We talked to Subrahmanyam Vempat of Cuspera about its AI platform that helps businesses to discover right-fit sales & marketing software for their specific needs.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Cuspera?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: I hit upon the idea for this startup in my previous corporate role in HP as VP of software alliances in late 2009. At that time, the cloud was just emerging, and there were only a handful of SaaS vendors. The bulk of the technology vendors worked with larger corporations such as HP to deliver customized solutions to enterprises. But, I had seen the scene that was shifting with lots of hyper-specialized new technology entering the market and being ubiquitously available thanks to cloud computing. Over the past five to six years, the B2B software landscape changed dramatically, with business managers buying software on the cloud, such as Salesforce using the credit card without any support from the IT or CIO’s department. With SaaS technology’s ever-growing options to choose from, I saw this as an opportunity for us to be a trusted advisor to business managers to help them identify technology to solve their pressing business needs, hence started off on this journey in 2017.
How does Cuspera innovate?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: We have been lucky enough to start off when some of the AI technologies have matured and found application in consumer technologies thanks to large amounts of training data. We leveraged some of these technologies in B2B to provide breakthrough innovations in the way enterprises discovered software for their digital transformation. I roped in my co-founder, Krishna Prasad Chitrapura, known more as KP, to help me start Cuspera. KP comes with a rich research background in AI and Machine learning and has worked for a dozen years in labs such as IBM Research and Yahoo! Labs and most recently been a founder of a couple of successful consumer startups.
Between the two of us, we pooled in domain knowledge, curated rich sources on software on the Internet such as reviews, blogs, and forums and the latest breed of technologies in NLP such as unsupervised topic modeling, sentiment analysis, and semi-supervised recommendation engine to build Cuspera.com. We now have more than 17000 Martech and Salestech solutions listed on our platform with 100M+ insights from solution users and experts. Every month more than 50,000 users use our platform to discover software, and our AI is constantly learning from each such interaction.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: Surprisingly, COVID-19 has been beneficial to us — I know that sounds a bit corny, but this is a business world that is homebound and constantly looking for technology solutions to keep their business moving. In fact, the rate of digital transformation has accelerated due to the pandemic, and we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Our traffic, which was lower than 5K monthly visitors in Jan, has shot up to more than 50K monthly visitors in 6 short months.
Since March, we have been working remotely, and it has been a challenge for a small startup such as us. But, we believe in eating our own dog food, and we used our own platform to search and adopt solutions to improve our productivity. For a small team of around 20, we use approximately 53 technologies in collaboration, customer support, and marketing to keep our business surging ahead.
As we are a destination for business managers to find software solutions for their business needs, we have seen some interesting trends post covid that tallies our own experience. Emphasis on topics such as ROI and efficiency, internal communications, collaboration, sales enablement increased dramatically.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: We had many difficult choices to make when the pandemic hit us. We were a nascent team, and the pandemic forced us to lock down our office and work remotely. We were also unsure about our funding opportunities. Both of us co-founders were uncertain, and we decided to have an honest conversation with our advisors, investors, and the team. To our surprise, the team was extremely bullish on the future of Cuspera, and the senior folks volunteered and decided to forgo their salaries for a stake in the company — that really helped us stay afloat. Looking back in hindsight, we are grateful we were open to the team, and the team’s support and belief in us really helped save enough to keep business moving ahead, and we are sitting on a real sweet spot now.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Cuspera in the future?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: The last year was really stressful for us. We were mid-way in building our platform when the pandemic hit and put our plans into a quandary. Luckily for us, we stuck it out, and the future looks extremely promising. We now have two streams of products — 1. a discovery platform for technology to shortlist from a plethora of available solutions. This platform is free for both business users and vendors. It is growing at 12% month-on-month, and 2. a deep-dive solution that plugins to vendor websites to help their visitors understand the differentiation the products bring to the table. Fit with the business requirements, so on, based on peer and expert insights. Our revenue stream is entirely for the second product, and we have seen some really great traction. Our AI engine is continuously learning from both these products to improve our predictions.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: This is a greenfield, and we do not have much competition in either of our products. Our goal is to grow fast and build a network of users and the knowledge to keep ourselves competitive.
Your final thoughts?
Subrahmanyam Vempat: I have not experienced this kind of disruption before in my life. Yet, I find the pandemic teaching us a few lessons. On a personal level, family get-togethers over video calls have become a regular part of life, bringing us closer together. On the business side, we see the resistance to digital transformation fading and fading fast. Remote working is a good example of this. So much learning happened in such a short period that I think remote working has come to stay. As Sundar Pichai famously said, we will have “on-sites” now. Yet, technology – new technology – adoption if not done right can cause significant risk. A big part of what can go wrong in the use of technology is the selection of the right solution. And, that’s what we solve. We are at the Cusp of a New Era.