From idea to implementation: the journey of AI-based enterprise decision-making SaaS company, Draup
In the past, human judgement was the central processor of business decision-making. Today, companies have moved to a data-driven approach; and the next phase in this evolution is artificial intelligence (AI)-driven decision making. Today, high-level intuition and experience are no longer enough to anticipate the risks and consequences of important business choices. AI, with its varied applications, is being extensively leveraged by leaders to make informed and effective decisions to drive positive ROI to their businesses.
Vijay Swaminathan and Vamsee Tirukkala recognised this opportunity in the market and in 2017, decided to launch, an AI-driven enterprise decision making SaaS platform. This platform was based on the intersection of their consulting and entrepreneurial experience to create a solution for corporate leaders in sales and talent domains.
Coming together for an extraordinary purpose
For over 15 years, Vijay and Vamsee have been advising clients on their growth initiatives and global operations, and observed a need in the market to disrupt the traditional consulting industry with next-gen technologies, data and engagement models.
L: Vijay Swaminathan R: Vamsee Tirukkala
They believed that the advent of sophisticated tools, availability of vast amounts of data and disruptive technology-led delivery models would create an opportunity for them to transform the consulting and advisory industry.
"We have seen the impact of technology-led disruption in other industries like marketing, commerce, banking, and were fascinated to bring similar efficiency to this industry," says Vamsee Tirukkala, Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer, Draup.
Before Draup, both of them had prior experience in building two other successful startups since 2003 -and TalentNeuron. Building on that experience, with Draup, they wanted to build a global product from India and bring in a good set of heuristics, big data, machine learning and research in one platform.
The founders say they don't possess any special skills, but rather the discipline to resourcefully use time, along with a strong sense of self-belief that made them take the plunge.
"Our collective dream is to build extraordinary business and products that are both simple and intuitive to use," says Vijay Swaminathan, Co-Founder & CEO, Draup.
Building expertise in enterprise intelligence
With a team size of 500+ spread across US and India, Draup works with over 100 global technology companies, including three of the Fortune 10 companies and 85 percent of the top 20 global technology services providers. The self-funded company has a mix of specialised technologists and researchers and are solving very precise sales intelligence and talent use-cases in a unique way. "The raw data power we have is exponential and unparalleled, but what is more exciting is the amount of interpretation we can bring in. We were able to advise a very large ISV on how they should focus on omnichannel for selling into retail – much before it became a trend. Similarly, we advocated Quantum computing skills to a large telecom company when it was still in the university lab stage," says Vamsee.
Like any other startup, there were some pitfalls and mistakes along the way - something they took on the chin and worked on, one-day-at-a-time.
"This is a company that is built on the foundation of a lot of determination and sacrifices. Some acknowledged, some faintly remembered, some celebrated, and some merely forgotten," says Vamsee.
On how they acquired their first 100 customers, Vijay says it’s important to be honest about your capabilities, as well as limitations. "Clients want honesty and some sort of proof point for the problems they are solving. While we have a great product, we are ready to do whatever it takes for our customers in helping them reach their goals. As a result, we bring in unparalleled service levels and an agile way of deploying updates and enhancements, making large and small customers alike have a deep trust-based relationship."
A yogic entrepreneurial mindset
Vijay and Vamsee are on their way to build one of the most successful B2B startups of our times, working on cutting-edge technologies and driving innovation from India. Although COVID-19 has limited team interaction, they are making the most of the technology this digital age has to offer. "The opportunity is as vast as a broad canvas, it is up to us to paint the story we want to paint," says Vijay.
Every entrepreneur experiences a set of challenges while starting up, which evolve over time. There were many who doubted their ambition to disrupt a huge industry. People thought that executives might still prefer a high-touch consulting model rather than a technology-led platform or that other large consulting players could outdo them by building similar products. But Vijay and Vamsee were convinced about this being a huge opportunity and that with a competent team, they would be able to disrupt the market.
They also faced challenges when it came to building the team, experimenting with viable and scalable models, focusing on the critical needs of the market, handling global clients, setting attractive pricing models.
"There is no template of best practices, we had to, and still have to envision, experiment, refine and redo to move forward,” says Vijay.
He adds that funding is not really a challenge as you have been led to believe. Eventually, you will get the money if you have passion and a clean lifestyle. The real challenge is managing your mind. You have to be able to do things that normal people do not do to be an entrepreneur. This may mean working a lot for very little or immediate ROI. “Years of work have gone by where the work did not materialise or just went unnoticed. If you’re a first-generation entrepreneur, you need to have a yogic mindset, where you are not working to check your rewards all the time, rather working with an awareness that the desired results will come over a long period of time, provided action is sustained," he says.
A part of the India growth story
Based in The Woodlands (Texas), Draup has set up branches in Santa Clara in California, and in Bengaluru, Coimbatore, and Nemili in India. The founders believe in hard work, passion and transparency and have built their company culture as a reflection of these beliefs. Their culture today is an embodiment of trust, respect, and learning, allowing their team to excel. Draup interestingly has set up centres in a couple of micro hubs in India and going forward, they want to tap talent in all the major rural hubs in the country. "The energy and dedication India brings is just amazing. There are only a few countries in the world where you can hire Data Scientists, pure-play Statisticians, Researchers, Analytical Modelers, Developers, Testers, Writers, Corporate Functions individuals – all of whom are global-ready. Not everyone understands this and dwells on the limitations of working in these smaller towns, but if we can move past some of these imaginary inhibitions, the full potential of India can be unlocked," says Vamsee.
Their long-term plan is to build a truly global company.
"We are working on making Draup micro US locations functional. Post-COVID, these centres will go live," Vijay adds.