Manish Sood Transcript

Clint Betts:

Manish, thank you so much for coming on the show. Tell us about how you got to become the founder, CEO, and chairman of Reltio.

Manish Sood:

Hey Clint, first of all, thank you for having me on the show. It's a real pleasure to be here. To give you a little bit of the background, I started Reltio in 2011, and most of the things going on at that point in time surrounding the enterprise software space, surrounding what was going on with data in the enterprise technology space, there was a massive opportunity that we saw at that point in time, the secular trends that we looked at in order to start Reltio.

First of all, every organization that we talked to had a growing problem of data silos across their enterprise. The second thing that we saw happening at the same time, the evolution of new technology and capabilities that were becoming available. For example, cloud as a capability was becoming available. Big data infrastructure type of capabilities were becoming available. Think about it as the new layer of infrastructure that could be used to solve this kind of a problem.

The third piece was every organization wanted to move their business at a faster rate and pace, which back then and even today, really means all organizations embracing digital technology and capabilities as the way of doing business. With the combination of those three things, data silos became a real impediment, and that's where we saw the opportunity to bring data together, the core data that your business runs on, think about customer, product, supplier type of information, that you would need to unify in order to run your business at a faster rate and pace.

That's the opportunity that we looked at, and that's when we decided that we wanted to solve that problem in a new manner, where it would be easier, faster, better as compared to the previous generation technologies that were available so that customers could get to value outcomes in a shorter timeframe with the new capabilities that we would bring to life. So, that's how we started with Reltio, and this was my first time founding a company, starting a company from scratch. I inherited the role of a founder and CEO at that point in time, and I've led the company since then.

Clint Betts:

What did the early days look like? I mean, at what point did you start raising money? How many employees did you start with?

Manish Sood:

Yeah, it's a great question. When we started, I had worked with a couple of people before, which, at that point in time, I knew was a great place for me to go and put a founding team together so that we could have a rock-solid technology team to work with. So, we started with three more people in the team that I pulled together. Early days, our focus was on really defining what is the problem that we're going to solve and how we're going to solve that problem.

We tried to, as a first step, go meet the customers or the potential buyers of the technology because that way, we could get the validation for what we were doing or fine-tune and refine how we would solve the problem to meet their needs and meet them where they were in their journey. With that in mind, we didn't raise capital till about 2014. When I say capital, I'm talking about institutional capital. There was some friends and family type of capital that we raised.

I put in some of my own money into the starting point of the company, but 2014 was the first time when we raised institutional capital, and that was our Series A round of financing. That was late December of 2014 and January of 2015 timeframe. By that timeframe, we already had a few customers. We were generating revenue. We were, in fact, generating a profit at our small size and scale by that timeframe.

Clint Betts:

How has technology evolved since 2011? You obviously saw, "Hey, here's where things are going." At that point, moving to the cloud, if I remember right, it was like the big thing, that and what you just described around data management and how do we get out of these data silos and get all of our data in one place and easy to manage.

Now, the thing is obviously artificial intelligence, and it's not like that's a new thing, but these large language models have put it into the zeitgeist where everyone's talking about it now. How has the technology landscape changed in just a little over a decade, with you being on the front lines of that?

Manish Sood:

Well, the amazing thing is that the technology landscape, first of all, the rate and pace of evolution, has been tremendous. In fact, every six months, we see new innovation coming to life. Every time we turn our heads, there's something new on the horizon that's available to us. But at the same time, I think some of the fundamental secular trends haven't really changed. For example, there is some durability to the type of things that we bet on in 2011. For example, on day zero of starting Reltio, we said that we are going to be a software as a service product that will run on public cloud infrastructure.

We will not do anything on-prem. We will not go into a customer's environment. We will run this as a software-as-a-service capability and build it on public cloud infrastructure. So, that direction was an early bet that we made. Now, we're seeing that one of the first potential customers that I went and talked to in 2011, right out of the gate, was a large financial institution. The response that I got from them was, "Never in our lifetime are we ever going to put our client data in the public cloud, in a SaaS solution. We have this problem, we do need to unify it across multiple silos of information that we have within our enterprise, but we will never do it in the cloud."

