Describe your childhood and student days. How did those life experiences shape your future?
I belong to a typical south Indian middle-class family. Both my parents were teachers. I wasn’t from a family of entrepreneurs. However, there were no restrictions to dream of or become one. Throughout my growing up years, it was instilled in me by my parents, “Do whatever you love” and “Put your heart, soul and more into it, and you will achieve your goals”.
As a kid, I was fascinated by science and mathematics. This interest in later years made me lean towards technology, software and hardware. I had genuine interest in building software products and platforms that will challenge the status quo. Even though I did my schooling with Tamil as the medium of instruction, the desire to excel on merit ensured that I managed to assimilate advanced technology concepts and ideas in English. Even though, I hadn’t seen a computer till my second year of engineering, I could learn it from then on, as it fascinated me. When I was in college, all the girls would be asked to return back to hostel by 6:00 PM, while boys could continue to use the computer lab till late in the night. I simply wanted to practice more, and started living in the city avoiding hostel.
As I reflect, it taught me that one should be open to learn and adapt, and never be overwhelmed by challenges. Till date, I learn new things every day.
I carried that attitude throughout my professional life, believing that by combining hard work, sincerity and passion with the ability to learn and unlearn, I will be able to challenge status quo.
My mentors: Primarily, I should say, in my early days, it was my parents. Then, I was moulded in Texas Instruments by my managers.
When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur. My life journey with two of my best friends Baskar Subramanian and Srinivasan KA, from college was the primary driver. We were a small group, with a lot of passion for engineering, and a strong calling to solve business problems by applying technology.
Ability to think ahead of time is Baskar’s strength. Trying interesting ideas and making them work my nature, and Srini’s as well. We joined hands to set up our first company, Impulsesoft in early 2000s. We worked on building a Bluetooth technology stack those days.
After exiting from our first venture after its acquisition by SiRF, the three of us wanted to create something more path-breaking. We wanted to bring about a change led by technology while focusing on specific problems in India. We observed that while Internet wasn’t the biggest medium in 2007-08, it allowed targeting of messages and advertising to its users. In contrast, television being the biggest medium had not seen any significant disruption for a long time. Small and regional advertisers were shying away from national channels due to high cost of advertising, leading them to lose out on higher viewership and enhanced brand visibility. In case they did advertise on national channels, they were paying a huge premium as their ads were relevant to a very small geographic area. For instance, serving only the market of Mumbai, but advertising across the country. At Amagi, we wanted to reinvent television advertising by enabling TV networks to air different ads in different cities at the same time on a common satellite feed, while making TV advertising affordable to small advertisers.
Buoyed by our success in replacing primary ad spots with regional ads on a common satellite feed, an Indian broadcaster approached us to replace two hours of content to comply with local broadcast regulations in Singapore for one of its pan-Asia feed. This unexpectedly paved the way for Amagi’s cloud-based linear channel playout platform that can run 24x7 live channels, a business that would eventually expand internationally with deployments in more than 40 countries, playing out more than 400 channel feeds. Soon, the company pivoted to become a global cloud technology provider for TV networks, content owners and OTT platforms to launch, manage and monetize 24x7 live linear channels.
How did you go about addressing the opportunity?
Even though Amagi solutions caters to the media and entertainment industry, at the very core, we are a technology company working on innovative cloud solutions. Our company is based in Bangalore which give us tremendous access to tech talent with the right culture, entrepreneurial spirit, and openness to work in start-ups.
We pioneered the use of cloud for TV broadcast. Our goal was and continues to be – To transform broadcast operations from a primitive, hardware-based, expensive set up to software-based, scalable, reliable and cost-effective model.
It was natural for us to look at global markets which were relatively mature in terms of internet infrastructure and penetration. While we housed our entire R&D, product development and operations teams in Bangalore, we set up sales offices in Los Angeles, New York, and London. We started hiring sales and technical pre-sales professionals from local regions. It gave us the right balance to manage costs, and deploy capabilities where it mattered the most.
What products/services are you offering and how are they niche?
Amagi offers cloud-native playout, delivery and monetization platform for traditional broadcast TV industry and new-age streaming TV industry to launch 24x7 live linear channels and monetize them through ad insertions. Unlike most of our competition who had legacy solutions and are trying to port them to cloud, Amagi is cloud-born. Therefore, our solutions are scalable, flexible, reliable and gives much better control to our customers to manage their costs.
How is your equation with your co-founders? For how long you have known them?
I co-founded Amagi with Baskar Subramanian and Srinivasan KA. We have been classmates and friends from college, been partners for most of our professional career as well, right from our first jobs at Texas Instruments and then at our first venture, Impulsesoft. While I lead Customer Success at Amagi, Baskar runs Product Management, engineering, and investor relations. Srini leads global sales and revenue management. This way, we complement each other’s strengths and provide the required leadership to our company.
Being good friends from college days meant that we understand each other very well – emotionally and intellectually. We are frank with each other, and never hold back any opinions, feedback, our fear or vulnerabilities. I went on to marry Baskar, and our friendship and partnership strengthened – both personally and professionally.
What kind of growth have you seen since inception? What are the factors that contributed to the growth?
We now support 400+ channels across 40 countries, working with leading TV networks, content owners and OTT platforms. Our customers include A+E Networks UK, Discovery Networks, beIN Sports, VICE Media, Warner Media, CuriosityStream, Tastemade, Cinedigm, Samsung TV Plus, The Roku Channel, NBCUniversal and many others.
We embarked on a journey in uncharted waters. We looked at emerging technologies such as cloud and placed our bets. In the beginning, it was quite challenging. None of us in the company had broadcast industry background. No one in the broadcast industry used cloud as the primary infrastructure. Added to that, we were a start-up from India trying to establish ourselves in a global market. We built a robust technology platform, and some of our early customers tried it as the cost benefit was hugely attractive. Once we proved the technology and business model, we were able to build trust among customers. At the same time, we built our solutions to cater to both broadcast TV and streaming TV. So, we were able to spot trends early on and benefit from it when the demand surged.
Do you think it’s difficult to be a woman entrepreneur?
I think we have a slightly skewed understanding of a woman entrepreneur. For decades, we have seen women across socio-economic strata trying to become financially independent, setting up small businesses (which may not be fancy) and at the same time supporting their family. So, if you look around, you will see so many examples of women from different walks of life creating their own identity through business ideas, however small they may, and whatever be their motivation – financial, intellectual, or simply survival.
And, now that the business ecosystem has improved so much (Yes, the pandemic phase will eventually pass) – setting up companies is easy, access to funds are easy, technology support is advanced, access to talent pool is healthy, families are more supportive. And several success stories across the society act as a great inspiration.
What is your advice to other women entrepreneurs?