Entrepreneurial energy is not scarce among MIT alumni, but Prahar Shah has it in abundance. He launched his first company in high school, spent most of his Sloan School graduation day seeking financing for his startup, Mobee, and likes to spend his leisure time advising other entrepreneurs.
“My father emigrated from India to Canada when I was five, to start a construction company. Watching him and learning from him always got me excited and riled up—it’s in my blood,” says Shah, who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business and then worked as a management consultant helping set up businesses in Russia, Ghana, and Bolivia before he enrolled at Sloan.
Mobee’s genesis came during Shah’s 2011 summer internship at Google, when he noticed that “a lot of information that’s very valuable to companies isn’t online.” These businesses, he says, “need to know if their product is actually on store shelves, how well their restaurants are doing on hospitality and cleanliness—small things that really matter, but that are difficult to capture.”
Traditionally, companies have enlisted mystery shoppers to discreetly visit stores or restaurants and relay observations, often via cumbersome handwritten notes. Shah realized that anyone with a smartphone could quickly collect and report the data. So he sought a combination of incentives and procedures that could create a trustworthy real-time stream of field insights.
From initial testing among MIT students, the concept has mushroomed to cover more than 315 U.S. cities; an app guides participants on “missions” and instantly captures their reports in exchange for payments or prizes. Clients include Unilever and Dunkin’ Donuts, and Mobee, where Shah is CEO, has received more than $4 million in venture funding.
“Sloan is so flexible, and such a perfect place to incubate ideas,” recalls Shah, who divided his time at MIT between classroom study and assignments at the venture capital firms Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners, where he served as entrepreneur in residence. “I had the luxury of [having access to] professors like Ed Roberts and Bill Aulet at the Trust Center and amazing classmates who were smart, humble, and honest about helping identify holes and challenges.”
Shah’s wife, Nikita, is also active in the startup world through her work as an attorney at Cooley LLP; jointly vetting and mentoring new-business ideas has been a shared interest in their year-old marriage.