aug 27, 2022

Raj De Datta

Raj De Datta is the co-founder & CEO at Bloomreach – world’s #1 commerce experience cloud that powers brands representing 25% of e-commerce in the US and UK. Previously, Raj held leadership positions at Cisco, Mohr-Davidow Ventures, and Lazard-Freres. He is also an author of the bestseller book: The Digital Seeker. 

Episode Highlights

  • (0:00:00) – Nitin Bajaj welcomes Raj De Datta to the show
  • (0:00:12) – Play a little game about big themes that impact us as a community
  • (0:02:19) – Bloomreach powers the entire e commerce shopping journey from start to finish
  • (0:04:30) – Why did you pick this problem? Yeah, I was actually at Cisco
  • (0:05:50) – The biggest challenge entrepreneurs face is retaining focus as companies grow
  • (0:06:48) – 18% of commerce is now digital, even after the pandemic
  • (0:09:19) – Bloomreach experienced near death experiences in the middle and then has been on fire
  • (0:12:41) – Nitin: Raj, share your one line life lessons with us

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:00) – Hey, everyone, welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is Raj de Datta. Raj, welcome on the show.


Raj De Datta: (0:00:09) – Nice to be here with you, Nitin.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:11) – Pleasure is all ours. So let’s start with who is Raj?


Raj De Datta: (0:00:16) – Yeah, so I think entrepreneur dreamer for sure. You know, somebody who likes to make an impact personally. Grew up in the Philippines and India before I came to the US, went to university, and I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, since I was 22 years old, which was a long time ago at this point.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:38) – That’s awesome. Before we jump in and get to learn more about you, let’s play a little game. We call this the underrated overrated. And it’s about big themes that impact us as a community. And the fun part is these are big themes, important things, critical things, but you get a one word response. All right, so let’s start with NFT.


Raj De Datta: (0:01:07) – NFT, I think is overrated. Crypto, underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:13) – Metaverse.


Raj De Datta: (0:01:16) – Underrated. Especially in the long term.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:21) – What about stakeholder capitalism?


Raj De Datta: (0:01:27) – Appropriately rated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:29) – Okay. And the great resignation?


Raj De Datta: (0:01:35) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:37) – Real estate prices?


Raj De Datta: (0:01:41) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:42) – Stock market prices?


Raj De Datta: (0:01:46) – Underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:48) – Startup valuations, appropriate. Okay. And stock market prices?


Raj De Datta: (0:01:58) – Underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:59) – And then the last two, inflation?


Raj De Datta: (0:02:03) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:05) – And finally, what about cash?


Raj De Datta: (0:02:09) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:11) – All right, well, thanks for playing along, Raj. That was fun. And let’s come back to something more personal and closer to you. Tell us about Bloomreach. What is it? The mission, vision and the impact.


Raj De Datta: (0:02:26) – Yeah. So when we started Bloomreach, the thesis was that one day people were going to be living their lives online. And this was back in 2009, 2010. And so we pulled a team of people out of Google and the idea was, let’s apply AI and machine learning technology to power every website, every app, every digital interaction, and make it exactly on point for end users. And in so doing, drive a lot of economic impact for brands that can help acquire customers, retain those customers, and drive lifetime value. And so today, Bloomreach we think of as a commerce experience cloud, which means it powers the entire e commerce shopping journey from the moment brands market to consumers, through email and sms and ads, through the process, when they’re considering buying a product, being educated about it, watching videos, reading content, and finally, when they’re ready to buy, we power the search and browse experience to guide them to exactly the right product, all powered by a proprietary data engine that matches the right product to the right person. And in so doing, really makes these experiences magical.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:03:28) – That’s amazing. In coming up with a vision back then to who would have known that we did end up living our lives online. Tell us about the size and scale of the operations, and then we’ll follow up and kind of back up a little bit and talk about, why do this?


