Ajeet Singh has built two multibillion-dollar technology companies from the ground up – ThoughtSpot and Nutanix. ThoughtSpot is a company revolutionizing analytics with search and AI. He has raised over $300M for ThoughtSpot from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures, or General Catalyst. Prior to starting ThoughtSpot, he was co-founder and Chief Products Officer at Nutanix, the leader in the enterprise cloud industry and largest tech IPO of 2016.
In this episode you will learn:
- Managing a 7 cofounder startup
- Recruiting engineers
- The value of ‘Solo Off-Sites’
- Building a team with an entrepreneurial culture
- Transparency as the key to culture
- Applying design thinking around product
- Creating a remarkable customer experience
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Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
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About Ajeet Singh:
Ajeet Singh is the co-founder and Executive Chairman at ThoughtSpot, a company revolutionizing analytics with search and AI.
Driven by his passion for creation, Ajeet has built two multibillion-dollar technology companies from the ground up – ThoughtSpot and Nutanix.
Prior to starting ThoughtSpot, he was co-founder and Chief Products Officer at Nutanix, the leader in the enterprise cloud industry and largest tech IPO of 2016.
Prior to Nutanix, Ajeet learned the ropes of enterprise technology startups as the Senior Director of Product Management at Aster Data, later acquired by Teradata for $300M.
Ajeet has also held business and technical roles at Oracle, where he was part of the team that first launched Oracle Database to the Amazon EC2 cloud.
Ajeet holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, where he graduated at the top of his class.
Connect with Ajeet Singh:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m actually thrilled with the guest that we have today because he has done the full cycle. He’s been a serial founder, and I think that we’re going to be learning a lot from him. So without further ado, Ajeet Singh, welcome to the DealMakers show today.
Ajeet Singh: Thank you, Alejandro. Thank you for having me on the show.
Alejandro: You’re originally from India. Is that right?
Ajeet Singh: Yes. I grew up in India. I did my education there and even worked for the first seven years of my career in India. Then I came to the states 2006.
Alejandro: In 2006. So, in India, you actually studied chemical engineering and then you went into finance for doing your MBA. Why that interesting switch from one segment to another?
Ajeet Singh: My life has been full of a lot of wonderful, I would say, accidents. Many of them are beyond my control, so I did my undergrad in chemical engineering. In fact, originally, I really wanted to work at the intersection of chemical engineering and medical science and wanted to come to the states to be here. I worked hard to get into some of the best colleges. I got accepted, but my dad got sick in my last semester of my undergrad. So, I decided to stay back in India, so I could stay close to him. At the time, India did not have very strong research opportunities. I didn’t want to go to academia. So, I ended up doing an MBA instead, majoring in finance and information systems. That’s the reason I made that switch. After my MBA, I did about a year of management consulting. I found it to be somewhat abstract when I was mostly just producing PowerPoint and Word documents. So, I wanted to get into things that are more completed; you can touch and feel them. That’s when I moved to the tech space in 2000. I switched to product management in the technology space. That’s how I grew up in the technology industry. First, I’ve been a product guy so to speak in the tech space for the last 16, 17 years.
Alejandro: What does it mean to be a product guy, Ajeet?
Ajeet Singh: It means a lot of things, but what it means to me is that what gives me goosebumps so to speak is building products or working with teams that build products that have never been built before, and products that users really love using. When they see them, they’re wowed? When they use them, it makes a difference to them. That is what I call a product guy; someone who is passionate about building fundamentally new products in the tech system.
Alejandro: I think that the first experiences that you were getting on the product side, one of them was at Honeywell which ultimately is what really brought you here to the U.S. What was the main difference that you saw from the ecosystem there in India to coming here to the U.S. and perhaps a culture shock? How did you find things?
