Jagadish Gattu had inculcated scientific thinking and inquisitiveness from his early childhood. He was clear about what to choose and when to take decisions all along his life. Focusing on the learnings regardless of the prospects of what he delves into, he is an inspiring personality.
With his prowess and years of experience in the niche, he has set up UptimeAI, operationalizing AI for Manufacturing & Process Industries across the globe. Let us read through his scintillating story!
YC: We would like to hear about your journey from the very beginning. Can you please tell us about your childhood?
Jagadish: I was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. I had a memorable childhood. My dad is an engineer, mom is a homemaker and I have a younger sister. I consider my dad as the founding stone of my life, shaping my thought processes. He always encouraged me to learn, to explore, and to ask the question “Why?” From my very childhood, I had an inclination towards machines. I used to open small gadgets around to understand their mechanism. I knew I had to do Mechanical Engineering and wanted to attend a good school. I gave JEE and joined Indian Institute of Technology Madras – B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering.
YC: Can we talk about your IIT days?
Jagadish: It was my first time moving out independently. I was excited and nervous, and slightly home-sick. Meeting students from such varied backgrounds and diverse cultures was great exposure. We had a close-knit group of friends with whom I had spent a LOT of time and have countless memories to cherish. Each of them was unique in their own way and had their own strengths. I tried to learn a thing or two from them, like one of my friends, Shishir, who got me started with computers and programming. My life in the hostel prepared me for the real-life out there – more responsible and independent.
We did a few research projects early enough. I learnt that I enjoyed practical problems which I can dig in and solve. Researching on the same problem for years was not my cup of tea. Students should try to learn what they like to do as it will help them pick the right career. I was not ready for the job, I wanted to explore more beyond what I have experienced. I decided to pursue a Master’s after BTech. I joined Michigan State University – MS, Engineering.
YC: You said you were clear on your choice after college. What would you suggest to somebody who is evaluating between picking up a job, doing an MBA or Master’s?
Jagadish: I had the liberty to choose. I was not in a position where I was forced to go for a job. I believe choices depend upon our situations too. Everybody will have their own ideas. Talk to other people, learn from their experiences and think about what you like to do. You’re always going to gravitate towards what you like.
Try to steer your path towards things that you enjoy. If you want to get practical experience, go for a job. If you want to learn more on the subject go for a Master’s. If you are not sure, do the one that is more fun. Always figure out what suits you.
YC: Your major takeaways from the Master’s journey?
At the crossroads…
Jagadish: My final choice was Michigan State University, as it was also close to Detroit, which was the mechanical hub during then. I got more into programming and the intersection of computers and machines. I grew more independent during those days.
During my Master’s, I would sit on and read for hours and days together to solve problems. The compounding stress resulted in Bell’s palsy, commonly known as facial paralysis. I learned from it that balance is inevitable in life. I wanted to continue my work at the intersection of computers and machines. I was happy when I received an offer from The Mathworks Inc. and joined them as the Application Support Engineer.
YC: Can we talk about your professional life before starting up and the major takeaways?
2005 – Application Support Engineer – Mine was a multi-faceted role, spending half my time supporting customers with building industrial software applications. The other half I was free to explore other departments where I would eventually transition into. I did projects with both Software Development and Consulting. I liked the variety, challenges, and working with different clients. So, I decided to move to the consulting division after 2 years.
2007 – 2012 @ The Mathworks – Transitional journey
I was now responsible for leading client engagements using data sciences, analytics, modelling & simulation tools. I worked with a variety of industrial clients from automotive, aerospace, defence, pharma, and energy. I managed business development, resource estimation, requirements discovery, and execution. We increased product & services revenue with new service offerings and product feedback. During this time, I also worked with some startups, and it was exciting to build something from ground up. My interest in starting a business grew. I wanted to get more leadership and commercial experience to support my entrepreneurial aspirations.
YC: What followed then?
Jagadish: I decided to join GE as – New Products Lead. At GE, I was managing new products and business opportunities in connected devices, analytics, and performance-monitoring solutions from R&D and commercial perspective. Drive idea evaluation to concept development to product launch based on market research and competitive analysis.
