Apr 30, 2021
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Entrepreneurship, by its very definition, is an interesting new journey, especially when you do it with a co-founder. And I wouldn’t do it any other way.
We both saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually create something at a real unique time.
This is Tresata Talks & I’m your host Shreya Nandi!
Our intention is to bring you perspectives – some our own, some from our group of even smarter friends & confidants – to help inform your opinions on how data, as the nuclei of digital & tech, will reshape the world we live, breathe & play in.
We are 10! it is said that only one in 100 companies makes it, one in 5 million becomes a billion dollar company & only the special few get to celebrate their 10th anniversary. So I, as we celebrate our 10-year anniversary this month, April 2021, wanted to take it to 11 by giving you the story of our company straight from the founders’ collective mouths.
You can’t even imagine y’all, but it gives me immense pleasure to welcome tresata co-founders, Abhishek Mehta and Richard Morris, to this very special episode of Tresata Talks. Richard, Abhi, welcome to what I know is going to be my favorite episode of Tresata Talks. So let’s take it to 11. And you can find the transcript for this episode on tresata.ai: that’s T-R-E-S-A-T-A dot C-O-M. And let’s keep listening.
April is Tresata’s birthday month, and it’s not just any birthday. We are celebrating our 10th year of business. So we could not think of two better people to bring on as guests on Tresata Talks than you, Abhi & Richard. So welcome to Tresata Talks.
Thank you so much Shreya.
Thank you Shreya. It’s great to be here.
Now, in more ways than one & yet different because it happened in Charlotte, North Carolina, not Silicon Valley or New York. Tresata’s founding story is the classic American dream, version 300: immigrants from entirely different countries, cultures & communities confluencing to start something game-changing in America. So what were your stories that brought you to the U.S.?
So I grew up in New Zealand and went to engineering school there & got an opportunity to come to graduate school in the US in 1990. And so I went to university in Philadelphia. And that was the start of my living in the U.S. as my home now & has been for 31 years.
It’s so interesting, right? There’s similarities in the differences. So I grew up in India. Like Richard, I grew up in the capital of India in Delhi, Richard grew up in Auckland. And I came here, another interesting coincidence, in 2000, exactly 10 years after Richard came here, you know. I spent my founding educational years in India doing economics, statistics, math & accounting, came here with the job at the company called Cognizant and have been in America for 21 years since.
Wow, amazing. So you both come here, do your thing, have your careers. Was entrepreneurship always in the cards, especially with a partner in crime? For either, for both? Abhi?
Entrepreneurship, by its very definition, is an interesting new journey, especially when you do it with a co-founder. And I wouldn’t do it any other way. It was definitely a new experience for me. I had not done, this is my first company in America as an entrepreneurial venture, I’d done a couple of small things growing up in India. So that was a new thing. But in a very good way, you know?
And where does this partnership begin? I hear there’s some irony involved. Richard, your version first?
Well, I think we first met when we were working at a large company, and we worked together then. We kind of looked at and said, you know, these traditional companies that had been successful in the past, probably every company in every industry, and every country in the world, would get transformed around data. And the existing technology stack that was there just would not handle the explosion of data volumes. You know, 15 years ago.
Yeah, I’ll give you the saucier version – I think me interviewing with Richard. And my very first interview, I was very nervous. I was very, also I was very overawed. Richard had this massive office, and, you know, he’s always had gray hair. And, my references had spoken very highly of him. So I go into the interview, the conversation goes well, and because I like speaking my mind, there’s a picture on Richard’s desk of this beautiful little girl that Richard was, you know, holding on the shoulders.
So in true fashion of me speaking my mind, as I’m ending my very first meeting with Richard, I had to make a comment that said, “How old is the granddaughter?” And Richard in a classic Kiwi dry wit said, “That’s my daughter.” And that was the end of our first meeting. I was surprised when I had the chance to go talk to Richard again. I don’t know Richard, if you remember me calling Julia, you know, who I’ve gotten to know really well and consider as my own, me calling Julia your granddaughter. I don’t know if you remember that.
Yes, I do. It still hurts.
Well, that’s quite a start. Now, we all know you two are the perfect Yin and Yang. Was that always the case? What are the ties that bind when a lot is different on the surface?
One of the things that I think we shared, we realized very quickly, is we weren’t, both of us weren’t people who wanted to just sit in the back of a bus in a large company and trundle down the road for our careers. You know, we wanted to do something, actually make a difference, to do something meaningful and have an impact, like a direct impact on that. And so there was a meeting of the minds you saw – I mean, Abhishek, obviously tons of energy, and really great person that comes across, really immediately, very, very smart.
But I think I saw in something a similar view is just let’s go make a difference. And, you know, that doesn’t happen all the time especially in large companies. There is a “neither of us would sit in the back of the bus and let the thing trundle along” type of personalities.
My first, probably 18 months working for Richard, I was very scared. Not in a fearful way – Richard’s a very, very smart individual. And he has this gift, and he was very well known for that in the industry, not just the company he worked for, to take lots and lots of data and tell a story from it. My last two years working for him and with him were amazing.