Those organizations are now embracing the cloud, right? Think about it this way: that we made an early bet that is still continuing to be a durable bet for us versus the evolution that is taking place in parallel is, I call it, the layer cake of innovation, where we don't have to invent everything possible all the way from disc drives to solid state drives to networking technology. No, we don't have to do that. We have to focus on the problem that we solve while leveraging the layer cake of innovation that sits below us.

That's where the AI/ML evolution is extremely relevant because that unleashes yet another building block that we can leverage to solve the problem of data silos. That's how we are looking at the capabilities that we bring to life. How much can we leverage AI and ML as a capability? For example, think about it as built with AI. So, anything and everything that we do, we are leveraging AI for it. Built-in AI, which is any capability that we build, we're building it with the AI/ML as the way to solve that problem. Not just the developer toolset that we are leveraging but even the features that we are building are AI/ML features.

Since we are talking about data, we are also building for AI because some of the data that we assemble and unify from different silos becomes the starting point for AI/ML algorithms to be deployed on top of. So, providing that feed directly into those algorithms so that they can have the rich set of information that we are able to bring together as the trusted starting point for data inside an organization is the way we are embracing these new technologies and capabilities.

Clint Betts:

Has it allowed you to go much faster as a company and develop faster and with less? It should for companies like yours. At least, that's the promise of it: it will let you go faster with less.

Manish Sood:

Each one of these innovations is a way to shorten that cycle and do more with less. So, if I look at it from a productivity standpoint, building with AI has been a productivity boost for us, our teams. The industry averages vary a lot, but we're at least seeing roughly about a 15% boost in productivity for our teams as they're going through the development cycle.

I think over a period of time; we are going to continue to see a faster rate of evolution along those lines where it just becomes a productivity-enhancing capability for our developers to work with. Not just developers, just think about the areas of our business. We are running a business that is of decent size and scale, where even our ability to do things in a shorter timeframe is going to be impacted by these AI/ML types of capabilities, and we are leveraging it in those business processes as well.

Clint Betts:

When you think about your product and product roadmap, you're probably like any CEO, where you're thinking about your company six months a year from now while you're building the current product that you thought about or the current thing to add to the product six months ago. How do you decide what's the most important to add, and how do you manage that product roadmap maybe?

Manish Sood:

First of all, I would say that the best way to understand the prioritization of that is by having a constant dialogue with your customers. There is a certain path that we can cover because we are acting as the subject matter experts, we are acting as the path leaders in the space, and we are defining an industry-leading or game-changing type of capability that is going to solve the problem that has existed for a long time in a new and innovative manner.

But how to round out the edges of that and make sure that it becomes something that customers can easily adopt and work with has to be informed by what the customers want to do with it and how easily they can embrace it. So, that's why the constant dialogue is extremely valuable with those customers, as well as partners because those are the constituents that are informing what matters most and what should get prioritized higher. There is never a dearth of things or ideas to work on, but which ones do you bring to life first, second, and third, that sequence is extremely important.

Clint Betts:

What does a typical day look like for you? I guess this is a similar question, but specific to you: how do you decide where to spend your time?

Manish Sood:

When I think about a typical day, regardless of how early we start in the morning and those kinds of things, the way I divide my time is it's a combination of go-to-market and product and thinking about the stakeholders that we serve. For example, customers and partners inform a lot of what we need to do from a go-to-market as well as from a product development standpoint. So, that dialogue spending time with them is extremely important. Making sure that there is time allocated for that is extremely valuable.

The other part of the stakeholder equation is the employees and the shareholders that we have; what are the business outcomes that we are driving to? Are we getting to those business outcomes? If not, then what is the fine-tuning that we have to do in order to hit those or beat those goals becomes the other half of the equation. In a certain way, there is no well-defined, like 50% is dedicated here and 30% is dedicated here. No, that's not the case. You have to modulate because not all things in a business move at the same rate and pace.

