Raj Sultanian (’11, Chicago) is Chief Executive Officer of OpsTech startup Predictive; Carl P. Evans III (’11 Chicago/Palo Alto) is the Chief Product Officer and Corporate Counsel. Liz Schubert recently sat down with Raj and Carl as they shared their career trajectories, moving back and forth between founding startups and legal practice.
Liz: How did you two meet?
Raj: We first met in 2008. We were classmates in the joint J.D.-MBA program at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Kellogg School of Management. We worked together on our first startup while we were still at Northwestern — an IoT (Internet of Things), energy monitoring product called SmartSense.
Carl: Before becoming a lawyer, I did robotics research and development with self-driving vehicles. One of the technologies I developed was an energy monitoring device. I was inspired to create a commercial application of that technology after I left the lights on in my house one day. I knew it was wasteful but it was difficult to quantify how wasteful.
Raj: Carl created the technology and the working prototype, and I developed the business model. After a user’s usage information was uploaded, SmartSense would give the user suggestions to save energy, like switching to a different appliance and showing them exactly how much it would save them. Usage data would also be aggregated and sold to appliance manufacturers. Six years later, these devices are now widely available to consumers.
So you had a startup together, and then you both decided to become associates at Sidley?
Carl: Raj joined Sidley right after graduation. I worked as a patent attorney at Marshall Gerstein for about a year, went in-house for two years at a robotics startup in Pittsburgh, then joined Sidley’s Chicago office.
Raj: We had won a few business plan competitions at Kellogg, but we needed to raise a large amount of capital for SmartSense to reach commercial scale. In 2010, the technology just wasn’t cheap enough to achieve our vision. When Carl was trying to make his transition back into law after his experience in-house, we spoke about Sidley’s culture. I said, “You can’t beat it, it’s the only place I’d ever practice law.”
Carl: When Raj told me that, I knew Sidley was the place for me. I had the opportunity to serve with Carter Phillips on the Northwestern Law dean search committee in 2011 and had a great deal of respect for him and the firm. However, Raj’s recommendation meant a lot to me. Then I interviewed with Jeff Rothstein and the Technology & IP Transactions team. Jeff is the reason I joined the firm; he is such a great teacher. I enjoyed working with Sidley’s larger technology clients when I was based in Palo Alto, and also some of the really cool, innovative startups out there. I left Sidley in December 2015 to launch my own machine learning startup. A few months later, Raj approached me about joining the founding team at Predictive.
Tell me about the company.
Raj: Sidley trained us that being great counsel is not just about providing great legal advice, it’s also about making it easier for clients to manage and understand that advice. Our first product, PredictiveOps, is designed to do just that. It is a turnkey database-in-a-box that helps hedge funds instantly organize their legal, regulatory and operational terms and obligations. It is the first application that allows legal teams, business teams and outside counsel to work off a single set of structured terms — which is something I wished I had when I was working in-house. We are launching this month with our initial set of customers.
Carl: PredictiveOps is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, so it’s available 24/7 from any internet connected device. Customers just subscribe, and we manage technology, security, new applications and upgrades. PredictiveOps is built exclusively for hedge fund teams, but future versions may be useful for operations in any regulated industry.
What was it like transitioning from a startup to a law firm and then back to a startup again?
Raj: After graduating, I had an amazing opportunity to work with world-class hedge fund clients and attorneys as a member of Sidley Chicago’s Investment Funds group. It was a unique time in the industry — Dodd-Frank changed everything for private funds, and Sidley empowered young associates like me to become experts in these new rules as they were implemented. When I went in-house at PAAMCO in 2014, I learned first-hand how increased regulation after the 2008 financial crisis had complicated internal operations at hedge funds. I had a great idea for how to solve the problems, but it was impossible to build while working full-time. As it turns out, the technology Carl was building at his startup 2338 Technologies, could actually solve my problems as well.
Carl: Having worked with many startups when I was with the Tech Transactions group, I wanted everything to be in order from day one — the corporate formation documents, the legal structure, equity splits, IP agreements, even our website’s terms of service. Having that experience from my time at Sidley helped us avoid some of the early entrepreneurial pitfalls that can cost valuable time, money and opportunity.
Who have your mentors been and what roles have they played so far in your careers?
Carl: My mentor at Marshall Gerstein is still my mentor to this day. When I was trying to decide between Sidley and another firm in Chicago, he was instrumental in my decision to join Sidley.
Raj: My summer mentor was Neil Pai (’05, Chicago). He helped guide me towards the funds group when I was first starting out. He’s had a really interesting career trajectory — first, he joined Clarium Capital, Peter Thiel’s hedge fund. Now, he’s the GC of Founders Fund, which is one of the biggest venture capital funds in the Valley. A great mentor to have.
What books are on your nightstand?
Raj: There’s a huge pile because I haven’t had any time to read! One of them is called The Thing Explainer, which breaks down complex concepts using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language. It helps train me to explain complex things in a way anyone can understand.
Carl: There are three books that I reference most often these days. One is The Rails 4 Way, which is a book on software development. Also The Intellectual Property Deskbook for the Business Lawyer. I like to keep fresh on that stuff. And third, You Only Have to Be Right Once. It’s about the some of the fastest growing tech startups, like Twitter, Dropbox, and some of the other unicorns in the Valley, and how they became successful.
What lessons would you impart to a young associate who is thinking about going in house?
Carl: Get a variety of experience. When I was working in-house, my colleagues would ask me a wide range of legal questions. I knew enough to be helpful, but, more importantly, I also knew when to reach out to outside counsel. The early-stage companies I have worked with needed someone who could be a generalist.
Raj: It boils down to what you enjoy doing. Ask yourself, “Do I like writing briefs, or am I more interested in researching regulations, drafting contracts or negotiating?” In-house, you trade your depth of experience for a broad skill set. I once negotiated terms on a US$100 million investment in the morning, and wrote the rules for our summer bowling tournament that afternoon.
Did you win the summer bowling tournament?
Raj: Unfortunately not — but we did win best team costume.
Published October 2016 - UPDATE (Carl) Founder; Tercero Technologies, (Raj) Legal and Compliance Consultant
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