Ajeet Singh: Yeah. Going to Honeywell was a very interesting inflection point in my career. I went there to work on a very specific project. There was a very forward-thinking product leader who wanted to bring a consumer-like experience to aerospace industries, specifically to enable remote monitoring of building jet engines so that if there’s any air traffic operator, and they might have hundreds of planes that are flying around the world, they want to be able to monitor. This leader wanted to bring GMs Onstar-like experience which was built more for automotive and applied to a very industrial problem of managing aircraft engines. For that, we took a very design-first approach. I got an opportunity to work at Ideal. This was back in 2003, 2004. I saw how they approached the problem, how they applied design thinking to a very traditional industry problem and came up with an entirely different way of building a software solution than one would have done if they had taken a traditional approach to build software. I felt that I was very fortunate to be exposed to design thinking very early in my career before Steve Jobs showed the world what design can do with the iPad and iPhone and how these devices have fundamentally transformed how we live. Now, everybody appreciates the value of design. But I got the exposure much earlier in my life, and that has stayed with me forever. I would say I applied some of those concepts at my first start of Nutanix and at ThoughtSpot as well which is my second startup. I always like to say that we build in our technology, but what we deliver to our customers has really been user experience. So, transition from India to the U.S. was I would say fairly seamless for me because even when I was in India, I was working with companies that were headquartered in the U.S. I first worked at I2 Technology which was technology [6:18] and planning software space based in Dallas. Then I worked with Honeywell. So, always I was interacting with technical folks, business leaders that were in the States. So, the transition firstly was fairly seamless for me. I would say the bigger transition was once I completed my time at Honeywell and decided to move to the Valley in 2007. I joined Oracle. This is where I would say I had an eye-opening experience because everybody here was so excited about building new things. Even in a company like Honeywell which has been around for a very, very long time, even there I sought out opportunities to build something new, and when I came to the Valley, I was really struck by how much passion people had about building new things from scratch, and that led to the next ten years of my career which have been about startups.
Alejandro: In Oracle and also in Aster Data Systems, which were the two companies before you went at it as an entrepreneur, you were doing product. What did you learn or what were your major takeaways from doing product at Oracle, and also what were your takeaways from doing product at Aster Data Systems?
Ajeet Singh: Oracle, I was part of the Database Group which is one of the most respected groups within Oracle. Oracle has always been a database company at heart, and it’s very close to [7:58]. I got to work with some really, really smart people at Oracle. The thing that I noticed though was given how much history the product had and how deeply entrenched it was in some of the largest enterprises in the world. As a product manager, your ability to influence the direction of the product was very limited. So, I had a bunch of investing ideas, but it took a lot to convince everyone around the table about those ideas. Then seeing those ideas demented, I felt that it would be a very, very long process. So, I was at Oracle for a short nine months, actually because I didn’t want to take all the time that would be required to make an impact. That’s when I came over to Astra Data. Astra Data was a very respected startup in 2007, one of the early data companies co-founded by some really good computer scientists from Stanford, funded by some of the top VCs here. That was a real transformation and experience. I got to see what startups are like. I also realized that when you’re operating in large companies, you might have a lot of good ideas, but there’s a lot [9:25] in the system to move fast. You are responsible for convincing so many other people about the marriage of your ideas. When you are in a smaller environment in a startup things move rather quickly, and if you have an idea, it’s very likely you will actually have the charter to go in and implement the idea which basically means that the bar for your own ideas goes up significantly as you move from a large company to a startup. In a large company, that is maybe a small probability that ideas whether good or bad will be liked, but in a startup, there’s a lot more responsibility. Ideas do get implemented and heard very actively which creates additional responsibility on you to make sure that you thought through the idea in a basic specific way. You thought through the impact on customers. You thought through the ability to implement that. What tradeoffs the organization might need to make with that idea, and what are some other things that it could be doing? That was very interesting self-observation I had when I moved from large companies like I2, Honeywell, and Oracle to a startup like Aster Data.
Alejandro: In Aster Data, one of the things that you really were able to do was to get together again with your college dorm mate, which was Dheeraj Pandey. After working together a few years here, you guys came up with the idea of what has gone out to be a huge success at Nutanix. Tell us how did the idea of Nutanix—for the listeners, so that they know this as well, I did interview one of your co-founders of Nutanix a few episodes ago, Mohit Aron, and he did go deep into the story. I’d like to get your version, and then we do a quick summary, and then we’re going to jump right into your next company, which is your most recent one. How did you and Dheeraj really build, or I would say incubate this idea, and how did the co-founding team come together for Nutanix?
