Rajesh Kalidindi worked at a large fortune 500 networking company when a GM with a billion dollars in spend asked for his help reducing cost. Rajesh didn’t think it was possible—at least not through traditional means.
He decided to try a heavy, data-driven approach to generate insights that increased value. “That was a huge success,” he says. “What we were doing at 8% per year, we got a 14% reduction that was $16 million incremental to the bottom line with that approach.”
Rajesh recognized an opportunity that went beyond his company—so he started his own, LevaData, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze procurement objectives alongside real-time market activity to generate predictions and customized recommendations.
In this edition of Founders Journey, Rajesh explains more about the initial inspiration behind his project, and he talks about the difference between managing a large team at an enterprise company and putting together a team for a startup.
More information: https://levadata.com/
Rajesh has over twelve years of experience managing strategic sourcing and supplier management for multiple commodities and third-party manufacturing operations. He’s delivered significant bottom-line savings through data-driven procurement practices for Cisco and Palm.
An MBA with concentrations in supply chain management and information systems from Michigan State University, he is a thought leader on fusing human with artificial intelligence for procurement innovation.show more
LevaData powers the world’s smartest supply chains. LevaData helps global enterprises improve supply chain performance by optimizing costs, mitigating risks and accelerating new product development.
LevaData’s Supply Management platform leverages the power of AI, Community Intelligence and Supplier Network to deliver competitive advantage to customers by continuously identifying opportunities and risks, recommending actions and assisting in the executionshow less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Rajesh Kalidindi 0:00
How do you astutely figure out? Who are those right people where you know, where you can really invest in really, you know, get them to be part of the journey, and not compromising on that from day one.
Alexander Ferguson 0:18
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our founders journey series, I’m joined by my guest, Rajesh Kalidindi, who’s based in Austin, Texas. He’s the CEO and founder of levedata. This is part two, definitely go back and listen to part one, where we learned about the cognitive supply management platform that they’ve built over the past six years, which is really in the supply chain procurement and purchasing operations area, if you’re involved in any of those, this is a platform you want to look at. But I’m excited to hear a bit more about your journey. Tell me what’s your script? Or in a short amount of time? How did you get to where you are today?
Rajesh Kalidindi 0:53
Absolutely. So when, prior to starting levertijd, I worked at a really large fortune 500 networking company. And it was interesting times where I was managing a fair amount of spend. And I constantly saw that we were suffering from the same problem. Even though we had an excellent team, even though we had access to lots of internal tools and technologies, we were leaving money on the table. So there was an instance where a GM of a specific business unit with a billion dollars worth of spend, asked for help to improve his gross margin by reducing costs. And I basically looked at it as look, we cannot do this, traditionally, let’s go try to do a data driven approach, get data from multiple sets of sources, whether it’s external or internal, put that together, and essentially go into the negotiations and drive for the best value from those insights. That was a huge success, what we were doing at 8% per year, we got a 14% reduction that was $16 million incremental to the bottom line with that approach. And that’s when the wheels started turning in my head that here’s a company that’s so successful, and has great team, etc. But think about all those companies were not at that level, and who have this, this opportunity to be larger? And how do I build this capability not as a brute force approach over a three month period, but build a system and a company around it, that can do this, you know, you know, as not just speaking as, from a cliche standpoint, you know, providing a fish, but but teaching them how to fish, right? So how do you do this again, and again, repeatedly, that’s where level data was born, the name that level data is about is leveraging data. And that’s the core principle about our company. And that’s how leverage was born.
Alexander Ferguson 2:38
Love it. And this previous organization I see on your LinkedIn is Cisco. So having that knowledge of what your experience there definitely leads into where you are now, six years that you’ve coming up on seven, you said next year? If you could know one thing that you know, now, seven years ago, what would you What would you say to yourself, what would you wish you had known then?
Rajesh Kalidindi 3:03
Well, even though I have managed a lot of people during my career at Cisco and other companies, what I realized is when you’re in the startup world, when you’re building something from the ground up, it takes a different breed of people. Right? And so people make companies people make the world right. So it’s, it’s, you know, how do you astutely figure out who are those right people where you know, where you can really invest in really, you know, get them to be part of the journey, and not compromising on that from day one? Right, whatever the whatever the challenge in front of you, but not compromising of the type of people who join your company and who grow with your company and drive impact. That will be my biggest learning.
Alexander Ferguson 3:50
You’ve led many teams, you stated, this is your first company that you founded. So the correct, okay. When it comes to funding, did you sell fun? Did you get VC funding? And what was that process like?
Rajesh Kalidindi 4:05
So I was very fortunate that there were a few people who funded us out the get go, because there were, you know, people that really understood, believed and trusted in me. So we started with seed capital very quickly out the gate. After about two years, you know, bootstrapping was getting seed funding. We went in for series say, followed you know, two years later, we’re in Series B, and right now we, in the next year, we expect to go in for the next round. So it’s been a very interesting journey over the years and thankful to the investors that help us in the journey.
Alexander Ferguson 4:43
Would you say is a big the biggest mistake one could make when seeking funding?
Rajesh Kalidindi 4:49
Well, I think you know, you have to be you have to be ready for funding. So it’s, it’s you want to get to a certain place where you’ve got enough momentum. You got enough of feedback from the market, that you can convince investors, because sooner or later if you’ve not done your homework or government attraction, you have to pay the piper. And so it’s important that you get some level of traction. And before you even get to funding,
Alexander Ferguson 5:18
what is a good indicator? What as far as the product itself? Do you know that? A, it’s a good place to be able to get more funding or be in the right place to market and give it to your customers? How do you know when it’s right?
