MODESTO, Calif. (Diya TV) — When Naga Kataru first pitched the idea of Google Alerts, it was immediately rejected. His managers were unimpressed with the idea, because it would turn traffic away from the Internet giant.
“My manager didn’t like it,” said Kataru. “He said Google makes money when people come to us. If we set alerts, then we’re losing money because we’re sending people away from Google.”
The then-25-year-old Kataru, the 40th engineer hired in the 110-employee startup, trusted his instincts, and his idea, and decided to take it to the company’s chiefs.
“I went to Sergey Brin and Larry Page. I said I had a cool prototype with a simple user interface to show them,” he said. “They both loved it.”
Ironically, the first ever words used to test Google Alerts were “Google,” and “Larry Page.” The tool was launched in 2003, with Kataru being awarded three patents, and has become one of the company’s most successful tools in the process. Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Google Alerts to monitor specific web content.
He grew up in Gampalagudem, a farming village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He was a gifted student in a village of high schoolers than only showed up for class half of the time, and his father, the school’s principal, was determined to see his son succeed. He graduated with a college degree in computer science and engineering and then enrolled at the Indian Institute of Technology.
After an eight-year tenure at Google, where he credits a lifestyle of “so much freedom to explore and invent,” he grew restless. “I felt I was stagnating,” he said. “I had worked one side of my brain for so long. I wanted to explore the other side.”
He eventually left the company, taking up a new career in filming documentary short films and acting in improv theater. He applied and was accepted to directing program at Second City, the famed Chicago comedy club which has produced a laundry list of Saturday Night Live cast members, and most notably, actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
His latest career reincarnation, however, is as a farmer. In 2008, he purchased a 320-acre farm in Modesto, California. Originally, it was only meant to be a diversified investment.
“I thought I would sell it after five years,” said Kataru.
But soon nostalgia kicked in, and the farm reminded him of his native India. “I missed the way the fruits and flowers smelled differently in India,” he said. Instead of selling the farm, which was losing money, he converted it into an almond farm, which requires only one-third the labor.
“I didn’t know anything about farming. But I love education and I taught myself,” he said.
Today the farm, which also harvests apricots, carries a staff of eight employees, has a number of different farming vehicles like tractors, and is highly profitable. It generates $2.5 million in revenue annually. But Kataru isn’t stopping there, he’s currently working on two degrees from Stanford — an MBA and an MS in Environment & Resources — to make the farm more technologically advanced. He even has ambitious plans to invest in some new agricultural equipment and was busy checking out some Kubota tractors for sale just before our conversation.
“It’s ironic that even though there are farms just 90 miles outside of Silicon Valley, technology hasn’t been used much to improve processes and crop yields,” he said. “As a technologist, I think I can do something about it.”
Information from CNN contributed to this report.