The Karlin file Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2010

Born: Johannesburg, South Africa

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; master’s degree and Ph.D., Stanford University

What was your first job?

I worked for my father, and he was in the financial world, but my first real job was I was a summer intern for a radio manufacturer, and I can’t recall the name of the company, but I was functioning as an intern. I was troubleshooting broken radios — very simplistic stuff because I had no expertise.

What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learned?

CRC is my second venture. I had one other key one. Back when I finished my Ph.D. at Stanford, I was at a consulting firm. I had an idea to put a device in cars that would generate electronic driving directions. Of course, today that’s become commonplace. I started a company with a different name back then, but it’s now called Navigation Technologies, and I started that back in 1984 with venture funding, and I actually sold it off to Philips in the early 1990s — the big electronics firm — and Navigation Technologies today is the largest company in the world which owns the underlying geographical database that supports automotive navigation.

The lesson I learned from that experience was that I was ahead of my time. Everyone loved the idea, but the technology wasn’t there yet, and I learned that timing is everything. If you have an idea for a product for an entrepreneurial venture, the marketplace has to be ready for it. It simply wasn’t ready for it at that time. It was too expensive. I realized finally that I needed a large corporation with deep pockets and a long time frame, which is why I sold it to Philips, and they invested $2.5 billion in NavTeq to build a worldwide database.

Timing for an idea is everything. If you have the greatest idea in the world, but if the market isn’t ready for it, it’s not going to fly.