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Suuchi Ramesh on Supply Chain Platforms – Supply Chain Next Podcast

Suuchi Ramesh joins the Supply Chain Next podcast to discuss supply chain platforms

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you into supply chain.

Key Takeaway: I’m a software engineer with an MBA in software, so I have a pretty nerdy past. I’m also an immigrant, so I came to the US with my first couple of jobs in the predictive analytics field. My first job was with Intel, and I was in their supply chain analytics division and spent almost four years there. From there, I went on to join two venture-backed startups in the predictive data analytics space that had really heady growth rates, which gave me a front-row seat on what it took to scale fast-growth B2B product companies in that niche space of predictive analytics. I’ve always had that itch to do my own thing, and I was fortunate to have that experience at these companies to train my mind.

In thinking of starting Suuchi Inc., there were a couple of guiding hypotheses. I’d seen supply chains through a different lens, the data lens. So, when I started my own thing after having been with these companies, I knew that whatever I attacked had to be a larger market. No matter what industry you look at, whether it’s creating physical goods or services, every industry has a supply chain, and all supply chains are broken in many ways. The challenges are more similar than dissimilar, and we saw a couple of common themes across those challenges.

One is the value of goods and services flowing across the supply chain is massive. Each supply chain is a multi-trillion dollar market. We also saw that the digital landscape was broken. We saw that companies were at one of two ends of the spectrum. They were either working off of Excel sheets and Google Docs or, at the other end, they were working off clunky, complex ERPs and PLMs. So, there was a disconnected digital landscape, which then impacted the physical flow of goods, which impacted speed to market, efficiencies, and margins. So, we wanted to build a platform that could help solve these challenges in a next-gen way. The UI/UX was critical to realizing our vision because it had to be user-friendly and have almost a B2C feel. We also needed to democratize access to solve for the disconnectedness, so we had to empower all participants. That was four and a half years ago, and those remain our guiding principles today.

Q: Did you think as a budding engineer who was moving to the US that you would be in supply chain? How did you fall into supply chain?

Key Takeaway: Some of my path was organic. I did have academic and work experience that gave me some supply chain experience. After I finished my MBA, I stayed connected with a couple of business schools and would guest lecture in Asia. Then my first job with Intel was in the supply chain division. Through my jobs at the two startup companies, in my job of collecting data to build these predictive models, we were ingesting a lot of supply chain data. Ultimately, why I think I moved into the supply chain goes back to what I said earlier. My excitement to start something in this space was directly proportionate to the size of the opportunity and the market size. I think supply chains are fascinating for that one reason beyond the others because it is excruciating, and the execution risk for supply chain risks is massive. However, where you have a high execution risk, you have a large opportunity.

Supply chains have probably operated the same way for so long because solving something massive and complex is not easy. It all adds up, but if you can get past some of that with the right principles and design philosophies for the software, you can open yourself to a huge market. When you have such a large market, you can enter with a couple of different philosophies and pricing and structure, so you can enter with one niche area and then expand outward.

Q: Let me extend on that question. When thinking about supply chain, which is a big market, what were some of the main problem statements across supply chains? How did those line up against the technology you started designing to address those problems?

Key Takeaway: I think one was a lack of connectedness across the different systems in a tech stack, or in essence, the lack of a platform. If you look at other industries outside of supply chain, progress has been a little more advanced. The average company has about 40-60 subscriptions, so the single source of truth and the platform play has been almost common for other industries, but not for supply chain. In some cases, that disconnectedness meant they had a bunch of different systems that weren’t communicating with one another. They were build to be standalone products. Some parts of the supply chain were still analog and lacked technology altogether. So, that was the first problem that we saw.

The second problem was “snooty” access and built with a lack of empathy when designing the front-end, and that to us is a fairly big challenge that most people don’t look at. That means if you have systems across the supply chains, most times, the purchase of systems are still top-down versus other industries that have a bottoms-up led approach. The usage is also fairly top-down. A handful of users use these systems, so 95% of the supply chain participants are booted out because these systems are not designed with empathy to different skill sets.

The final is the ease of access, not just user-interface, but also in respect to the price point. Many large-scale ERPs cost millions of dollars to implement and maintain, and I think there is an opportunity for disruption on price point. Those are the main challenges we saw when we started to build out the software.

Q: That leads right into the start of Suuchi and the GRID. It’s a supply chain platform, but tell us more about the software and how it fits into the supply chain continuum.

Key Takeaway: We had to start with one industry not to dilute our initial focus, but we always knew we would branch out to be industry agnostic. We began with fashion and began with one product: our Global Sourcing Network (GSN). Our GSN is a curated marketplace of vendors and factories, so brands and retailers could subscribe to that product and find partners to produce their products. With that access, they also had a preview of our Project Information Management (PIM) software to track their timelines in real-time. It really began with those first principles, and then from there, we added to our product suite based on customer feedback. Now we have seven modules, and six of those have nothing to do with fashion and apply to any industry.

