Anurag Dutta, is on his journey to make a million dollar startup by revolutionising warehouse automation for dark stores in India and globally – RIGHTBOT Technologies – Building robotic dark stores to super charge quick commerce!
Let’s read his amazing journey, of passion, hard work, and grit.
YC – Welcome to Yellow Chapter.
I strongly believe what we are today is shaped by what we have experienced in our childhood. Can we talk about your early days, how was the parenting, what were the dinner table conversations?
A warm beginning…
Anurag – I am an Assamese, born in Delhi. My dad is an engineer and worked for PSU’s like NTPC, he was in a transferable job. I have lived across various cities in my childhood. We were a very typical service oriented middle-class family.
I was a good student and scored good grades. My parents did not have to force me, I used to study by myself. In hindsight, I think what motivated me to study on my own was I scored well and liked the feeling of scoring well and just continued to do that.
We are not a very talkative family, dinner table conversations were around what usually happened at my dad’s workplace or our extended family or just simply during the day. There was no pressure to do this or that at home. I had a nice and calm childhood.
YC – Can we talk about how you went into engineering and your college days?Any interesting internships you did? What suggestions would you like to give to students to make best use of college days?
Anurag – Sure, this is interesting. I had both math and biology (PCMB), so basically I did coaching both for engineering and medical. I was about to write my state medical exam and just one day prior I got my engineering results.
I was like, “Thank God”! I was in no mood to write one more exam (with a smile on his face), and as I got through an exam I was spared from another. I picked up engineering (CS) at National Institute of Technology Calicut.
2000! College was fun, people usually get few good and few bad habits in college and I was no different. Hahaha!
On a serious note I just focused on my academics during my college days. I graduated with good grades. In hindsight, I could have focused on co-curricular as well.
Internship time – This was around 20 years back.
During our times getting into a good college, a good stream and later getting a good job was considered fair enough. Though the concept of internships existed, to do really well was not expected then. And again I was no different.
Internship time now!
Now when I am hiring I am not just looking for students from tier-1 or tier-2 engineering colleges. I am also quite keen on students who have done projects, internships or some specialised course in robotics, irrespective of their colleges. I would definitely like to interview students who have actual on-ground knowledge of what we are trying to build as a robotics startup.
My suggestion to students would be that if you want to pursue a career in AI, ML, Robotics, or Electronics, please do as much practical work as possible. Today, opportunities for students are not just limited to the companies which come on campus, there are many startups which might reach out to you, if you are befitting. Working in startups is not just a great learning opportunity but can also be a wealth generation opportunity.
YC – What were the options post college?
Anurag – 2004 – I started my career as a Software Engineer with Infosys. I worked on projects across Telecommunications and Insurance & Healthcare domains.
Learnings – Maturity.
2006 – I joined Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad for my MBA.
MBA v/s Job | India v/s Abroad
Anurag – I think pursuing an MBA from India after two years of engineering, or immediately after engineering would not make any difference. The kind of exposure we get in India compared to what we get abroad is very different. So I would suggest if someone can, they should always prefer to study or work outside India.
Basically, exposure is the key. At times, we are not even aware of our talents so the more exposure one gets, the more he/she can recognise their potential and make best use of their time.
IIM- A – As I said earlier, I was always focused on academics and eventually did a good job. MBA was again no different. I graduated with a good CGPA.
Academic Learnings –
- Engineering – Teaches you about structure.
- Management – Teaches about analysing things from different perspectives. Case studies teach the art of putting things together.
On a lighter note IIMs are a good brand and help you in getting a well paid job. Although in hindsight, I sometimes think about why I joined MBA and why I took up a job. I should have started up then, but this is all in hindsight. No regrets!
@ IIMA 10 yr reunion in 2018
YC – Can we talk about your professional journey and learning?
Anurag – Before discussing my professional life, I would like to tell you something – “If I inherently don’t like something, I can’t do that.” You will experience the same in my professional journey.
2007 – Summer Intern @ ABN AMRO Bank – During my MBA I was doing an internship with ABN AMRO Bank and was also offered PPO (pre-placement offer) but I did not go for it. Again for the same reason I did not like it. For me to pursue something I really have to like it. Simple!
2008 – 2013 – After MBA, I joined – A.T. Kearney – Global Management Consulting Firm and Worked across various projects across various countries. It was a great exposure and had great learnings. BUT over the years ,I stopped liking consulting. I realised consulting is very advisory oriented. By the end of the day, you advise something to your client but whether it has happened or not, you are not sure of it.
