Interview with Amarjeet Singh, Co-Founder at Zenatix

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There are many environmental concerns that stand before us, and energy certainly is a major one. As the world leaders are trying to deal with the growing energy needs of the world, there is a startup which is already doing its part by helping the companies be more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint. Zenatix is an energy data analytics firm that helps in reducing the electricity spending of companies by understanding their power consumption patterns and providing valuable insights.

The company which was co-founded in December 2013 by IIT and IIM alumni Rahul Bhalla, Vishal Bansal and Dr Amarjeet Singh follows a SaaS-based revenue model and claims to help reduce the energy spending by around 10%. This Gurgaon-based startup is receiving a lot of accolades from its clients and has recently raised around USD 0.5 million from a group of angel investors which include Google India chief Rajan Anandan, Trifecta Capital’s Rahul Khanna, and Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal and Blume Ventures. The company is presently serving primarily to clients in and around Delhi/NCR and wants to utilize the raised funds to expand its operations to other cities as well.

Here is a small interview with Mr. Amarjeet Singh, the Co-Founder of the company.

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Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

  1. Graduated from IIT Delhi in 2002
  2. Worked at Tejas Networks till Nov 2004
  3. Joined UCLA in Jan 2005
  4. Completed MS and PhD from UCLA in July 2009
  5. Joined IIIT Delhi as faculty in Dec 2009
  6. Co-founded Zenatix in Dec 2013

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

I moved back to India after my PhD in 2009 since I wanted to do some work in technology that can contribute meaningfully to the society. I went around the country meeting with academicians, social activist, NGOs, government representatives and grassroots people to understand where I fit in for one thing that I would like to pursue for the next few years. I eventually decided to pursue academics as I felt that education is probably the best way to contribute – ignite that spark in many more for greater collective good. While at IIIT Delhi, I was actively involved in research in energy efficiency space. I wanted to understand first hand on what it takes to scale the research for mass application and achieve that “impact with scale”. With Rahul and Vishal, who were my close friends from IIT, I found perfect co-founders with diverse backgrounds. In the late 2013, I felt that it’s a golden opportunity to come together and take that next plunge.

What were the early days at Zenatix like?

  1. Very early on, the hard realisation struck – it’s one thing to do active and state of the art research while it’s a totally different thing to make people pay for it.
  2. We started off with a couple of my students joining part time and one of my ex-student joining full time. Early team was built with people who were keen on making their mark in terms of tech that is state of the art and makes an impact.
  3. Getting the first few customers was hard – we probably didn’t have the right business model and we were the new kid on the block. I think the first few customers just trusted us on our backgrounds and we haven’t let them down.
  4. The first few deployments were completely supervised by us. This made us experience the nuances, getting our hands dirty to understand the challenges and ensuring that we work towards addressing them.

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

We have now structured our team into 3 verticals – technology, analytics & customer engagement and sales. Rahul heads sales, Vishal heads analytics and customer engagement while I take care of the technology vertical. Each one of us have our set of stuff to take care of on daily basis – some of which involves routine tasks like planning/executing a deployment, analysis for some customers, meeting customers (existing ones for insights and potential customers for the sales pitch), discussing updates on the tech development, etc. Between 3 of us, we try to spend some time (an hour or so) discussing some high level stuff on big challenges, new thoughts on innovation and new ideas on how we can give greater value addition to our customers.

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

We break technology into 3 components:

  1. Data Acquisition – involves our hardware controller and the firmware running on it that can connect to different types of sensors (electricity meters, temperature sensor, humidity sensor, Diesel tank level sensor etc.), aggregate all this data and sends it to our cloud platform using internet (available via any of Ethernet/WiFi/GSM – depending on the availability at site).
  2. Cloud based data management – this involves a time series data base which is very efficient in terms of data storage (our experiments show that it is 4-5 times more efficient than a regular SQL type DB) and frameworks for querying the data, running statistical operations on the data and generating alerts based on both real time and offline data.
  3. Frontend (Mobile/Web) – We currently only have a web frontend and the mobile app is under development. This uses different technology stacks for plotting, reporting and analysing the data.

