Kx strategic partnerships and investments – a conversation with Kris Inapurapu

3 Apr 2019 |
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Kris Inapurapu leads Kx business development efforts in Silicon Valley and the western U.S. He is involved in sales, venture investments and strategic partnerships, with a focus on expanding the use of Kx technology in new industries. Prior to joining Kx, Kris has worked as an engineer, consultant and entrepreneur. In his current role, his roots in enterprise software development and deployment inform his vision for bringing Kx technology together with innovative software companies to create significant market value.

Q. What kind of technology investment companies does Kx Ventures look for?

First and foremost we are looking for companies who can take advantage of our technology, the kdb+ time-series database and our products and solutions built on kdb+. We believe that there is no reason why Kx technology should be restricted to a specific industry or segment of the technology community. If a startup is working on solving a cutting-edge low latency-focused big data problem, we are interested in talking to them very early on in their product development lifecycle, before they have a minimum viable product to assess if there is a fit between Kx technology and the end product. This applies across industries including utilities, manufacturing, insurance, automotive, insurance, space, and robotics. One of the key differentiators of the Kx Ventures model, compared to other corporate innovation programs, is the ability for entrepreneurs to get access to an extremely valuable and proven technology stack that has been battle-tested in the financial industry without having to dilute their equity early on in the startup lifecycle.

Q: What kinds of partnerships does Kx Ventures look for?

For joint venture partnerships, we are looking for companies who are traditional market leaders in their core business areas, and who are working to create growth initiatives that involve data-driven solutions.  For example, if a company is a leading industrial equipment manufacturer and wants to build a big data application that leverages data generated by sensors instrumented on their equipment, we would be an ideal innovation partner to co-develop and market  an end-to-end analytics solution.

For strategic technology partnerships, we are looking for alliances with technology players that make the usage of kdb+ seamless and create more network effects for the kdb+ developer ecosystem. An example of this is our Anaconda partnership which enables Kx to offer the kdb+ database system and related machine learning libraries on Anaconda’s popular Python and R open source distribution platform. Similar partnerships with GCP and AWS extend the use of Kx technology beyond our core markets.

Q: What key influences have shaped your view on strategic software partnerships?

Early in my career, I worked at a mid-tier enterprise software company, called OpenText, that has since gone on to become a leader in its category. I went in as a professional services consultant and learned everything that happens at a software company during my time there. Specifically, I learned about what happens when a customer purchases the software. My task was to help customers deploy the product, and I came to understand that the customer usually has an entirely different perspective, in terms of how it will be deployed, and what the value add of the software will be.

The experience of helping customers take advantage of their software to solve their business problems has informed my whole perspective in business. Since OpenText I have had similar customer-facing roles, be it in pre-sales, solution marketing, as well as a value engineering specialist that helped customers understand the business value of technology investments. In every case, my emphasis has always been about what the unique value of the software is to the customer, not about selling software as a set of feature functions and capabilities that can be eventually commoditized by other players in the market.

While I was at OpenText I also had the opportunity to work with SAP in their partner development program. That was also an inflection point for me because I learned how large software companies interact with other software companies to create a compelling ecosystem that creates incremental value to the customers. The large companies can choose to grow organically internally, or they can partner with other software companies, for growth, as SAP does. During this time I not only helped OpenText continue its relationship with SAP, from a partner and reseller perspective, but I came to truly understand why software partnerships exist.

This knowledge has informed my career journey thus far and informs how I go about creating new and unique partnership opportunities today — finding synergies between partners and working towards the common goal of providing the right value to the end customers.

Q: How does your view of the kind of compelling ecosystems that software companies can create through strategic partnerships apply to the recent Kx strategic partnership with H2O.ai?

H2O.ai has a popular open source tool, and a commercial platform, called H2O Driverless AI, both of which are used to fit thousands of potential AI models to data. Driverless AI, is an automatic machine learning tool. Through our strategic partnership, H2O’s Driverless AI will integrate kdb+ to bring high-performance time-series analytics to the platform.

Both Kx and H2O already have significant market share in the financial services industry. As more Kx technology customers implement ML strategies, they will increasingly need Driverless AI to speed up application development. For Kx customers with large historical data sets already in kdb+ they will essentially be able to do their time series manipulations, and run their scoring engines with H2O right where the data resides.

Other industries with large scale time-series data problems, like for IoT sensor data analytics, also offer a compelling use case for automatic Driverless AI automatic ML and kdb+ because together they tackle the complexities of time-series analytics so efficiently. Over time, as more learning moves to the edge, the compactness of kdb+ will bring further performance gains to Driverless AI.

Q: How did your experience developing strategic software partnerships inform your career when you began working in financial services, one of Kx’s core markets?

After my OpenText experience, I had the chance to go back to MIT to get my MBA in finance. From there I got involved in investment banking, which proved to be a great way for me to put my takeaways from the software industry to work. When I became an investment banker, I stayed in the software industry space.

Combining my software experience with investment banking helped me gain experience in developing financing opportunities in the software sector. I was involved in helping companies do fundraising and issuing IPOs, as well as advising them on how to position themselves for strategic M&A and investments. During this period I learned that companies that have great success in the enterprise software space can always answer two questions: (i) How do we create sustainable value for our customers?, and (ii) How do we build up an ecosystem with adjacent offerings for our customers with partners? The answers to both of these questions had a profound impact on the long term sustainability, and the value, of the companies that I worked with.

Q: How do you apply these learnings to your work with Kx today?

When I meet with companies I am looking for a vision that involves disrupting an existing industry, or incumbent players, with smarter, better technology. Those companies that can take advantage of Kx software, and who understand how the speed and simplicity of kdb+ can transform their business are great fits. The same kind of vision applies to strategic partners, who see the mutual advantages of teaming up with Kx and providing a platform for our technology.

Over the past two decades, Kx has built end-to-end data-driven solutions in finance and capital markets. A simple way for us to take that experience to new markets is to build new products with Kx technology in partnership with innovative companies and create a vibrant ecosystem, like we are doing with Kx Ventures. By letting these new partners build their products on the Kx platform, we are helping them bring their product to market faster and we are increasing our ability to enter new markets. This is an example of where the ecosystem approach is better than an organic approach.

Q: What are you most excited about going forward in the data industry?

Many people in the industry know that “data is the new oil.” However, the real value of data in different end markets is derived from the ability to sustainably capture, store and analyze data to derive new business insights and arbitrage opportunities. In other words, the tools and the recipes used to drive value from raw data is where the non-trivial value of the data in that industry is going to be manifested. I believe as players in various industries start collecting more data about their business processes the emphasis will come down to how quickly and efficiently that data can be capitalized to become a dominant player in that industry. I’m excited about the opportunities that are created for Kx in the near future in this context.

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