Five Questions For … Gaurav Khandelwal, Founder of Houston’s Chai One

Houston—Houston tech entrepreneur Gaurav Khandelwal has been the face of Houston—literally.

In a marketing campaign a few years ago, Khandelwal was one of the featured ambassadors in a series of highway billboards. The Greater Houston Partnership effort was aimed at expanding the city’s image beyond the oil-and-gas stereotype.

Khandelwal, who grew up in Kolkata, India, and came to the United States as an undergraduate computer science student, is now the founder and CEO of Houston mobile app firm Chai One. “[I was] very much an introvert, how you expect computer science students to be,” he says.

But, in Houston, Khandelwal has adopted a more public profile, co-founding the coworking space Start Houston with real estate entrepreneur Apurva Sanghavi and being a vocal supporter of Houston as a home for technology companies.

At one point, Khandelwal and Sanghavi had plans to renovate an Art Deco building—a former headquarters of oil services company Schlumberger—for Chai One’s headquarters and to serve as a hub for other startups. But in the last year, Khandelwal bought out his partner and put the building up for sale. With Chai One rapidly expanding, he told the Houston Business Journal he needed bigger digs faster than the building could be renovated. In January, the building was sold to a preservationist.

In this week’s “Five Questions For …,” Khandelwal speaks about his aborted mission to become an Indian Air Force pilot, how thinking about the movie star Will Smith helped his visa prospects, and why he feels it’s important to help childhood education in India. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: What’s your most impressive or most quirky skill that has nothing to do with your day job?

Gaurav Khandelwal: I like to visualize things, like an empty parking spot in front of a grocery store. I swear to you. I’ll get there and there will be an open spot. I gave a talk on this on Monday, around visualization for success. The talk was basically around being able to compel the universe and the metaphysical forces in the universe to work for you. If you just will it, by just constantly putting yourself in the world like it’s real, you will have it. If I want to hit a certain revenue number or goal, I see myself there and I’m in that alternative universe and I visualize that success.

When I was applying for college in the States, I didn’t have the money needed for me to pass the visa interview. [U.S. immigration officials] want you to prove ties back to the home country to know that you’ll come back. One of the ways they do that is to look at real estate you own, your wealth, what kind of money you have in the bank. We didn’t have … Next Page »

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