untied it, handed it to him and ran for my life. I was more or less in shock. My grandmother comforted me. She said, “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault.”


When I was 15, I was able to take college courses while still in high school on the campus of what is now Evergreen Valley College. My parents wanted me to be either a doctor or an engineer, but I didn’t really like science. I hated blood and hated dissecting the frog.


We had saved enough that my father invested in a desktop computer, which we bought new for $2,500. And I would spend hours bonding with him online, and watching CNBC and learning about the stock market.


I had free time in the afternoons. I noticed that a company called DoubleClick was providing Internet ad services. I didn’t know how to program, but realized that advertisers would need a way to track visits online. I thought I could buy software to help me, and found a guy in London who had technology that he offered me for $30,000.


I didn’t have the money, but made arrangements to pay him 90 days after I tested the software. I went online and incorporated the company for $99. My brother, who is three years older, helped me.


When the three months were up, I had made $100,000 in revenue. I realized I had a business. I named it ClickAgents.


I went to my father and showed him my bank balance. He asked, “Is this legal?” I said it was, and told him I wanted to drop out of school.


Within a year, I had $1 million a month in revenue. An investment bank called and asked if I was interested in selling ClickAgents. I had a meeting with DoubleClick, which ended up investing in ValueClick, which months later acquired ClickAgents in a stock merger.


I left just before the dot-com crash. By 2003, things were picking up and my noncompete agreement had expired. A month later, I started BlueLithium, an advertising network. In October of last year, Yahoo bought the company for $300 million cash.


Shortly afterward, I participated in the filming of an episode of a reality show called “Secret Millionaire” to be shown later this year on the Fox network. In the show, a millionaire goes undercover to an impoverished neighborhood to find people he can help. The producers took me to an apartment in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It was approximately 250 square feet. There was a prison-size cot and nothing in the refrigerator. I had an instant memory of how I had lived in San Jose.


I helped out in a soup kitchen, preparing food. I also volunteered in a shelter for battered women. I had to lie. I said I was making a documentary on the neighborhood so I would have an explanation for cameras following me around.


I spent a lot of time talking to women who were trying to get their lives back on track. I saw these women were all great mothers trying to provide for their children.


As told to Amy Zipkin.

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