The entrepreneurial journey of Soumanta Das, the founder of Yugen.ai is indeed well begun. He saw adversities as opportunities and failures as learnings. Mentored by his mother at a very young age, he was motivated to pursue knowledge. His passion for sports too gained him the lessons of patience and consistency. His professional journey has been influenced deeply by his personal convictions.
Building Yugen – Your Trusted Data Science and ML Engineering Partner. Empowering decision-makers to transform their businesses, Yugen is marching ahead to greater heights. Let us read through his inspiring journey.
YC: We believe that a person owes much to his childhood. Can we start your journey from the very beginning?
Das: I was born in Durgapur near Kolkata. My father was into accounts, and my mother was a homemaker. She had a knack for knowledge and encouraged me to learn as much as I could. She would take me to book fairs and book shops in Durgapur and Calcutta. I still remember we used to spend hours there strolling around and eventually buying a few. At a very early age, she guided me to any information she could lead me to. And believe me, she does it even today! I love her!
Startup & Sports = Patience + Consistency
I was quite into sports, more into swimming. I even participated at district level swimming competitions. I remember my father taking me to Damodar Dam when I was still not a great swimmer. It was just three months after I learned how to swim, and I was scared to death. He asked me to swim against the current. I floated first and somehow managed to survive gradually. Eventually, I swam against currents.
If I think of my journey as a sportsman now, I think sports gave me three very important lessons of my life:
- I learned a lot about patience and consistency.
- It was more of an adulthood lesson on how to face an adverse situation.
- It concreted the idea that failing isn’t permanent, learning is!
I was more into Physics and Maths in academics. Physics was my way of relating to object interactions that I saw around me. It satisfied my already inferred inquisitiveness, passed down on to me by my mother. I wanted to pursue Engineering, so I joined a crash course for JEE just three months before the exam, and cleared it well enough.
YC: Can we talk about your engineering journey.
Das: I got through Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad – Electrical Engineering. Only later did I realise that Computer Science was a better option. Regardless, college helped me a lot.
- One, of course, was the exposure. The diversity I found there, in the thought process and perspective towards life influenced me. I was exposed to different thoughts, worldviews, and convictions. I developed fresh ideas and thoughts and improved myself.
- My peer group helped me a lot, as I was staying away from home for the first time. They were super supportive. I developed my social skills too.
- The confidence of being self-sufficient did influence the rest of my life. I learned to take care of myself and adapt to situations.
A Silver Lining…
Unfortunately, we were restricted to doing internships only in our core branch. Though I wanted to pick an internship in computers I could not.
I landed up with a power substation for my internship. I learned an important lesson in my life there. I met a very senior Engineer, a very interesting guy. He encouraged me saying, “Kid, always look at the larger picture in life.” I remember him saying, “Everything you do today may not bear fruit today itself, but it will come in handy someday.” Lesson learned!
The placement season, as always, was a hectic one. I was very clear about not getting into core Electrical Engineering roles. I wanted a role in applicational Mathematics. Mu Sigma – Data Analytics Firm, was on campus for hiring. I knew it was a great opportunity.
Almost 12 hours of rigorous interview happened, and I got through Mu Sigma as a Trainee Decision Scientist. I was very happy and felt great to get placed!
YC: Can we talk about your professional journey pre Yugen?
Das: In 2013, I moved into Bangalore to join Mu Sigma and continued there for about nine months. It was then Affine Analytics – Data Science & AI service provider approached. Though I liked working at Mu Sigma, I knew I would get more growth opportunities at a boutique analytics firm – Affine Analytics.
By 2014, Affine Analytics was getting three years old. I knew they had made their mistakes, and corrected them. Now they were ready to grow fast and big. Also, I was getting an opportunity to work with the co-founder – Abhishek Anand. The decision to join Affine was a no brainer. If I think about it now, a lot of my professional learning came from the exposure that Affine generously offered me.