You know, he made me a partner in the way he thought about building and running things. And we had an incredible meeting of the minds around how to create & foster change by understanding or reading the tea leaves of what’s going on in the world, which again, became the crux of how we were able to recognize the opportunity of Tresata.
Now I believe that there’s also a matchmaker in this story, a surreal yet interesting connection, because this matchmaker doesn’t even know that they’re responsible. Abhi, is this true.
I think we broke our ice on a very interesting project we worked together on with a gentleman Richard met in person. And you know, in a way we will give some credit for Tresata to this individual by name of Ram Charan. And if you look at Ram, Ram was one of the leading thinkers of our generation around cultures, corporations, and building winning corporations.
And Richard and I were asked to create a strategic perspective around change at a very large company. And we picked this book called Execution by Ram and Larry Bossidy. And that was my first project that, you know, we had a meeting of the minds and how we thought about really big ticket things. So we kind of broke the ice.
I’ve been here less than a year and what has struck me about Tresata is this underlying comfort we all have when working with each other almost like it were family. Do you feel the same?
I think Richard and I have become family. Especially in the last five years, we’ve fought & celebrated so many moments together that I couldn’t have asked for, I say this with due humility, and I know he respects me equally when I say that, that you know, he’s the older brother I never had. And he keeps me honest about the right things in life when I need perspective.
Because we do come at things differently, which I think is a very, very cool part about a partnership. But when I need perspective, I call him, you know. And I think it’s a very unique thing to share in any relationship.
How does someone decide to leave what they have – the security, the finances, the life – & start something so new?
A person I got to know really well at MIT, Sandy Pentland, had said a story that, you know, is very important. I had given a talk in 2010 October called “Data will launch the next Industrial Revolution.” And when Sandy heard the talk, he says, “You are right about this, what are you going to do about it?” And I said, what do you mean, you know. I’m in a big company with a fancy title – Managing Director, Big Data – and I’m doing something about.
And he goes, “No, this is a wave like none other. And if you don’t do something, you’ll be a miserable 50 year old guy.” But success isn’t guaranteed, which doesn’t make the journey any worse – that’s the, you know, just because you fail. And Sandy was right – the other person who I think deserves a lot of credit for Tresata is Sandy Pentland, at least from my perspective. I think Richard will agree.
And I think we both looked at what was going to be the transformative nature of data for business models. And so we both saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually create something at a real unique time, in place and time to be able to actually build software, to be able to play a part in transforming business models.
And I think, Abhi I would like to get your view, I think we saw the vision or the view that was there. And, you know, I think very lucky to have met Abhishek at that time, not only just from a business perspective, but a friendship perspective as well. And both have that same clarity of thought and purpose to say, “This doesn’t happen very often to get a market opportunity like this, let’s go for it.”
Right, and how you balance this comfort with taking risk with the ability to manage expectations your loved ones have, is that hard to do? I’m asking because one day, I too may need to cross this path.
It is a big commitment for the families. So you have to talk to your family and sit down and say, “Look, we’re going to put everything into this – financial resources, emotional resources, time” We both have, we both had two children, and you know, we were very lucky that we have really supportive families. And they’ve been part of this journey, too.
And their sacrifices are as much as, if not more than ours. But you do have to have that honest conversation and say, “look, you know, this is our bet. We feel really confident we’re going to deliver on it.” And I think they uniquely understand, you know, and when, you know, when you get to celebrate the successes, the families understand the years that go into it. And, you know, that’s, that’s something that’s special. And really, you just have to have gone on that journey to understand what it is.
The conversation with Shweta, my better half, was rather easy, because I think Shweta knew that once the mind is made, it is probably a journey, as hard as it may be, it’s probably going to be a lot of fun and very rewarding, to Richard’s point on successes. The secondary conversation with the family was easier simply because it wasn’t about how big or successful it would be.
It wasn’t for me – it was about you know, the hardest journey of any individuals becoming an entrepreneur. But it’s probably the most fun as well. And being in different situations with our kids, we had different things to worry about, or our families having to worry about. And we were able to sit back and agree that those things were still equally important in our lives. The path was going to be entrepreneurial.
Incredibly important. Now, as a side note, I have to admit, I love our merch, our swag. It’s so cool, edgy and really funny – exactly what I look for when I shop. But I must admit, I’ve always wondered about this Chuck Norris shirt in our office. Is that a limited edition print I missed?
Richard has a very funky collection of T-shirts. I have never asked him who buys it for him, probably his kids. So there’s this shirt that’s framed in the office I think Gail, his better half, was very happy to get out of the house. And Richard probably wore that shirt at least twice a week. I’m looking at it. It’s called “the emotions of Chuck Norris.” And Richard wore that shirt religiously, you know. I think Gail was tired of him wearing the same shirt. So she just went and took it to, to Michael’s, framed it, and you know, willingly donated that to our, our New Zealand room in our office.
