“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
We are very excited to be a part of the PanIIT global leadership movement. As we write this sitting in our office together today, it is taking us down memory lane, through all the ebbs and flows of our educational journey. Our foundations at IIT gave us a lot, in terms of both experience and knowledge, that helped us get to where we are today. We are looking forward to participating at the PanIIT this week to connect, meet and talk with a large, influential network of entrepreneurs, investors and like-minded folks who share the common background of having emerged from the world’s greatest institution.
The Wonder Years
Our disclaimer before you read further: This is by no means a biography of sorts or a prelude to any book on life lessons. This is just a diary of extraordinary experiences of ordinary engineering graduates who found inspiration at unforeseen places. Those experiences paved the way for the beginning of an entrepreneurial journey. Like many great stories, this one starts off with a dream to change the world in some way. And like many great stories, it talks about the jump into deep waters, without much holding us steady except for a strong will to survive, a deep commitment to our passion and a strong friendship and understanding to weather any storm and stick together despite all odds.
So here goes…the journey of the three musketeers!
As some of you might know, there is immense competition in India to get into league schools like IIT to pursue careers in advanced engineering and technology. The preparation literally started when we were in diapers — no kidding. Jokes aside, it involved long hours of solving complex problems day after day, working with each other to understand difficult mathematical and scientific models. We were rewarded with good news. Our labor paid off and we were able to attend one of the world’s most renowned educational institutions to realize our dreams.
The ‘Spongebob’ Years
We were truly ‘PanIIT’ in our essence, as we decided to join three different ones – Mumbai, Kharagpur and Roorkee. We ended up having diverse experience, networks, knowledge and orientations from being associated with the same institute in different cities and yet maintained our unified core. The aspirations and expectations from parents and others only quadrupled at this point. And of course, we had expectations of ourselves too — to excel and perform at the most optimal level.
As years rolled by, we acquired advanced knowledge of systems and mechanics. Professors well-versed in such subjects became our mentors. Midnight lamps were on as discussions and dissections of the norm and of various hypotheses and theories continued. These years became foundational for the formation of engineering-driven, scientific minds. And they also prepared us for what was to follow – to understand how these theories and hypotheses translated in the real world.
IIT also provided another key skill — the ability to question and understand the ‘why’ of everything, like Simon Sinek! Jokes apart, while on one side, IIT promoted rigor and structure — which was primarily done through various complex courses — it also implanted the seeds to challenge the status quo and rebuild based on new hypotheses. It encouraged an all-new way of thinking. And this is where it really stood out from the rest of the pack – by letting the scientific and the creative mind co-exist. In the last year of school, we could see the transformation in ourselves. It was slow but drastic. We had acquired and imbibed a new way of thinking in our DNA: the IIT way.
The Supermen Years
Our schooling complete, it was time to take all this learning into the real world to solve real problems. Like many of us, we decided to come to the USA and later moved to Silicon Valley to make a difference in companies that were solving real problems. And, like many others, we moved up the chain fairly quickly by proving our value at every step.
Clearly, the rigor, training and engineering mindset which IIT had imparted made a difference in becoming really successful, really fast. On top of that, the Valley provided us with a whole new perspective as we progressed through our careers. The region allowed risk-taking and fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship — and we were not left behind.
While still working our day jobs, we decided to meet during weekends in Alok’s and Deepak’s garages to work on a few crazy ideas. Some might fail, but some might click, and we hedged the bets to pay that opportunity cost. We spent time away from family, the beach and parties. The three of us were making plans and cracking code to build the next revolutionary new software!
We are an interesting trio with completely different personalities. We are similar in some aspects but different in others. We all had a diverse technology foundation, and a solid one at that. For these reasons, writing beautiful code, building marketing strategies, understanding content gaps in the eCommerce world and building a community of fabulous workers distributed across the world are all in a day’s work for us.
And, having worked at different companies in USA (in Silicon Valley, Texas, New Jersey and other regions) and India, we brought a diverse set of experiences to the table. That’s why we took different approaches to the same problem. Having been in the retail industry, Alok would see the business problem at hand and Deepak and Rahul would try to build the architectures and backend code necessary to solve those business problems. We built a lot of code, validated the product in the market quickly and made ourselves ready to fail early and move on if there was a need.
