The DTC Interview: Venu Gutlapalli of Tag-n-Trac

Venu Gutlapalli
Photo credit:

The DTC Interview
Venu Gutlapalli
CEO and co-founder, Tag’n’Trac

We’re going to the basics and saying, “You want to know where your pallet is at any given point in time? We’ll give you give you that capability.” You don’t need AI and all this predictability. It’s actually real data coming from the field.

We’ve heard plenty about supply-chain challenges of late, but even before the recent crises there were issues. Chief among them? Lack of visibility into both exact locations and conditions for shipments that require specific environmental conditions and delivery timelines.

 That’s the problem that Venu Gutlapalli, CEO and co-founder of Tag-n-Trac, is intent on solving.

 The company, backed by DTC as its Series A lead, has created a platform that gives customers a comprehensive, real-time look into where its shipments are as they move from factory to destination. At the heart of the platform are Tag-n-Trac-pioneered UPC labels that are imbedded with a cellular tracking device and other sensors; they not only monitor where a shipment is at any given moment, but also track things like temperature and humidity levels. Gutlapalli, a Qualcomm veteran, talks about technology, the value of partnerships, and building a supply chain solution at a time when there are problems with the supply chain itself.

WHY THIS, WHY NOW
The fundamental problem we’re wrestling with is… giving greater visibility into the supply chain, at a lower price. Right now, if somebody wants real-time visibility into a shipment, there are two ways to do it. One is a data crawl. You find another system that’s tracking the train or truck or ocean liner your shipment is on — for, say, safety information — and tap into that web site. But it’s not the latest information. The second way is by putting a live tracking device on it – like a GPS-enabled device. But the current trackers are bulky, and they’re around $100 a piece. And you need to reverse-ship them.

We solve the problem by… taking a bar code label and a tracker and merging them together at a low cost — below $10. And now that the tracking device is actually inside the label, we can add other sensors to track variables like temperature, pressure, humidity and so on. If it’s a perishable or a high-value good like a food or beverage or pharmaceutical, those variables are essential to understand.

We saw the opportunity to create a company because… when it came to solving some of these warehousing and shipping issues, most manufacturers just hire some big consulting company that are good at warehouse management software. If you’d ask consultant-types how shipments are tracked, they’d often just say, “I’ll go to China and buy some device and put it in the bottom of the shipment.” Those off-the-shelf solutions aren’t customizable and can be expensive.

We looked at the problem and said it’s possible to build a platform that’s focused on lowering costs and lets developers write customizable applications on top to manage specific workflows. And it can offer more real time data: your shipment is on a truck that is actually 30 minutes away from the warehouse, this is how much inventory is coming from it, this is how much inventory you’re expecting.

TALKING TECH
A tech breakthrough that’s been crucial to us is… FPC — flexible printed circuits. The traditional way of manufacturing a tracking device, like a cell phone or a watch, is that you first make a PCB, then you put a battery to it, then you build an encapsulation like a plastic casing. But that’s where the cost goes up because you have all these layers of manufacturing.

With flexible printed circuits, all the components are printed: the sensors are printed, the battery is printed, and then we encapsulate it all inside a UPC label. And the label material is the same as before.

With flexible printed circuits, all the components are printed: the sensors are printed, the battery is printed, and then we encapsulate it all inside a UPC label. And the label material is the same as before. It’s just that we’re putting in a very thin intermediate layer.

The most exciting thing about technology these days is… the way semiconductor technology continues to evolve. Every five years computational power doubles or triples, but the power consumption also goes down and the cost goes down. When I started as a cellular engineer at Qualcomm, we used to make cell phones that were like bricks, and the battery would die in six hours or so. You’re now squeezing an entire cellular function into a paper-thin label.

LEARNING AND INSPIRATION
One important thing I’ve learned about building a team is… when we’re trying to come up with is something that doesn’t exist, look for people who want to innovate and think out of the box to come up with solutions.

You don’t need to invent everything yourself… If somebody has already solved a certain piece of the puzzle, then partner with them to bring it into your solution.

A second important thing I’ve learned about building a team is… You don’t need to invent everything yourself. We’re exploring a lot of partnership opportunities. If somebody has already solved a certain piece of the puzzle, then we want to partner with them to bring it into our solution.

Don’t give up if somebody says that’s not working, that’s not available, you can’t do this. Stay at it. If someone can’t deliver, find another partner.

The key to being a successful startup is… don’t give up if somebody says that’s not working, that’s not available, you can’t do this. Stay at it. If someone can’t deliver, find another partner. We searched for one year for a label printer that can help us. We went to every expo. And then after one year we found two printers that can actually do the job, and both the printers are working now.

The biggest irony about what we’re doing is .. we’re trying to solve supply-chain problems and,  because of this whole semiconductor supply-chain issue, we ourselves are stuck with supply-chain problems. [laughs] You’re trying to solve a problem, and you’re a victim of it, too.