2014 – I joined Affine Analytics, Bangalore office but later moved to SF, USA. Affine gave me holistic learning and great exposure:
- Designing solutions – I learned how to simplify a big problem into smaller solvable problems, and then work on it. This work process helped me in building better solutions.
- Technical skills – Along with the senior analysts, I learned to interpret models better. My statistical background did help me a lot. I still owe a big time to my colleagues in enhancing my ability for designing blueprints.
- Social Skills – I also developed my social skills at Affine. I learned a few things in Client and Stakeholder management, which came handy in my startup journey.
2016 – For the first time in my career, I was introduced to Client and Stakeholder Management. By now I was handling:
1. Portfolio Evaluation, Predictive Analytics, Clustering, one of the world’s largest Video Gaming & Interactive Entertainment companies.
2. Media Mix Optimization for one of the largest players in the Customer Electronics (Wearable Tech) vertical.
3. Campaign Design and Measurement, Market Sizing for one of the world’s largest tech companies.
It was during the end part of this journey that I met my co-founder Aayush. We worked together on various problems. Being in Silicon Valley exposed us to a plethora of industrial problems. It was also the time I decided to move back to India.
2018 – I moved back to India and was looking for some learning and exposure at a product company. SmartNomad – Making travel more blissful, it was a good fit and I joined them. At SmartNomad, we were responsible for creating personalised travel itineraries for customers.
The major takeaways from SmartNomad were:
- Sales conversations with partners.
- Learned about software engineering and its integration with data science.
- Working closely with UI developers and understanding the philosophy across non-data-science development.
All this while I was mentally preparing myself to take the plunge of starting up. I was in continuous touch with Aayush, and 2020 was our target.
We talked to clients, landed a few freelance projects and formulated an idea of the final product. Thus, we started Yugen.ai.
YC: Can you please explain what is Yugen.ai, for my readers?
Das: We create large-scale, reliable and personalised ML Systems for startups and enterprises that can integrate seamlessly into their existing pipelines. We focus on companies who are in the 0-1 and 1-10 stages of their ML journey. Our core USPs are
- Fast prototyping to production
- Compounding ROIs by iterative developments and releases
Some of our offerings are in the form of a services model. We are planning to transition to full-fledged products in a year or so.
YC: Your take on sales and marketing?
Das – I would like to divide this into two sections :
2019 – Initially with only Ayush and myself, we leveraged our primary and secondary network for sales. We reached out to colleagues who had moved to various companies. We knew we could help them out owing to their niche.
We picked up a few freelancing consulting projects to begin with and focused on the delivery. Gradually, the snowball effect happened. We started getting more and more work, so we decided to focus on better delivery than growth. At that stage we invested more in the present work than building a sales pipeline.
2020 – We started reaching out to alumni and attended meetings in our respective IITs. We were able to build good connections and generate leads.
We were very clear we wanted to do things at our own pace, comfortably and sustainably. For us, stability and quality are of prime importance rather than an inflated growth. We’re okay with growing at a slower pace as long as we don’t compromise our quality.
2021-2021 – We plan to focus more on product and sales. We have plans to:
- Revamp our website
- Focus on SEO
- Gradually build our sales team, with the right people.
- Explore more partnerships in B2B space
- Keep reaching out to people in our network
- Lastly, attend meets.
YC: What is a typical process of sales at Yugen, what would you suggest to fellow founders?
Das: At Yugen, we usually target decision-makers or budget holders and sometimes a step lower. Though we prefer to communicate with CTOs, SVP or VP of Engineering or Data Science, it is easier to communicate the value proposition. Initially, we faced a few challenges:
1. Right sales channel – Any company would have a workflow, and understanding that helps in identifying whom to approach for sales. Initially, we took some time, made some mistakes but eventually found what worked for us.
2. Trust – With just two of us people were sceptical if we would be able to solve the problem or succeed. Again it took some time but eventually we were able to cross this hurdle as well.
3. Comparison – Larger companies are already using other products and when you approach them, a lot of comparisons happen. The sales cycle is quite long and many stakeholders are involved too. Though there is nothing wrong with selling to large enterprises, one should be mentally and financially prepared. Else it could be quite draining.