So, how do you make sure that a certain area which is lagging behind versus leading needs a little bit more time and attention so that you can pull it up to the same level? That's how I look at my time allocation, and if there are certain areas, whether it is go-to-market or product or innovation, where we might be experiencing a state of slightly lagging behind, then I need to go dedicate my time there a little bit more.

Clint Betts:

How do you stay motivated after doing this for more than a decade? What keeps you going personally?

Manish Sood:

I think it's the passion for solving a problem. Always at heart, I am an entrepreneur. I'm always looking for innovative ways of solving a problem. It doesn't matter if it's a business process type of a problem or scaling a business type of a problem because the type of business... Even though it's been the same company, but where we were in, let's say, 2011 to 2013 type of a timeframe versus where we are now and how we need to look at certain dimensions of the business, it's a completely different problem set to solve for.

Having a new set of challenges to work through is what keeps me motivated. Maybe it's the tinkerer in me who wants to keep fiddling with, figuring out what's the better way of solving the problem each and every time. That gets me out of bed every day because there is always a new, bigger, better challenge to go after.

Clint Betts:

Where have you landed on this whole work-from-home, in-office debate, and in reality, that every company is dealing with currently, particularly during and post-COVID? Where have you landed on that?

Manish Sood:

Let me give you a little bit of a background on how we evolved as a company because that will help explain some of the thought process that we have embraced. When we started in 2011, as I mentioned, day zero orientation for us was that we are going to be SaaS, we are going to be built-in public cloud infrastructure. The implication of even small decisions, for example, the first time, we had to decide on what type of email system should we use. Should we use a cloud-only system, or should we install a server put it in somewhere in the office type of a decision?

We said, "If we want to be a SaaS company, then we have to live and breathe SaaS. Everything that we do has to be SaaS." Other than the laptops that we issue to every employee, we will not have a server anywhere in the office. So, nothing under the desk hidden away as a machine; somebody's taking care of it, none of that. That started to define a lot of the work culture that we embraced, which led to, if everything was in the cloud, we could work from anywhere. We could have a distributed team. Very early on, we were extremely distributed across different geographies.

The other part that influenced it for us was that we really started by going after large enterprise organizations or businesses, which meant that a lot of these customers that we were talking to and working with were global in nature. Because of that, we had to serve them 24/7, which meant that we had to set up our capabilities in a follow-the-sun type of a model, which meant that we couldn't be limited to one geography. So, we early on had to take on a footprint which spanned all the way from India to Europe to US. That was the only way we could serve a 24/7 clientele.

By the time we got to COVID, think about COVID hitting in 2020, and suddenly nobody can go to the office or get together. But our work didn't stop because we were running in the cloud. Everything that we had as a system was up and running. Everybody had their access to their laptops. They could work from anywhere. So, that was already woven into the culture, and it never stopped us from our work, or we didn't have to pivot to something different. Yes, some of the face-to-face interactions, everybody had to get used to doing more of it through what we are doing right now via Zoom. But other than that, there wasn't a big shift for us.

The conclusion that we have landed on is that we are going to be a remote-first, hybrid type of a company and work culture, where essentially the offices that we have, we use those offices to bring the teams together from time to time on a regular frequency, because I think that connection is still needed, but we are not going to be going back to the paradigm of everybody has to be in the office everyday type of a setup. Those days are gone. I think a lot of companies will weave in and out of that, trying to assess if they can do it.

But the reality that we have to live with is that it'll be a hybrid of the two models, where the frequency of bringing people together in a cadence-driven manner is going to be important, but at the same time, the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere where you are is what is going to take precedence over everything else.

Clint Betts:

What have you learned the benefits of that are from a cultural perspective from a hiring perspective? I mean, all of a sudden, you can hire from anywhere in the world. That's an obvious benefit. To expand your talent pool extensively it's crazy.

