Manyam talks about another variation of the personalized marketing topic that we have been discussing with Debjani recently.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to you and to Blueshift.
Manyam Mallela: I am the Co-Founder and Chief AI Officer at Blueshift. We started Blueshift about five years ago. Prior to that, I was leading a large group of data science and engineering at Walmart Labs. I ended up as part of Kosmix that was acquired by Walmart.
Kosmix was a semantic search and early pioneer in large-scale machine learning. It’s basically just data mining. The founders of that company had a vantage point of different industries coming together. They were labmates of Larry and Sergey at Google at Stanford.
Later, they started a company called Junglee, which was the early pioneer in internet search. They sold that to Amazon. Later they started their own incubator/VC firm. This led to them starting a company which tried to understand how to leverage the open web for deeper query analysis. It’s taking a view of what search does but verticalizing it to the extent where you can understand much more of the intent behind different things. That mattered in some verticals like health and travel. We did that for a couple of years.
Later, Wamart bought Kosmix and renamed it to Walmart Labs and folded the rest of their technology organization into Walmart Labs. I had a front-row seat in seeing Walmart transform itself. They were transforming themselves digitally in a very fast manner. We were a key part of the transformation.
Sramana Mitra: I’ve known Venky for probably 15 years. We have covered Kosmix.
Manyam Mallela: I ended up taking a sabbatical from my own PhD. I was doing PhD at UT Austin. Prior to that, I was doing my undergrad at IIT Bombay. In that journey, I was interested in semantic search and search technologies.
I was interning here at Xerox Parc. They had read some of my research papers and contacted me about this company that they were starting. I said to my advisor, “I want to take a look at this.” I got fantastic mentoring and education from working there. I’ve worked with them for close to 9 to 10 years.
My co-founders of Blueshift were the early partners of the team at Kosmix. It so happens they went to Y Combinator after the Kosmix stint. They started their own company which they later sold to Groupon. The reason I bring that up is that while I was working at Walmart, they were at Groupon.
We were working on very similar problems. Brands like Walmart and Groupon have millions of customers. They have a lot of data that they’re able to understand. One of the crucial problems here is how do we keep that customer going from the first visit, second visit, then to third, and all the way to a lifetime relationship.
The companies that do well are thriving in this new digital economy compared to companies that are not able to understand user intent both short term and long term and provide that key value to keep that going for a long period of time. The genesis of Blueshift is working on these problems at these large companies.