August 26, 2020

Democratizing Data: Krishna Bhat and Sathish Raju, Co-Founders, Kloudio

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Democratizing Data: Krishna Bhat and Sathish Raju, Co-Founders, KloudioDemocratizing Data: Krishna Bhat and Sathish Raju, Co-Founders, Kloudio
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Editor's note: 
Welcome to the Unusual Founders Spotlight series! The goal of this series is to introduce the founders in our portfolio who have the rage to master and are currently building the future across categories and industries.

As technology advances each year, so does the amount of data that is generated by users. Internet users generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day and in 2020, every person will generate 1.7 megabytes of data each second. The quality and ability to analyze this data is critical to today’s businesses, as it enables decision making and business strategy. Yet, the 560M global knowledge workers—financial analysts, product managers, middle managers, etc.—have no efficient way of accessing the data they need to help provide business insights. Today, the US economy loses up to $3.1 trillion a year due to poor data quality and 95% of businesses cite the need to manage unstructured data as a critical business problem. As the number of SaaS applications within the enterprise continues to grow, this problem will only become more prevalent.

For many companies, the current process to run an ad-hoc analysis on something simple like revenue from a specific product and region requires the business analyst to ask IT to query Tableau or Looker to create a report for them. Depending on the size of the organization and other priorities of the IT team, this can take days or even weeks. This bottleneck and dependence on IT engineers ends up costing companies valuable time and money to enable such basic queries.

Sathish Raju and Krishna Bhat, co-founders of Kloudio, experienced the distinct struggle financial and business analysts faced during their time consulting for various large companies, such as Oracle, SAP, and Capgemini. Both felt there had to be a more productive way for knowledge and information workers to access data and started to play with the idea of a connected spreadsheet that could extract data from any cloud or database. They quickly realized they were onto something and Kloudio, a spreadsheet-based application, was born. Kloudio enables financial analysts to automate routine processes and directly access data from multiple sources—such as Salesforce, Oracle, Netsuite, and more—all without involving the data engineering team. By eliminating the data middle man, Kloudio has greatly reduced inefficiencies and enabled financial professionals to be 10x more productive and saved their customers around $4-5M.

We recently sat down with Krishna and Sathish to discuss their vision for Kloudio, how they stay focused through the ups and downs of scaling a startup, the best piece of advice they’ve received on navigating challenging times like 2020, and more. 

Unusual: Can you give us a little background on yourselves?

Krishna: I’m originally from Mumbai, India, and grew up in a middle-class family. It was quite competitive in Mumbai, but I was a decent student and got into a well-respected computer engineering college. Once I graduated, I joined Oracle Corporation in India as an engineer, which is actually where I met Sathish. In 2005, Oracle sent me to the US on a business visa. I liked the Bay Area so much that I decided to apply for a H-1B visa and came back to the US at the end of 2005. From 2005-2010, I worked at large consulting companies—like Capgemini and Fujitsu—where I was involved in various tech consulting projects, involving Fortune 500 companies like ADT Security Services, McDonalds, etc. As a Solution Architect, I would be involved in the overall global solution architecture for huge finance and product teams and first felt the pain of knowledge workers depending on data engineers to gather data in spreadsheets for their everyday analysis needs. After attending Columbia for business school, I joined Amazon as a product manager involved in international expansion projects and went on to lead the software subscriptions category for Amazon. Sathish and I kept in touch and spoke about the pain business analysts faced accessing various data sources via spreadsheets and the dependence on data engineers to do so. Sathish started working on this problem on the side and we’d come together to brainstorm ideas. We ended up winning the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco for another idea we had in 2011, which boosted our confidence and made us think that we could take the leap full time to focus on a startup.

Sathish: I grew up in Chennai, India, and was from a not so well-off family, so I had to struggle to get an education and degree. I was accepted into one of the prestigious institutions in India where I studied computer science and engineering. After graduating, I really wanted to continue my studies, but due to my financial situation, I needed to get a job so I joined Oracle and that’s where I met Krishna. After a few years at Oracle, I was thinking of my next step and was really interested in entrepreneurship. A chance to go to the US presented itself, so I thought, “Maybe if I go to the US, I can gain more contacts and do something better.” So I moved to the US around 2007-2008 and worked in consulting for enterprise software companies, specifically with Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, etc. I also worked at big corporations like Cisco, NetApp, and ADT, as well as very small firms. While consulting, I kept coming across financial analysts and business analysts— who were trying to get data out of various systems—struggling because they were always dependent on IT engineers. I started to think about a connected spreadsheet that could integrate with any cloud or database and import data directly into the spreadsheets. As Krishna mentioned, at the time, we were brainstorming a number of ideas, including this spreadsheet concept. We did a few TechCrunch hackathons together and kept coming back to the spreadsheet idea related to data analytics. Data was only growing and it was very clear we were on to something. One day, we wrote a LinkedIn article about our idea and that’s when the magic happened. A Senior Manager from Netflix came across our article and reached out, asking to see our demo. He mentioned Netflix was experiencing similar issues and he thought our product could help. We went to Netflix, demoed the product, and within a week, they signed up for 10 user licenses. Everything really took off from there. Shortly after, we joined the LAUNCH Incubator run by Jason Calacanis, and we soon had around 200+ paying customers. This year, we raised funding thanks to Unusual Ventures and we are well on our way to delighting our customers with some exciting new product launches as we continue to scale the company. 

Unusual: Can you tell us more about Kloudio, your vision, and the problem you’re trying to solve?

