Hailing from a typical middle-class background and growing up as a regular kid on the block, Amarjeet had a really normal childhood. After studying really hard for two years, he got into IIT Delhi. Today, he believes that entering IIT was what changed the way the rest of his life shaped up. After graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he completed his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California. After coming back in India, he worked as an assistant professor at Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi for 7+ years before starting his own company - Zenatix in 2014 to build IoT based energy monitoring and control products.
In an exclusive interview with CrazyEngineers, we got Dr. Amarjeet Singh to share his entrepreneurial journey with us. Read on!CE: How were your IIT Delhi days back then? How was your experience of doing MS and Ph.D. from the University of California?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh, CTO & Co-founder, Zenatix
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: IIT Delhi gave me a lot of exposure. I was reasonable in academics, always between 10-15 departmental rank in the electrical engineering department. I got introduced to extracurricular and leadership positions during my second year (1999) as a hostel representative to Indoor Sports Club. Subsequently, I was elected as Institute Secretary for the Film Series Committee (2000) and then the General Secretary for Board for Recreational and Creative Activities (BRCA), in 2001. As part of BRCA, besides being responsible for the year-long activities for all the clubs that come on the board, I was also responsible for organizing Rendezvous (2001) – the flagship inter-college cultural festival of IIT Delhi. That is when I got my first exposure of conceptualizing something from scratch.
I never wanted to pursue higher studies while I was at IIT Delhi. My campus job offer from Synopsys was retracted during the downturn of 2002 and I eventually landed at Tejas Networks through an off-campus job. Next 2.5 years at Tejas (until December 2014) were very inspiring – I got some life-long friends and a lot of technical knowledge in those years. While I learned a lot, I realized that once I start getting expertise in some aspects, the learning will eventually plateau and the work will become more mundane. Talking to folks around, I got inspired to do PhD since the message I got was that a Ph.D. degree is a confidence to yourself and to others around you that if given an unsolved problem, you can start from scratch and solve it as good as anyone else in the world – so this will let you do new things in life all the time, for the rest of your life. I wanted to do my Ph.D. such that I could start my own venture.
For my Ph.D., I applied to 9 universities, got rejected from 8 and an admit (without scholarship) from UCLA. Thereafter, I spoke to a few faculty members and eventually was fortunate to get in touch with Prof. William Kaiser who agreed to fund me. My adviser, Prof. Kaiser, was a very hands-on person and gave me complete freedom to decide what I wanted to do. I was very impressed with the research culture in the USA whereby students at an even undergraduate level are exposed to research that is valued by the industry and society. While being there, I always thought that life would have been different if we had similar exposure during my undergraduate days.
My desire to do a venture of my own was alive all the time. It was due to that desire that I pursued courses outside of School of Engineering (in School of Management, Film School, School of Public Policy etc.). I started volunteering for a non-profit organization, Association for India’s Development (AID) with their Los Angeles chapter (AID-LA). The exposure to social work and the sudden demise of my grandmother (when I could not be around her in her last days) convinced me that I wanted to move back to India and work towards contributing something meaningful to the society. My Ph.D. work was in robotics and algorithms and I was clear that it will not have immediate applicability in the Indian context so I kept my desire to start something of my own at the back burner. It was now about returning back to India after finishing my Ph.D. and then taking out time to figure out what to do next that can create large-scale impact.
CE: Tell us something about your professional journey.
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: After moving back to India, I wanted to take some time to understand what to do next where I can have maximum impact in society. Since I wanted to do something in the domain of technology, I traveled around for next 4 months, meeting several people working in social sector – including social entrepreneurs, activists, policy makers, academicians etc. A lot of this was planned 6 months before I left the USA through people I knew in AID and rest came out as references from people whom I met. Two of my friends accompanied me on this trip and we traveled through more than 10 states, only once taking a flight (rest all in trains and state transport buses) and only for a couple of days staying in a hotel (rest all staying with people in the community). It was a hugely valuable trip – I will leave the details for some other time.
In a nut shell, I was more confused at the end of these 4 months than I was before on what should I do next. In between, I met Prof. Pankaj Jalote who was setting up IIIT Delhi as its first director. I was impressed with his vision of what he wants to build and decided to join IIIT Delhi as a faculty in December 2009. My initial goal was that academic life will give me 4 months of leave and hence some more time to figure out what I really want to do. However, it really became an anchoring for the next phase of my life. I developed a special attachment to teaching and felt that the best way to contribute back to the society is through education – catch the next generation young and prepare them for contributing back to the society. Further, IIIT Delhi was setting up its new campus and I was interested in making the campus energy and water efficient. With support from Prof. Pankaj and some government grants, we set up more than 200 energy meters across the campus. It also started my research journey on energy efficiency in buildings (2009-2013). I was convinced that a lot of energy gets wasted in buildings and new age technologies like IoT and data analytics can be leveraged to collect data and take actions which can help in making these buildings efficient.