Ajeet Singh: The idea of Nutanix, the specific solution we were going to build came a little bit later. We felt that we should go and build a company. That was the first thing that we decided. Then we spent a bunch of time looking at different opportunities, different markets, and picked the market of storage because we felt that it was a huge space with a lot of big players, companies like EMC were very dominant at the time. But we felt that with the fundamental change in how IT had started operating with [12:49], becoming a very standard part of the stack. There was a new for a new architecture. The existing architecture at the time was 15 years old. I really believed that in any large market if people have been doing things a certain way for more than a decade, there’s more than a likely chance that you can be a tremendous value by looking at the whole problem space just from the ground up. We felt that how people are managing their data centers have become very complex and costly. They have to go to multiple vendors, Cisco and EMC. All these technologies to build a data center and operate it. It required storage administrators, networking administrators, several admin, security folks. It was just too complex. We felt that there was an opportunity to build a best-of-breed architecture from the ground up. We focused on the space, raised money, and started building a product and a company. It was a great experience having been part of that journey. Nutanix really fundamentally changed the architecture landscape. There are now many, many companies operating on that sort of architecture. I have worked with really strong teams. Mohit and I go really way back. We went to college together and have known each other really well at a family level for the last 20 years. It has been great to have partnered with him in the Valley to build something meaningful.
Alejandro: One thing that was true here when going at it with Nutanix was that the situation that you guys had from a financial perspective was different because Mohit was one of the early employees of Google, and he got his shares. I think it was something crazy like $2 a share. He was able to make a killing with that. So, the level of risk that he was able to digest was, for example, a little bit different to the level of risk that you were able to take because you had little savings, and then also I believe you and your wife were expecting your second child at the time. Is that right?
Ajeet Singh: Yeah. My son was born the same week that we started Nutanix. For me, the idea of risk, it was definitely a bunch of financial risks, but for me, the key risk is always not doing something, and growing old and then looking back at my career and feeling that I didn’t do what I really wanted to do. That opportunity cost of how I like to measure risk. So, I have a very supporting wife, and thanks to her, I’ve been able to be an entrepreneur. I also, obviously, have in the process have empathy for people that work at startups because their families really have to enable them to be able to take these kinds of risks. The quality of people that we hired at Nutanix and the quality of people we recruited at ThoughtSpot, these are the best engineers, the best salespeople, the best marketing people that you can find by any stretch of imagination, and they could be somewhere else making a lot of money, having a lot of fun. If I’m trying to recruit them to work at our company, I feel a deep sense of obligation to their families. Obviously, them, but even more so for their families, because they are employees and the team have a lot of fun working on hard problems, and a good culture, good environment, building a company. It’s a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of rewards that come with it. But if you look at it from the family point of view, they really don’t get to enjoy that camaraderie, that sense of achievement as a team, and so on. I think that it is our responsibility as entrepreneurs to make sure that recruiting people with a deep sense of obligation towards them and their families.
Alejandro: Absolutely. How big is Nutanix today?
Ajeet Singh: Nutanix is increments of a number of employees. It’s touching almost 5,000 people now globally.
Alejandro: Wow. I believe the market cap is close to 8 billion. So, what a ride. What I want to ask you now is could you—because this was the first time really that you were going at it as an entrepreneur, and you were able to apply some of those incredible learnings that you had from Honeywell, from Oracle. Going back to what you were pointing to which is the design thinking when you were applying to the design thinking, can you remember one of those times where you were incredibly impressed or shocked with the impact that you had caused from the before to the after?
Ajeet Singh: In terms of how we applied the design thinking?
Alejandro: Yeah. Let’s say like one of those moments where you’re looking back, and you’re incredibly proud of one time where you guys really applied this methodology.
