The big data paradox

The big data paradox

Crayon Data aims to create a product platform to solve complex data problems in minimalist, simple and visual ways

MADHUMITA PRABHAKAR

Today, people are faced with too many choices and too less time to navigate information on the web. Often, this leads to a counter-intuitive situation where they are not confident about the choices they make. “So, we tried to identify various methods of organising information on user specific needs on the web, thus, making it simple for people to take quick decisions,” says Suresh Shankar, co-founder, Crayon Data.  The big data analytics company procures and analyses data from within enterprises and from external sources, such as social networking sites and, delivers insights to its clients in a simple, visually appealing format.

Singapore-headquartered Crayon Data was founded by serial entrepreneurs, Shankar and his partner Srikant Sastri, in October 2012. The company currently has two products in its stable: Simpler Choices B2B and Simpler Choices B2C. With a team of 75 members and a development centre in India, the company caters to clients across hospitality, retail, finance and technology sectors, in Singapore, India and the U.K.

During inception, the founders and a few angel investors (friends and business associates) pooled in money to begin operations. In September 2013, the company raised its second round of angel funding, to the tune of SGD $ 1.75 million.  In 2014, it plans to raise Series A funding. “We’ll be reaching an operating break-even in the first quarter of 2015. At that point of time, we’re planning to enhance our product visibility and expand into newer geographies, which requires upfront investments,” adds Shankar.

Building a product platform

Both Shankar and Sastri are serial entrepreneurs, who built businesses around the two key pillars of big data, advanced customer analytics and, marketing and new media, respectively. While these were built on a service platform, both were clear that Crayon Data will remain a product company. “We wanted to pursue a non-linear revenue growth and a product platform is easily scalable. It also keeps the business focussed on specific verticals,” states Sastri.

SURESH SHANKAR, FOUNDER, CRAYON DATA

The products developed under the Crayon stable cater primarily to large enterprise that have data and want to leverage it better. “Ours is an enterprise focussed model, so when we say B2C, we mean our enterprise client is a B2C business,” adds Shankar. On the other hand, for enterprises that develop B2B products or services, Simpler Choices B2B eliminates cold calling significantly and, through extensive data analysis, identifies other enterprises which are looking for similar products and offers simplified insights to its client. “In a process called deep account intelligence, we map out opportunities within a set of accounts and target a particular customer within that enterprise, who has a need for that product or is likely to buy,” explains Sastri.

Being hands on

Instead of developing a product in a remote lab and testing it in their own environment, Crayon Data has developed a leap client model, where, in each vertical that it operates in, it approaches a client open to innovating in its business process, and deploys its product into the client’s environment. “We have a three month, paid experimentation period during which we customise the platform to the enterprise’s needs, demonstrate the value of our engine, and gradually enter into a fast contract based on an annual fee,” explains Shankar.

Crayon Data acquires its clients through referrals, that is, through companies the founders have worked with in their previous ventures and, through conventional and digital marketing activities on sites such as LinkedIn and other industry blogs. “We are also planning to setup an inside sales model, where we will use our own B2B engine to a certain extent, to identify relevant clients and pitch our business to them,” states Shankar.

Overcoming challenges

While there is no dearth of opportunity in the big data space, Shankar and Sastri indicate that there are hardly any engineers in India and abroad, who are well qualified to take up a technical role at the company. “One needs to be very careful about the talent available in the market. Moreover, for us, it’s not just about technical skills. We are focussed on building a fairly unique culture, thus, we look at cultural traits as much as technical expertise when we recruit a new employee,” states Sastri.

Shankar indicates that, in a move to tackle this challenge, during the recruitment process, the team tells the employee about the scale and complexity of the problem it is trying to solve. “When we share this, we’ve found it to be a very strong story for a good engineer,” he adds. As a second measure, the founders believe that internal employee referrals are the best source for generating good leads.

The part that it is yet to resolve is, setting up collaborative models with recognised institutes such as IITs and IIMs, to absorb trained engineers. “We already have a good rapport with a few universities such as National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Bath (the U.K.). We are yet to identify a model to leverage such partnerships further,” says Shankar.

Way forward

In the coming years, Crayon Data plans to establish a stronger presence in Asia Pacific and the U.K., and expand into the U.S., Australia, and Middle East. “We are trying to capture the emerging markets first because, from a data and insight perspective, there is a lot of white space in the market and we feel dominating it will help us scale up faster. More importantly, it will allow us to be different,” says Shankar, on a concluding note.


Snapshot

Company: Crayon Data

City: Singapore

Founder: Suresh Shankar and Srikant Sastri

Year: 2012

Investors: Ravi Thakran, CEO, L Capital and head of LVMH Asia Pacific, Ravi Mantha, president, TiE Singapore, William Bissell, managing director, FabIndia, Meng Wong, co-founder, Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (Singapore) and, Ernest Pomerantz, chairman, Stonewater Capital


Concept in brief : 

Crayon Data, the Singapore-headquartered big data analytics company was founded by serial entrepreneurs, Shankar and his partner Srikant Sastri, in October 2012. The company currently has two products under its stable; Simpler Choices B2B and Simpler Choices B2C. With a team of 75 members and a development centre in India, the company caters to clients across hospitality, retail, finance and technology sectors, in Singapore, India and the U.K. 


LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Suresh Shankar and Srikant Sastri share with us some lessons they learnt from their previous ventures, which they applied when building Crayon Data. 

Suresh Shankar built his expertise in sales and marketing roles at companies such as JWT and ABN Amro, before he founded RedPill Solutions, an advanced customer analytics firm, in 2000. Nine years later, it was acquired by IBM, where he continued to lead the practice, until 2011.

Faith and persistence are two attributes that an entrepreneur must have. 

Do not focus on the short term or on an exit plan. Instead, focus on the long term and counter intuitively meet the demands of the investor who might want to buy a stake in the company.

Srikant Sastri worked at Unilever and McCann Erickson, before he founded Solutions Digitas, a renowned marketing services agency in India and Southeast Asia and, Team4U, a sales force staffing company, in 2005. The two companies were later acquired by Publicis Groupe and Randstad, respectively.

Quite contrary to what Shankar said, having worked with MNCs that often plan for the short term, in my case the pendulum is in the middle, striking off a balance between both our lines of thought.

Even if we are a small company, the intention and ability to hire superior quality talent provides the cutting edge. 

Money in the bank acts as a cushion when you’re starting up.