Interview with Raghubir Thakur, CTO @ BetaOut

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[This interview is sponsored by workspot.in , India’s leading aggregator of co-working spaces, meeting rooms and shared offices. If you have additional office space and are looking to rent it, please do list it on workspot.in. If you are looking for space for your startup, do visit workspot.in]

BetaOut is a startup that provides customer intelligence and marketing automation platform to e-commerce companies. They offer a plug and play solution that collects customer interaction data across multiple devices and then uses the collected data points to build master marketing profiles for each customer. The platform also provides customer segmentation and suite of marketing tools to engage the customer with the right message at the right time. The start-up that now has some of the biggest e-commerce and B2C companies as its clients co-founded by serial entrepreneurs Ankit Maheshwari, Arjun Maheshwari, Nandini Rathi and Raghubir Thakur.

This Noida based start-up was also selected for the TechStars 2015 summer batch. Techstars is a well-known mentorship-driven start-up accelerator. It provides $118,000 as seed funding and intensive mentoring within a network of amazing mentors and alumni for 7-10% of the equity in the start-up. It received around 1000 applications and BetaOut was the only start-up based out of India to feature in the list of selected-10 from around the globe. It’s the second time an Indian startup was selected for the prestigious Techstars program. The first one to achieve this was MartMobi.

We were able to get Raghubir to interact with us on behalf of the BetaOut team.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

I have been working with startups for almost 12 years now. During this span I worked on three startups – Instamedia – content network with over hundreds of freelancers working from different parts of the globe, ContentCloud – an editorial project management software for publishers and now Betaout (www.betaout.com) – a big data marketing software for E-commerce businesses.

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

I’ve been greatly impressed by Linus Torvalds since my college days. While my colleagues were preparing for interviews at HCL and Infosys, I was inclined at contributing to open source. My parents were disheartened when I refused my first job at a big MNC and instead took my first job at a startup with just four employees at one-third of the pay. The startup that was building extensions for popular forum software crashed in the next 12 months, but for me, it was a great learning experience. After that, I had fallen in love with startups.

What were the early days at BetaOut like?

The initial idea of building a marketing software that will reduce the number of marketing messages but improve conversions per message has come up from my personal dislike of being spammed by companies. We knew it’s a great problem but a hard one to solve.

We were a small team, and everyone was working for 16-18 hours days. We signed up our first client within a month – without having the complete product.

We asked them for four weeks to deliver the product and turned around the entire software in just three weeks. The software worked great for a few days until we signed up few more clients. With big clients coming in, the traffic hitting the API servers went 100x. Our server bill swelled, and everything went crashing down. We had to fix everything in the next few days. We changed our database, in fact, few different databases for optimizing data storage, moved from Amazon SQS to RabbitMQ, added multiple caching layers and in a way re-engineered the entire architecture.

The first month was extremely challenging, but we are going to remember it for our entire life. Every engineer and programmer developed an immense respect for each other. And I think the secret behind the great bonding of our team today is because of that first month in which we were hammered from every corner, but overcame it with great success.

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Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?

There are no timings at our office. People come and leave whenever they want to. Everyone has taken an ownership of one part of the system. We use Asana and Slack for internal communication. Every Friday we work on the next week’s schedule. People take up the upcoming tasks and discuss on current week’s progress. We also do a town-hall every Wednesday – which is an open forum for everyone to come with ideas and suggestions.

Can you tell us about the technology stack used at BetaOut?

We use Hadoop, HBASE, Spark, Elasticsearch, MongoDB, Redis, MySQL, RabbitMQ, PHP, NodeJS, and Python. We are using Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS for infrastructure.

Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

I am a strong advocator of the right technology for the right problem. I believe in building a strong foundation with the right framework, decoupled architecture, and scalable design. We keep on experimenting with new databases, message brokers, frameworks, etc.

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

We use Elasticsearch Kibana combined with Logstash for that purpose.

For sales and customer success team, we have built our dashboards that they can use.

How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

We have some of the biggest e-commerce players in India and Southeast Asia as our clients. We have built a very robust backend and written an extremely scalable framework that can match the needs of any demanding client.

What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running BetaOut?

We were shut down by Amazon AWS for non-payment during our first few weeks of launch. And we took the call to move to Linode Cloud with over 350GB of data and 34 servers running various software components powered by multiple databases. The entire setup was moved in 8 hours though it took close to 12-14 hours for DNS names to be propagated.

Though all our current dues are settled and, in fact, we now have a great relationship with Amazon AWS team.

What are some of the attributes you look out for in a prospective technology employee?

He should love programming and must be a keen observer and a good team player.

I give preference to college-dropouts.

How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

We as a team are big supporters of Apache Software Foundation. We always track new developments there.

Quora, Reddit/programming and blogs like HighScalability are also a good source of knowledge about new technologies.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

To be a part of the unit, solving a great problem that is democratizing the behavioral marketing currently and is used by some of the biggest e-commerce companies is exciting.

What sets BetaOut engineering culture apart?

The respect everyone has for everyone. From the CEO to the cook, every team member has earned each other’s respect. Each of us has worked very hard and has solved tough problems to earn each other’s trust. Our entire team works as a unit.

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Which BetaOut value resonates best with you?

Excellence in what we do.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Be curious. Question everything. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

[This interview is sponsored by workspot.in , India’s leading aggregator of co-working spaces, meeting rooms and shared offices. If you have additional office space and are looking to rent it, please do list it on workspot.in. If you are looking for space for your startup, do visit workspot.in]

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