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Innovator Spotlight:  Anil Rathi, Skild CEO, Democratizer of Online Creativity Contests

By Michelle Garrett — September 11, 2015
Innovate Pasadena’s Epic Failures Competition evolved from an idea pitched by Skild, a Pasadena-based adaptable software service for professional competition management. Stemming from a desire to be more involved with the Pasadena innovation community, Anil Rathi, CEO & Founder of Skild, wanted to launch a competition for entrepreneurs to learn from one another’s mistakes. Rathi, 40, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business Management where he was named one of the top “Forward Under 40” by his alumni association for making an impact on the world by living the Wisconsin idea. He spoke with Innovate Pasadena.

What is Skild’s story?

Several years ago I launched a global competition where Fortune 500 companies like GE, AT&T, Hilton, AmEx asked strategic innovation questions about new products, services and business models to a network of MBA students from 300 universities and 88 countries. Companies were able to get fresh perspectives and students received cash, bragging rights and even job offers. From there, Skild has become knowledgeable on how to design, streamline and scale these types of competitions using a cloud-based platform to allow any organization to conduct challenges, contests, prizes and award programs. To date, we’ve run 300 challenges that have awarded over $50 million in prize money. Clients have included the National Science Foundation, CDC, USPTO, MTV, Disney, Shell, accelerators and educational institutions across the globe.

Every company grows over time. How has Skild evolved?

In the beginning, Skild was in “build” mode. Each customer was viewed as an opportunity to build more features and refine the system with the goal of complete self-service. Today, we’ve removed features that bloat the product, pair each customer with a client services manager and focus on reliability and customer service because we know it’s paramount to happy customers.

What are some of Skild’s accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Through Skild, I have a job where our product has a hand in creating a “better world.” We level the playing field through bottom up innovation; we help companies spot top talent for funding, jobs or business opportunities; and we give introverted personalities the confidence and experience to learn innovation skills through one of our competitions.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced in launching your company?

Timing. We were too early and the market wasn’t ready for the idea.

Your proposal to host a start-up competition for companies that failed was embraced by Innovate Pasadena. Success stories are great but there is value to be learned in stories about failure, too. What’s your fail and what advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

I’ve made some big mistakes that led me to believe that I was finished. In 2009, 90% of our revenues were tied to one program dependent on sponsorships. When the economy tanked our sponsors pulled out, I was forced to let go of most of my team and down to myself and an offshore software contractor. I had almost no cash and scrambled to figure out how to salvage the situation. Two weeks later, I found myself in Abu Dhabi negotiating a large deal that gave me the capital to build a new team and start Skild. The thing is that following every big failure I’ve adjusted my strategy and I am grateful to be able to close enormous opportunities that have propelled the company forward. My advice? Don’t be too hard on yourself, be persistent and treat tomorrow like a reset button.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Worry is the misuse of imagination.

Who in technology do you admire most and why?

There are too many to name, but I’ve always been impressed with Josh Elman who is currently a Partner at Greylock. I met him while living in San Francisco in 2004 at a LinkedIn meetup. His career moves and trajectory are incredible. He timed his career brilliantly at RealPlayer, then LinkedIn, Zazzle, Facebook, Twitter and now gets to mentor/invest in amazing companies at Greylock.

What’s the coolest app on your phone that you can’t live without?

Calm: It’s a meditation app. The paid version is great and allows me to spin up a meditation anywhere for any amount of time.

What makes Pasadena an attractive place to do business?

I’ve had offices in Downtown LA, Culver City and Mid City and I like Pasadena the best because of all of the opportunities for cross-pollination tightly packed in one city. From culinary schools to design to internet startups to museums and events, it’s a great community atmosphere for a company and its employees.
More from Innovate Pasadena’s Innovator Spotlight Series: Innovator Spotlight: Supplyframe Design Lab Innovator Spotlight: Oh Snap! Rafael Cruz Dishes on the Importance of Concept, Clients & the Importance of a Blog Post Innovator Spotlight: Meet CodeSpark’s Grant Hosford & The Foo’s Innovator Spotlight: Kip Thorne & The Science Behind Interstellar Innovator Spotlight: Grant Delgatty, Urb-E Co-Founder & CEO
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