One of the product roadmap’s horizontal themes was the ease of configurability. We wanted it to be DIY in the sense that the end-user could configure the GRID to fit their workflows and their industry. Today we are no longer just serving fashion; we serve several other industries.

Q: People really know: how do they begin the technology adoption journey? Where do they begin with the ability to expand to other functions?

Key Takeaway: When you look at a new provider and/or look at optimizing your product suite, you have to do both simultaneously. I think many companies suffer from software shock because they have a lot of legacy systems that cost a lot of money to manage those beasts despite the impact being relatively low. So, software’s rationalization has to be done in tandem with what they should be looking for in a new system.

Regarding the second question, I would recommend looking at vendors looking to be platforms and are built to be product suites. These are two different things. A company could be a platform and a product suite, but they’re both important. Many supply chain systems are built to be products where they are fairly siloed in their architecture and don’t really have SDKs or APIs – which should really be table stakes today. The other part is that the reality is that supply chains are so massive, so you have to look at a platform as a superset and then the products within that. So, even if you have the open SDK and API, and you start with some set of products like we have, you’ll be able to recognize the need for layering solutions across the different departments of the supply chain. This is easier said than done, and it is not meant to be done overnight, but the need for a platform needs to be acknowledged as the foundation to a digitization strategy.

Q: How do you think the migration to a platform system for these embedded systems (SAP, Oracle, etc.) is going? How can upstarts like yourself come in and displace these legacy systems that cannot keep up with their customers’ needs?

Key Takeaway: That’s a great question! If you look at an SAP or Oracle, the reality and the advantage for them are that they are deeply entrenched in many companies. When we talk with executives across these big companies, almost all of them have these gripes and complaints with these big systems, but it’s like a marriage in a respectful way. Once you have invested so much into these systems, you want to stay there and look at how to work around them. Should executives look at just sunk cost as a reason for not moving forward? I don’t think so, but the reality is that many of them look at it that way. Having said that, a lot of innovators are starting to realize that if they have a choice to how they could build the future of the tech landscape, they probably don’t need something as clunky, complex, and expensive as an SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft Dynamics. The ones that are liberated enough to making those decisions and are not encumbered by existing purchases are starting to look at it that way.

Then, from these big companies’ standpoint, there is a monopoly with some of these larger systems. However, I believe that there will be a shelf-life for that dominance over a period of time. Primarily because they are not inherently built to be platforms, and even if there is new leadership, it is challenging to change the internal structure when you become such a big company. This won’t happen tomorrow, but upstarts have to find the formula to disruption. The answer is not competing head-on with these large players but positioning yourself in a complementary way and can have a direct conversation with the visionaries and pioneers.

Q: Let me shift to the other side of this. Whether you intended this or not, you are now one of the thought leaders in the technology and innovation space in the supply chain area, which is a hot segment right now. A different view would be to look at the biggest surprises you’ve had along this journey. What have you seen over these past few years as you’ve built out his enterprise supply chain solution?

Key Takeaway: There are so many things that have come up. I’ll focus on the positive surprises that have popped up. The hunger and the appetite for change is a lot more widespread than I initially anticipated. There is still this evangelizing that you need to do, but it’s not as much of a tiresome process as I would have imagined we would have to do. As a team, we came in anticipating a lot of change management conversations and convincing. That is still there, but there is also an equal amount of internal revolutionizing and recognizing that change has to happen inside these organizations.

Q: Do you think that’s a new thing? Compare that to 10 years ago, why is the appetite here now with the same people, but the desire to change is much stronger than it was in the past?

Key Takeaway: A couple of things. One big trend is this flood of fast-growing D2C companies that are online. They dominate the growth rate in these different industries and bring in a new wave of thinking. When you talk about enterprise, it’s very different from what it was in the past. The enterprise is no longer just the monolithic, big old-fashioned companies that have been around 30-40 years. Today enterprise is now that eight-year-old company that started in a garage and had a super-sonic growth rate and exists primarily online. These companies think very differently, which is why we have seen this shift.

Another part is what is going around in the world around this. There’s all this noise, and a lot of it is well-placed because sometimes worry, fear, and paranoia drives good change.

Finally, even the bigger companies are bringing in new leadership. When we talk to companies where they’ve brought in leadership from different industries who have a new viewpoint, which always leads to a great conversation. We see many of these companies where the heads of supply chain have been brought in from tech companies. I think that those are some of the reasons.

Q: That is a perfect segway into my next question. What is the DNA of the new supply chain professional? I would contend that you are a great example of a new supply chain professional who doesn’t have the typical supply chain resume. What do these new folks look like that bring a new perspective?

Key Takeaway: Some of that is based on what makes a good leader. A company that recognizes that supply chain is important will bring in a next-generation leader. We see that the kind of professionals that are going to take their companies forward, number one, have the growth mindset. They are eager and very hungry to understand what is out there in terms of new software, want to innovate, and are willing to take a little bit of a risk. They also recognize that data is the new oil. They understand that technology is a very key part of their success and their company’s success. Finally, they want to make cultural changes. They definitely look at software to culturally change the landscape of their company and bring more people to participate.

