Arun Apte – How Coming Out Changed the Course of His Business
Arun Apte was born in the Bay Area in a typical Indian family. And like most expectations coming from Indian parents, according to Apte, he was expected to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. But Apte had different career goals for himself, and one day when his mother asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he responded with, “I want to run my own company.”
He would eventually achieve this goal, but not without struggles. Entrepreneurs face many issues before achieving success, but in Apte’s case, he was dealing with something much more personal that had the potential to keep him from being the success he is today.
After earning his degree, Apte took a year off and worked as a lab tech at Clontech laboratories. This is where he became fascinated with the world of genetics. The software he was working with at the time was very poorly written according to Apte and had algorithms that were sub-par. Apte’s mother had previous experience running a software company and one night, Apte asked his mother if she was interested in working with him to create a cutting edge software package to address this market, and she agreed. The mother and son team spent the next year in the spare bedroom of her home writing code. After a demonstration of their software, Clontech quickly became their first customer, and shortly after, PREMIER Biosoft was born. Instead of taking money from the reseller agreement with Clontech, which was more money than he had ever seen, he and his mother decided to reinvest the revenue by creating a company in their hometown in India. “This allowed us to stay in contact with family members, while creating much needed local employment, and giving hands-on experience to biotechnology college graduates,” he said.
Working so closely with his mother, and coming from such a conservative country where homosexuality was illegal until a short time ago, Apte struggled with telling his mother, family or employees that he was, in fact, a gay man. Instead, he preferred to keep his personal life a secret from those around him and focus on his business. While engaged in his work, Apte was also in a long-term relationship with his then boyfriend. At that time, his partner was the more prominent financial contributor to their household and the two were living tight with finances and saving. “I was old school. I thought it was all about running a company, selling a product and making a profit…The idea of selling a company had never really crossed my mind,” he said.
Following the couple’s breakup, Apte decided it was time to be more independent and also more open about his sexuality. It was then that he sought out his community and discovered StartOut, a national organization that fosters LGBT entrepreneurship. During a StartOut event, he met Andy Cramer and Al Farmer. Since then, they have provided frequent advice both on how to build PREMIER Biosoft as well as helping with the launch of his new company; CloudLIMS.com. “Andy and Al have been incredibly generous with their time and advice,” he said. “They have successfully built and sold multiple companies, and I feel fortunate that they are guiding me.” They also provide a living example to Apte of an ideal work/life balance. “They inspire me on a personal level because I look up to their relationship and how they make it all work.” In addition, they connected Apte with Mike Sullivan, who provided invaluable advice on how to create intellectual property and the criteria potential acquiring companies use in determining a valuation. “After talking to Mike, I completely changed course and postponed an exit for 2 years and am now busy putting the patents in place that will improve our valuation.” Prior to connecting with other LGBT entrepreneurs, Apte’s company would have been valued less than it will be when he does exit. He is currently meeting with potential investors for his 3rd company, also through professional connections he made via StartOut.
Coming out and being open about his sexuality has introduced Apte to potential investors, advisors and friends. Having success as an entrepreneur has given him the confidence to take advantage of the abundance of opportunities that were presented to him within his own community. “When you are an employee somewhere, you can get fired for being gay, which makes you much more vulnerable,” he said. “I’m finally independent now and I treat the people who work for me very well. If someone had an issue with my sexuality, it would be a shame, but there would be someone else to take their place.”
Currently, PREMIER Biosoft has over 70 employees and customers in over 300 countries. The company has been profitable since its first year of operation and has grown steadily ever since. Apte’s mother has since retired and their once pure business relationship has matured to a more personal one.