In the vast landscape of entrepreneurship, stories of resilience, innovation, and the pursuit of dreams stand out as inspirations. Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, founder and CEO of Samooha, is one such trailblazer whose journey from the bustling streets of Mumbai to the forefront of data-driven technology is nothing short of remarkable.
In this blog post, we delve into an interview with Kamakshi, unraveling the key chapters of her life and entrepreneurial ventures.
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From Mumbai to Masters: An American Dream Unfolds
Born and raised in Mumbai, a city teeming with over 20 million people, Kamakshi’s early life was a testament to the vibrancy and challenges of urban living. Mumbai, she emphasizes, became the milieu for street smarts and social-emotional learning.
Little did she know that her path would lead her to the United States, armed with a mere $3,000 from her father’s retirement fund. Pursuing a master’s in electrical engineering at Boston University and later a Ph.D. at Stanford, Kamakshi stepped onto the shores of America in 1998, embarking on what she now describes as the “American Dream.”
Stanford and the Pivotal Ph.D.
The decision to pursue a Ph.D. at Stanford became a pivotal moment in Kamakshi’s journey. At Stanford, she gained exposure to the vibrant world of innovation and ventured into the realm of venture capital.
Kamakshi recalls that her field of information theory was very theoretical and all about applied mathematics and statistics for electrical engineers. This field was developed during World War II by the pre-eminent mathematician Claude Shannon and was primarily for wired communication.
Reflecting on the entrepreneurship landscape during her time, she highlights Silicon Valley’s dominance, especially regarding access to capital. This exposure became the incubator for her entry into entrepreneurship.
AdMob: The Birth of Entrepreneurial Romance
Kamakshi’s trajectory took a significant turn when she crossed paths with Omar Hamoui, the founder of AdMob. Despite alluring offers from financial giants like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Citadel, she was drawn to the unassuming startup.
AdMob, operating in the upcoming mobile advertising space out of San Mateo, provided Kamakshi with a front-row seat to the inception of the mobile economy. The success of AdMob culminated in its acquisition for $750M by Google in 2010, marking Kamakshi’s initiation into the world of entrepreneurship.
Kamakshi remembers that AdMob actually created the mobile economy way back in 2007 when the first set of smartphones basically broke into the scene. She realized that they were standing at the brink of mobile commerce.
They were learning how to market to consumers, how to reach consumers, and how to personalize to consumers when they are engaging via their mobile phones. Kamakshi realized they were looking at the mind-boggling potential of the multi-device, multi-platform economy.
Here, mobile phones were also going to be used like tablets. Traditional laptops would continue to be used, and desktop computers would also stay and get connected to the television. As a result, techs would have to develop an understanding of consumer identity across different touchpoints and engagements. This concept formed the genesis of Drawbridge.
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Drawbridge: Nurturing Entrepreneurial Spirits
Post-AdMob, Kamakshi embarked on her entrepreneurial journey with Drawbridge. The startup, founded by AdMob alumni, focused on solving the challenges of multi-device engagement and personalized marketing.
Kamakshi emphasizes the importance of creating successful products and fostering an environment where team members can grow into successful entrepreneurs. She recalls raising $50M for the company, with $6.5M raised in the seed round back in 2011. They also raised debt capital.
Drawbridge’s journey culminated in its acquisition by LinkedIn and Microsoft in 2019, demonstrating Kamakshi’s ability to identify and seize opportunities.
Samooha: Bridging the Data Collaboration Gap
Never one to rest on her laurels, Kamakshi founded Samooha with a vision to revolutionize data collaboration. Samooha aims to make data accessible, secure, and compliant in a world increasingly dependent on data-driven insights.
Kamakshi emphasizes the importance of cloud-agnostic technology and highlights partnerships with platforms like Snowflake. Kamakshi describes Samooha as a service-oriented business. The strategy is to acquire data using AI and self-supervised machine learning algorithms to build an identity graph. This graph helps to understand the kind of consumer footprint on the broader internet.
Kamakshi talks about knowing from the onset that this was a low-margin business. It was imperative to shift from this model into a more SaaS-oriented model once it had delivered a critical mass of data. She reflects on her learning curve with fundraising, decision-making, and the art of communication, whether with customers, employees, or investors.
The stress is on data–how it is acquired, who is sharing it, and how consent is obtained. Data ultimately forms the basis for algorithmic learning and algorithmic intelligence, whether it’s for the purpose of advertising, marketing, or Enterprise Technologies, as Kamakshi opines.
To quote, “The ability to collaborate with data, not simply share documents, not simply generate streams of consciousness in the form of chats, but actually work with and like data by running insights queries workloads, building models, this is going to become a reality where every employee in a company would do that maybe consumers will do that.’
The Financing Challenge and the Changing Landscape
Reflecting on the financing landscape, Kamakshi acknowledges the evolving dynamics of capital availability. While good ideas will always find funding, the economics and the approach to financing have shifted. Samooha’s success in raising funds for its series A indicates the merit and foundational value of the venture.
In Kamakshi’s experience, the fundraising landscape has altered significantly thanks to AI capabilities and data infrastructure that investors use. Data alters the way investors think and informs their perceptions. Solid data infrastructures treat data well in a compliant, private, safe, and secure manner with robust governance.
Kamakshi remembers building a selection of product prototypes to understand what partnerships and opportunities to tap and how to channel go-to-market models. That’s how she secured $12.5M worth of funding for her company from three investors.
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Diversity in Entrepreneurship: Kamakshi’s Perspective
As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated tech industry, Kamakshi addresses the ongoing challenges of gender diversity in entrepreneurship. She encourages women to embrace their uniqueness, surround themselves with supportive mentors and allies, and be unapologetically true to themselves.
Kamakshi emphasizes the need for continued dialogue and action to create a more inclusive and diverse entrepreneurial landscape.
Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan’s journey from Mumbai to the helm of Samooha is a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit, resilience, and vision. Her story inspires aspiring entrepreneurs to embrace challenges, identify opportunities, and strive for innovation.
As she continues shaping the future of data collaboration, Kamakshi leaves a trail of wisdom for the next generation of leaders to follow.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to know more including:
- The experience at AdMob marked the inception of an entrepreneurial spirit, emphasizing the value of a dynamic and unrestrained environment for fostering innovation.
- AdMob’s success and subsequent acquisition by Google in 2010 set the stage for an entrepreneurial journey, leading to the creation of Drawbridge, a pioneer in the mobile advertising space.
- The dual purpose of entrepreneurship: creating value through innovative products and fostering opportunities for individuals to grow and succeed beyond the founding venture.
- The divestiture of Drawbridge underscores the challenges faced by founders, emphasizing the importance of effective communication and decision-making in navigating complex situations.
- The latest venture, Samooha, addresses the need for intuitive collaboration tools in handling enterprise data securely, reflecting her continuous commitment to innovation.
- The advocacy for embracing diversity, particularly in the male-dominated tech landscape, encourages women to bring their true selves to the table and contribute to a changing paradigm.