Ajeet Singh: One of the tenants for design thinking is to keep the user in the middle of it, and deeply understanding life of the user at a very, very personal level. Who these people are? What do they do? What are the typical demographics they come from? What other stuff do they have going on in their life? Way back if you look at the life of a storage admin, they really didn’t have a life because they were operating some very mission-critical systems, and every time you have to fax them, upgrade them, you’re trying to do it on a weekend. You’re trying to do it off-hours, and your family life really suffers. That’s one thing. Similarly, with the systems becoming more virtualized, you had people that wanted to manage applications. Let’s say someone is running HR application, they became heavily dependent on the storage admins to be able to get the resources they needed. So, we spent a bunch of time meeting people that were doing the work of these kinds of activities and realized that their personal life has really become very difficult because they are almost always fighting some fires. So, we said we should really simplify this whole thing, and that would make an impact on these people’s lives. That’s when we said rather than trying to build better storage, how about an architecture that doesn’t really require a separate layer of storage. That’s how we came upon the idea of hyper-convergence where storage actually becomes just an application running on top of the hypervisor. That is one insight where building a deep empathy for the users reflected definitely into the solution and architecture of the technology that we came up with.
Alejandro: Got it. Really cool. Let me ask you this, Ajeet, you’re here in this company, and it is a rocket ship, Nutanix. Then all of the sudden, you decide to step down and go to Lightspeed Ventures to become their entrepreneur-in-residence. Why did you make that decision?
Ajeet Singh: This was, like I was saying earlier, I always look at my career and made decisions so that I didn’t have regrets as I grow in my career. I think that we will solve the minimization framework. Lightspeed was a Citibank investor in Nutanix. I have tremendous respect for [Robbie Matra 21:42] who was the lead investor at Nutanix and is also the lead investor at ThoughtSpot. Once we had launched our product at Nutanix in the market, and the product had started doing well, I was running Marketing and Product Management at the time. I felt that I can actually expand my horizons and see if I can run a full company. That’s when I talked to my co-founders. I talked with board members, and Robbie was kind enough to offer me an opportunity to be an EIR and incubate my next company, ThoughtSpot.
Alejandro: So, what were you doing there as an entrepreneur-in-residency in LightSpeed Ventures?
Ajeet Singh: Entrepreneur in residence is a very interesting—it’s not really a formal role so to speak, so I was still working at Nutanix, and then evaluating opportunities. In my case, being the person I am, my approach of building startups has been to go after large, existing markets. I have this mental framework of risk management. On one hand, I take a lot of risks. On the other, I try to avoid certain kinds of risks very, very aggressively. So, I look at all the risks in a startup in two buckets: market risk and execution risk. By market risk I mean is there a market for my product? As an example, I might be thinking of maybe an independent social network or maybe just as a ridiculous example, phones that can fly. I would think about is there a market for phones that can fly and come to me when I need it? That would be market risk. Then being able to build a phone that can actually fly and sell it would be an execution risk. So, I like look at opportunities that are very low in market risk, and very high in execution risk. I don’t want to spend several years of my life and other people’s lives going after markets that need to still evolve, that do not exist today and betting on there being a market in the future. That’s not the risk that I want to take, but when it comes to execution risk, I want it to be as high as possible because if you work on hard problems, one is you get to work with very smart and driven people. Second, if you can follow an execution risk in a large market, then you can build a lasting company. The time that I spent as an EIR at Lightspeed was to really evaluate various markets that might be available. It wasn’t a specific idea that I had which I wanted to build a company on. I wanted to spend time picking the right market. Then within the market, pick the right problem. Then comes the notion of an idea or the solution. That’s been true for both the companies Nutanix and ThoughtSpot. We were very deliberate about the fact that we wanted to do a company and then spend time. I would say end-to-end, it’s roughly about a year that we spent in picking the right market at both companies and understanding the problems that plagued these markets very, very deeply.
Alejandro: How does ThoughtSpot really come into place? Here you were testing ideas, evaluating ideas, and then all of the sudden, you land with ThoughtSpot. What happened, how did you incubate it, and ended up saying, “You know what? I’m going to go after this one.”