I always believed that a strong foundation helps me solve even unknown problems. Keeping up with that tradition, I pursued my MBA at Kellogg School of Management. Kellogg was of formal training in marketing and other areas to round up my skills. GE was more about leadership risk, product development, and managing the unknowns. The major learnings were :
- How to build a non-existing product
- How to guide your team towards it
- And most importantly building the mindset of trying out things regardless of the fear of failures.
I had great mentors like Harry and Justin who guided me during this time at GE.
After I graduated, I decided to move to the heart of entrepreneurship, silicon valley. I moved to Baker Hughes as Director of Product, where I was responsible for the product strategy, go-to-market, and launch of Predictive Maintenance solution which brings machines, sensors, cloud computing, deep learning, and people together to improve operational efficiency. Simultaneously, I started exploring ideas for starting up. I knew it was time.
@ with friends at Kellogg
YC: How did you reach UptimeAI?
Jagadish: I started connecting with friends, alumni, colleagues to explore ideas. Vamsi, my co-founder and best friend, whom I knew from high school, had recently sold his startup inResto to Dineout. So he was also looking for options. We started brainstorming a lot of ideas. We started discussing what to build on and how to do it.
Eventually, we decided to start something in an area in which we had the experience and knew things well. I saw the opportunity in the manufacturing where digital solutions were stuck with giving alerts and KPIs. The industry still relied heavily on tribal knowledge, which is disappearing fast. And unavailability of such expertise is leading to over $100B losses due to failures, higher energy consumption, lower productivity, and higher maintenance costs.
The industry is niche and it was a complex problem to solve. But, Vamsi and I were excited about the technology, and the impact it can have on the world. Thus, UptimeAI was born with the mission to democratise expertise and help every operator solve issues like the pros.
We brought people who are driven and are passionate about pushing the boundaries. We are lucky to have a great team, young and experienced, coming from the industry, Software and data science. They are committed to our mission. Thanks to the collective effort, we are operationalising artificial intelligence for the needs of engineers in manufacturing.
We offer the industry’s first AI Assistant for machine operators that uniquely bridges the gap between AI and expertise to get smarter with usage and solve issues 5x faster for higher operating margins.
@ with Vamsi
YC: How did you figure out the product-market fit?
Knowing the Niche!
Jagadish: My previous experience helped me a lot in identifying the gaps. I knew what we needed to build. When someone from an industry starts a company in the same, the product-market fit becomes slightly easier. Coming from the industry, you know there is certain market desirability of the product. If you don’t come from the same industry, you need to talk to clients, experts, and influencers to validate the pain point and the solution.
But one thing to keep in mind is, every market is different. What you build as a product for one market may not be enough to get yourself into other markets. I would strongly recommend entrepreneurs figure out the niche they are going to go after.
YC: What are your thoughts on sales?
Enterprise Sales = Persistence
Jagadish: We leveraged our network both primary and secondary. The three most important skills for sales are:
- Understanding of the problem & Value Proposition (both about the product and the competitor’s product)
- An exciting Vision
We knew we had all three, plus an outline of MVP. A great team and hard work eventually helped us in converting Tata as our first customer.
In B2B sales, there are always several stakeholders that you will have to get approvals from. There will also be many people you’ll have to constantly keep in the loop.
- Understand the customer buying process. There will be a technical gatekeeper, a CXO check writer, a CIO for IT approval, or a procurement manager. You need to manage the requirements of all the stakeholders. Talk to them, learn about their requirements.
- Always come from the point of understanding the problem deeply and solving the problem with a strong value proposition. If you solve the problem better than others, you will win the sale. Not the other way around.
- Accelerate the sales process – This is where creativity comes. Finding ways to handle the objections and manage the procurement process more efficiently makes a difference, especially for B2B enterprise sales. We are learning these everyday.
YC: What do you think is the essential difference between the Indian and the US market?
Jagadish: The Indian and the US market differ in terms of many subtle factors. You will have to adapt yourself to find roots in the market.