As we bring this special edition to a close, I would like for both of you to share something the world doesn’t know about, but has been critical to the success of Tresata – even if at the time it was going down, it may not have seemed so.
I think the most important thing is as you build the team around you and the people you bring in, and I think, and Abhi really pushed on this early, and I think it’s made a massive difference, and that’s building a diverse team. And it’s something he said, “Look, we don’t want to just hire, you know, middle-aged guys, as engineers, right?” And so what we did is, and Abhishek pushed this, is building a training platform.
And it started out fairly humble beginnings, but now, as you know, a full fledged Academy. But that [made us] able to really open up the candidate pool for people who are super motivated, very authentic, very smart, but they wanted to get into the space. And that allowed us to really build a different type of company.
And when I look back on some of the things you’re proud about, I think it’s seeing the careers of people internally, inside Tresata, that have come from undergrad with potentially non-traditional backgrounds that are truly home-grown through the culture and deep tech that we’ve trained on. But also some people that have moved on and gone to top tier graduate schools, or things like that, and I think that’s something that Abhi doesn’t get much credit for. But that was a real game changer early in the, very early, that allowed us to just build a different type of company.
One of our, you know inflection points was closing the deal with a very, very large bank early in our lifespan. And I remember in the negotiation, we’re at the last minute, we have won a competitive deal. There were 100 odd vendors down to a list of three, we have won the shoot out of the three, we have become the selected vendor with one of the top three banks in the world.
And I’m on the negotiating table. I didn’t even tell Richard this till after the deal was done. Everything’s like, agreed to, Shreya. But they throw this twist in, which they go “Well, we are buying software part x from you. But we also want to try software part y. And because software part y is like a harness on a horse, we won’t be, we’re not gonna pay you for product x, which is what we picked you for, till we get part y.”
And, you know, as I’m gulping down my throat about “This is not fair. This is not reasonable. You bought product x from us, you’re paying us for part x, you can’t, you know, make a rider on product y.” The analogy using the horse, I twisted the analogy. And I said, “Actually I disagree with you. Because what you’re asking for and you’ve purchased is a cow, not a horse.
And the cow is ready to milk now and you will get benefit from the milking the cow now, but you also want a harness to ride the cow. That wasn’t part of the deal. But that’s what you’re asking for. So no, we can’t agree to it.” I ended the call saying “Okay, this is either the smartest moment in the short life of Tresata or the dumbest thing I’ve done.” Because that was one of the game changing moments in the company – having proven as a small company, and not venture-backed company, because we never raised venture money, we could close a deal with a large company.
We won the deal. As I was having dinner with a gentleman on the other side, he said, “Look, I’ve negotiated with many people in my life. That probably was one of the best analogies ever. And we had no choice after you gave the analogy but to agree with your position. So that was one of my most entertaining, nerve wracking, nervous, on hindsight, comedic moments.
Okay, I know we said 10 for 10, 10 questions for 10 years, but I’m talking to two Spinal Tap fans here. So we have to take it to 11. And major points to those listening who understood that reference. So let’s do it. What can the world expect to see from us for the next 10?
I’ve always said that we have a very unique thing going on at Tresata, because the thing that we drew out on a piece of paper – whatever reason, I don’t know why, but every idea seems to come out on a piece of napkin and ours was too. What we drew out as our original vision is exactly what we have built to the last dot, and the last line on the piece of paper.
And this revolution around data as a core asset, as the fuel for the next Industrial Revolution, is very early still. So the next 10 years will be around seeing the team that Richard references that we’ve been able to build, the assets we have as a company, our intellectual property, our talent, our training processes, our immaculate list of clients, who have proven that our software can dramatically change how they understand data, understand their customers, and monetize intelligence.
We have a very unique opportunity to create the next generation technology company – what it should look like, what it should be driven by, what the ethos of that should be, and what should that technology architecture be. I think our vision was very bold. We have quite a unique opportunity to deliver against that, and really show the world “What does a 21st century technology company look like?” I think that’s our opportunity.
I just put an exclamation mark at the end of that statement. I think it was exactly right. Look, I mean, every company, in every industry in every country in the world is going to get, you know, transformed around data and automation. And so it is a very, very unique market opportunity. But you have to build absolutely exceptional companies to do that. And that’s what we want to do.
Listeners can’t see this, but I’ve been smiling this entire time just hearing about all this. Because it really brings, as you said, Richard, an exclamation point in general to this episode and what we’re going to do in the future. So looking forward to it. Thank you so much!
Shreya, it’s always a pleasure. And here’s to many, many years of working with you both by taking our voices forward with Tresata Talks as well as using data to enrich life.
Thank you Shreya, thoroughly enjoyed this.
We hope you enjoyed that very special edition of Tresata Talks. And if you want to hear more from Abhi, give our episode “Digital Silk Roads” a listen. And if you want to hear an episode from Richard, don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. And feel free to subscribe anywhere you listen to us. And, we’ll talk data to you soon.