[Techie Tuesday] Meet Ajit Narayanan, ex-CTO, Myntra, now tackling India's healthcare challenge with Mfine
Ajit Narayanan is one of those rare tech architects who has combined his 20 years of learning to build for the masses.
In his journey as a technology architect, the 43-year-old techie’s expertise lies in high-performance computing, big data systems, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI).
Ajit started his career at a time when landing a job at Infosys was considered something big and prestigious in India. Though he did not land a job at Infosys, Ajit has come a long way by building tech solutions for SAP Labs, Schneider Electric, and has worked with ecommerce major Myntra.
As the ex-CTO of Myntra, Ajit says he managed to drive engineering teams of over 400 engineers at 25x scale for the ecommerce platform’s end of season sale.
With a deep passion for healthcare in India, Ajit then joined Mfine as one of the founding members, with an intention to build something from scratch.
At Mfine, he is making use of mobile technology and using AI to simplify the healthcare solution in India. He has embedded his learnings from building products for ecommerce, mobile, and consumer internet into building Mfine, an on-demand healthcare service.
Calling it a career-defining and a personal growth move to build for Mfine, Ajit says,
“Trying to define protocols for better healthcare outcomes and solutions for a country like India makes a world of difference, especially for the fact that healthcare has a plethora of problem statements.”
Overcoming personal obstacles in childhood
Ajit was born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, where he spent his early childhood. He later shifted to Bengaluru in 1986 after his father, who was working with the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, got transferred.
Recalling one of the most difficult times in his childhood in 1991, he says, his family had to go through the sudden demise of his father and grandfather within two days. Ajit was only 14 at the time. His mother started working after she was offered a job to work at the space centre in Bengaluru on compassionate grounds.
But as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Ajit did not lose hope, and worked hard for his board exams and got into engineering. Ajit picked electronics engineering at Siddaganga Institute of Technology (SIT) in Tumkur, near Bengaluru.
While in college, thanks to some dabbling he had done with circuit building back in his high school, he found it easy to try his hand at programming.
“It took me a while to realise there was going to be a lot of Math in it. In fact, I looked down upon computer science for the longest time, though I built some management systems for my school library. Electronics seemed like the stuff that drove computers deep inside. I thought, what’s more fun than that intersection,” he tells YourStory.
Rejected by Infosys
In the 80s and 90s, there were not many campus placements, and only two or three companies used to visit engineering colleges.
Ajit says, he fumbled in his final interview with Infosys, and did not land a job in the company. However, he got through a software company in Pune, in 1998. here, he worked on COBOL, the object-oriented programming language. Realising that COBOL was not his cup of tea, Ajit quit the job in just five days.
“I landed at ANZ IT three months later, where I was dabbling with Visual Basic and C++. I even went to New Zealand for nine months to work on an online banking software and a cheque processing machine. It was my first ever experience working on real products,” he says.
After returning to India, Ajit got married. He did not want to go back to New Zealand, and hence quit ANZ IT.
Soon, an advertisement led to a phone call, a written test, and some interviews, and he joined SAP Labs in Bengaluru, which he calls was a career defining choice for him. He says, most companies keep talking about offering environments with ownership and accountability, and SAP Labs lived it way back in 2000.
Targeting the impossible
At SAP Labs, Ajit started off as a basic developer and went on to lead the NetWeaver studio’s delivery. Towards the end of his stint, he was looking after the development and delivery of the mobile middleware called the data orchestration engine and the client libraries. SAP acquired California-based Sybase, and Ajit was heading the transition process of the development units into Sybase.
He even helped define SAP mobile platform 1.0 and the Sybase SUP Lite, a light-weight proxy mobile middleware for device onboarding, notifications, and security.
During this time, Ajit built something called UI patterns along with his team. Any enterprise software has standard patterns of usage, like a search, a list, and a detail within it. As simple as they seem, any order management system has these patterns.
Using this, Ajit and his team were able to build a complete ERP solution on virtual cloud in just 15 to 20 days. He says it was impossible to even think of it if one were to do it with traditional and conventional means.
Enterprise to startup transition
After building solutions for enterprises with longer cycles of results, Ajit got the opportunity to head the India technology innovation for Schneider Electric in 2011. He worked for a year with Schneider Electric, and then moved back to SAP Labs as VP, Engineering, to lead the product departments of HANA Cloud integration’s CMS and manage SAP’s APIs.
As opposed to a consumer-centric ecommerce startup, the solutions built at a company like SAP takes a couple of years to reach the end-users. Typically, these users and the solution architects have three to four layers in between, and the architects hardly get to see their excitement result in real-time value generation.
Ajit went through the same experience while building multiple B2B applications from an enterprise perspective. He wanted to be closer to the end-users he was developing solutions for.
During this time, Ajit was also in talks with Myntra’s Mukesh Bansal. In the second half of 2015, Ajit joined Myntra as SVP Engineering for the startup's online storefront. Over time, he got the mobile app to be one of the top-rated applications on the play store, which saw six million active users.
“The transition from building for enterprise solutions to merely observing the patterns of a single button and its color teaches you a lot about user behaviour and consumption. It certainly made me revisit all of my learnings and how product building is an entirely different ball game when it comes to not-so tech-savvy consumer internet users,” he says.
During the end of season sale at Myntra, Ajit had to rewire a lot of systems in the midnight because they were not built to handle the surge in traffic at the time. He also built an engagement platform for fashion ecommerce, a social network for fashion enthusiasts, end-users, influencers, and brands under one roof.
Besides, he also built Moda Rapido, an AI to recommend attribute-based buying patterns to the end-users.
Building from scratch
Making use of his AI experience at Myntra and understanding the potential of co-creation, Ajit intended to build something from scratch.
In 2017, he joined Mfine as one of the founding members of the team, with an idea to use mobile technology for access and large reach for the users, and to use AI to simplify the healthcare solution in India.
Mfine allows users to consult doctors from premium healthcare institutions through a video or chat. It follows a model where it partners with leading hospitals, rather than aggregating individual doctors on the platform.
Ajit says, “The product is actually an AI-based virtual doctor to come up with the best-possible clinical outcomes for any ailment”.
As per Crunchbase, today Mfine is one of top 90 AI-based healthcare solutions across the world. Ajit says he was able to attain this within two years of building the product.
A techie at heart, Ajit says, apart from production and deployment, he still likes to build hands-on. He says, he is now able to carve out real-world business outcomes and technology solutions, not just from a product-based view but also from a tangible business point of view.
Apart from building an AI-based doctor, Ajit is now seriously looking at building devices for micro use-cases like health monitoring and blood tests, which are an extension to a smartphone mobile application.
Edited by Megha Reddy