It’s no different from what a good leader should look like across all departments. I think what is changing is that in the past, you never really saw a Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSO) or head of supply chain being really core to the success of the company. Companies are now bringing these leaders to the forefront and recognizing that these are important positions, which means the caliber of the hires in these positions start to elevate, as well.

Q: Not only do you represent this new wave of thinking and innovation, but also a sector of innovative startups in supply chain. Let’s talk to the budding people who are thinking of innovating the supply chain space. What advice would you give to people that want to enter this space?

Key Takeaway: I don’t know if any of my advice would be different just because it’s supply chain, except that one of the reasons we got in is because it is such a large market. I would say to any potential founders that it depends on what your priorities are for your company. Are you looking for something to be a lifestyle business, or are you looking for it to be a home run? If it’s the second and you want to scale it, you have to keep in mind that the higher the potential for scale, the higher the risks. The supply chain industry is massive and has so much potential, but it has large risks if executed incorrectly.

Not many people have entered this space yet. With that said, there’s a lot of competition in the downstream supply chain – the logistics, warehousing, etc. – there’s been a huge sea of startups in trucking and freight with VCs that really focus on that phase of the supply chain. But there’s a lot of untouched areas in the upstream supply chain. If you’re looking to get into this space, look more upstream and the supply chain’s less crowded phases. Once you have an entry point with one industry and one product, then you can expand.

Q: Let’s talk about the investment folks. Logistics has been hot for a while, but the supply chain is becoming a hotter topic. What do you think the investment crowd is seeing today? Are they missing anything, and what is the forecast for investment in this space?

Key Takeaway: There’s definitely a lot more enthusiasm, education, and interest just based on the inbound inquiries we receive. I don’t know if that has to do with the fact that we are now more mature as a company or because there’s more overall interest – I think that it’s both. There are more dollars to be spent in the supply chain in general. I think that the onus is still on the founding team and the leadership team to educate and evangelize a little bit.

When you are an investor, it’s finding the right balance of timing, but also investing in companies that are early, but not too early. If you’re the first, then you bear the cross to educate and guide the founding team. That’s the funny thing about investing, if you’re the first, you’re almost penalized with the extra responsibility, but if you’re early enough, then you have some success stories to talk about. At the end of the day, it’s about unit economics, and that’s going back to the onus that the executive team bears. How can you talk to and show a clear story guided by clear metrics and present the path to scalability? No matter if it’s upstream or downstream, there is that execution risk involved with the supply chain. You have to be able to talk to the metrics and how to scale to interest investors.

Q: Another piece to that puzzle is circularity and sustainability. That is a hot topic all on its own outside of the supply chain, but it’s inextricably tied to the global supply chain. How do you see those two topics weaving into some of the supply chain plays going on in the space? Is it inherent in properly managing the supply chain?

Key Takeaway: I get asked this question a lot, and we want to be very careful not just to create a good soundbite. Our viewpoint is that we empower brands, retailers, and vendors to demonstrate their identity and their viewpoints on sustainability and circularity. What that means is by digitally connecting all of the participants across the supply chain, you are allowing them to have a digital identity and a digital profile. That creates more transparency around whether a vendor is fully compliant since compliance is a binary game. You either are compliant with labor laws or not, you either pay fair wages or you don’t, and so on. There’s no middle ground with compliance.

That said, some variables might be filter criteria depending on the company. For example, measuring water usage or your carbon footprint is on a continuum. So, when you empower vendors to have a digital profile, they have a better chance of proving to the world that they’re doing the right thing, and that’s how we’re empowering all these participants on the vendor side. We also allow brands to have a better system to audit and track compliance and sustainability because it’s costly to manage compliance when you require feet on the ground.

The other way of looking at it is that you have better speed to market by connecting everybody, which is directly proportionate with reducing wastage. Our team looks at this use case is how do we use data as a force to allow companies to have a better identity on what sustainability means to them? For example, many of our first set of customers were in fashion where everybody realized they need to be seen as sustainable and that they’re promoting circularity. But, that could mean many different things to every company. So, to define how you are sustainable to your customers, you have to quantify that. Once you digitally connect everybody and have the power of data, you can quantify your identity and publish that to the outside world.

Q: Looking forward, what do you see over the next 3-5 years? What are the big themes that we will see across the board?

Key Takeaway: It’s exciting! We spoke a little bit about that, which is the platformization of the supply chain space. Whether companies like it or a lot, there will be homogenized access and one version of what is happening across the supply chain, which means end-to-end transparency.

I would also say the consumerization of the front-end and supply chain is the worst when it comes to that. The interfaces are shitty on these legacy systems. You will have a revolution of B2B software, where we expect to have the same beauty and classiness on the B2B front-ends as we do with the apps we use at home. That will be a huge revolution for the importance of UI/UX.

Finally, data is going to take a front seat. Supply chain jobs are really going to become data jobs, and analytics is going to be front and center. These are some of the things that we are starting to see take root, and I can’t wait to see each of these things become big.

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