To kind of drift from the advisory role, I wanted to be a part of the strategy and operations team in a big organisation.
2013 – 2014 – I joined as Executive Assistant, Chairman’s Office – CK Birla Group. In this role I was closely working with Mrs. & Mr. CK Birla. I was leading the transformations of the hospitals in Kolkata. I used to travel a lot, to and fro between Calcutta and Delhi. A very travel oriented work but still we were responsible for real implementation, growth etc. We had good outcomes, but I felt the need to transition closer from midway to execution.
BUT I realised I would like to work in an MNC. This was the time when the opportunity to join Carlsberg India came and I decided to move on.
2014 – 2019 – Director and Member of Leadership Team – Carlsberg India. I would say Carlsberg India was one of my best professional experiences. Huge learning, great opportunity:
- Setup and led the franchising business.
- Setup and led the contract manufacturing-horizontal.
- Lead M&A incl. strategic investments, greenfield projects for the organisation.
- Setup and led the imports business for the organisation.
I owe a lot to my boss Pawan Jagetia. He showed immense confidence in me, gave me great opportunities to grow and prove myself. I achieved 3 promotions in 3 cycles .
Learning – One of the biggest lessons from Pawan was if you get someone in your team, give them an opportunity to figure things out on their own. They may struggle a bit, but they will eventually figure it out. And that figuring it out is a learning that nothing can beat.
@ Carlsberg Team building event
Mid 2019 – This is an interesting part, where the spark of entrepreneurship kind of slightly sparked. My wife, Laina (my batchmate from NIT) wanted to become an entrepreneur. She joined the first cohort of Entrepreneur First, when they came to India. She set up her company in Bangalore, and I followed her from Delhi to Bangalore.
Seeing Laina building her company, I realised I missed the startup boom of Flipkarts etc. I could have done so many things. So the seeds of entrepreneurship were kind of sown by now. I was still not sure what to build but wanted to move to the startup world.
July 2019 – 2020 – I joined Kaama Breweries – A craft beer company as COO. During this period I came across a lot of new situations like investor relationship management, team issues unlike my previous jobs. I liked the work BUT I thought if I can manage a company for someone else, I can surely manage my own as well.
2020 – I knew I wanted to build something, but not sure what and with whom. Hence I joined the Founder in Residence Program of Entrepreneur First.
YC – Why Rightbot and not something in alcobev? You have worked in the alcobev industry for 5+ years?
Anurag – Good question, basically the alcobev industry in India is highly regulated. In the alcobev industry you will find companies which are almost 100+ years old. These companies have paved their way through many many years.
There have been very few disruptors, but again I am not sure how the numbers on their books look like. I am an old school guy, for me PnL, and good cash flow is important. I am not comfortable running a business which keeps guzzling cash year after year. At some point money has to come in.
I explored the beer industry, but from the supply chain perspective. I could not find an answer to what gap I can actually fill. Though we found a gap in effluent treatment making it more efficient, the market size was not very promising. Hence I decided to use my transferable skills to explore other domains.
YC – What was the genesis of Rightbot?
Anurag – 2020 – Met Abhinav, my co-founder at Entrepreneur First. We started the program with different teams, but ended up being teammates (and then co-founders) within 2 weeks! Abhinav had a background in Robotics and worked at Grey Orange – Robotics Solution for Warehouse Automation and Nymble – Robotic Assistants for the Kitchen. I have a deep understanding of business, supply chain, commercials, strategy, and growth, apart from commercials and have a very good understanding of the supply chain.
During our discussions we realised, though India has given birth to two very large supply chain robotics companies, the adoption in India is quite less. That got us thinking why, and that was the genesis of Rightbot – Revolutionizing Warehouse Automation.
We further discussed, if we could make solutions which are efficient and effective to adopt for emerging economies and can then be scaled in developed economies. Both of us found the problem interesting and motivating enough to start.
@ Team Rightbot
YC – Great, so now when Rightbot was born, can we talk about the challenges?
Dreams get shattered when they are actually implemented!
Anurag – We had to pivot product/solution within the supply chain a couple of times, to what we are today. We had to pivot because:
- Reluctance – Customers are very reluctant to use a physical product from an early stage startup for their supply chain process. They were scared of disrupting their supply chain. Supply chain is the most integral part of the whole valuable chain. If the supply chain stops, then everything stops.
- Burning need was missing – Both cost of labour and availability of labour is not a challenge in India, unlike outside India. We realized ours was a“good to have a product” which may become a burning need in future but was not the burning need right now.