Ajeet Singh: In terms of market, data has been a very large market. The whole inspiration I would say for ThoughtSpot came from the time I had spent at Astra Data which one of the early big data companies as I was saying earlier. Astra Data was built around the same time that [26:10] was getting started, was just incorporated at the time. I saw that with big data technologies the ability to store and manage lots and lots of data was becoming cheaper, faster, better, but how that data was consumed by the end users, that wasn’t changing. Even with [26:36] technologies like Tablo, Flickr, or RBI, you needed an analyst to really understand the business question, try to come up with the right dashboard, right chart, right visualization, show it to the business user. Then the business user would have some feedback on it. Then it takes sometimes weeks and, in some cases, I talked to a bunch of customers. It was taking them months to really get answers to their data questions. That’s when I teamed up with Amit Prakash, my co-founder. Then we extended the co-founding team with a few more people from Google. We said why can’t you be as simple as using Google search. If somebody has a question in their personal life, they just go to Google and ask the question. Whereas a nice fine restaurant or where’s the nearest Starbuck’s, or how can I find the best college for my kids, given their inquest and so on? People have a question. They go to Google. They look at [27:41] based on that data. They ask another question immediately. They ask another question, and that’s how you end up finding the right college for your kids that you want to focus on or maybe the right restaurant that you want to go to dinner with your family tonight.
Alejandro: Ajeet, for example, for ThoughtSpot what ended up becoming the business model?
Ajeet Singh: We wanted to solve this problem of data access where business users need to answer questions because they’re on the frontlines. Because of a lot of digital transformation that is going on in the enterprise space, and I don’t use the term digital transformation here loosely. There is really a disruption happening when it comes to financial services, retail, everywhere next-generation companies that are pure software companies that are coming in disrupting big markets. So, we felt that the biggest need for this kind of technology where thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of users can get answers to their data questions immediately, that problem is the most apparent in large enterprises. If you look at some of the largest retailers, financial services companies, they have good businesses. They have a lot of customers. They have big data. They’ve been capturing a lot of data, but they really have not been able to empower their businesses to make decisions with that data, get insights, and knowledge on that data, and be able to compete in a world where Fortune 500 Companies are disappearing so quickly. All our business models became quite focused on global 5,000 organizations. That was also reflected. It’s not just that you can stick a business model with no applications for the product. Your product strategy and business strategy have to dovetail really well. So, even on the product side, we focus a lot on making the end user experience very, very simple, but we have invested a ton of [30:08] with some of the best engineers you can find who build an extremely powerful backing that can handle lots of scale, billions and billions of data records coming from many, many data forces where somebody has a question they can use the search bar, ask it, go through lots of data, and be able to answer that question that merchant, that a retailer might have. They’re trying to understand what kind of shoes they are promoting on their e-commerce website. Should it be more size 10 or size 8, or blue color or red color? They have these simple questions, but when you have data that is very voluminous, and it’s very complex, you also need a very thoughtful back end. We’ve invested a lot in the post-back, and we’re able to deliver a solution to some of these largest enterprises that need the user fuel, but they also have extreme scaled requirements.
Alejandro: Really cool. Why did you have so many co-founders? How many co-founders did you guys have?
Ajeet Singh: So, we started with seven co-founders. That was again a process that took me almost seven or eight months to assemble the co-founding team. We needed that because if you open the whole, you’ll see that we are building perhaps five companies, five products, each of which would be an independent company inside ThoughtSpot. That was in some ways a necessary evil because it has taken a lot of effort to deliver on all of these products. But all of that was done to delivered the user experience that we wanted to create for the end users. I look at data not as really a technology problem, but I look at this as a user experience problem. It is not even a visualization problem. The last decade of industry has focused on a complete company like Tablo, Flickr, and Microsoft Power BI, you can build a lot of very nice-looking dashboards, but as soon as the first new question comes, these dashboards are very fragile. They don’t have the answer. I look at this as a user experience problem. To deliver that user experience, we had to imagine a new kind of search engine that was built for numbers. Stuff has been done at Google, and Facebook, and LinkedIn on unstructured data where you are finding existing information. But if you need to build search that can understand your sales friends, that can understand your customer retention friends, and answer your questions instantly, but beat the size about the builders, unlike Google that can give you 20 subtitles on the first web page and you have