Tanay Modi on Undergraduate Entrepreneurship

In recent years, the Tufts Gordon Institute has seen a large influx of undergraduate enrollment, particularly from students in STEM disciplines looking to develop skills in business leadership and management.  Tanay Modi, a sophomore (seemingly studying most of the majors offered at Tufts), is one such budding entrepreneur. In 2013, he and a small team of underclassmen co-founded Piinch, a location-based social networking iOS app. In between juggling academics and extracurriculars, Tanay managed to find a free minute to sit and chat with us about tech entrepreneurship at Tufts. Here’s an edited transcript of what this Tufts entrepreneur shared with Soubhik, Editor-in-Chief of  Enigma:

Who are you? How would you introduce yourself to the Tufts community at large?

My name is Tanay, I’m a sophomore Econ major, CS and Finance minor. Although CS might be replaced with ELS; [I’m] not sure yet. I’m a fourth generation entrepreneur, so I’ve kind of grown up knowing that I wanted to do something of my own. [I] heard business stories around the family dinner table since I was three years old, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do –  that’s kind of what led me to starting a tech company my freshman year.

That actually leads in very nicely to the next question – what are some experiences you’ve had prior to Tufts that have informed your identity as an entrepreneur today?

I actually started a tech blog when I was thirteen [years old] – [there are] some pretty embarrassing videos of that online – that was my own venture, so to speak, and I kind of started that because I liked tech blogging and writing and talking about technology [that] I’m passionate about. That kind of took off when I was fifteen [years old] and had 20,000 hits per month, and then schoolwork got to me, and I had to shut it down. But that was the first time I ran something of my own and it taught me skills in project management, how to run something and be committed to something when you don’t have outside pressure like a professor, teacher or boss. So that was very interesting.

Fast forward to present day, what are some of the things you’re working on now?

So I’m working on Piinch, which is a location-based social network, [which was] founded in my freshman year [and] got funding. We’re launching very soon. I’m also co-president of the Tufts Entrepreneurial Society, which aims to provide a platform for entrepreneurs at Tufts. Anyone looking to get involved in entrepreneurship or startups. I’m also an ELS fellow, so anyone who’s running a startup or thinking of starting one can reach out to me with any questions. How do you form an LLC? Should I form an LLC or should it be an S Corp? Can you look at my business plan? Can I have help applying for the ‘Tufts 100k’? That’s the kind of stuff I do, and of course, this year, I’m also the director of the TASA culture show, which is a lot of fun.

What’s one undergraduate class or professor that you’d recommend to people interested in entrepreneurship or business?

The graduate level course, ELS-101-3 is great (entrepreneurship and high technology). Professor Weissman taught it last semester, and he’s fantastic. I connected with him on many different levels – in fact, one day we were even wearing the same pair of socks! He teaches the material very well, even [for] people who aren’t familiar with the terminology, and that’s great in itself, but what made the class even more valuable is the people who were in that class. People who opted to take this graduate level classes were more motivated and more initiated, than, I would say, people who didn’t [take the class] and took the regular version. These [connections] were…high[ly] [valuable]. I could see myself talking to my classmates 20 years down the line and still connecting with them.

Let’s talk a little more about Piinch. What are some of the skills you’ve picked up either from your peers or on your own as you’ve formed this company?

So I’m actually very non-technical by background. I’ve only taken two semesters of computer science at Tufts, but what that’s enabled me to do is get an understanding of how writing code and that process works. While I’m not the one [who is] writing the app, the fact that I have somewhat of an understanding of how technical development is done helps me a lot [when] communicating with my co-founders. Before I did these courses, there were times when I’d be like “let’s put this button here,” and they’d say, “that’s just not possible, you can’t just do that,” and I’d [say], “Why not? anything’s possible – it’s just code, you can put it there!” But now I understand that there are some things that are not possible, what is possible, and why it’s possible. That gives me a much more in-depth understanding of what we can do and how to build a product better. But more importantly, it’s helped me become a better project manager.

How does your background as an Economics major inform your entrepreneurship?

I’m a strong believer of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech quote: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can connect them looking backwards.” What I mean…is that I try to take a variety of courses [so] that in some point in my life I can say, “Oh I learned this in that course, and I can apply that here!” I tried to do that throughout my life, in high school and college. The reason I chose Econ, ELS, and maybe CS and Finance, are because not only are they varied but they play into my interests, and they’re things [that] I think are very relevant to Piinch and tech startups in general. Econ is invaluable in that while I may not [directly] use economics, per se, it trains my mind to think very logically [in order] to help me make better decisions, businesswise. CS, again, has really taught me the limits of technology and how technology can be used effectively…and Finance because I’m the business side of this venture, and I need to know how to read a balance sheet, write a balance sheet, write an income statement and eventually talk to investors when we’re looking for our second round of funding.

What are three things on your Tufts bucket list?

That’s a great question! Senior pub night, [I’ve] got to go to one of those. I have to take Social Psych with Sam Sommers; I’ll probably save that for my senior year as a pass/fail. And one more… I’ve always heard of that echo spot behind Eaton and Tisch, but I’ve never been! Maybe one day.


Logo courtesy of Piinch


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Soubhik Barari
Soubhik Barari is a senior majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics. He can be reached at soubhik.barari@tufts.edu.
Shriya Jamakandi
Shriya Jamakandi is a sophomore majoring in Economics and Community Health with a minor in Finance. In her spare time, she enjoys reading the Wall Street Journal and has a keen interest in tech start-ups and financial markets.

1 Comment

  • Tanay has shown great promise from his early school days. As an entrepreneur myself, I have followed his progress over the past 15 years with interest. His most recent venture is exciting and sounds like it will be a beginning of a long line of achievements!

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