Raj De Datta: (0:03:52) – Yeah. So Bloomreach today is just north of 900 people globally, with operations across the world, in the US and Europe and in Asia, we support over 1500 of the largest brands in the world. We power almost $400 billion of GMV, which means there’s a good chance that if you’re shopping online behind the scenes, what you don’t know is that Bloomreach is playing a key role in the email message you receive or the website you’re visiting or the search box you’re navigating. All of those have a good chance of being powered by Bloomreach. With the scale of infrastructure that we.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:04:27) – Support, that’s really powerful. And you were at Google, you could have done so many different things. Why did you pick this problem?


Raj De Datta: (0:04:38) – Yeah, I was actually at Cisco, and then I left Cisco and then recruited a team of people from Google. That’s how we started. But I believed that this was the most important problem of the Internet. My view is that everything that we could do is out there on the web. Right. But that the grand problem was really relevance and a personalized experience, really finding, making sense of the noise. And so, to me, this problem, there can’t be a more worthy problem to solve than making every digital interaction amazing, magical, exactly on point. Imagine if we could make every one of those interactions high quality and consistent with the best physical interactions that we have. Imagine the amount of joy, the amount of pleasure, the amount of value that we could provide to, what would we thought one day be 7 billion people who live their lives online? And, of course, the pandemic really made us feel what it means to live online. And I think we felt like if we could be the platform that powers all of that, we can touch a lot of people, and that a lot of that has come true.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:05:47) – Beautiful vision and more importantly, even beautiful execution. So congratulations on what you’ve accomplished so far, and, of course, with your team. Now, as you look at the landscape, there are several opportunities and several challenges. What’s the one big challenge you would say you’re facing as a business today? As an entrepreneur? Yeah.


Raj De Datta: (0:06:12) – Today, I think the biggest challenge is retaining focus as companies grow. Early on in our lifecycle, focus is mandated by cash, because if you only have a certain amount of capital, you have no choice but to focus. As time goes on and the company gets bigger and more global, and more diversified. The natural tendency is to just be doing more things. And I think the hardest thing is to consistently retain focus at scale, because we all know that without focus, we don’t create excellence and great results.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:06:47) – True. On the flip side of challenges or opportunities, and you have a lot of opportunities in front of you, what’s the one that excites you most?


Raj De Datta: (0:06:57) – I really believe that what excites me most is the market, fundamentally. I mean, I think we are in a world where 18% of commerce is today digital, even after the pandemic, which is incredible to think about. That means there’s just a long way to go all around. And all we’ve done so far, if we look back on our ecommerce journeys of the last 20 years, all we’ve done is largely make it possible for people to buy things online, which is amazing because the convenience and the price and the selection that’s available online is great. But we haven’t transformed the experience yet beyond what was possible offline. It’s still a cash register with a set of aisles, except digitally, that we select things off the aisle and go to the cash register. So I think the next 20 years are super exciting. One, because we’re early and we’re going to see this revolution continue, and two, because I think we have the opportunity for digital experiences to be better than physical experiences by orders of magnitude, and we’ve just scratched the surface on what’s possible.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:08:06) – You want to tease us with a hint or two of what’s possible there?


Raj De Datta: (0:08:12) – Yeah, I think what’s possible ultimately, is a world where the kind of interactions we have online present the products, services and interactions on demand as if the system knows what we want before we express what we want. It’s sort know if the kind of experience where you go on Spotify and it plays your perfect song before you even select the song, or you get in your car and it’s directing you exactly to your destination before you’ve even punched in where you’re going. Imagine that applying to every aspect of digital interactions, that’s the world we’re headed towards. And I think that will manifest in all kinds of cool things. And certainly all these trends that we were talking about earlier, metaverse and crypto and the like, are important. But I think what’s more important than all of those is simply solving human problems much more deeply than we have until now.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:09:19) – Well, you definitely touched my heart in terms of the ease and the joy of being able to do this without having to take the effort. So the lazy in me is already overjoyed and expecting this yesterday. Now, as we look forward, would love to take a step back and look back in time in the rear view mirror and talk about two different experiences you’ve had. One where things did not work out as you had expected and it became a lesson learned. And on the other side, something that blew even your own expectations and maybe allow you and ask you to brag a little bit about that.