In Oct 2013, my friends from IIT Delhi – Vishal and Rahul, reached out mentioning that they want to do their own venture in data analytics. While I was well settled by that time at IIIT Delhi, I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – there were two people, whom you know and trust, who have genuine interests in making a big impact and who were willing to start afresh. We all agreed that energy is an underexplored area and IoT and data analytics can contribute significantly.CE: What is Zenatix all about? What important problem does Zenatix solve? Could you walk us through the various offerings of Zenatix?
Co-founders (L-R) - CEO Rahul Bhalla, CTO Amarjeet Singh, COO Vishal Bansal
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: At Zenatix, we are passionate about sustainability and strongly believe in the power of technology and data. In a bid to leverage these to make a contribution towards a sustainable planet, Zenatix was founded in 2014. Energy efficiency is one critical element for sustainability and the primary focus so far had been on retrofits (build more energy efficient light bulbs, air conditioners, etc.), whereas the operational energy efficiency (use of existing infrastructure optimally) has been largely overlooked.
In this respect, Zenatix has developed an innovative product called WattMan. It is an IoT based Building Management System (BMS) tailor-made for retail chains and banking setups to help them in reducing their electricity consumption by up to 30%.
Given the distributed nature of retail/ banking set-ups (100s of thousands of outlets/branches, spread across the country), having a control over the electricity spends and providing the right customer experience at the same time, is a big challenge. Our product, WattMan, addresses these challenges in an automated manner through its cloud-based intelligent controls driven by advanced machine learning algorithms. It employs our proprietary firmware for performing automatic sensing and control. Collected data is used to develop machine learning driven models deciding optimal operational settings based on external factors like weather and footfall, thus allowing sophisticated control.
Besides automated control, we use various Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence techniques for anomaly detection and predictive and preventive maintenance of electrical assets.
Wattman - Kit with energy meter
CE: What is the revenue model for Zenatix?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: We charge customers in a subscription model and cover the cost of hardware and software over a period of time. Typically, the benefits (including energy savings) are significantly higher than the subscription amount and hence it makes perfect business sense for the organization to invest. The amount of subscription is a function of the size of the site which varies from a small site like an ATM to a large store grocery store. We also have the CAPEX model wherein the clients pay upfront for the hardware and a per month fee for software maintenance.
CE: What was the major turning point in the journey of Zenatix?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: We were initially offering energy monitoring and analytics solution. The big realization was that unless we complete the loop through automated control, the significant “potential savings” will not completely translate into “actual-realized savings”. Addition of automated control, together with algorithms for preventive maintenance and robust end to end IoT stack (which we could quickly customize as per specific requirements from the customer) all were included into WattMan and contributed to its significant and quick adoption.
CE: How do you approach marketing your business?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: We are a B2B company with a focused set of customers in retail chains and BFSI. Our marketing is largely driven around newsletters to the focused audience and attending focused events where we can meet up with decisions makers in our targeted market segment. The value proposition is so simple that once introduced, it is very easy for us to get a sign-on for a paid pilot at 5-10 stores. Beyond that, it is the function of data and realized savings that help us build a business case to expand from pilot sites to multiple sites for that customer.
CE: Tell us about the growth rate of Zenatix. How big is the market that you are targeting?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: Globally, the operational energy efficiency opportunity is $120 billion and the total addressable market for us is $1.5 billion (in ARR terms) in India and South East Asia.
WattMan with automated control was ready in early 2017, after which we have been able to quickly expand to more than 700 sites.
CE: Tell us the statistics about company's growth in terms of no. Of clients, team members deals done etc since the company's inception.
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: We are a team of 37 people inclusive of marketing, sales, technology, and research. We have so far raised funding of $ 1.2mn from pi Ventures, Blume Ventures, and other investors, early this year. We have previously raised funding from a group of angel investors led by Rahul Khanna of Trifecta Capital, Google Indian Head Rajan Anandan, and Snapdeal Co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.
We have on boarded several key customers across different verticals in retail such as supermarkets, telecom, quick service restaurants and apparel, in addition to banks, managed service providers and insurance companies in the BFSI sector.
CE: What is your plan to survive if the company progress is slower than anticipated?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: It is important to understand that we do not need to have numerous customers to reach a significant scale. The average number of stores for our target customer segment in retail is 200-300. On boarding 50-100 such customers are enough to get the growth engine kicking which we believe will be easy.
CE: What has been your greatest moment of success?
Dr. Amarjeet Singh: Rather than a single moment, I feel elated when a customer reiterates their faith by agreeing to give us a large number of their stores to manage, when our colleagues speak of satisfaction they get at the very thought that they are working to save electricity and the small moments of joy that colleagues feel when they accomplish even a small feature that is then deployed for a large number of stores. It is this journey that is important and that keeps us moving every day.
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