Prior to my meeting with Mr. Atul Jalan, CEO & Managing Director, Manthan, as I noted down discussion points, I got to know that RITUKUMAR (Yes, the Indian luxury apparel brand!) is a client of Manthan. And then I meet with the man whose humility reflects immediately as he extends his warm welcome to a new publication (TowardsAI) representative to his office room in Lavelle Road, Bangalore.
We begin to talk about his India mission. Atul is positive about the digital transformation in consumer sectors in India, and aspires to see smaller players make better use of their customer touch points, because, every one of them is generating data, and data is an asset to any business, small or big.
So, what is he doing at Manthan, right now?
Manthan Maya is the world’s first AI-powered conversational agent for business analytics.
Maya enables users to interact with sophisticated enterprise analytics applications as if they were human, using natural language and receive AI-powered insights for decision making on-the-go.
Targeted at CEOs and senior executives, Maya helps them get business insights instantly, whether at home or at their desk easily using a voice interface, instead of relying on a team of data analysts or IT experts. Through a conversation with Maya, a business executive can instantly get data-driven answers to any business question such as:
What are my performance highlights?
What was the average basket value last week?
Why did Broadmoor store sales decline?
What is the promo sales contribution in Arizona for bakery category this week?
Maya is revolutionary because it is the first of its kind and brings a paradigm shift in the way users interact with a complex business system. Maya can understand intent, sift through millions of data points, slice, dice,analyze them using sophisticated analytics models and respond with personalized answers based on a user’s role and context in seconds.
Under the hood, Maya leverages Natural Language Processing (NLP), Intent Analysis, Machine Learning and Deep Learning to process queries. With Maya, Manthan is leading the transformation to zero touch UIs.
Atul is a serial entrepreneur and he started his career in AI. He says that it’s the quirk of destiny that brought out AI from its winter. From Philosophy, to Psychology, to Computer Science, everything is playing a part in the AI-first world, where there are concerns of legal issues, ethics, and a holistic impact on civilization, overall. Healthcare & Life Sciences industries, for example, now use surgical robots, Automobile industry uses expert systems & robots, Retail industry is hugely impacted by drones and uses AI for loss prevention, Recommendations, Sales forecasting, and other mission-critical business functions.
Atul quotes John McCarthy, “As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore”, and he says that AI is the new internet. It is the new IT. It is a force of nature. It’s not machine becoming intelligent man, but rather it’s man becoming more machine-like. I can imagine a world where we put Consciousness to Cloud, transfer Consciousness from one System to another, and download Consciousness.
However, a problem in this emerging era of AI is that, he says, there is a lot of excitement among business leaders about AI, and there is less clarity about how to utilize its potential. For example, with advent of advanced silicon materials, high-purity polysilicon, silicon gases, AI can now interact with you and feel your emotion.
His advice to prospective AI adopters and CEOs is simple: AI has come to make humans function better. AI augments our decision-making. So, if you want to build successful brands out of your businesses, welcome AI.
On question of who is the real custodian in a company, to make decision on whether to adopt AI or not? Atul says, “The real custodian is not functioning in silo. Every business unit must come together to leverage their common asset, which is data, and explore how that can provide more value to customers, by using deep technology and AI”.
And, what is his advice to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) businesses and Retailers?
AI is not an option. See how the media industry is disrupted due to digitization. These days, customer has the power to compare prices, check quality differences, and make decisions. It is high time to harness digital forces to cause disruption & win.
In his opinion, what is the challenge for upcoming AI startups and how can they maintain a competitive advantage?
Availability of data is the biggest challenge. Nevertheless, one can always invent a light bulb, or an Air Conditioner; not everyone has to build an electricity power corporation. Who knows, may be a breakthrough will happen when same results are generated from a tiny amount of data. If a startup is solving a key problem that matters to consumers, there is no competition with the big giants that are holding almost all data of the world.
What are his personal strengths that helped shape Manthan?
- Innate comfort with ambiguity. In entrepreneurship, there are always more unknowns than knowns. An entrepreneur needs to be comfortable with ambiguity
- Fiercely independent nature
- A passion to create the world that I wanted for myself
Which are the books that he is currently reading?
- Genome: The Autobiography of a Species, by Matt Ridley
- The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil
What was his go-to-market strategy?
Take the products to a developed nation with a mature Retail & CPG base. McDonalds’ was the first customer of Manthan. Atul set up its first office in Chicago, near McDonald's headquarters.
What is his vision for Manthan?
Biggest cloud analytics company
Biggest customer marketing analytics company
And as we were about to conclude the meeting, Atul rushed to meet with a certain officer from the Traffic Police department, to discuss about an AI-enabled traffic management system. : - )