Raj De Datta: (0:10:03) – Yeah, let me tell you a brief story. And I think actually in that story are both sure. And that story is that Bloomreach, in a nutshell, was a rocket ship in its early days. It experienced extraordinary near death experiences in the middle and then has been on fire in the last six or seven years. So I think the thing that happened basically is we had a really interesting business which was about initially driving SEO traffic to ecommerce websites. But so many things went almost that business was too successful. And as a know, the problems surfaced later as opposed to in the early days. And so the lesson learned. And when I say the know, there was a lot of Google risk in the business. We were dependent on a small number of customers. Our revenue model was not solid. So for a variety of reasons, these things created deep stresses in the business. But they didn’t show up early. They showed up in the middle of the journey. And so I think the lesson learned from that was to think through not just what makes you successful in those early days, to get the first customer and the first dollar of revenue, but also how will this play out? And are you creating the foundation for a real business, or is this the kind of thing that might be short lived? And I think we didn’t do a great job of that in those early days on the other side, when we experienced the incredible stressful moments, the thing that got us through that was the incredible culture that we had invested in previously that I think I underestimated. And so we put in place a culture blueprint, not just to define what the culture was, but what the culture represented, and more importantly, how to make that culture real in the everyday lives of all the people that we had. And so I remember the day standing in front of the team saying, look, the business is in trouble and we are headed for dark places. And so I won’t fault any of you for walking out the door today if you want to, because we’re in for a tough road. And out of that, I’m here. And we’re going to still build a multibillion dollar company. But the journey is very uncertain ahead. And nobody walked out the door, and that was the product of the culture.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:12:19) – Again, congratulations and kudos to you. I’ve known you to be an extremely transparent leader, and you don’t pause or hesitate before sharing things that you have learned and the challenges that you have faced. So again, congrats for your leadership. And this takes me into my favorite part of the show, which we call the one line life lessons. These are simple but profound, and we would love for you to share your one line life lessons with us.


Raj De Datta: (0:12:56) – Sure. Yeah, I’ll share a couple that I represent. One is a bit of a family motto that I tell my kids, and it’s pretty simple, but it’s just devatas, never give up. And this quality of grit is one that I value a lot. My kids are a little bit sick of hearing that, but outside of that, I think it matters, just fighting through the journey and being there. Related to that is the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotes about the man in the arena. And so in that quote, I won’t go through the whole quote, but be in the arena. You can only win if you play the game if you are in the arena, not if you’re on the sideline commenting on the people in the arena. So be in the arena would be the second one. The third one, which I’ve just sort of learned for myself, is have a hierarchy of problems. And what I mean by that is we can all be overwhelmed by the many things we need to go solve, but it’s what is the most important set of problems that I have to solve today, especially in those days when we can be overwhelmed. I ask myself, what is the hierarchy of problems? Back to focus. The famous quote. The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. So you have to know what the main thing is, or what we now call mits at Bloomreach, the most important thing. And so that mindset is important as well, so we don’t get distracted in a digital age where we can be pulled in so many directions. So those are a couple that I like.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:14:32) – Awesome. Thanks again for sharing those and for our audience, we have an entire Or wherever you guys socialize digitally. And we’ll have Raj’s one liners there pretty soon. Raj, thank you once again for making the time to be with us and for sharing your story. Congratulations again on the continued success to you and your team on building multi unicorn. And I think we are now looking at a decacon pretty soon.


Raj De Datta: (0:15:00) – That’s the plan.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:15:02) – So congratulations again, and thank you.


Raj De Datta: (0:15:05) – Thank you, Nitin.


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