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From MIT PhD Student to Machine Learning Entrepreneur: CEO Manasi Vartak (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Apr 6th 2022

Sramana Mitra: If you’re an MIT founder, I don’t think gender matters at all.

Manasi Vartak: Based on my experience, I would push back. It’s definitely different. I don’t think it’s terrible. MIT gives you a significant leg up. The other thing that was helping here was that it was an open-source tool that people were using. It wasn’t a question of building, it was more of getting people to pay for it.

Sramana Mitra: You have the product out there as an open-source tool.

Manasi Vartak: Right. We had a set of people who were using it but not commercially.

Sramana Mitra: But you were looking for a commercial open-source model where you would build premium products and services. Commercial open source is a model that VCs love. If you can do something as an open-source and get some traction around it, you stand a much higher chance of getting funded early on.

Manasi Vartak: I couldn’t agree more. If you’re in infrastructure or you’re building developer tools, open source is highly recommended.

Sramana Mitra: Talk to me about the commercial side of it. What did you layer into the product? What were you learning? What would they pay for?

Manasi Vartak: That’s the other side of open source. It needs a lot of care and attention for your community. We built a model database. The pain point was packaging and running those models. Those were things that we had not built at that time. We found that, for people to pay for this, we had to extend this. We did that. Even now, ModelDB is open source. Our revenue generation piece is proprietary.

Sramana Mitra: Talk about the pricing model. What were people willing to pay?

Manasi Vartak: Everyone is still getting pricing down in ML infra. Even now, we price based on seats. That was the easiest way for us to get started. You can budget headcount; you can’t really budget the number of models.

Sramana Mitra: Per user per month model?

Manasi Vartak: We do annual.

Sramana Mitra: What range?

Manasi Vartak: We’ve done deals that are six figures to seven figures. It runs the gamut. We don’t do deals smaller than that.

Sramana Mitra: So you’re doing all enterprise accounts?

Manasi Vartak: Sophisticated mid-market and enterprise is where we found our sweet spot.

Sramana Mitra: Talk about your teambuilding experience. You are the CEO and you have a CTO who was part of your MIT work?

Manasi Vartak: No, he and I used to work at Twitter. I wanted to get him on board. We got into YC. We didn’t do YC because of visa issues. That’s another point. You can decide not to do YC. You can still build a company.

Sramana Mitra: The vast majority of entrepreneurs don’t do YC.

Manasi Vartak: Exactly. It’s ultimately your blood, sweat, and tears.

Sramana Mitra: This visa issue is a pain in the neck. I had a huge visa issue throughout my early entrepreneurial journey.

Manasi Vartak: I’m hoping it will become easier. That’s what I would like to figure out at some point – how do you figure out how to make it easier for people to be part of startups.

Sramana Mitra: Don’t waste your time. Chasing government is not a good use of your time.

Manasi Vartak: I wonder if you hear this from entrepreneurs you interact with. There are other Series A companies that are now hiring globally.

Sramana Mitra: Hiring globally is great. I run a virtual company.

Manasi Vartak: That’s such a great model.

This segment is part 3 in the series : From MIT PhD Student to Machine Learning Entrepreneur: CEO Manasi Vartak
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