Prasanna Dhungel, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Grow By Data, is a data analytics expert with almost 20 years of experience as an executive in global data firms. He completed his BS with honours in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and Masters in Engineering from Princeton University. After completion of his Master’s degree in Engineering, Dhungel worked at a telecom company in the US. From 2002 to 2008, he worked at D2Hakeye, now acquired by Verscend Health, as Senior Business Engineer for two years and as Vice President of Technology Services for four years. In 2008, he joined Kellogg School of Management for MBA degree. On completion in 2010, Dhungel started working as a consultant for various companies. While working as a consultant, he found data driven problems in most places which is why in March 2014, he and Scott Smigler co-founded Grow By Data initially to cater to small to mid-size e-commerce companies in USA, but now they are moving to mid to large size companies.
Dibesh Dangol of B360 met with Prasanna Dhungel to know more about the operations of Grow By Data, the services they provide, and the benefits and setbacks due to automation technology. Excerpts:
What services do you offer? Who are your target clients? What impact has your company been able to make?
One of our products is comparative price intelligence which is about determining the price of the product. We provide retailers; mid to large, with price intelligence and software for them to export prices for their products. The second product is providing business intelligence to companies. Large companies need to know the area of their revenue, fluctuation of revenue, category of revenue, customers’ area, efficient products, margins, etc, which we provide through business intelligence. Another product is data services. Data always have problems and so what we do is on behalf of our retail customers, we enhance their data websites of channels which is what we call a gold standard of data.
We are targeting mid to large companies who have online revenues above $20 million and also mega large retailers. We primarily target retailers and manufacturers who sell directly to their customers. In terms of buyers within these companies, we target data savvy marketing executives who work in advertising, merchandising and pricing departments and Chief Information Officers.
We measure rate of return of our products and services. As for the impact we have been able to make, I’ll give you an example of a music company we started working with a recently about eight months ago. They were using a product like ours but that product wasn’t giving them the quality data that they needed. If they had few products, few data information would have been satisfactory, but since they had a large number of products, they had difficulty keeping accurate data track of their products. When we came onboard, they were able to see the major revenue growth that we were able to give them as a result of quality data. So, we prepare graphs to show our clients the before and after effect of using our product. It’s clearly visible from the revenue we have been able to draw. Retailing markets are very competitive space all over the globe which means the margins are very low. With us, what our retail customers are seeking is very accurate action data. By coming onboard, whatever budget they were allocating previously now allocated to us, they have been seeing positive results i.e. revenue and market share growth.
How does GBD serve and operate?
We are US based company with a very large presence in Nepal. Over the years, we have narrowed down regarding whom we are serving, what products are we selling and servicing. The model we are currently applying between the two offices is that a lot of product development, delivery and services happen from our Nepal office and in US office we design, market, sell and provide support to our clients. We have gone to market directly and also through channel partners who bundle our products into their product and services.
In terms of how we are able to provide the quality the customers are seeking, we have a very large team of interdisciplinary experts here and in the US. We have software engineers, data engineers, cloud computing experts and individuals that really know math and statistics.
Understand how deceiving data can be is vital in our line of work so some amount of psychology is involved in our line of work as well. We have domain experts as well who are aware of how retail, pricing and digital marketing operates. To lead all our personnel, we have a management team who are experts in quality control. Approximately 100 people are working inside the office and about 70 out of the office. The office team is creating products and delivering while the outside team are providing support to us on an ongoing basis.
We are very process driven which is one area we are very invested in as a company. Whether it is for marketing, human resources or for product development, we are very process driven. We have built connections with a lot of colleges in Nepal. We are investing in marketing letting them know of opportunities and we have a process to select right candidates to come in. We onboard them, train them and we place them in the right departments to get maximum out of them. For all departments, we have invested in people who are subject to processing and redundancy back-up so that we can scale.