This is not uncommon in Silicon Valley, and that’s why some of the best and newest ideas have thrived there. After a few years of gruesome experimentation — we say that because our garage sessions took a toll on our families and our ‘me’ time — we were finally solving a problem! We built the code, nurtured a community of thousands of contributors and tested the waters with a few enterprises. We were addressing a need, and it was all coming together.
The Entrepreneurial Years
The journey to building our dream started. We quit our jobs, moved out of the garage and rented an office space. We wanted to build the next-generation collaboration platform for marketers and merchants to manage enterprise content. There’s a burning need for this, since all digital marketers rely on good content for client engagement and conversion.
The Internet has set the stage for a new age marketer, a marketer who must drive results in the digital world. Enriched and indexed content has to be available on search engines and online for people to click and buy. Brick and mortar retailers are now strongly supported by eCommerce. Marketers have been struggling with a siloed approach, using different softwares and integrating them to support their overall needs. The market did not have one tool to manage the chain of content from creation to consumption. eZdia showed promise to solve this exact problem.
Alok brought in rich experience from noted retailers like Walmart and eBay, enabling him to understand the customer’s psyche and build features based on several use cases seen previously. Deepak and Rahul, who had worked at Sun Microsystems, Cisco and VmWare, built the architectures to support this model. The product evolved. Large eCommerce brands started seeing value in using this platform to build complex content like optimized and enriched category pages, buying guides, rich product descriptions, featured blogs and a lot more. Quickly, business started rolling in from both the USA and India. Our model works, and we are proud to say that we’re serving seven out of the top 10 eCommerce retailers in the USA and four out of the top five in India presently!
Technology continues to evolve. We are now live in a ‘Brave New World’ of the Internet of things where everyone is mobile. Buyers are transacting on mobile and wearable devices, and the experience of parsing content on different platforms and form factors is absolutely critical. We understood this need and introduced new features to support the mobile-optimized world through new heuristics.
Our platform continues to addresses the Content First needs of digital marketers by providing the capability to gather content intelligence, map to the right content resources, perform the creative tasks, gather collaborative feedback and analyze content outcomes through suggestive and predictive intelligence. We continue to evolve the platform with the evolving needs of digital marketers and consumer trends, and we continue to see resounding success!
Some Key Features and Differentiators of this Platform
The content engine allows marketers to identify content opportunities and analyze existing projects by integrating with intelligence tools such as BrightEdge, Google Analytics and others.
The content mapping feature connects the right content projects to the the right experts based on team assignments, geography, domain expertise, writer rating, seniority and other configured attributes.
Real-time tracking and workflow tools support content planning, creative and publishing scheduling and frequency.
Advanced capabilities enable users to process sophisticated content, rich images, videos and other interactive content.
The platform offers a streamlined distribution of content via integrations with most social plug-ins, CMS, eCommerce platforms and a growing number of marketplace providers.
It integrates with predictive intelligence (big data analytics) to combine unpublished and published inputs from various sources like third party feeds, search engines, weather forecasts, comparison and personalization engines and other data aggregators.
A suggestive intelligence engine creates optimized content using natural language.
The transparent and collaborative platform encourages ‘Bring Your Own Workforce’ (BYOW), comprising of internal content teams, external agencies, freelancers, other crowd networks, eZdia and more to cover all your content needs.
eZdia’s App Marketplace allows customers to select from a growing list of services and tools to enhance their content and easily publish anywhere they want!
PanIIT in eZdia’s DNA
We’ve mentioned this before: The three of us have really guarded and fostered the DNA of PanIIT at eZdia. We are looking to grow the eZdia team now, and on our way forward, we are looking for people to support us and share our success. As we walk the floor this week, we look forward to meeting with mentors, like-minded engineering leaders who would like to work on the next big technology innovation in eCommerce and content marketing, and investors who will believe in our idea and provide the capital to take this humble yet innovative venture to the next level. We want to make a difference and we want you to be a part of this fabulous ride.