The family startup
Father and son duo Milind Agtey (MBA ’79) and Sunjay Agtey (EMBA ’18) are navigating uncharted waters together.
Published: October 30, 2023 / Author: Danna Lorch
Milind Agtey (MBA ’79) learned early on in his career that making the right gut decisions can save lives. As an officer and, later, a captain of a ship in the Indian Merchant Navy, he was stationed aboard cargo ships and oil tankers 24-hours a day, seven days a week, circling the globe three times each year — sometimes through dangerously rough waters.
From the instant a sailor falls overboard in freezing water, he explained, you have just 10 seconds to rescue them before hypothermia sets in.
“You get used to making choices that could impact everybody on the ship,” he said. “And of course, if you do become the captain, you are like the king. Any decision you make, everybody has to follow. So, you have to be careful.”
Being responsible for the safety and livelihood of a team, following guiding principles and staying the course through uncharted waters are the same skills Milind draws on today as CEO and president of Nimbello (formerly Easy Access). He founded the company in 2010 in Granger, Indiana, initially betting on himself by borrowing from the bank against his home mortgage. The gamble paid off.
The 13-year-old company was one of the first to automate the processing of invoices for busy finance and accounts payable teams in health-care systems, higher education, manufacturing and other sectors. To date, Nimbello’s clients have relied on the company’s solutions to process more than 20 million invoices, relieving them of a tedious manual process — and saving paper.
Milind’s son, Sunjay Agtey (EMBA ’18), came aboard in 2020 as Nimbello’s vice president of revenue strategies and alliances after working in business development and client services for a string of successful tech startups, including Groupon.
“It became a running joke with my older sister that I would never join the family business because I worked for much bigger companies in cities like Chicago or Boston, and my family couldn’t afford me,” Sunjay said, laughing.
However, when he followed in Milind’s footsteps and pursued an Executive MBA at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, a lecture in an entrepreneurship course on family businesses unexpectedly shifted Sunjay’s perspective.
“The professor, Dean Shepherd, advised us to view family businesses like startups,” Sunjay recalled. That’s when something clicked. “I like the chaos of startups. There aren’t many rules, and you aren’t just a cog in the wheel; you get a say in driving, too.”
Over the next two years, he weighed the decision carefully. Nimbello was 10 years old and yet there was no succession plan. “I knew it could be really impactful for our family if I switched gears and started working there,” he said.
That’s when Sunjay, his wife, Kavita Venkatesh, and their two young sons, Ishaan and Jai, relocated from Chicago to South Bend where Sunjay grew up. It was an “all in” moment for everyone.
From the start, Milind and Sunjay have had one ground rule about working together: Don’t let the work relationship impact the father-son relationship.
The intergenerational duo balances each other in and out of the boardroom, where Sunjay tries not to call Milind “dad” around their colleagues. “That’s just awkward,” he joked.
Milind, a soft-spoken visionary, described his son as a resourceful networker. “He’s got a broader group of friends than anyone else I’ve ever met,” he said. Sunjay’s networking ability has pushed Nimbello even further, scaling from startup to a leader in the accounting tech field.
Yet, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Nimbello — or for Milind.
When the pandemic hit, all of Nimbello’s anchor clients significantly reduced their regular invoice quantities. As a result, Nimbello’s revenue dropped. Milind and his team knew that the tough question of potential layoffs would rapidly become unavoidable if the loss of revenue lasted for an even lengthier period.
“The logical thing would have been to terminate some of our employees because we had no work for them,” Milind admitted.
Rather than putting his team and their families in dire financial circumstances, he took on tremendous risk by refusing to let a single person go. Exhaling audibly, he said, “Ultimately, everything worked out.”
Sunjay broke into the conversation to explain, “Again and again in life I’ve seen him take on great risk and succeed because he believes in himself.”
Milind’s example taught Sunjay not to be risk-averse himself. Sunjay took an initial pay cut to come to Nimbello, betting on the company’s unique services and his own client development abilities. That gamble, too, has since paid off.
Arguably, the greatest risk Milind ever took was emigrating with his wife, Vidula, in 1977 from New Delhi, India, to what would become their forever home of South Bend.
First off, they had to contend with one of the coldest winters on record and the historic “Blizzard of 1978.” Then, Milind didn’t have a job lined up after graduation. He remembers the stress like it was yesterday.
“I had over 100 rejection letters from potential employers. They were sent in the mail in those days. I also didn’t have a green card, and more importantly, I didn’t have any money,” he said.
He tucked the stack of letters under his arm and cashed them in at Senior Bar, the legendary on-campus watering hole that hosted an annual theme night where each job rejection could be redeemed for one free beer. He used those rejections to offer a round to the packed house.
Things looked up when an offer came in from Crowe’s auditing department, where he subsequently transitioned to the tax department. He served the firm for 19 years, with his nine final years as partner.
Today, Milind and Sunjay are passionate about giving back to Notre Dame and sharing their expertise. In October, Nimbello participated in Grow Irish Week, an experiential learning program at Mendoza where graduate business students consult on projects for local clients. Sunjay said it’s a win-win to support their alma mater by helping students — in this case, Master of Science in Management students — gain insights into entrepreneurship in the local business community.
When speaking to students, Milind always reminds them that only 1 in 3 businesses make it past the 10-year mark without failing. Startups are not for the faint of heart. “Anything that can go wrong will, in fact, go wrong,” he said. “But when you’re wading through all of it, the pleasure you get from seeing that something you created is now thriving is just indescribable.”