Krishna: If I were to summarize Kloudio in one sentence, it’s like a spreadsheet interface to an e-SAS. We want to democratize data access for everyone, starting with financial analysts. Today, there’s a gap—all the data sources that are exploding (SAS applications, databases, etc.) are being managed by data engineers, but the business metrics are actually being calculated by financial analysts. We call this the “business insight gap” and we want to bridge this gap and make it really easy for end users (financial analysts) to not only get access to data, but have robust control in the spreadsheet interface at SL level without being dependent on data engineers.

Unusual: Talk us through the “aha” moment that made you realize you were on to something with Kloudio.

Sathish: When I gave my consulting customers the Excel add-on, it was clear they really saw value in it. They immediately started requesting new features. When we pitched Netflix and saw that they too were experiencing this pain point despite being a technology pioneer, we thought, “Okay, if Netflix is having this problem and nobody else has solved it and we have, we are on to something really great here that definitely has value.”

Unusual: What excites you the most about the potential of Kloudio?

Sathish: The potential of Kloudio is huge. We are not just providing access to data governance, but also adding data intelligence in the future. The intelligence component will make analysts smarter without working harder and that in itself is exciting for me. We see in all our demos that customers are excited about what we are building and what this means for their business.

Krishna: The potential really comes down to the user: we’re creating an interface for all the knowledge and information workers who want to be more productive, especially when it comes to data. Data is being created more and more everyday from all the apps and devices we’re using, and Kloudio delivers the potential to harness all that data to provide intelligence to the end user in a way that is easily consumable. If you think about it, a spreadsheet is the closest thing to a programming language that everybody understands, and we want to make data accessible for people who are comfortable with spreadsheets like financial analysts. We want to make data analytics as easy and accessible as a Google search. The prospect of accomplishing that vision is truly exciting and keeps us going through the ups and downs of building a startup.

Sathish and Krishna (second and third from the left) pictured with the other 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt SF Hackathon Winners

Unusual: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve experienced getting Kloudio up and running? How did you overcome this challenge?

Krishna: Hiring has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced. Getting a solid team together simply is not easy, especially in a competitive environment like Silicon Valley. Founders tend to underestimate how challenging this can be. We’ve had to do so many interviews and even after raising money, it’s still not easy. Fortunately, Unusual Ventures has really helped us find talent through its Get Ahead Platform (GAP), which we are so grateful for. Your company is only as good as the people you hire.

Sathish: When you start a company, it’s only the founders and you have to figure out how the company is going to grow and get funding. These are all challenging initial tasks, but we were lucky in that we had some market validation from the very beginning. We had some big wins in terms of customer validation so we could focus on other areas that presented bigger challenges like hiring. When you talk to people at bigger companies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc., they hesitate joining a company like Kloudio that is so early on. Hiring and convincing experienced people at these larger companies has been a challenge, but one we’ve welcomed.

Unusual: Starting a business can be overwhelming with everything you need to get done. How do you stay focused?

Sathish: Frankly, this journey is a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Some days, you are so high and some days, you are so depressed. Despite the ups and downs, it’s so important to stay focused on the end goal by taking care of the other areas of your life. I’ve found I need to carve time out for my family, health, creating a daily routine, taking time for myself, etc. Personally, in the evenings I try to go for a walk or cook. Cooking helps me relax. Channeling some time into things like cooking and spending time with my family helps me to balance the day-to-day stress I face building Kloudio.

Unusual: What is the biggest tip that you would give aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?

Krishna: Talk to as many potential customers to get feedback on the product as possible. You need to validate the product as much as possible before building the product. Actually talk to customers and then build. If it’s an enterprise product, build designs and mock-ups, show them to customers, validate that it’s in the right direction, and then build. This will help save you a lot of time. Also, be prepared to be very persistent—it takes more time to do a lot of things in the startup process than people estimate, such as fundraising, hiring, etc.

Sathish: A startup is a long journey and you need to have a compatible partner to help you run the business, just like we have compatible partners in life. Make sure you have a co-founder you  trust, can lean on, and completely rely on no matter the time of day. I can’t stress enough the critical role a cofounder plays in your entrepreneurial journey.

Unusual: What is the biggest tip that you would give entrepreneurs in terms of fundraising?

Krishna: Sathish and I had probably 75-80 investor meetings. You need to be prepared to hear “no” a lot. However, if you believe in the product, you have good customers, and believe in the team and yourself, trust the process and really use the feedback you receive to make improvements. We received almost 70 rejections before we received our first term sheet. But that one term sheet turned into four term sheets within a week. Grit and persistence are so important.

Sathish: For me, I can’t stress enough the importance of having early customers for many areas of scaling your business, but especially for fundraising. Get customers to start using your product in production and give you feedback—even if they don’t pay for it. The feedback you receive will be a big plus when it comes to fundraising because the first question you will face is, “Who are your customers?” Even in the early stages, VCs are very cautious and want to know how your product will resonate with customers. It is very key to VCs to see you have some customers and that you have a bigger vision. When we started pitching, we quickly realized we needed to have an answer to what Kloudio will be in five years. Ask yourself, “In five years time, where do you see your company?” And be ready to explain your larger vision during the fundraising process.

Unusual: Getting a startup off the ground is difficult on a good day, but this is especially the case with all the curveballs 2020 has thrown our way. What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received about leading during this unprecedented time?

Krishna: For me, it was the advice to stay focused on making sure that current customers are happy, so that they are renewing and expanding. It’s easier to expand with a current customer than to get a new customer during a crisis. We are fortunate that our product is necessary and very applicable for a business, no matter what the temperature of the world is— a business needs data and software to help make better decisions, even if you’re going through a period of layoffs and cost cutting. 

Sathish: I’ve read this and heard from many people that a time of crisis is also the best time to focus on the product. In a time like this, you may not win many new customers, but you do have a lot of time to focus more energy on the product itself. For us, we are turning this time into an opportunity and are focused on building product capabilities that our customers have been requesting.

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