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The Self-Made Man: Chet Kanojia

TV on the InternetTSB readers in the New York area might be familiar with Aereo, a subscription-based online service that streams TV shows (and even live broadcasts) to computers and mobile devices. These same readers might also be aware of the numerous copyright infringement lawsuits that have already been filed against Aereo by a consortium of companies that includes CBS, NBC Universal, ABC, and Fox.

It sounds scary, but Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia isn’t losing much sleep over it, and that kind of straight-ahead fearlessness is why he’s this week’s Self Made Man.

Born in Bhopal, India, Kanokia lived a mere eight miles from the Union Carbide chemical plant that killed 3,000 people with a methyl isocyanate leak in 1984. Kanojia credits his survival to “the wind … blowing the other way” and using a wet towel as a gas mask. Needless to say, he’s a firm believer in his own luck.

Kanojia went on to get his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, then came to the US to get a Master’s in computer systems engineering from Northeastern University. After working on the technical end of TV advertising for a while, Kanojia developed the central idea behind Aereo; antennas that pick up broadcasters’ channels for free and beam the live feeds directly to computers and mobile devices. He even told the major networks about his idea, and their response was “we’ll see you in court.”

Kanojia wasn’t fazed. He told Forbes that the television industry “is a legacy business that’s predatory,” and has also claimed that “there is not anyone in these industries who can say with a straight face that consumers are getting a good deal.” Living in Comcast country, I can personally attest to that second remark.

And not only is Kanojia fighting the networks, he’s winning, at least for not. The U.S. District Court in New York ruled in his favor, prompting the networks to appeal that decision and circle their wagons, and Kanojia attracted IAC chairman Barry Diller to his cause. Diller brought $38 million in venture capital with him, which might be the best possible way to introduce yourself to a new company.

Kanojia has announced plans to expand Aereo’s service beyond the New York area, and his goal is to hit a handful of major cities across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Raleigh-Durham, and even Baltimore. Good luck with that last one, says I. We can’t even get decent municipal wi-fi here.

But that’s another column. What’s important here is that Aereo’s highly disruptive technology is staring down some pretty substantial opposition, which is the fate of many new ideas. That Chet Kanojia is willing to go to the mattresses for his company should be an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs who will, just by the law of averages, face adversity as they try to get something going for themselves. Nothing worthwhile is achieved without a fight, and guys like Chet Kanojia personify that.

Here’s an interview with Kanojia, in which he talks to Techcrunch about the lawsuits and the partnership opportunities that they’ve created for him.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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