Interview with Satya Kaliki – Vice President, Engineering & Architecture at Indix.

indix

Data has become so important in the world economy that it won’t be unjust in giving it an equal importance as other factors of production such as hard assets and human capital. The buzz word in data analytics industry today is Big Data. It is just everywhere and not a day passes when you don’t hear this word. Big data actually means large pools of data that can be analyzed to discern patterns and make better decisions. The big data analytics industry has really grown in the last few years with the entry of some major players and a fresh entrant in this ever growing industry is a startup called Indix.

Indix is a big data and product intelligence startup that is building a catalog of over 1 billion consumer products in the world and helping brands make crucial business decisions. Indix was launched in October 2012 and in a little over 3 years of time they have built a product database of over 1 billion products, and counting. The central idea behind the startup is to enable the product managers, brand managers and pricing analysts to get actionable product and competitive insights in real-time from their database of a billion products and services. The company which was founded by Microsoft veteran Sanjay Parthasarathy has its headquarters in Chennai and Seattle, USA and is backed by prominent investors such as Avalon Ventures and Nexus Ventures.

Here is a small interview with Satya Kaliki, the Co-Founder and Vice President, Engineering & Architecture at Indix.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

After completing my Masters Degree in Computer Science & Engineering from Royal Melbourne University of Technology (RMIT), Melbourne, Australia, I had a great time playing key roles in the Engineering teams of Cisco Systems and NetScaler inc.

My entrepreneurial journey started when I joined iSOFT, an early stage Healthcare Product Company as its Chief Architect and VP of Product Development. At iSOFT, I was responsible for the execution of Product Strategy, R&D, Product portfolio management and rationalization. I led the design and development of a unique Product line called LORENZO on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) platform, which helped iSOFT to a global leadership position as a Healthcare Information Systems vendor.

After exiting from iSOFT in 2007 I Co-founded ZANEC, a niche R&D company. ZANEC’s mission statement was to help startups (and established companies) do their R&D in a better manner. It was more like an incubator for startups and my role was to mentor startups and product engineering teams that signed up with ZANEC.  I typically took on the role of an interim or acting Chief Technology Officer and helped them with the right framework for their product strategy, R&D, customer and partner relations and also helped them in building their engineering teams.

As part of that journey, I was fortunate to be a member of many innovative product teams, one of the notable roles being the interim CTO for the Insurance division of Harvard Medical School.

During my five years at ZANEC, I was able to help many companies and product teams grow from ground zero to shipping multiple product versions and also helped ZANEC in a multimillion $ business in the process.

In mid 2011, I met Sanjay Parthasarathy and got fascinated by his vision of building INDIX as the “Google of Products” and joined the founding team of INDIX (by late 2011) as a Co-Founder and responsible for the Engineering and Architecture( Vice President – Engineering & Architecture).

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

Since the early days of my professional career as an Engineer, the opportunities and challenges of an entrepreneur fascinated me. That is what drove me to join Netscaler in its early stages (though not as a founder) and that is what drove me to begin a true entrepreneurial journey at iSOFT and it continues till date.

What were the early days at Indix like?

Indix has officially started in Jan 2012 though a few of the early team members started working together from late 2011. Initially we were camped in one of the conference rooms of a friend’s company in the IIT Madras Research Park.

In the early days, we spent a lot of time knowing each other’s strengths, giving shape to our vision, building the first set of prototypes of our product and collectively defining the MVP (Minimum Viable product).

Our first product prototype was developed with a focus on the Indian market. However, towards the end of May 2012, we realized that the US was a more mature and ready market for INDIX. Consequently, we increased our focus on the US market and now we have a growing customer base in the US and a good set of customers from other geographies as well.

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

During the initial days of INDIX, a typical day was focused on designing and developing our product, interviewing our next rockstar coders and talking to potential investors.

At later stages, with an ever-increasing customer base, a typical day has many bases to cover. In addition to continued focus on Designing and Developing the Product, keeping an eye on our production systems to ensure good operational health and performance is paramount. Making sure our Data Pipelines are processing, refining large amounts of data 24×7 in order to give our customers real-time product information, is also a daily focus area.

My role also involves looking at our product roadmap, ideating with the team to enhance existing products as well as develop new ones, keeping myself up to date on what is happening in the technology landscape and how it can influence INDIX product roadmap.