OFF THE CLOCK

Go on a trip where there are no cell phones, nothing. Just go and get your brain out of fundraising, value add, customer delivery, all that.

I give my mind a rest by… backpacking and traveling. Sometimes I go on a trip where there are no cell phones, nothing. Just go and get your brain out of fundraising, value add, customer delivery, all that.

In five years…I see us as a full-platform enabler for customers — specifically in pharma, food and automotive enterprises — solving this whole real-time visibility issue in a really good way. Not data and AI and all the fancy terms people are throwing around out there. We’re going to the basics and saying, “You want to know where your pallet is at any given point in time? We’ll give you give you that capability.” You don’t need AI and all this predictability. It’s actually real data coming from the field.

 

 

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The DTC Interview: Swish.ai’s Sebastien Adjiman

Photo credit: Swish.ai

As co-founder and CEO of Swish.ai, Sebastien Adjiman recognizes a crisis when he sees one. In this case it’s the deep stress being put on IT teams thanks to the dual impact of digital transformation and COVID. Swish.ai is reinventing the IT service management (ITSM) experience through its hyperautomation platform, using AI to apply autonomous ticket orchestration on top of existing ITSM workflows – and improving ticket resolution time significantly.

Here, Adjiman opens up about the Tel Aviv-based startup—which recently fully emerged from stealth with the announcement of the DTC-led Series A funding—as well as what he’s learned and what inspires him.

Why This, Why Now
The fundamental problem Swish hopes to solve is…exponentially increasing ticket volume. Digital transformation has put an immense strain on IT service and support departments, and COVID and the major shift to remote and hybrid work have only accelerated the problem. Ticket volume has increased by around 35 percent. It’s absolutely vital for the industry respond to this wake-up call.

We were able to witness firsthand the distress and frustration of enterprise CIOs dealing with increasing numbers of tickets…  to address a higher number of tickets, you needed more IT personnel. But budgetary constraints didn’t allow that, which led to burnout.

We started the company because…my co-founder, Arnon Yaffe, and I have a combined 50 years of experience in selling and deploying enterprise productivity platforms for very large enterprises. So we were able to witness firsthand the distress and frustration of enterprise CIOs dealing with increasing numbers of tickets. Before Swish, in order to address a higher number of tickets, you needed more IT personnel. But budgetary constraints didn’t allow that, which led to burnout among the existing personnel.

“Hyperautomation” is…an AI-driven approach that organizations utilize to intelligently analyze, understand, expedite, and automate existing business and IT workflows. Through that, they can achieve operational excellence and, subsequently, cost savings.

A technology breakthrough that made the Swish platform possible is…progress around unsupervised algorithms. It’s allowed our data science teams to develop proprietary algorithms that train themselves using our customers’ historical data. This led to a reduction of the deployment time from months to weeks — which shortened the “time to value” for customers.

There are still many repetitive, manual tasks that can be automated. That’s why I believe that the whole trend – things like autonomous driving and ticket orchestration — could bring about many innovations in various sectors of our lives.

The current tech innovation I’m most excited about is… the whole autonomous trend. There are still many repetitive, manual tasks that can be automated. That’s why I believe that the whole trend – things like autonomous driving and ticket orchestration — could bring about many innovations in various sectors of our lives. That could give us a healthier work-life balance, a more equal society, and a reduction in human error.

Learnings & Inspiration
The leader I most admire for his team-building capabilities is…Steve Jobs. I love his “self-manage” concept: The greatest people are self-managing — they don’t need to be managed. Once they know what to do, they’ll go figure out how to do it. What they need is a common vision.

Swish’s most important hires have been… We needed to hire great leaders who were experts in both data science and engineering. We were lucky to have Oren Miara, one of the most talented data scientists I’ve ever come across, join the team to develop all the algorithms behind Swish’s proprietary technology. Then we were joined by Gadi Wolfman, who spent 10 years in Informatica and is one of the top experts in building robust enterprise-grade, mission-critical systems.

(In startups) often, we celebrate enormous wins and deal with serious challenges in the same week.

One thing I wish I knew earlier about launching a startup is… the intensity of the highs and lows. Often, we celebrate enormous wins and deal with serious challenges in the same week. This, of course, takes an emotional toll on the founders. I’m happy to have found the best partner for this journey, my co-founder, Arnon.

Off the Clock
A TV series everyone should watch is…
The Last Dance. It’s a stunning portrait of Michael Jordan and the reasons behind the Chicago Bulls’ amazing success. It inspired me that hard work, teamplay, and a great leader are the recipe for success.

In five years, ITSM support hyperautomation will… not be the only thing we do. Our plan is to go beyond ITSM and implement hyperautomation in all service and support functions inside the enterprise, including legal, HR, facility management, security operations, and so on. Our vision is to allow our enterprise customers to cope with the rapid pace of the digital world, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and focusing on value-adding tasks. My biggest reward will be when customers thank me for being able to spend more time with their families since the implementation of Swish.ai.