Then I wonder what are the downsides to it and how do you define culture and maintain culture? I mean, you talked about it a little bit. "Hey, let's get together frequently and meet with each other," and that connection being important, but on a day-to-day basis, how do you maintain the culture?

Manish Sood:

This is not something that happens automatically. This has to be very intentional. Developing the culture is an extremely important part of this fabric, and you have to invest time in making sure that there is a rhythm and a cadence that you develop for bringing not just people together in the physical sense, but even virtually. What is the rhythm for that? What are the types of updates and sharing that you will do with the rest of the team? Not just from a top-down perspective but also from a bottom-up forum that you create where you are able to get those ideas back because the water cooler conversations are no longer happening by happenstance. You have to be very intentional with that.

That's what we have tried to develop and create the different types of forums that run on a particular cadence. Almost on a weekly basis, we have multiple different forums where we are meeting together, coming together, as global teams because this is not just a phenomenon of... If you were in, let's say, the Bay Area office, what happens to the team that is sitting in the North Carolina office, or in the Lisbon office, or in the Bangalore office? So, you still need that fabric to be built and brought together. That's something that we are driving across the organization as a very systematic, methodical thing.

The other thing that we have been intentional about is while this hire anywhere gives us a lot of flexibility, but there is also a burden associated with that because just think about, for example, if you had an employee in every state, then the payroll burden of that, or in multiple global countries where you would have employees, becomes immense. So, there has to be some kind of a balance between those two extremes where you can hire a person in each and every country. You'll be spread across 240-plus countries in that case. So, how do you limit it to certain locations, certain geographies, where you will build a concentration?

For example, next month, I'm headed over to India. Yes, we have some remote workers there, but our one hub of where we're bringing the team together is Bangalore. So, that gives us the ability to hire locally and make sure that when we have to bring them together, it's easy and accessible. It's not something that requires a huge amount of logistics for us to put into place. So, that balance is required to operate between the two different extremes.

Clint Betts:

What are your company's values, and how did you come up with them, starting the way that you started and being a distributed team from basically the beginning?

Manish Sood:

For us, and I think for every company, they have to think about culture first before you go define the strategy. It was the same thing for us. Our goal was to, as I mentioned, be a SaaS company. So, building a SaaS culture, what are the things that are going to be important for that? That's where we came up with five core values that inform that culture for us, the first one being customer first, which puts the ability to empathize with the customers, their needs, what they're trying to solve at the forefront of everything that we do.

Better together, and especially because we are a distributed team globally dispersed. That was something that we wanted to do. Not just for that reason, but also, as you scale and as you grow, you need to think about the cross-functional synergy that you need to build. You need to build strong functional capabilities, but then you need to go across functions and build strong capabilities. The third one for us is simplify and share, and this was important to us because the problem that we were trying to solve was a complex problem of bringing data together from multiple silos and the number of silos keep growing every day.

How do you, in the middle of that complexity, bring something that is simple enough for the customers to use and embrace? That became a thematic thing for us to look at and make sure that we are not complicating the problem for our customers, but we are simplifying and sharing with them how to do it in an easier manner. The fourth one for us, which is very important, is this notion of own it, where every person, every individual, in the organization is a leader. They have certain goals, they have certain deliverables, and they have to be responsible for it.

In fact, the role of a leader is to think beyond what has been assigned to you and think about what else can you be influencing and driving. That's where this own it as a cultural value for us is important. The last one, which is going back to the software roots, is always better than yesterday. Think about the constant cycle of innovation. If we sit static for six months, we are going to be left behind. So, everything that we do, how do we make sure that we are constantly looking for the way to improve that every day?

Clint Betts:

On that last one, what do you read? How do you continually educate yourself and stay up to date on everything happening, given that every six months, the entire world is different from a technology perspective? How do you continually, on a daily basis, keep up with all of that?