Talking to potential new hires at INDIX about the fascinating work that we do is a permanent entry on my daily to-do list, I interview a few candidates every week.  

In short, a typical day at INDIX entails Product development, Customer relations, Ideation, Operational activities, and Team building and Collaboration.

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

Scala/Java, Python and Java Script are the most commonly used programming languages at Indix and there are a few sub-systems where we use C++. In terms of core tech stack, we use Hadoop, HDFS, MapReduce and Spark for our workloads. Over the last few months we also started using Kafka and Samza.

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

At INDIX, business intelligence and analytics are at the core of the value proposition for our customers; here are some broad examples of the kinds of analytics we offer to our customers

  • Competitive Intelligence: We help our customers to know their competitors better by analyzing the products offers and assortment overlap;
  • Minimal Advertised Price (MAP) Violations analysis is a very useful intelligence that our Brands and Retailers can make use of.

Being a data driven business, we also use analytics in all of our internal monitoring, e.g.:

  • We use analytics to track how our Users are consuming our Apps and API, it helps us in prioritizing and gathering feedback on what features are better received and most commonly used. We also use such tools in troubleshooting any customer reported issues.
  • Analytics are a critical component in measuring, monitoring and alerting when any of our systems is under performing, e.g. when our crawlers or parsers are not running at optimal throughput we get real time alerts

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

At Indix, our core strength and differentiation lies in the scale and richness of our product information database and in the underlying data platform on which we collect, cleanse, structure, refine, analyze and visualize all that vast data. We use patented algorithms for crawling and refining massive amounts of data.

We use fair amount of technology on the operations side of infrastructure as well, in the form of monitoring events that need to be acted upon in real time.

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

There had been many, not just one technical challenge. To name the top few:

Our mission is to acquire/collect massive amounts of product information from a variety of sources, and as everyone knows, the structure of web content changes all the time (and is outside of our control), so we have to build systems and processes that can predict + react to an environment that is constantly in a flux, doing this at scale is a technical challenge.

Refining terabytes of unstructured or semi-structured data and making it more and more structured using an ensemble of machine learning algorithms is a challenge that we tackle head-on at INDIX.

Building a super responsive index needed an in-memory multi-dimensional database engine that can do both Search and Analytics at the same time, this is another technological challenge that we had to address to enable our customers with real time product information APIs.

And most important challenge of all is building the underlying data processing platform that orchestrates all of the above

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

One important trait that we look for in every potential new-hire is, “the attitude of ownership”; it is one attribute that distinguishes people who have succeeded at Indix from those who didn’t.

We also prefer hiring “T” shaped people – “T” represents the depth of technical skills in one or more areas and their broad ability to grasp an end-to-end system.

It is also important for prospective candidates to not just have deep technical knowledge, but also have the willingness and desire to learn something new.

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

I closely follow Quora, Hacker News, and Wired.com and also read a lot of tech blogs to keep myself updated. My social connections on LinkedIn and Twitter have brought to my attention a lot of useful content that would have been hard to discover by myself. When I come across a new technology I try to interpret its usage and value for Indix.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

The culture and transparency that we follow at work excites me. I like building teams; the most challenging task always is identifying and putting the right teams together to solve the right problem. Having super talented engineers around me gives me the extra bit of motivation needed to stay up to date on the technology landscape.

What sets Indix engineering culture apart?

We constantly encourage transparency and openness in the organization and every employee has the freedom to criticize and contribute to the work we do or decisions we take. Everyone at INDIX has an active role in shaping the culture of our organization.

Which Indix value resonates best with you?

Transparency and being Customer driven are the values that best resonate with me.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Given the buzz in the industry about startups and the coolness quotient of building or working at a startup, I sincerely advise the techies:

  • Identify the core pain point that you are going to solve and who ultimately benefits from it.
  • Do a fair amount of market research to establish that the pain point is real and there is potential to monetize it.
  • Understand the disruptive nature of the idea, e.g. some ideas are disruptive even in a well-established domain/industry (LinkedIn and Uber are examples of this).
  • Get a measure of the earliness of your idea, sometimes being too early in an un-developed industry means that you should be ready to be the Thought Leader in that space.

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