Finding the PATH to Success
By Gulshan Kumar (B.A., ’15)
A lot of what I have learned about business and life came from my dad. He shared basic but valuable lessons like “Nothing comes easy — you have to work for what you want out of life” and “No one’s going to bring it to you on a platter.” And those weren’t just words to him. He lived it.
I am a first-generation Fiji/Indian American. My parents immigrated to the Bay Area from the Fiji Islands with extremely limited financial assets but — like many other immigrants — a ton of determination. My father worked 12 to 14 hours a day for over 15 years to provide for and lead our family.
I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and when it came time to pick a college I decided on San Francisco State. Going there wasn’t always easy. I was a commuter student working a variety of jobs part-time when I wasn’t attending school. But it was worth it, because as a student in the University’s Lam Family College of Business I learned more lessons that have shaped my life.
Deep down I have known I was an entrepreneur since I was in high school. From buying and re-selling clothes to creating fictitious parking permits in high school, I was always trying to create, build and sell. At SF State I learned how to do that (without any more fictitious parking permits, of course!).
Professor Minu Kumar’s “New Product Development” class and Sameer Verma’s “Information Systems” class were particularly impactful. Specifically, Verma’s “Scale vs. Scope” methodology and Kumar’s exercise of creating a real-life business plan. I have applied both practices directly to my business and continue to do so.
And what is that business? Today, I am happy to be the executive vice president of sales for PATH, which was recently ranked by Inc. 5000 as the second fastest-growing private food and beverage company in the nation. PATH is the first and only product that offers purified water in a refillable aluminum bottle with a goal of getting rid of single-use plastic water bottles. It’s a mission-driven company that I helped launch. PATH products are sold by more than 35,000 retailers across the country, and the company has partnerships with Intuit, Dropbox, Facebook, Tesla and Orange Theory. Recently, it added another partner that’s near and dear to me: my alma mater.
Students returning to campus for the Fall semester received a reusable aluminum SF State PATH water bottle after they moved into their residence halls. Bottles were also distributed to students, staff and faculty at on-campus events and remain available to purchase at campus stores.
Being able to give something back to the SF State community — literally — was a dream come true. But it didn’t come true overnight. The road to success wasn’t without bumps. PATH’s first few years were far from glamorous. It was five people crammed into a 500-square foot office and a lot of hustling up and down the state trying to sell water bottles. We would have 50 cases in the backseat of our cars and go door-to-door to 7-Elevens and schools, trying to build a brand.
It wasn’t pretty. But like my dad said: Nothing comes easy — you have to work for it. That wasn’t just great advice for me. I think it’s great advice for anyone. Combine it with a sense of purpose and the right know-how — like the kind I acquired at SF State — and there’s nothing you can’t do.