From Academic to Executive
For the rest of the August 2002 issue of CRM magazine please click here
It is one thing to make a name for yourself and a contribution to society while in the confines of the ivy-covered walls of academia and quite another to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of business. At least that is how Greek immigrant Apostolos Gerasoulis felt in the late 1990s when he came up with the idea for what would become Teoma. "Everyone says Ph.D.'s cannot run companies," he says. "So I wanted to show them a success story."
Teoma is a search engine developed in 1999 by Gerasoulis and a team of scientists while he was teaching applied mathematics and numerical computing, and parallel software and applications, at Rutgers University.
Teoma grew out of research on processing of large data sets. That is when Gerasoulis realized that the Web is the largest data set there is--outside of the universe itself. High-speed data processing and applications for manipulating the data made it possible to ask questions and then get answers. So Gerasoulis established Teoma Technologies in 2000.
"I did quite well teaching at Rutgers for a long time, but it was a little unsatisfying. I missed that I didn't do something real, for the real world," he says. Gerasoulis, a self-described "lover of people and the beauty of humanity," wanted to invent something that could be applied to real-life problems and that could be used by real people.
Claiming more comprehensive searching capabilities and a more user-friendly service, Teoma, which went into beta in May, is attempting to take on search giant Google, which also has academic roots. The major difference between Teoma and Google is that Teoma breaks down search results into three areas: Web pages grouped by topic, Web pages, and expert links. Google presents search results in a single list, sorted and ranked by the popularity of the page. "Google has made everyone lazy. I want people to use the Web to discover," Gerasoulis says.
He recalls a time last summer when Teoma was preparing to launch but nearly went under. But his faith in the product and willingness to bring in Paul Gardi to run the company saved Teoma. Gardi, a Harvard University MBA who has a background in venture capital, product management, and operations, brokered a deal with Ask Jeeves. Teoma was sold to Ask Jeeves in September 2001 for an undisclosed sum.
Currently, Teoma powers all of Ask Jeeves' Web properties as well as operating as a standalone search engine, and Gerasoulis functions as both a computer science expert and a business strategist at the company.
Gerasoulis says that even though heading up the Teoma research and development requires juggling a busy schedule and keeps him on the phone most of the day, he now has great satisfaction about Teoma's current position.
He may not be a professor anymore, but Gerasoulis claims he has taught himself a valuable lesson about pursuing your dreams.
Name: Apostolos Gerasoulis
Title: Founder, vice president of research and development, Teoma Technologies
Education: Undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics, University Ioanniana, Greece; Ph.D. in applied mathematics, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Most Bizarre job: Running a New York City parking lot for his brother for one month while in college.
Favorite sports: Football, basketball, and soccer