The beauty and wellness sector of the country has certainly been growing at a tremendous pace since quite some time now and the industry is near maturing with aggregate industry size being reported close to Rs 100,000 crores. As technology is seeping through in almost every sphere of our life it makes it imperative for the businesses to adopt the latest technological trends and stay in sync. Zenoti is one such technology that makes it easier for the spas and salons to manage their day to day operations.
Zenoti is a cloud based SaaS platform that can easily replace a number of software systems that a large spa or salon might be using for a variety of day-to-day tasks. It was founded by Sudheer Koneru, Dheeraj Koneru, Anand Arvind and Saritha Katikaneni in the year 2010. The company was known as ManageMySpa then but they later changed their name to Zenoti. Zenoti currently has more than 5000 clients and 25 million end users with offices present at 7 international locations. The company has also recently launched their app Take5 which is a consumer app that facilitates finding, booking and paying for spa and salon appointments.
We recently interviewed Anand Arvind, VP of Products at Zenoti.
Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.
20 years ago, I started my career building simulation software for manufacturing applications at a startup in Columbus, Ohio. After this I moved to Microsoft, based out of Washington, where I worked on Windows Operating System.
In 2000, I was part of the early team at Inteprep, which later became SumTotal Systems, an enterprise Learning Management solutions provider. There, I served as the VP of Engineering and led a global development team. SumTotal was used by majority of the Fortune 500 companies and had more than 25 million end users on the platform.
Today, I’m responsible for product strategy and development at Zenoti. We’re an enterprise cloud software, with approximately 5,000 customers distributed over 35 countries.
When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
My first job after my Masters was at a startup that had four employees building really complex simulation software for manufacturing processes. The problem seemed interesting and challenging and I just jumped into this. This was the early 90’s, and I learned how to build complex engineering software that was very robust while learning 3D graphics, supporting multiple UNIX based systems and Windows.
In 2000, I joined a startup formed by Microsoft colleagues that grew into SumTotal with an engineering team of 200+ and after 9 years of this, decided to do something very different. I started an Executive MBA at ISB, and also helped in running a boutique bakery. The latter led me to spend time figuring out how to run a small business with off the shelf SaaS software. I struggled to manage and integrate multiple services to keep the business running.
As I finished my MBA, we started Zenoti with the goal of building software for smaller wellness businesses that would work in an end-to-end integrated fashion so our customers could focus on their core business and not have to worry about technology. What we did not realize at the time was that the big businesses had the same problem that needed to be solved. So here we are serving large enterprise customers in the beauty and wellness space.
What were the early days at Zenoti like?
Our early team was largely former co-workers; we had a positive work history, knew each other’s strengths, how to communicate, and really respected and liked each other, so it was very comfortable from the beginning. We all shared an excitement around building a solution from the scratch and being able to innovate with the latest technologies.
At that time, SaaS was fairly new, you had a handful of players like Salesforce who were leading the way, and it was clear that SaaS was the way forward. It was risky in in a sense back then to go forward with SaaS in India, as a reliable internet connection was required and salons didn’t typically invest in such things. Five years later, it’s easy to see that we clearly made the right choice.
The early days were about understanding our local and global market, making bets on trends that we expected to emerge, and to use our background in enterprise software to build an integrated solution that would scale for global businesses. We worked hard, kept learning new things every day, iterated on software releases very quickly, and enjoyed the experience.
Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?
I usually make sure I get enough exercise every day and I encourage my team to do the same. It energizes one physically, and also helps to clear the mind of all the stress that builds up at work.
As for a typical day at work, it starts with reviewing key dashboards every morning and clearing up email, then it’s listening to customer feedback, ensuring our product plans are on track, and spending time on recruiting and growing our team. This year we’ve grown a lot, and plan to continue to grow, so this is a key initiative across our company – attracting and on-boarding the right talent.
I imagine my day is like most managers – it’s a constant balance of addressing urgent, short term goals, focusing on customer success every day, and staying on track for our critical, long term goals.
