The recently concluded inaugural Techcircle Big Data Forum 2014 hosted a special keynote talk by Dhiraj Rajaram, founder, CEO and chairman of Mu Sigma, a Big Data analytics company. Rajaram built Mu Sigma from ground level to a multi-million dollar company that has secured the largest funding round ever in the business analytics space.
The company already boasts of around 140 Fortune 500 clients, and this number is growing at about 10 customers per quarter.
He started off by talking about why he hated the standardised definition of Big Data these days. “I hate the whole concept of describing Big Data as a lot of data—in terms of volume, velocity, veracity, and variety. The biggest reason for this is whenever you describe something by ‘what’, you are not going to get to the essence of it. If you really want to understand something, you need to try to get to the why,” said Rajaram.
Detailing the three perspectives that will define Big Data space—i.e. ‘learning over knowing’, ‘extreme experimentation’, and the ‘new IP’—he said these will mean that you will have to think of this space—which people call Big Data—not as a lot of data, but as a representation of these facets. “This representation comes from the fact that if you think of data as the new oil, data engineering is all the plumbing which will connect the oil and move it from one place to the other. Data science is the refining down to clean up the data, and so on.”
Discussing the current scenario, he explained that business and technology combine to make IT happen, business and math combine to make consulting happen, and math and technology combine to create products. Products by their very nature are not flexible, consulting by its very nature is not scalable, and IT by the very nature is not agile.
“But in the world of tomorrow, where you need not be thinking about one or two big problems, but many small problems that are connected with each other, you need a combination of scalability, flexibility and agility. You need a combination of math, business and technology,” said Rajaram.
“As of now, the consulting model is the Superman paradigm, the product model is the giant robot paradigm, but what we are building is the Iron Man paradigm—where we have built a suit, and have a human being operating it. And this man-machine eco system is what is very different and it shows in our financials,” he said.
Making the right hires
Talking about the hiring practice of the company, Rajaram said he never relies on the candidate’s expertise, rather on the fact that who is the best fit for the job. The company also looks for people who have a questioning mentality and a certain degree of inquisitiveness, for people have been fundamentally programmed not to ask good questions.
“We start with an intellectual horsepower test, post which is a group discussion on controversial topics. Then we make the candidates watch a 10 minute video and give them a piece of paper (little bigger than a regular business card) and ask them to summarise everything they saw on that paper,” said Rajaram.
These exercises have resulted in quite a few interesting hires. The company’s head of sales was also its controller of finance; while its head of innovation was a customer; head of product is majorly inclined towards spirituality; and the head of talent management used to be in the Indian Navy.
Three grades of entrepreneurship
Rajaram explained that there are three grades of entrepreneurship tests that all entrepreneurs go through in their company life cycles. These include:
Clarity: You need to know what you are doing and always be seeking more and more clarity.
Focus: Once you have the clarity, you should understand what the focus of the company is.
Perseverance: Finally, you will continue to be tested and should be ready for the same. To prove the point, he also provided the example of a time back in 2008 when Mu Sigma lost 40 per cent of its total revenues in a single year.
During the course of the discussion, he also touched upon PE and VC investments in the space, stating that a lot of money is going to be wasted because a number of PE and VC guys are still thinking with the old paradigm of ‘product vs service’ rather than ‘product and service in harmony’.
Talking about Mu Sigma’s investor exits, he said that a company should be able to create an ecosystem that is profitable and is creating enough cash flows that can allow investors to make partial exits or have other investors come in. He also added that an IPO is a possibility in three-four years.
The discussion was followed by a rapid fire round that covered topics like competing companies that Rajaram admires, as well as his ultimate goal of building a Big Data city.
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