to pick the right answer. Here, we have to give one answer. If you want to know how many employees you have at a certain location, I have to give you one straight answer. So, we had to build a new kind of search engine. We had to build an embedded CI and visualization engine that worked hand-in-hand with the search engine and can present the right charts for the users. We also had to build our own [33:29], scalable, extremely fast memory our database so that we can crunch numbers at massive scale extremely, extremely quickly because if I’m looking for a search-based user experience, I don’t have a lot of patience for the results to come back. I expect them to come back in a couple of seconds at max. Unlike standard visualization and dashboarding tools that can have the spinner that can go on for minutes sometimes. So, we had to deliver extremely fast performance, and we wanted to build something that would be very elastic, very crowd-friendly, and we have been letting our cluster-management capabilities that allows us to scale on demand as user data grows, for users on our platform it has to be an elastic architecture. We built a co-founding team that brought a very specific expertise to the table, and that reflected in our overall solution. We had co-founders that had worked on infrastructure at Google, that had done some very unique work at Google with machine learning. My co-founder and CTO, Amit, was working on machine learning and AI. We had our co-founder, Abhishek Rai who used to be one of the three [34:54] at Google. We had only one co-founder who had done AI in enterprise before because we wanted to make sure that whatever we built actually will work for enterprises. So, I would say it was an unusually large performing team, but it was built for purpose. As we built a performing team, what was important for us was to make sure that we can operate well together because sometimes you can have co-founding teams with a tremendous amount of friction, and for that, we spent a lot of time understanding each other, understanding each full values and the purpose behind why we would want to build a company. We were looking for people that would have a deep sense of purpose in what we are building, that would be passionate about the impact of what we can have on the world around us. That would do the company for the right reason, not because they want a certain title, not because they want to make more money. In fact, all of these folks were making really good amounts of money at Google and other companies they were at. So, it took a lot of effort to recruit them. One of them, I remember was maybe 17 or 20 meetings that I had to do with them to really convince them that ThoughtSpot was the right thing for them.
Alejandro: I’ve heard you say as a follow-up to this, Ajeet, that recruiting engineers is harder than you think. Why is this the case?
Ajeet Singh: Recruiting engineers is harder than you think. There are obvious reasons. There is the demand and supply cap that exists in the world between the demand for high-quality engineers. The second thing is that some of the best engineers are actually in consumer companies and consumer companies that have seen the kind of scale that Google and Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon have seen. Now, when you’re doing an enterprise company, oftentimes one challenge—in fact, these engineers don’t appreciate the value of the problem you’re trying to solve. If you’re working on a social network and they can immediately have a point of view on that, but if you’re trying to solve an analytic problem for enterprises, not only do you have to convince them about the quality of work they will be doing, but also you have to spend a lot of time in educating them on the market, the problem that exists, the value of the problem, the problem you’re trying to solve, etc. They’re all very smart people. They don’t take things at face value. So, it takes an extra effort to recruit some really high-quality engineers out of companies like Google and Facebook into an enterprise company.
Alejandro: Got it. Why is it important for you? As you’re thinking about culture, team, and then perhaps also yourself, why is it for you the solo off sites essential?
Ajeet Singh: Solo off sites. Typically, once in a while I take a day off and find my own time, particularly. Sometimes I would even stay in a hotel, stay all night and spend the next day just thinking about stuff. It is important because day to day you’re busy doing meetings and being pulled into a lot of things whether planned or unplanned. I do find 50% of my calendar open in a given week, that’s how my EA manages my schedule. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, I don’t. If you’re traveling, you’re spending a lot of time meeting customers or their team. It’s very important to find that clear mental space where you can take a step back once in a while and look at the big picture, understand what’s working and what’s not working, and really have a fresh perspective on things. I found that to be an extremely effective tool where I would block off a day and go somewhere, and think about the big picture, and think about the current priorities, and how things need to evolve, and so on. I found that to be a really good exercise.
Alejandro: I love it. I mean, I’ve heard that people like Bill Gates and other leaders, they just literally go off for a week and all they do is read and think. Like you were saying, “What’s the big picture?” Talking about the big picture, for something like this, this is obviously capital-intensive, so how much capital have you guys raised to date?
Ajeet Singh: We’ve raised about 300 million dollars at ThoughtSpot. The last round was about a year ago. We did 145 million dollars in our Series D.
Alejandro: Really cool.
