Please tell me a bit about your personal and professional background before joining RudderStack

Before starting RudderStack, I was the Sr. Director of ML @ 8×8, a public unified communications company. While my charter was to work on AI/ML stuff, I mostly worked on building a customer data platform – this became the genesis for starting the company. Prior to working at 8×8, I co-founded a B2B marketing-tech company called MarianaIQ which was later acquired by 8×8. Before that, I was at DataDomain, a pioneer in data-deduplication where I started my career.

I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois and an undergrad degree from IIT-Delhi.

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

The goal for the next two years is to grow from an early-stage start-up into a mature organization. It is not just about me or personal development, it’s the entire team having to grow to the next level to reach these business goals. Thankfully, the leadership team is very entrepreneurial and joined the team with a proactive mindset and a strong understanding of the necessary disciplines to develop start-up companies.

Give me one word that describes you the best.

I would say, I am a hard-working man.

Start-ups are challenging because of their unexpected nature and the fact you are entering a territory that you are new to. You are fighting not just other start-ups but big companies who have all the resources to fight you in any department from marketing to product. The only leverage you have is the speed of execution – you can outwork your competition.

For example, if a customer reports a bug, you fix it in 1 day while your large competitor can do it in 7 days.

One thing I learned from building multiple start-ups is that initially, you do not expect things to scale immediately and you do not focus on this during the early stages. The focus is to create a service or product of value – this will later determine any long-term success of a business.

Common statements such as “work smart, not hard” or “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” are from big company jargon. If you observe the fastest marathon runners, their running speeds seem like sprints to the rest of us (42 km in 2 hrs is a sprint speed for 90% of the population!)

What are your goals?

To scale the company in an organization that “matters”. For me, this means to get involved and support with a wider perspective and purpose, not just financial but also impactful. But these are often strongly correlated.

What Are Your 3 Biggest Accomplishments?

  1. Achieving a Ph.D. in Computer Science.
  2. Starting multiple successful companies, which were later sold.
  3. Being a dad (still learning this).

What other CEOs do you look up to?

In terms of recognizable CEOs, Jeff Bezos. People often look up to Jobs & Musk as they have a kind of larger-than-life personality around how they articulate their vision, but I cannot relate to them. Bezos, on the other hand, has grown from a perfect geek (if you watched his early videos) to build the most valuable company on earth.

A more personal answer would be a man named Frank Slootman: The CEO of the only large company I have worked in for a long time, so the only CEO I have watched closely. He was very inspiring. He is currently the CEO of Snowflake computing.

Explain the rationale behind each of your career moves.

Most of the time, the rationale behind my career moves was simply having to try.

I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and realized that no planned career move will make you a successful entrepreneur – it comes with taking risks, understanding deeper objectives, rising from mistakes, and sometimes going with a gut feeling!

When you are not working, How do you enjoy spending your time?

Traveling… lots of traveling. I used to be an avid traveler. I have been to all but two states in India. My daughter has visited 12 countries before she turned 5. Unfortunately, that has gone down as I am much busier recently.

So, I spend time watching travel videos now and let imagination take me there

What do you think our company’s mission and vision are?

An “open” customer data platform. Meaning allowing accessibility for a community of like-minded engineers to collaborate and share ideas of better solutions in our type of work.

Who do you believe are our biggest competitors? How do you differ from them?

Customer Data Platforms such as Segment and mParticle.

Our product differentiated on 3 dimensions:

i) Open Customer Data Platform: Do not have your data locked in 3rd party systems.

ii) Privacy & Security Focus: You do not have to share your data with 3rd party.

iii) Developer Friendly Pricing Model: You are not tied to MTUs or Events.

What is the most innovative product or service you have worked on at a previous company?

Data Duplication – it is a very simple idea but when applied to the right problem it was a game-changer. It was something that took the entire tape industry by storm!

In 5 minutes, prepare a small pitch to present your company to a potential investor.

RudderStack is the first open-source customer data infrastructure platform, an alternative to products like Segment or mParticle. Our Customer Data Platform can run on top of a customer’s data warehouse in their cloud environment, and provides a powerful transformation framework to process, filter, and enrich customer data in real-time. The company is already being used by some prominent customers like Wynn Casino, Grofers, 1mg, Mattermost, Nana, IFTTT, BarStool Sports, and hundreds of open-source users.

What personality traits make a good leader?

Empathy.

What is the best and the worst part of being a CEO?

Best: The entire company looks up-to you. Worst: The entire company looks up-to you.

Name two strengths and two weaknesses you have and how they can impact your responsibilities as a CEO.

Strengths: Empathy – listening to your customers and employees.

Weaknesses: Sympathy – makes it difficult to take hard decisions.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

Other than the first 3 years after my Ph.D., I have always been an entrepreneur, but it is a difficult journey…

My first startup which I began as an undergrad, did not turn out so well. But it did teach me what not to do for the next one.

I have been a freelance consultant which was a great lifestyle business but did not make a huge impact for me.

My company after that was moderate, not the ones you want to do. Onto my third real start-up now.

When you are an entrepreneur for life, you do not face career challenges in the traditional sense – difficult boss, a hard deadline, downsizing, etc. You face all of it, every day! The real difference is that entrepreneurial spirit requires an understanding that bad days will come and that’s just a part of the process of becoming successful – it’s something that is regarded as ‘normal’ rather than anything out of the ordinary.

But you do learn a lot. Every mistake made (which you make daily) is a lesson learned on what not to do.

How do you prefer to communicate with your team to assign responsibilities to them?

There is no replacement for one-on-one meetings to better understand the challenges the team is facing to find a quick and effective solution.

How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?

I try to be close to employees – which is sometimes challenging.

Describe a time when two team leaders or executives had a conflict. How did you handle the situation?

Get on a meeting with both leaders present and articulate the goal of resolving the issue because of the meeting. This is only effective if both leaders agree to the conclusion (they may not be happy but should appreciate the reasoning behind the conclusion and commit to it).

A culture of empathy always helps these situations.

Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?

It is hard… It can get messy or complicated, and we are still learning how to do things better.