Rajesh Kalidindi 5:31
I think a big piece around this always is feedback from customers. So when you have a concept, first of all, even before I left, my last company, I basically had talked to about 14 different procurement leaders in my network of different companies. And I pitched the concept I pitched the problem I’m trying to solve. And then when you hear everyone say, and everyone said, I faced that problem today. And and you know, that’s concept sounds interesting. And two of them basically said, I’ll buy it if you make it. And they bought it. So when I made it, so so that’s, again, a big magnification from the customer more than anything else, whether they see that as solving a problem that needs to be solved. And secondly, are they going to pay for it?
Alexander Ferguson 6:21
You mentioned earlier as your what you would wish you had known when it comes to the people to be able to build the right company to be able to service said customers and build the right product. building the right team. It changes as you as you grow, what would you say is maybe the common mistakes one could make? Or maybe lessons learned, too, when you are hiring right person? What do you look for, to build that right culture and team?
Rajesh Kalidindi 6:47
I think there are a lot of people with strong skill sets and capabilities and experiences when you look at them. But I think the number one thing that you have to really look for is the ability to be adaptable, as well as resilient. Because you’re going to go through a roller coaster, you’re going to be faced with so many terms and forks on the road. And the way you kind of manage adapt, and Brazil, drive resiliency is going to be the key to success.
Alexander Ferguson 7:15
Just because you have a lot of skill set and experience in a previous job doesn’t mean you’ll qualify in a startup and be able to grow and you’ll be the right team member. Exactly. Gotcha. Now, obviously, that your company changes as you grow up, how big is that? How many employees are now part of the team?
Rajesh Kalidindi 7:34
Our team is about 80 employees
Alexander Ferguson 7:37
today. Okay, this as you go, what do you see, especially going into this environment we’re in you guys are already distributed. But you have a headquarters. How do you keep the team together and and focused on on the trajectory and where you’re headed.
Rajesh Kalidindi 7:55
I think it all boils down to a few things, right? One is having a strong vision and agreeing mutually are doing together on the elements of the strategy, and the detail execution plans, right. And then once you have that in place, and everybody understands what the what the what the key things are to be focused on. It’s about empowerment and driving accountability. That’s, that’s in essence, what it is. So So in a game, if you want to thrive in this environment, you got to drive that empowerment and the accountability and let the team’s really flourish associated with that collaboration becomes super important in a distributed environment. And we all know we’ve all switched to zoom at this point. And so we’re finding ways in which we have frequent touch points, like many of us, you know, folks out there, but that becomes very important. And trying to keep the personal peace as well, which you know, you can do the face to face thing, the lunches and dinners, etc. but figuring out how we still augment that and try to try to still thrive in the current environment is crucial.
Alexander Ferguson 8:58
What do you see as the next big focus or challenge that you’re going to need to overcome in your phase of growth of where you’re headed?
Rajesh Kalidindi 9:07
I think a big piece at our size is as we start expanding to different markets, right as we don’t want to go international, as we, you know, look at different verticals, trying to scale across, build a scale associated with it, driving the right investments in the right order, and also figuring out how we leverage partnerships to help accelerate that faster than trying to do it ourselves. Right. That’s the set of things that is in front of us right now. And we’re actively working those elements. We do have international presence with a few accounts, but we definitely want to expand that capability and that penetration as well.
Alexander Ferguson 9:47
What kind of tech innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near term, the next year or so, and long term 510 years.
Rajesh Kalidindi 9:54
I think in the in the shorter term, you know, the technology that we already have Think is far ahead of the application of that technology. Right? And so I almost think about the now is focusing on leveraging the existing technology to drive more deeper and impactful value for customers that we have. So if you have Machine Learning Technologies been there for a while, but in the supply chain contracts in the procurement context, how do you focus it on use cases that are truly valuable, and needle movers, you know, in terms of solving the problems, and invest in that, rather than doing something a little bit faster, or a little bit more precise, associated with it. And so that’s our focus in the short term. And in the longer term, I think, you know, as as you continue to expand and the reach of AI and cognitive capabilities, there is a real option to go from, you know, what we say today is augmented, for example, negotiations, imagine the power of getting to the next level, which is assisted negotiation, just like a car, right. And then you go to autonomous negotiation, right. And so those are the areas that we are investing in. And it takes data, lots of data, it takes usage as well, so you can learn from it. And then the technology that can observe patterns and react and do the game theories and go manage those. So I’m pretty excited about that path that we’re pursuing the next several years.
Alexander Ferguson 11:21
I love the connection piece, because everyone is looking at paying attention to self driving cars, and from augmented to assisted to now false self driving, but applying that to other areas in the business world of saying, going just from augmenting to assisting to completely managing. That’s the trajectory, some may take a little bit longer, but I love the future that you paint and for this insight that you have gathered over the years, I appreciate just a tidbit that you could share here for everyone, definitely check out our part one of our interview, that we were able to hear a bit more about the cognitive supply management platform that we’re just as built. And you can also go to levedata.com to get a more insights and a demo from them. Thanks again, for joining us. It’s good to have you on.
Rajesh Kalidindi 12:07
Thank you very much and have a great day. Again everyone.
Alexander Ferguson 12:11
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