This perspective has changed during Covid. People now are at least exploring options and thinking of alternate solutions. Even we got multiple queries in the last one year.
We realized our solution was interesting but the propensity to adopt it from an early stage startup and also try a product which was still in a development phase was a huge reluctance. So it was a circular problem for us. To get the product going, and to improve it, we had to be onsite. For us to be onsite the clients should be open to adopt.
We knew we had to address the issue in a different way. With our “robotic dark stores to super charge quick commerce” offering, we have been able to address this issue. Today, we are building solutions which enable quick commerce.
YC – There are many products in the market, which are good but not the burning need. How can a fellow founder get people started, how can he/she find that hook?
Anurag – What we have learnt from our past two years experience is that people are reluctant to use new products, primarily because of multiple types of risks involved:
- Will the solution work?
- How will it interact with my existing setup?
- How will the economics work v/s what I already have?
My suggestion would be to take away as many risks as possible from the customer. This worked for us.
– We are providing customers with an “as a service” option in robotic fulfilment, which hasn’t been present till now.
– Through this, we are taking away their upfront capex risk for a new technology, as well as promising SLAs which they need. Hence both capex as well as output risk is addressed. Our customers are now able to value our services better as we have taken away most of their risks.
YC – What is your take on marketing and sales for Rightbot?
Anurag – For us marketing is delivering what we have promised to our customers. So as we keep on fulfilling our promises, eventually our marketing is taken care of.
For sales – Through our connections, we always approach the decision makers. Being a startup, it is very important to get that push at least for consideration or evaluation top down so that you don’t get lost. Try to get your foot in the door.
YC – Can we talk about some numbers?
Anurag – Dark stores automation is a fairly new concept. You will have to see this futuristically. This will be a big market in the next 3-4 years. Right now supply chain automation for dark stores on:
- On a recurring revenue basis, as a service model it is globally around a $10-15 billion market. In India, it is a hundred million market.
- On a sales model, it is around a $45 -50 billion market globally.
We have signed contracts with two big quick commerce players in India. We are in advance discussion with Singapore’s largest quick commerce player for the pilot, which will happen by the last quarter of 2022. If everything goes hunky-dory we should be a $ 4-5 million Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) company in the next 24 months.
YC – Suggestion for your fellow founders, based on your experiences so far?
Anurag – We still have a long way to go, learning things the hard way. I think I am no one to give suggestions but still based on my experience I would like to say:
- Figure out a burning need. Crunching a sales cycle becomes a pain if you are not solving the burning need.
- It’s ok to take time in the beginning before you start spending a lot of money in prototyping the product.
- For sales, get hold of the right stakeholders, who have the vision to foresee the burning need, maybe 6-8 months down the lane.
- Till the time the product is in the development stage, keep the communication live with the stakeholders. They see things more strategically and tactfully compared to the rest of the team.
- Frugality is the biggest key. I believe we are quite frugal as compared to the others in the market.
YC – Any community or forum you are quite active on for companies benefit?
Anurag – Not really, but I feel hiring is a big challenge for an early stage startup. LinkedIn is quite helpful for hiring. We have tried a couple of hiring agencies but it did not work out. Due to a niche requirement we only use LinkedIn now. We have very recently started using Internshala, to see if we can get good interns.
I have this habit of just focusing on one domain at a time. This is both good and bad I guess. If you ask me what is happening in crypto, I have no clue. But if you ask me what is happening across the world in supply chain automation then I am 100% updated. Again I use LinkedIn for the same.
YC – Anurag, I would like to know what keeps you going? I know this is a philosophical question but I would really appreciate it if you could help me answer this?
Anurag – Frankly speaking never thought about it that way. I think one definitely being, having two founders in the same house helps. Laina and I can crib about fundraising, organisation issues, etc., and we can resonate well with each other’s issues. Laina being there helps a lot!
Also, after working in different roles at different companies, I learned that I was more into entrepreneurship. Also, as an individual, I do not like leaving things unfinished. I like putting things to closure. Closure here was building a billion dollar company.
YC – Lastly, people you would like to thank in your journey so far?
Anurag – Parents, obviously. I would not be here, if it was not for my parents. I think I got the ethos of working hard from my dad. He is a very hard working person and my mom is a bundle of energy.
Laina, she is the one who triggered the madness of entrepreneurship. I thank her for being my constant companion and sounding board, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am. My co-founder, Abhinav, and our team at Rightbot.
Anurag, it was indeed a refreshing talk with you. Your words are insightful and thought provoking. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for the future!