Ajeet Singh: Like I was saying earlier, ThoughtSpot is perhaps the most ambitious stake on data, and it’s a huge market, a huge problem, and we want to solve it the right way. We are inspired by how someone like Elon Musk has some really, really hard problems and taking the more platform up approach of building things. Tesla first figured out how to take so many batteries and pack them so that the car doesn’t become too hot. That was the first problem they were trying to solve. As opposed to taking an existing car and just adding batteries to it, they took an approach of solving the core problem which is running batteries at scale. Then design and how you deliver software best features so that every day you could practically have a new car, and design an amazing user experience. You go close to the car; the handles come out. It’s a really a joy to use their product. Similarly, we’ve tried to build a solution at ThoughtSpot wity a platform of approach, and that has meant that it is a lot of work. It requires the best people across the board whether it is product or business teams because when you’re trying to disrupt the market as in analytics where the enterprise has spent over 150 billion dollars between software and services every year on the analytics stack, BI, ETO, [41:58]. These are a lot of investments. Over the last ten years, 1.5 trillion dollars have literally been spent, and it still takes a week on an average, 4.8 days to get a new report done. If that is what you’re trying to change, it requires you to be ambitious, and it requires you to build a lot of product with some people, and it comes with its own requirement of capital. We’ve raised a good amount of capital in terms of how we’ve used it. We’ve been fairly efficient and the investors we have, they also have a long-term view of the work, and they’re looking to really disrupt the large market. So, I feel like we have a great team and a great set of investors that are extremely supportive of our ambitions and vision that we have at ThoughtSpot, and that has really born true. Earlier this year, we were named as a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for BI Analytics. From what I know, that is the most downloaded data document across all their properties. From inception, it took us six years to land in the Leaders’ Quadrant. That has never happened in industry before. We were the fasted ever to the Leaders’ Quadrant, and we are the only new entrance in the last six years. So, it’s been a lot of hard work, but I think we’ve made good progress. Now, that said, I do have this mantra of being only 2% done which means that the market that we are in and the problems that we are trying to solve there is practically no finish line. We’ll always be 2% done because later is only growing, and what people want to do with data and the potential it offers is only growing. So, we have added a lot of capabilities in the industry, but I feel like it’s going to be something that’s a long journey and even ten years from now, there will be new data problems to solve. They will look very different from what we see today. So, we try to incorporate the mentality of not resting on our laurels. Not saying we are done with the product and now let’s just go hire a great sales team and sell a lot of product. We will do that, but at the same time every couple of years we’ll also keep investing in newer and newer arts for our customers delivering a totally new value for them that was not possible before. So, at the first part, we started with search as a way of answering questions that people have, and that has now become sort of the industry standard. All industries now are trying to copy that. But two years ago, we started a new product line that leverages the same platform called SpotIQ which is our AI-based solution which can help you really finding that needle in the haystack because data is so big, it is so complex. People often don’t even know what questions they should be asking so they can find the insights that they can take action on and that is what IQ does. It was not a product that customers came to us and said, “Go build this for us.” We had the solution. We validated it with our customers, but that’s something we built from scratch again for them. So, I feel that we will continue to innovate on behalf of all customers every two or three years and bring new and very meaningful solutions to them.
Alejandro: Really cool. And you guys are over a billion already in terms of evaluation, so obviously, the market is really valuing what you guys have done, and also in such a short period of time which is fantastic. Ajeet, I wanted to ask you, recently, I believe it was in August, you actually rearranged a little bit the corporate structure of the business, and you stepped it up as an Executive Chairman. Could you walk us through that decision and how this experience was for you?
Ajeet Singh: Yeah. This was a surprise to everybody. So, Dheeraj joined us as our CEO last year. Dheeraj and I work together at Nutanix. I think we were 15 people when Dheeraj joined Nutanix. This was before we had started selling, and he’s still sells there from zero to over a billion dollars over a short period of four years. I don’t know anyone else in the world that has done that. Last year after we raised our 145-million-dollar round, I went to find someone help to scale the company, help scale the business, and I started looking for a president who could run all aspects of business. I met a few people, and I wasn’t really inspired by them. Then I talked to Dheeraj, and I felt that if I could bring him onboard, then it would be a growth opportunity for him if he wes the president there. He could be a CEO. My fashion has been around product, so I’m the Executive Chairman. I’m still 120% committed to ThoughtSpot, and I’m getting to spend more time on product than I was able to do before. I feel that with the performing team, me, Dheeraj, and also, we’ve hired some very strong leaders recently. We are really a force to reckon with. This kind of change can sometimes be difficult to make, but because I knew Dheeraj from before, I was really confident that we could work well together. It has turned out really, really well for us.