 

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The DTC Interview: NetSpring Co-founder and CEO Vijay Ganesan

NetSpring CEO Vijay Ganesan
Photo credit: NetSpring

Vijay Ganesan has long had a front-row seat on the impact analytics can have on company performance. Ganesan spent eight years at Oracle, as technical lead for its flagship business intelligence product, then co-founded software analytics company ThoughtSpot, a leader in the space recently valued at $4.2 billion. Now he leads NetSpring, whose new operational intelligence platform pulls together disparate data to help businesses make decisions in real time.

DTC invested in the NetSpring team at the seed stage and then led their Series A. Vijay answered some leading questions we had about innovations in data, team building, and leadership.

Why This, Why Now
The fundamental problem NetSpring hopes to solve is… There are two things happening in business: One is an increasing volume of data in this category we’re calling event data – data coming from sensors, devices, phones, product instrumentation. People are looking for tools to help make sense of that data, and the traditional reporting tools just don’t cut it. The other is a massive increase in business velocity. Businesses are moving faster; COVID has accelerated that transformation.

So the fundamental problem we’re solving is: people have business pressures to do better decision-making on data very, very quickly, and they’re struggling with a hodgepodge of systems to be able to do that. If we can build and provide a robust platform, we can massively impact the operational business agility at companies.

“What is available now really only works for the Ubers and the Netflixes of the world. And so, that convinced me there’s an opportunity for a company here.”

We started a company because… I spent six months asking: If I was consulting for a company that had a need for better operational intelligence, what would I do? And what I came away with was, right now, it is colossally complex. You have to string together a bunch of different tools to build something useful. What is available now really only works for the Ubers and the Netflixes of the world. And so, that convinced me there’s an opportunity for a company here.

“Stream processing has gone mainstream. It’s no longer that the data lands somewhere, and then it’s processed offline. People are processing data as it’s coming in…  Which is a great enabler for us.”

The trends that make this the right time to build NetSpring are… There are two megatrends happening that are enablers for us. One is, stream processing has gone mainstream. It’s no longer that the data lands somewhere, and then it’s processed offline. People are processing data as it’s coming in, thanks to companies like Confluent and projects like Apache Kafka. Even in an average enterprise, it is entrenched. Which is a great enabler for us. Because you need to have the infrastructure to capture the data before you can have the analytics about that data.

The second big trend is the lakehouse movement. There’s this big debate going on – warehouse vs. lakehouse. I think it’s a major shift that’s happening, and we’re big believers in the lakehouse style of architecture. It means the central depository of data in your enterprise is your cloud data lake. It is not your data warehouse. If you think about it, for an enterprise the ideal scenario is that all data sits in one place. And cloud data lakes make that viable. They’re cheap. They’re secure. They’re highly scalable. They’re reliable.

Learnings & Inspiration
One thing I’ve learned about startups is… the articulation of the pain point you’re solving for has to be crisp. Product is very important. But enterprises are bombarded by hundreds of startups. So you have to be very very crisp in articulating the value proposition. It’s not about your technology; it’s about their pain point.

A leader who inspires me is…Larry Ellison of Oracle. For just sheer grit and determination and getting the job done.

The key to building a strong team is…finding people who are driven to make an impact. In talking to somebody who’s potentially going to join us, I don’t sell them NetSpring. I tell them, “Look, you’re at Google, you’re at a fantastic place. You should be happy. You shouldn’t be leaving. You should be staying there.” And for people who are very passionate and driven, that sort of irritates them and their response is usual: No, no, no! That’s a trick I use. I flip it.

One thing I’ve learned about investors is… It’s like in a very fancy restaurants: you never see the waiters, but when you need them, they’re there. They’re watching you from a distance, and if you’re looking for a spoon, they’re there to give you a spoon. The best investors are like that. They give you the support you need when you need it, but they get out of your way. Because they trust you know what’s good for the company.

“The important thing with a team when you have a setback is, how are we going to fix it? It’s really always looking forward.”

One thing I’ve learned about setbacks is… how you manage it for the team. How do you react to it? Do you get agitated? Are you finger pointing? Or are you calm? The important thing with a team when you have a setback is, how are we going to fix it? It’s really always looking forward.

Off the Clock
I relax by… listening to Indian classical music. Music does something remarkable to your body and mind. It has this sort of regenerative impact. It’s like are change of the batteries.

Five years from now… if you walk into an enterprise and look at what they have for data and analytics, you should see three things: an event processing bus; a cloud data lake; and NetSpring. That’s what we call the modern data and analytics stack.

That’s our vision: We are going to be the predominant platform for data analytics for the enterprises in this new modern world.

 

 

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