Sramana Mitra: You came to Michigan straightaway?
Amjad Hussain: Yes, just because of where I landed my first job. I came to Detroit and I have lived here for 23 years. This is the longest that I have lived in any given place.
Sramana Mitra: What job did you come with?
Amjad Hussain: Since all of my training was in artificial intelligence, the very first thing that I did was I worked for a small engineering firm. They had some challenges and projects where my skills were relevant. I worked for a few employers. I eventually became the CIO of a company. It was very entrepreneurial. I was going through the corporate life and realized that it was so not me. I wanted to make a difference.
I was not wired to behave in a corporate setting with all the processes and bureaucracy. That was not how I was wired. I was lucky enough to have a lot of good friends and trusted partners who supported me in that journey. I paid my dues doing all the work for different corporations. In mid-90’s, I ran a consulting firm office here in Detroit. They wanted to set up a solutions practice. From 2008 onwards, I have only worked for myself and have not looked back ever since.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk about your first venture into doing something on your own. What was the project?
Amjad Hussain: My partner and I co-founded this company called Silkroute. Silkroute is a very advanced supply chain analytics platform SaaS. We took an approach of building something that was horizontally very powerful. Then we brought a lot of domain expertise to build vertical applications in retail inventory management, retail analytics, in-store inventory planning, and warehouse inventory planning. We had a lot of passion in that topic. It was also very relevant.
When you’re in Midwest and in the heartland, you look across and you see a lot of manufacturers and wholesalers and people with warehouses. That was the first thing that we did. We had a lot of luck in terms of having a global customer footprint. All this entrepreneur journey is bootstrapped. We were lucky to not need or go for outside funding. It helped us with building a certain type of culture that we wanted.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk about how you got your first set of customers and how you got yourself off the ground.
Amjad Hussain: Silkroute’s first customer was UK’s largest retailer Tesco. Some of that was luck as well. Tesco had acquired assets from one of the companies for which we had worked earlier. We knew certain people and they were knowledgeable about our skills. It started a relationship between Tesco and us. It gave us some revenues, so we could invest any economic margins back into the company and develop many more products and solutions. That is how it started.
It wasn’t as if we built something great and then we were able to leverage that. There was some luck involved. Over the past 10 years, the nature of work and amount of work have only grown with that customer. We have not lost a single customer in our entire journey.