Alejandro: In this case, Ajeet, as a follow-up here what does it look like as an Executive Chairman that is effective and successful in his or her role. What does that look like?
Ajeet Singh: I don’t know. At the end of the day, I don’t really care about titles and stuff. At the end of the day, everybody’s got one job at a startup, and that is to build a company. In my role as an Exec Chairman, depending on the person’s background, they can focus on the different aspects of the business. I spent a lot of time with our product teams, and I continue to spend time with customers and their teams as well, but now 60% to 70% of my time is with our design team, with our product management team, with our engineering team helping them set their goals, working with our co-founding team on the vision, defining goals on an annual basis, understanding people. Also, people are a big part of it. I think as a company scales, sometimes culture can go sideways. I spend a lot of time communicating our core values, culture, putting in place systems and processes that help scale culture. Also, really understanding people because as our management grows, sometimes they can feel lost about how their roles need to evolve, how do they grow with our organization. I’m able to spend more time with people as well understanding what their frustrations are and how can we create an environment where people feel really fulfilled because I want ThoughtSpot to be a place where not only are we successful as a business, but it’s a platform where people can grow. Many of them will eventually leave ThoughtSpot and do great things in life. I want them to do really, really well after they leave, and I want to make sure while they’re with us, we’re adding the most value to them. One of my personal OKRs [50:41] that I want ten unicorns to come out of our part. We run the company as a very open book. People independent of their specific function and role, they get to see a lot of stuff that is happening in the company. That helps them build that integrative thinking that is required to be a successful entrepreneur. So, my hope is that people will be go far; they will do great things, and they will also personally grow, and eventually go on to do bigger and better things.
Alejandro: I love it. I actually love that approach, Ajeet. How big is ThoughtSpot today?
Ajeet Singh: We’re about 430 people now. We started in the States about—from the beginning, we had sales teams here. We started our Europe business about 2 1/2 years ago. We also started [51:37] operations this year, so we are growing, and we are growing not from numbers, but also in geographies and product lines. Very, very interesting times at ThoughtSpot. Seeing all this growth in multiple dimensions. It comes with its own complexity and challenges, but it’s also a lot of fun. You have newer and newer problems to solve on a daily basis.
Alejandro: What a tremendous run with Nutanix, and now with ThoughtSpot, Ajeet. I want to ask you something that I always ask the guests that I have on the show and that is knowing what you know now, after this incredible learnings and experiences that you have done or that you have gotten as a two-time entrepreneur, if you had the chance to speak with your younger self and give yourself one piece, only one piece of business advice, what would that be and why?
Ajeet Singh: This would be what I would give to my younger self, and it’s what I tell my kids, it’s to hang out with the great people. That’s really it. It’s the people that you hang out with. Great people that are really good at what they do, but they’re also good people that have the right goals in life. If you hang out with great people, they’ll build you up. I feel like from the outside it looks like I’ve had some amount of success, but at the end of the day, if you’re part of the journey, you also realize how little you have to do with it yourself and how much it is about people around you. So, my advice to everyone, my younger self, or other young people that I interact with this is find the best people they can find, and hang out with them, and be part of teams that are great. That’s the only advice I would give. In terms of what I would do differently, I would accelerate whatever I have done even more. I feel like I’ve been very fortunate, and I could do these things faster, that would be even better.
Alejandro: I love it. That’s great, great advice. Great pointers. Ajeet, for the people that are listening, what is the best way to get in touch and say hi?
Ajeet Singh: They can find me on Twitter. My handle is @ajeets. They can find me on LinkedIn connect or just drop me an email, [email protected]
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Ajeet, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Ajeet Singh: Thank you so much, Alejandro, for having me. It’s been a pleasure.