The complete technology stack (from data acquisition to data management and dashboard) is managed in-house. Our preliminary analysis shows that in terms of feature set we are much more powerful than even the AWS IoT stack (beta version) on offer. The reason for this strength is that the stack is built upon an open source project developed specifically for analysis of building energy efficiency data and built over multiple years.

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

Connected devices (or IoT space) with robust hardware will help us in a big manner. While our core strength is analytics, a lot of current effort goes into ensuring that we have robust hardware systems for seamless data collection. We also understand that this is a very hard nut to crack but technology improvements that allow for easy and robust data acquisition will help us a lot.

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

Being an IoT company ourselves, we embed data collection from critical components within our technology stack. Some examples of things we track are – hits on each of our webpage, how many of the daily emails communicated to the users are opened, number of times alerts are generated for each facility, savings across customers, volume of data we collect and which of it is meaningful, etc.

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

Coming from several years of research, we are heavily focused on ensuring we remain competitive in terms of technology. Being an academician myself, we encourage our team members to publish research articles in top international peer reviewed conferences. We have so far 2 short papers accepted at top research venues in energy efficiency space of which one won the best demo award as well. A couple of more paper are under review. We also have an active research collaboration with IIIT Delhi wherein some of the PhD students and research scholars are engaged in research related to our domain.

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

Ensuring robust data collection is very challenging. Very early on, we released that with hardware installed in a variety of environments (e.g. cellular strength varying or dusty environment or sometimes in extreme heat); so we need automated ways for monitoring the health of our installed systems, for testing the new systems going into the field and addressing any challenges that arise in a timely manner. We have seen the collected data from similar sensors by a few other companies and we take pride in claiming that we provide near-zero data loss. Ensuring that we live up to this claim and maintaining the differentiating factor is quite challenging.

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

The first and foremost – the person has to be technically very sound, not just for the technologies he will be working on but also on fundamentals (this is on the belief that if your fundamentals are strong, you will think on innovating in ways different from those who build upon existing stuff).

The second and equally critical is the motivation of the person. We look for two things when it comes to motivation:

  1. The person wants to stay at the cutting edge of technology and has a strong desire to continuously keep on learning (hard work of course is the basic necessity to achieve it!)
  2. The person wants to make an impact on the society with their technical skills – we take pride in saying that we are not another aggregator or e-commerce company. The genesis of the company is to address the energy problems – first for India and then globally. We believe in making an impact and contributing to the future generations – the person should be equally passionate about the same.

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

As I come from academic background, I keep on reading new research articles in the energy efficiency space. We also internally inculcate practices where we reserve certain time every week for everyone to

try out new technologies. Recently, we worked on some major changes in the backend framework. Before deciding how the new framework should look like, I created a list of recent and state of the art research papers and another person looked at other similar articles from the industry. We then gave this list to the whole team to read and put their thoughts together over the next 2 weeks. Thereafter, we spent enough time collating those thoughts and coming up with the best architecture that addresses all of the things in a seamless manner.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

I want to make a BIG social impact with my technical skills. I think Zenatix will probably be the only chance for me to do this contribution at a very large scale. I want to make sure that this indeed becomes the reality and this is one big reason that drives me to work every day.

What sets Zenatix engineering culture apart?

We believe in single-minded focus on innovation to improve the technology, to provide maximum value to our customers.

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Which Zenatix value resonates best with you?

In everything we do, we think of how it can scale to millions of buildings, billions of square feet and billions of savings.

Any piece of advice for techies out there?

  1. Try to solve meaningful problems with big social impact;
  2. Focus on giving maximum value to your customers – happy customers will automatically drive value;
  3. In whatever you do, strive for the best possible in the limited time you have;
  4. Dream big and plan accordingly.

 

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