Of Manthan and how Atul Jalan built a multi-million-dollar analytics business
This 'analytics as a service' platform deals in data science, which is crucial for a retail company's success today
When he talks, the world of business nods in agreement. And quite often, gives him business too. Meet 47-year-old serial entrepreneur Atul Jalan who has made a big business out of a deep understanding of businesses and their problems, and serving up solutions for them.
Kishore Biyani, Chairman of Future Group, too was all ears when he heard Atul give a lecture on making analytics accountable, three years ago in New York.
“I had to meet him because he was talking about analytics from the point of view of consumer behaviour and not just from a business perspective,” says Biyani.
Later, a five-minute meeting extended into an hour-long discussion, and Biyani was convinced that he had found a partner in Atul.
The pitch to Biyani was simple: an analytics tool that would help the store manager understand what is selling in his catchment, rather than depend on and be controlled by a central analytics team.
The pitch blossomed into a partnership a year later, and Atul's Manthan came on board to power in-store analytics across a thousand Future Group stores.
Beyond his business proposition, Atul paints an interesting picture himself, with a curious mind that ticks to find solutions. It's no wonder then that he has managed to collect over 230 clients in more than a score countries.
Today, Manthan has blossomed into a Rs 700-crore company (the company does not disclose revenues), thanks to the founder's ability to zero in on the specific needs of a business at the very first meeting.
Its filings with the Registrar of Companies shows that its Indian unit is a Rs 150-crore business as of last year.
Manthan has reportedly raised $125 million from undisclosed investors; early investors included Norwest Venture Partners.
Taking the platform route
Atul has managed to convert 'analytics as a service', an offering popularised by the likes of Mu Sigma and Fractal Analytics, into a platform play. He explains,
“The pay-per-seat model in analytics is a done business. Every analytics company is going through a platform route to provide automated modules to retailers.”
Thirteen years after setting up shop, Atul sits in his plush office on Lavelle Road, Bengaluru, still talking about and listening to the needs of the client. His relationships and his acumen have led Manthan to be valued at a billion dollars.
A decade ago, it was an exhilarating meeting with a US-based fast-food chain that changed everything for the company. But more on that after a brief look at the earlier ventures of Atul.
The early days
Before Manthan, Atul ran three ventures. He had successful exits like Netkraft, a software services company, and Microtrack, a venture that came out in the early 90s.
In 2003, Atul was living in London and he began to think of a business away from software services. “I thought about stuff from robotics to investing in a ski resort,” he says.
One day, Atul opened a folder on his computer and named it ‘Manthan’—meaning deeper introspection—for jotting down his ideas.
“That night I figured math and data science would change the paradigm, in a shift as huge as the Industrial Revolution,” Atul recalls.
He shifted to Bengaluru and began to explore the idea of data science. At the time, 'version 1.0' of computing business processes was generating enormous amounts of data and data capture was important before being analysed.
The Manthan analytics platform took two years to develop, and the first commercial product was rolled out in the market in two and a half years.
While Manthan was taking shape, Atul bumped into two senior executives from McDonald’s on a plane. “I just began talking to them as an absolute stranger. The next thing I knew they loved my analytics story and called me for a meeting in Chicago,” he says. Atul went on to win the deal and set up an office in the US.
The company's first ten years were all about mitigating challenges that lay in creating an inventive and multinational organisation that could go on to become a global success.
Back in 2005, the seed round was secured in 18 months through a debenture-based funding (not common in India at the time) from SIDBI.
In, 2008, Manthan secured Series-A funding from IDG Ventures and DFJ ePLanet Ventures. Since then, the company has successfully raised Series B, C and D from Fidelity Investments, Norwest Venture Partners and Temasek Holdings, totalling more than $125 million till date.
Towards analytics 2.0 and industry 4.0
Manthan is now preparing for analytics 2.0, which is about making data available on the go. Everyone from Bosch, Continental, General Motors, Ford, Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra has seen value in investing in data analytics for every level of their business and operations.
The Internet of Things (IoT) market puts Manthan right back at the centre of business and it faces extreme competition from nimble startups like I2E1 and Bezirk.
Industry 4.0 is all about machines interacting with other machines and sensors collecting, slicing and making sense of data without human intervention.
Analytics 2.0 will help automate data science and help decision-makers crunch volumes of data from, say, a batch of 1,000 stores, every hour, with inventory and sales data. Here, cloud-based infrastructure and new business models like pay-per-use model will become popular.
The licensing model, which was based on x number of employees, will slowly go away.
“Using real-time data for quick decision making is the norm in consumer industries, and businesses are investing more in data tools,” says Vijay Ratnaparkhe, MD of RBEI.
Robert Bosch, for example, builds end-to-end sensor solutions, from the kitchen to the car to the retail store to the weather, which aid analytics companies in capturing rich and dynamic data about the consumer.
Since its inception 13 years ago, Manthan has grown at a CAGR of 65-70 percent. Its portfolio of product offerings has expanded and matured at an incredible pace, with over 19 analytics products being deployed with clients over the years.
Starting its go-to-market push with a targeted focus on retail and consumer goods, Manthan has since expanded its market focus to consumer businesses like online, hospitality, travel, pharma and telecom.
There is a lot of money to be made in the business of data analytics. The likes of Mu Sigma and Fractal Analytics are large companies, with the former having a turnover of more than Rs 1,500 crore, and the latter with a turnover of Rs 450 crore.
But constant innovation and reinvention is required to remain relevant, experts say.
“The shift to the modern BI and analytics platform has now reached a tipping point,” says Ian Bertram, Managing Vice President, Gartner, adding that organisations must transition to easy-to-use, fast and agile modern BI platforms to create business value from deeper insights into diverse data sources.
“Analytics is getting better as computers get better at computing data with insights; the future is in deep learning and every industry wants data scientists to work on technology platforms that can provide knowledge,” says Srikanth Velamakanni, CEO of Fractal Analytics.
Little wonder then that like Dhiraj Rajaram of MuSigma and Srikanth of Fractal, Atul is sitting on a goldmine. If the portents and business value are anything to go by, they will soon become billion-dollar businesses.