Sanjeev Thukral, CEO of neurIOT Technologies tells us about having Human-Like Intelligence.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sanjeev Thukral: All our team members and their respective families are doing well in these COVID-19 times. Our team has only increased, thanks to some great work by the founding members of our team.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded neurIOT.
Sanjeev Thukral: I’m an Electrical Engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi with close to 29 years in the Information Technology world. Thanks to my mathematician mom, who taught me how to solve linear equations when I was only just 4, I am truly a numbers guy. That’s been my foundation in AI and Machine Learning. My experience across many different industry verticals in different countries has helped me swim across different customer projects and country cultures quite seamlessly. Around 10 years ago, I got deeply involved in the implementation of connected devices and predictive analytics while working for several Indian customers, especially in the government sector. Over time, I realized that the real value in this field lies at the intersection of industrial knowledge, connected devices that produce continuous data, and the AI models that can make sense of the data to produce actionable intelligence. I aspired to build a highly capable team of computer scientists and electronics engineers who would work on these concepts to create cutting-edge solutions. And so, in 2017, I left my high-paying corporate job to found neurIOT Technologies, a company offering solutions with Human-Like Intelligence. I started with a single desk in a co-working facility in Gurgaon. With a lot of support from my friends, I started solving interesting problems across the healthcare, pharmaceuticals, retail, and manufacturing world. There was a time when I was the only person in the company handling 6 assignments altogether. That was the time when I hired my first Ph.D. We have grown since then and haven’t looked back ever since.
How does neurIOT innovate?
Sanjeev Thukral: At the heart of our innovation is a highly talented team of PhDs and engineers working across 5 technology pillars: Data Science, Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, Application Development, and the Internet of Things. They’re capable of quickly ingesting new research in this very fast-evolving field of Artificial Intelligence & IoT. AI works on the principle of cognitive science; its fundamentals are applicable universally across all industrial domains. And so, we’ve really not compartmentalized knowledge at neurIOT. Rather we’ve created a highly connected team of scientists and engineers who bring their individual perspectives to problem-solving. Culturally, we allow our team members to continuously experiment with new research, and we reward them for bringing in new knowledge and greater insights through their research work. All these are essential ingredients that have led to a highly innovative culture at neurIOT.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sanjeev Thukral: In the early days of coronavirus, we experienced a sudden downturn in business as a few customers & partners pulled out of their projects and associated financial commitments. However, this prolonged period of solitary working from home also allowed us to reflect upon our strengths and weaknesses. We reflected deeply into what we’d already achieved from the 30 plus project assignments we’d delivered and how we could leverage the knowledge we’d acquired. We started to work on the ambition of transforming neurIOT from a service to a product company. We aligned the objectives of all our team members towards achieving key organizational objectives. At the same time, we started to spend a lot more time and money towards innovation and acquiring newer capabilities. Results started to show up around Q3 of 2020, when our solutions started to take shape and we started seeing some traction in the market. Around Q4, we bagged some significant deals on the back of these products.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sanjeev Thukral: We’ve been very fortunate that we didn’t have to take any difficult decisions on the HR front for financial reasons. On the contrary, we even went ahead and rewarded several of our employees for their exemplary performance. One key principle I’ve adhered to at neurIOT from the very first day has been to credit salaries to my employees’ accounts, without fail, on the last day of each month. Yes, personally, I’ve faced difficult times for many months, especially at the time of processing payroll, which has also led to a personal financial crunch. But I’m fortunate to have a very supportive family. My belief in my team and my conviction towards our business has remained rock solid. I’m also very grateful that I have a very caring team who’ve worked really hard, day & night, to achieve what we currently have at neurIOT. Our care for our employees is also the reason that we’ve attracted top talent in the last 1 year.
And so key lessons we’ve learnt:
- Believe in your people, even more so in difficult times
- Work along with your team to come out of a crisis situation.
- Ensure that you have family support
- And lastly, believe in yourself
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sanjeev Thukral: An interesting aspect of Coronavirus-induced lockdowns has been that it has affected customers and suppliers universally across the world. It has given all of us extended time at home with much greater coverage across multiple timezones. And therefore, it has been far easier for us to reach out to customers digitally, more than ever before, especially since most of our customers are in the United States. Also, I find our customers far more receptive to digital means of communications than ever before. We’ve leveraged conferencing & chatting tools quite extensively, and they’ve become an intrinsic part of how we conduct our business. From Google Meet to Slack to Zoom to Microsoft Teams, we use them all as necessary to reach out to our customers, not to mention the ever-popular email.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sanjeev Thukral: I’ve been aware of several government schemes and grants, especially since we’re a registered startup with the Government of India. However, I’ve never felt the need to avail any of those benefits. I’ve tried to maintain our financial independence through a greater focus on building our products and winning new business. And it has worked well so far.
Your final thoughts?
Sanjeev Thukral: It’s been a year of disruption and transformative change for us at neurIOT. We’ve tried to take this in a positive stride through deep resolve, introspection, and through transformative change. While the virus itself has been a cause of deep sorrow for many of us, we look towards the future with a lot of positivity for the entire mankind. We also look at this as a lesson that anything can happen at any time, and we must always be ready to accept it with all our humility. We must always be very adaptive to change. I wish all your readers my best wishes for a bright future.