Can you tell us about the technology stack used at Zenoti?
We built the product on the .NET stack with SQL Server as our database. We use multiple technologies for our user interface including jQuery, bootstrap, Sencha, etc. We are starting to use a lot more of python for our backend processing and using Redshift for our data storage.
Our servers are in AWS that run Windows servers, and we use tools like New Relic, Loggly, and Pingdom to monitor our cloud operations.
Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?
Our team has built systems that can handle a lot of traffic and that experience has helped in building Zenoti so that it scales and handles the global load daily and keeps up with our 99.9% uptime goals. There is no magic technology solution to scale but to build simple components, keep them decoupled, and to ensure that apart from scaling each unit (what we call POD), we can keep scaling by adding more POD’s.
As a company we believe in using only SaaS technology to run our business – and every department has invested in best of breed technology to help automate, streamline, and elevate what we do and how much we can do. For example, the support team uses, among other technologies, Zendesk, which is a ticket managing system and intercom.io which has been instrumental in us being able to elevate the support experience for our customers. The marketing team will be launching a whole new eco-system of technologies in a few months that will automate and scale our marketing and sales efforts. This is so critical for a SaaS company like ours, where our goal is to acquire customers rapidly and scale.
How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?
We have a BI tool, BIME integrated into our own SaaS offering, which is used by our customers to analyse their business, and the same tools are used for generating our internal dashboards. We also use Amazon Redshift for our data storage and analytics.
To manage our own company, we’ve built a number of dashboards which include departmental level reports as well as organization level. These help us track key performance metrics as well as granular level performance by individuals.
How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?
Many of our competitors’ solutions are desktop solutions and they’re in the process of moving to the cloud, which I expect requires a comprehensive re-write of their solution. For the players that are cloud solutions, we’re different in a few key ways. For example, we architected our solution ground up to better support multi-location chains. No other solution does this elegantly.
As far as the technologies they use internally, I can’t speak to that as I don’t have the visibility. However, even assuming that everyone invests in the right technology, it’s a team’s ability to execute and leverage that technology that determines how successful one is.
What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running Zenoti?
Keeping our site running globally at 99.9% availability 24x7x365 is our constant challenge. We do a lot behind the scenes to ensure things just work for our customers, and our continuous product updates are “non-events”.
What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?
Apart from the technical skills, I look for attitude, enthusiasm, integrity, and a desire to keep learning. It’s always great to meet someone who is up-to-date and interested in the latest technology trends. It’s also increasingly important for engineers to have some business acumen, be sensitive to end user experiences, and to be able to clearly communicate with other employees to grow.
How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?
I use google alerts to monitor companies that I think are innovative and doing amazing things, and do spend 30 to 60 minutes every day reading about what is going on in the tech world. Mainstream tech publications like TechCrunch and Mashable are great for keeping in touch with general technology. Other than that, I also keep up to date on sites like SaaStr, which is great if you’re starting a SaaS company. And the Economist is a great magazine that I read religiously.
What gets you excited about coming to work every day?
Knowing that we’re impacting our clients’ lives day to day in a positive way – that’s a great feeling. I respect and enjoy working with my team, and the long term vision that we’re working towards is a strong motivator.
What sets Zenoti engineering culture apart?
We have a very flat organization and everyone has a voice – so all great ideas are welcome regardless of role or seniority. And at the end of the day, it’s about delivering on great work. At the core, we respect our engineers who ship code to production and keep high performance code running at 99.9% availability.
Which Zenoti value resonates best with you?
Our only value is the focus on customer success, and something that I push internally all the time – we know we’re successful when something big we just did is a “non-event”. For example, we do monthly upgrades, which impacts everyone on our platform. Our goal is that the upgrade is so smooth, that it’s literally a non-event. Customers adopt features, but their day-to-day business operations are never adversely impacted.
Any piece of advice for the techies out there?
Keep learning, read books, keep your technical skills up to date, find what motivates you and build on that, and keep challenging yourself. And finally, expand your interests outside of technology to keep yourself well rounded.