I would suggest fellow co-founders think hard and pick the initial set of customers carefully. See and evaluate what works best for your product.
Corrections we made:
- Change of target segment – We decided to focus on companies in their stage 0-1 or 1-5 journey. The probability of them currently using a solution would then be less.
- 3 months trials – We offered our product as a service for three months. Data scientists in our team would solve a problem. Once they saw it for themselves, the hesitation to adopt our product ebbed. They would then be willing to use the software stacks that we offered.
- Well defined statement of work (SOW) – We initially signed an SOW beforehand but soon realised all stakeholders will not be involved in the process. This led to delivery expectation mismanagement.
We quickly tweaked and decided to sign an NDA initially. After an initial consultation with every stakeholder, we would offer a holistic solution. Only then would we sign the SOW. Eventually, we were able to get through this as well. My only suggestion to fellow founders is “just be at it”.
YC: Who is your ideal customer?
Das: We focus heavily on gaming and mobile advertising. For a customer seeking out help with a problem, we do have the necessary expertise and experience.
We have great consulting experience on gaming, and mobile ads were also routine in the niche. We want to go really really deep in both gaming and mobile advertising. We currently have 5-10 customers spread all over the world.
For consulting projects, we bill like any other consulting company does, project-based. For customers who are using our product, it’s subscription-based.
YC: What are your plans ahead?
SaaS is the future!
Das: We aspire to formalise our business model this year. We are currently dabbling both in consulting and product. But we are now quite clear on formalising and focusing more on products going forward. We would like to continue the good work we have been doing. We will definitely aim high while making sure that we don’t compromise on quality.
YC: Till date you guys have not raised any funding, any specific reason?
Das: Funding comes with a baggage of growth, though there is nothing wrong in it. But initially, we wanted the freedom to experiment and explore. We wanted to have that flexibility to figure out the ideal work process and business model. We both came from a fairly strong consulting background and wanted our time to grow. Hence never thought about funding initially. Also, despite being bootstrapped, we were able to grow in a sustainable manner, which is why we didn’t feel the immediate need for raising capital.
But now, we have far more clarity for Yugen. We might eye for external funding or further expansion in the near future.
YC: What keeps you going in this relentless struggle of entrepreneurship?
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Das: Building something means to keep making the right decisions and rightly executing them. Happiness means understanding or accepting that small things matter too. You can find joy in helping a customer solve a problem, that’s monumental, but you need not stick to it alone.
The pursuit of happiness is the core philosophy of our company. There is no reason not to celebrate new learning, whatever little it might be. This celebration of little joys keeps you a lot sane, and it motivates you to move forward.
Even though my responsibilities lie in sales and marketing, I love to code. I still take out the time to work out something new. That constant updations and adaptations keep me going.
YC: Any community that you follow?
Das: MLOps community. I had been a part of their channel for quite some time now. This is a community I would recommend for someone who is into machine learning and AI.
I strongly believe podcasts are a great way of reaching out and giving back to society for the greater good. We never had such learnings in our initial phase. I would like to change it for the next in line.
YC: A few people you would like to thank in this journey?
Das: Abhishek Anand, co-founder of Affine Analytics, showed immense faith in me, regardless of my lack of experience. His understanding and accommodating nature gave me the confidence to experiment, make mistakes and eventually grow from them.
Aayush Agrawal, my co-founder and friend, has had a huge impact on my life. He provides a different perspective which I think is very important.
Of course, my team. Without knowing us or having anything to trust us, they chose to work with us and built a company along with us. My fiancée, Sanjukta Sikdar, also the founder of The Circle Dream, has been a great person in my life.
Lastly and most importantly, it is my mother, Gopa Das whom I owe the most. She shaped me and still influences me. These are a few people I would name, but I am thankful to everyone in this humble journey of mine.
It was great talking to you. We are sure Yugen.ai will reach great heights in the coming years. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for your future.