Manish Sood:

Well, again, technology is a passion for me. Keeping up to date is a normal part of my everyday thought process. So, reading any new developments in those areas or the areas of interest that I have is extremely rewarding as an exercise that I go through on an ongoing basis. But on top of that, I think also looking for things that are not so familiar to me and trying to understand and learn some of those things because a lot of times when you go across those areas, you find out that there are certain patterns of similarity to the type of things that you're working on that can be informed or applied in those particular areas as well. That's how I look for some pattern recognition, where if there is something that I don't know about, that's something that I can go learn because there might be some valuable things that I can pick up and learn and apply to my day-to-day work.

Clint Betts:

What are your thoughts on the current macroeconomic environment, the state the economy is in, both in the United States and globally, and really just the state of the world, all the political unrest, wars going on, elections, things like that? It's interesting; I say this a lot on this show, but it seems like CEOs have to think about this far more than they used to have to do it 20 years ago. How much time are you spending thinking about that stuff?

Manish Sood:

I think all the CEOs or every business professional over the last four years has become extremely adept at handling things that we don't know anything about because every day new things are thrown at us. Just taking stock of where we are, if I look back, beginning of 2023, we saw a lot of slow down in terms of our enterprise buyers, how they were reacting to the market conditions and situations. Everybody was trying to optimize their P&L statements, and everybody was looking at cost-cutting as the first step to go through. A lot of that happened over the course of the last 12 to 18-month timeframe.

As I look ahead, I think with the interest rates being where they are, it's a great tool that provides our economy, especially the US economy, a lot of flexibility to either go up or down because we are no longer at the 0% interest rates. It's a good lever to have access to, which gives me a little bit of comfort about how the Fed will react to the economic uncertainty and how they will use that as a tool to navigate through it. But at the same time, with the election year coming up, and not just in the US but also, if you look at other parts of the world, [inaudible 00:31:16]-

Clint Betts:

Oh yeah, there's 30 going on.

Manish Sood:

There's a lot of uncertainty. The geopolitical type of turmoil that's going on add that to the mix. My read on 2024 is that it's going to be more of the same as we saw last year, where it'll be uncertainty surrounding us, no clear visibility to whether it's going up or down from positive or negative trends, and we will have to continue to grapple through that uncertainty for another 12 to 18-month timeframe. So, that's my read on it without any kind of a clear signal in terms of, are we out of it or are we still in it?

Clint Betts:

I can't thank you enough again, Manish, for coming on the show. I want to be respectful of your time. So, we ask every guest this question to end the interview because, at CEO.com, we believe the chances one gives are just as important as the chances one takes. I wonder, when you hear that, who gave you a chance to get you to where you are today?

Manish Sood:

I think the big set of influence or people who gave me a chance, not just through my career, were everybody who I worked for gave me the encouragement to go after the next bigger, better thing. But also, in this journey at Reltio, having started the company in 2011, all the people that enrolled on the mission and the vision that we have for Reltio to bring all the information together as a single, unified, interoperable, reusable asset for every business, all the people that are participating in that, not just the people that I work with every day, but the customers, the partners, and the shareholders who are giving us every signal, every opportunity to go after the market opportunity that is in front of us is the type of thing that I am extremely encouraged by and thankful for.

Clint Betts:

Finally, how could people get and learn more about Reltio, get in touch with you? I don't know that you want to give out your phone number or email. But people, if they've watched this interview, said, "Hey, I want to learn more about Reltio and Manish." What should they do?

Manish Sood:

Reltio.com is the best place to reach out to Reltio as an organization. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. I would welcome any opportunity to engage. If you're trying to solve a data unification problem, then you know where to look for us, and if anybody's interested in sharing thoughts or asking questions about my entrepreneurial journey, I'm happy to share those experiences as well. So, LinkedIn and Reltio.com.

Clint Betts:

Perfect. Thank you so much for coming on today's show.

Manish Sood:

Thank you so much for having me on the show.


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