- The vision. In the US, the processes are more mature and also more advanced. A solution you might be able to sell in India as a value solution will be already there in the US. The enterprise software and solutions will take time, and you will have to go beyond that present vision. Being the best in market and having an innovative vision is extremely important in the US than in India.
- The approach. Be sure you still understand the stakeholders and how you can present your product to them. The relationship is important, but there is a trust factor, which is inherent. People tend to believe in brand names and values for quality and assurance. Understand this, and pitch in accordingly.
- Scalability. In the US, the companies are bigger, especially enterprises. They’re much bigger in terms of the scale, so they also look for a certain size when it comes to enterprise vendors. Even if they like the solution, they may not purchase it, unless they know that this is a company that is going to stick around and can meet their scale. So, leverage partnerships and marketing.
YC: Any suggestions for upcoming global founders on building a business?
Jagadish: A few of my friends asked me about cross-country teams. So, let me address that. Cross-country teams have pros and cons. Unless the founding team has a good rapport and understanding, it will be hard to execute. Otherwise, locate the core team to one geography, and have supporting teams overseas. Second, focus on a large enough market. The Unicorns from India have typically built the business in India first and then took it to the US. There are also companies that are completely built in the US and target the global business.
Market knowledge is key. I’m based in California – US and my co-founder is Bangalore – India based. We are taking our success stories from Asia and expanding further in the West. I am glad that we were able to build it in India and offer it across the globe. This is possible for us because of the founding team location. If a startup doesn’t have a person on the ground in another market, I would suggest focusing on one market.
YC: What are your thoughts on funding?
Jagadish: First and foremost, fundraising is not mandatory. You should raise funds only when it is necessary. Funding is broadly raised for two things:
1. Initial investment required for a more complex product development.
2. Quick scaleup where you invest more than you make post you have the product-market fit and a few customers.
Each fundraiser should be done with the objective of reaching the next milestone. We have raised $1.5 million recently from YourNest Venture Capital and other angel investors. Our initial raise was for product development and now we have lighthouse customers in India, ME, and North America.
YC: Any suggestions to the young minds out there?
LISTEN, LEARN, LAY OUT!
Jagadish: I would strongly recommend people to learn from the torchbearers. I mainly spoke to my alumni, friends, and even people I don’t know regarding every aspect of entrepreneurship. I reached out to them in all possible ways. Luckily for us, Vamsi’s connections too helped. It was his second venture, and his experience and network were crucial in our growth.
Everybody will have a different circumstance, and you have to plan things out. Figure out what you are going to do, how you will do it, and what precautions you will have to take beforehand. You might have to plan how to sustain yourself with the bare minimum for a few years.
MENTORS are key. There are many great founders who are willing to guide. Understanding your situation and planning accordingly will help you overcome the hindrances.
A friend once told me, “A startup is essentially a series of very low probability events that have to happen together to get to success.” It is true indeed, so plan accordingly.
YC: A philosophy that keeps you going in hard times.
Jagadish: I do not make decisions driven by fear of failure. When I have the drive to do something, I just go for it. For me, a startup is a way of essentially building something that betters the lives of people – both our customers and our team.
It doesn’t matter what happens at the end. I always believe that with the right effort and focus, you can do whatever you want. When I’m low, that’s when I feel that I should work more. At the end of the day, what I have in my control is what I have done today. As long as I feel that I have moved the needle and I’ve done what I need to for today, I will sleep happily!
YC: Who all would you like to thank for this wonderful journey?
Jagadish: I haven’t probably mentioned enough about my friends and family. A startup is not just the founders’ baby but the cumulative hard work of the entire team. It is also not about business decisions alone, it is also about a lot of personal decisions. You need support from family to carry them out and my people were incredible.
My parents shaped me up at a very early age. My friends opened the doors for me, to see what is out there and what is happening. My mentors helped me learn, grow and are still helping me out. My co-founder and team support the vision in every step.
But, my wife Vijitha is the one person I should thank the most, as half the credit of my journey goes to her. These are some people I cannot keep aside in my journey, and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart!
@ with family
It was great to have a conversation with you, and indeed inspiring. We are sure that you will reach new heights in the coming years, and Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for your future.