Tell us a little about yourself Sarath…we’d love to hear about your role, a typical day at work?
Well, let me start by saying that I’m an entrepreneur first then a COO. Being an entrepreneur can give you joy and stress and anxiety at the same time. The most important part is the realization that it is an adventure, and you better buckle up for the unexpected. In my current role, I’m responsible for the company’s ecosystem strategy, global operations, talent management & other business enablement functions. I’m also the Chief Value Mentor, evangelizing a “Values & Culture First” mindset across the Company. The one thing which has remained unchanged throughout my career is the key values and culture I live every day which directly reflects in relationships with my colleagues, customers, partners and investors.
We are a deep tech company in hyper growth mode, and as a COO of the Company it’s my responsibility to ensure that the entire company functions as one unit and delivers exponential value to our customers and investors. Like any other B2B startup at our stage, we also go through a series of challenges and bottlenecks in any number of areas — operations, finance, legal, talent, technology etc. the good news is that this is not our first rodeo. We didn’t start this fresh out of school. In my previous position, I was fortunate to play multiple roles starting with deep tech computer programmer, pre-sales, field sales, sales ops and finally directly working for the CEO of a multi-billion dollar digital company running programs that are very strategic in nature. The experience I gained is tremendous, and I’m able to successfully apply this at Cleareye.ai.
If you were to ask me about my top three priorities as a COO in any given day, I would say talent is number one, where I spend a disproportionate amount of time whether top notch talent internally or externally. Partners and planning are my second and third priorities. Our Partner ecosystem is very dear to me. I am passionate about building partnerships with entities that can jointly create unmatched value for our customers which otherwise would have be impossible to realize. And, regarding planning as my third priority, one big learning lesson I carry from my past position is that nothing can beat planning. I make it a point to find “thinking and planning time” every day and plan moves accordingly. About 50% of the time things may not go as planned, but the very fact that I had that opportunity to plan ahead will enable me to activate plan B or C as context demands. That way I always have a strategy and chances are very small that something can take me by surprise.
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Can you take us through some of your biggest business enablement and strategy learnings through the years in tech?
While at UST, I had the opportunity to spend quality time to learn from Ram Charan, a world-renowned business advisor, author and speaker who has spent the past 40 years working with many top companies, CEOs, and boards of our time. I consider learnings and insights gained from those sessions with Ram very foundational to how I approach business today.
I consider the ability to deal with uncertainty is perhaps the paramount skill leaders must have to be successful in this age. This is particularly important when you play the role that of a COO. I am referring to uncertainties beyond operational uncertainties. As I mentioned earlier a key part of the strategy is “planning”. This gives us the ability to anticipate and deal with all sorts of threats that may potentially drive our business off the cliff.
One such tool/ strategy that I practice on a daily basis and encourage everyone to try is the OODA loop approach (observe–orient–decide-act). Originally a concept first used by U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd to improve fighter jet performance, it squarely fits into day-to-day decision making for any businesses, not just deep tech startups like Cleareye.ai.
A few thoughts on what it takes today to ensure better seamless interactions and business success across departments as sales and marketing evolves (given today’s largely remote selling / remote marketing environment) and the need for COOs to keep things integrated and in place?
Another key learning from my past to ensure coordination and transparency among various functions is to meticulously conduct a JPS (Joint Planning Session). I have seen people confusing a JPS with regular staff meetings or review meetings. The idea behind conducting a JPS is significantly different. Again, this is one of those key insights which I picked up from Ram Charan and also Sajan Pillai, the former CEO of UST Global and Founder of Season Two Ventures, and I put this into practice here at Cleareye.ai with zero dilution. The very premise of a JPS is that when information is transparent to all parties at the same time, they can form a common understanding and situational awareness. The functional leaders present in the JPS are better equipped to make trade-offs and adjustments quickly. Decisions are made, silos are broken, leaders are empowered, and the groups will come together, and the company gets results.
A few best practices you feel COOs in the tech market need to insure to help enable their sales and engineering departments run more smoothly?
You can have the best engineering product or solution in the entire world but what is the point if you don’t have a team who can market or sell it? The world is constantly changing, and it is truer in the case of technology companies. Unlike old days, sales and marketing teams in deep tech companies are very tech and customer savvy. They have a larger role to play beyond selling boxes. Of all the people, they stay closest to the problem. They understand what the market needs and most importantly they singlehandedly can help us determine when to “PIVOT”. If Tech startups don’t do timely pivots, it can be catastrophic, and they may perish.
As a tech COO, a key aspect to consider is how to establish a work culture that enables a smooth relationship between your product sales team and your engineering team. Although these teams share a similar end in mind, the motivation and process for getting there can be distinctly different which can create friction. A few best practices include:
- Openly acknowledge to both the teams that they are critical for business to grow and differences are bound to happen, and key is to get over those differences sooner than later.
- Conduct a mini JPS (outside of the Company JPS) that includes staffs from both the functions.
- Encourage open communication and enable a feedback loop
- Constantly remind the teams about the larger picture and vision
- Incentivize the teams to achieve goals together vs. silos
Take us through some of your most successful strategies through the years and a few learnings you’d share with operations executive as they climb the ladder?
There are only a handful, but key is how religiously you apply those in your work content.
- Work Culture – Design and evangelize a work culture aligned to your Company’s philosophy. This is the backbone of your company.
- Talent – Establish a strong talent network. It does not really matter what business you are in, but if you are not focused on finding, nurturing and retaining top notch talent, you are going to land in trouble very soon.
- Timely feedback – Stop Procrastinating! It’s easier to deal with the issue as soon as possible for you, for the person you’re providing the feedback to and for everyone else in the Company.
- Data Driven – To run your business at scale following your instincts and trusting your gut alone may not be just good enough. As an Ops leader it your responsibility to establish KPIs for each of your functions and meticulously monitor those leading and lagging indicators.
Cleareye.ai is a game-changing, advanced artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning platform that enables banks to launch tailored products at a rapid pace. Headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in New York, Bahrain, and India, the company works to significantly simplify banking by leveraging advanced AI techniques. Its platform combines the power of Consumer Experience Sensing, Insights Generation from data, and Autonomous Automation, all powered by AI. Furthermore, Cleareye.ai seeks to transform banks into hyper-agile organizations that customers want to bank with, and that employees feel proud of, all while delivering exceptional customer service, driving short-term gains and long-term growth, and generating insights to sustain momentum at a digital scale.