Any large company that’s really trying to grow doesn’t want to rely on one person or company only which is why they access whether you can support them on regular basis; rain or shine. They look at your capabilities, how scalable you are, your organisation capabilities, how much redundancy failure you have, etc, and want to see if our software, computing power and resources can double their revenue, which is why we have spent a lot of time to make our operations scalable and we promise quality to our customers.
How do you run a global business?
Since we are a global company with offices in US and Nepal, we have to work 24 hours. Our US office and channel partners work in US day hours and our Nepal office work in US night hours. Communicating is necessary and assumptions cannot be made while we are running a business like this. If you aren’t in the same office, the importance of process and documented communications becomes highly important. To take care of all these, we have a management team here in Kathmandu consisting of Operation Director, HR Manager, Research Lead, Product Lead, Delivery Lead and sub-divisions with these leaders. Everyone has their own core responsibilities and even if I or any of my co-founders aren’t here, they are continuously leading the personnel and the work is carried on smoothly. Thanks to technology we can use different messaging or video calling apps to communicate between the two offices and project management tools like Jira.
I always think about this issue from 3Ps: people, process and product. We try to hire, manage, mentor and motivate individuals in the company and groom them up to a certain level so that they can independently run their departments. We have an Operation Director for looking after the processes and communication. The third is product which means using efficient tools for work processes such as Jira or Trello.
What’s next for GBD?
Over the last five years, we have invested a lot in building our brand. In Nepal, thanks to all the good work done by our team members, we are increasingly being known in the software community. Colleges and students want to work with us; we have partnerships with over 10 colleges here in Nepal, are participating in different forums and events, and our software have also matured a lot.
Beside these, we have been able to demonstrate value to our customers and mid to large companies are beginning to value our services and products. So, next, we really want to push our distribution and to be known as the number one vendor in pricing, collective data and insights. We want to provide high quality data to as many retailers and manufacturers around the world as possible. It is our big vision. But how do we go ahead? We are focusing on the US, continuing to grow there through channel models and directly, and exploring outside US market also because we have already been able to show value. In terms of how we are planning to expand beyond US, there are already companies working in different regions and serving their respective customers, so we are looking forward to partnering with them and reaching customers in other regions as well.
Can you tell me about your continuous investment in automation process engineering, and continual learning and training? How will that help you to scale?
This is something very important to me. If a company’s focus is to serve only a handful of customers, then it might not have to worry so much regarding automation process engineering and continual learning and training. But if a company’s focus is to scale and deliver quality data to large scale and lot of companies, it is impossible to do such jobs through just human resources. Those ‘wanting-to-scale’ companies have to automate.
One analogy we can talk about is the ATM. Before, when ATMs weren’t there, people had to go to bank tellers to withdraw their money and major problems arose when the banks were closed. Now, due to ATMs, it has automated the bank tellers’ job, made their role more valuable and increased the bank industry. So, for us to deliver quality to large scale companies and to do it consistently, we have to invest in automation. If anything is being done repeatedly, it is a great candidate for automation.
To automate, we use software and data science. Data science means that we collect a lot of data, search for repetition of jobs, collect that data, and try to automate some of it. It doesn’t mean that that person will lose their job. It means, suppose if s/he was spending eight hours on repetitive work, through automation it can be minimised and she can be assigned new set of work. We use techniques like artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning and human in the loop. Nothing can be fully automated in the data industry because data is always fuggy and there always needs to be a human judgement. We, GBD, always use the concept ‘human in the loop’ which means using human intelligence. We blend algorithms through machine learning, artificial intelligence and software with human in the loop to deliver quality to our customers. Through such methods, the personnel’s jobs become more valuable, quality services can be provided to the customers, and the company can scale and strive for bigger challenges.
Do you have plans to provide GBD products and services to the Nepali market?
Our products will be beneficial to any mid to large size retailers in the Nepali market that sell through online platforms. So far, we have been narrowly focused on the US market but I can clearly see us serving Nepali customers working in the e-commerce space in the future.