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The Problem-Solver: After selling company to Google, Raj Malik ’98 focuses on next venture

August 2, 2013 | Alumni

Rebecca Malik had a problem.

The online merchant with discerning taste in interior design and home furnishings had products customers wanted to buy on her website, 17thandRiggs.com. She saw the traffic from where they pored over pages of elegant lamps and designer wallpaper, and she saw that they often were enticed to place a few items in their virtual cart. But the shopping experience tended to stop right there. Her customers just couldn’t pull the trigger.

“There was some hesitation to spend $1,000 or $2,000 on a piece of furniture with a small business,” explained her husband, Raj Malik ’98. “We figured it had to do with not knowing if she was a reputable dealer.”

At that time, Malik was working at a small tech company. He and a colleague came up with the idea of creating a “reputational seal” for online merchants – scoring retailers based on an algorithm that assigned values to certain data about the retailer. The number of years in business, the kind of shopping experience, the quality of the product, and more were accounted for in a score ranging from the 0 to 1,000. It was a novel concept, and they registered the patent for it.

Their startup, KikScore, started with seven employees, all of whom had daytime jobs. The company was built during their evenings and weekends, quickly growing to more than 1,700 customers from New Zealand to New Jersey and included major industry leading partners, such as Shopify. As customer service calls began to roll in during the regular work day, Malik and his team knew they needed to keep growing the business and look for their next large partner.

Little did he know that a routine phone call with a friend from his law school days would have such monumental consequences.

On a cold Friday in February, Malik faced a long drive from Virginia back to his home in Washington, D.C. He dialed up Anuj Goswami ’98, and the conversation eventually turned to the latest news with KikScore and the need for a new partner.

“We are a bootstrapped startup,” Malik told Goswami. “We haven’t taken any venture capital.”

“Who would be your ideal partner?” Goswami asked.

“Well, Google. But who doesn’t want to partner with Google?”

Goswami laughed: “Today’s the luckiest day of your life, Raj.”

Goswami, a partner with Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia, had a friend visiting that weekend who was a decision-maker at Google. Malik forwarded KikScore’s background summary and pitch deck to Goswami, figuring it couldn’t hurt, but not expecting too much.

By June 2012, Malik and his team had closed a deal with Google, which absorbed KikScore’s technology and platform into its Google Trusted Stores Program. Shoppers who buy from a Google Trusted Store can choose free purchase protection and more, while retailers on the list can improve their sales because they have demonstrated that they are reliable merchants.

“This sale would not have happened without the introduction made by a longtime friend from Ohio State law school,” Malik said. “I hate to say the trite thing of ‘it’s who you know,’ but it’s critical to build and maintain that network every day.”

Looking for ‘green field space’

Besides maintaining meaningful relationships with former classmates, colleagues, and mentors, Malik believes that being active in multiple pursuits only leads to more opportunities.

As a second- and third-year student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, he worked at the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. That experience led to his first job out of law school as an assistant attorney general in the antitrust division. He took on a leadership role early with a pharmaceutical case involving 33 states. When the lead attorney had to go on maternity leave, Malik stepped up. He fought off a motion to dismiss and coordinated multistate discovery.

The case ended in a $108 million settlement – the largest settlement in the history of state attorneys general in antitrust at the time. Malik was only 26.

It was at that time that the global Wall Street-based law firm White & Case LLP offered him a job in its Washington, D.C. office.

He spent the next six years with the firm’s practice group specializing in antitrust, competition, and mergers and acquisitions. It was a small group of attorneys in the practice group at White & Case, giving Malik the opportunity to tackle advanced and complicated work. He landed big clients, including a major pharmaceutical client, and was up for partner in 2005 when he realized what work he was especially passionate about.

“I did so much merger work, and it got me in the business mindset. I was examining the barriers to entering an industry, how innovative that industry was, the efficiencies of putting two companies together, and whether there are anti-competitive results,” he said.

“But in the practice of law, you’re not able to get in on the ground floor with the business folks to help shape the strategy and business direction. It’s so reactive – we’ve just been sued or want to merge – as opposed to sitting at the table and saying ‘What should we do? Where should we market?’ ” he said. “It’s sort of a green field space there on the business side as opposed to the legal side of the spectrum.”

He left White & Case in 2005 and became senior director, legal and business affairs at Network Solutions, a small tech company with about 700 employees. Malik would sit in on business meetings and offer his thoughts not only on legal issues but how he thought customers would respond to what was being proposed. Soon, executives were asking for his opinion from a business, marketing, and operations perspective, and he eventually was named general manager over a new $20 million unit.

“The management team at Network Solutions knew we were developing KikScore in our off-hours, and they were extremely supportive,” Malik said. “But the general manager post was going to have to become the priority. So my co-founder took on more of the responsibility with KikScore.”

Network Solutions was sold to Web.com in 2011, which allowed Malik to dedicate his energies wholly to the startup venture at KikScore. That enabled him to focus on coordinating and negotiating the sale in June 2012.

Telling your professional story

After selling KikScore to Google for an undisclosed sum in 2012, Malik was ready to move on to his next startup: Infusd.

To the average observer, it first looks like a Pinterest page for one’s professional life. But for those working in industries where it’s difficult to paint a picture of one’s accomplishments, Infusd could be revolutionary.

In a piece he penned for the company’s website, Malik explains how Infusd came to be. He was at a White & Case holiday cocktail reception and reminiscing with former coworkers about the work they did over his six years with the firm. “My journey there, which was full of hard-earned accomplishments, huge outputs of work product and major successes for global clients, for now, only lives in one primary place – my head,” he wrote.

Why couldn’t someone take the verbal timeline people give in job interviews and turn it into an online experience that is more visual using content that’s already available on the Internet?

“You won’t come across a reference about me in the news articles about the WebCT sale to Blackboard,” Malik explained. “But there’s no reason that I can’t grab that piece of content, post it to my Infusd timeline, and tell a little narrative about it. I think it’s a way for you to put together your online professional legacy.”

Malik and his team know the model will be a success with companies, universities, and other entities looking for a way to lasso information about their organizations and present it in a way that tells a compelling story about the impact they make.

“Gone are the days of the dull press release pages that no one ever reads,” Malik declared. “At Infusd we really are passionate about helping people and companies tell comprehensive, deeper, and more visual stories about their successes and accomplishments.”