Continuing with our feature series on the members of TiE Boston, we spoke with TiE Boston Charter Member and Chair of TiECON East 2021, Kiran Uppuluri, Founder and CEO of verteXD, about her journey and what led her to TiE.
Tell me about yourself.
I was born in Vizag, a beach city in Southern India. Very early on, my parents — both educators and social entrepreneurs — instilled in me the values of serving and doing good unto others. They were human-centric and design thinkers to the core of their being, way before these character traits were adapted as business skills and tools. The power of designing student experiences and outcomes through their eyes won the hearts and minds of their students. Students simply adored them, and recount stories of the impact they have had on their lives, whenever I meet them. Even to this day in many TiE meetings and gatherings, I have come across my Dad’s students and their excitement is palpable, most recently with Purnanand Sharma — one of his early students. My passion for design thinking and human-centric experience building likely goes back to those roots in my formative years.
I studied at IIT, Kharagpur before coming to the US to pursue my graduate studies in Applied Mathematics. My graduate thesis was in neural networks, at a time when AI wasn’t even an acronym. From thereon, I followed the corporate path — first with Deloitte in their strategy & operations excellence practice; then in the Financial Services industry — at Fidelity Investments and Citizens bank — where I had the privilege of building out customer strategies and experiences in the wealth management and retirement solutions space. Over more than two decades in the industry, I realized, with tremendous excitement, that the next consequential change will happen at the intersection of data, design and analytics. While the big companies like Google and Apple had huge teams focused on this intersection, the mid-market, startups and nonprofits were completely missing out on that movement, which is why I started verteXD a couple of years ago.
What are some of the things you feel contributed to the entrepreneurial mindset you have?
I think one of the biggest traits my parents helped develop within me is the attitude and mindset of risk-taking and being highly nimble. Sometimes things don’t work out. In fact, as an entrepreneur, one becomes intimate with failure (over and over again) before tasting success. I was simply amazed by how my parents would just pick up and keep going. Regardless of what happened along the way, they continued to hold a strong belief in their purpose and what they were setting out to do. It’s astounding the amount of hard work they put in . But of course, they didn’t do it alone. They had help along the way- it was a family affair. The universe has a way of helping out in surprising ways. And it’s never a straight line — being flexible and open to ideas as they come, adapting, and discarding approaches that don’t work and pivoting quickly to those that do — it’s an exciting, unpredictable journey. Being exposed to that early in life made me comfortable to tackle the unknown.
How did TiE Boston become a part of your journey?
The first thing that totally fascinated me about TiE was that — it’s an organization of really smart people coming together to innovatively solve new problems. To my knowledge, there isn’t another organization like it. In some ways, I found inspiration to start verteXD by asking myself how I could I help companies design personalized consumer experiences. I first became acquainted with the organization through my close friend Darshana Zaveri and fellow entrepreneurs Nikhil Bhojwani and Satish Tadikonda — all who seemed to share the same excitement around TiE. The organization and the members are different in the sense that everybody’s always trying to help each other. I think when you come together like that, you truly raise the whole community to a much higher level. Every time I interact with a TiE member, I learn something new and walk away enriched.
Can you share more about TiECON East?
As we are slowly emerging from the pandemic, we are securing ourselves and our companies, and now we are ready to accelerate into the future with the lessons learned. Let’s not lose this opportunity where there has been innovation at breakneck speed, collaboration at scale across industries, sectors, and geographies — i.e. How can we use the lessons learned, keep the momentum and continue to innovate?
And this innovation was feasible because of (1) our increasing ability to harness data. (2) apply analytics to that data. and (3) convert the new learnings into action. whether it is powered by Al, ML or any modern technology. And it is for that reason that the theme of our conference this year is Data- The New Language of Innovation.
We built the tracks and sessions based on the voices of the TiE community and the broader entrepreneurial community of Boston that we captured. We will have 4 tracks, namely NextGen Connectivity, Future of Health, Industry Tech and Entrepreneurship with a great lineup of speakers. We also have national keynote speakers spanning Vertex pharmaceuticals, Amazon and Robinhood.
Join us at TiECON East on October 1st, 2021 at the Westin, Waltham!
What challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey? What advice do you have on overcoming those challenges?
One adversity I contend with, especially having lived in the corporate world for so long, is making the transition to entrepreneurship. Drawing on my experience (having been around the block a few times over), I can size up a client in 10 minutes, assess what the true problem is, and identify potential solutions very quickly. These may be different than the client’s initial perceptions or their ‘ask’. As an entrepreneur though, it’s very hard when you have to convince people otherwise and advocate for your business (proposal)in those same 10 minutes. I’m still learning the ropes.
One of the ways, I’ve overcome this adversity is to deliver to the client’s exact ‘ask’ successfully and gain some credibility. Only then, I earn the right to tell them what they really need. It sounds backwards, but often times we get tunnel vision with what we’re trying to solve. When somebody from the outside says,” the problem is not here, it’s there,” you’re just not ready for it. Approaching the client with empathy has been a win-win.
Another challenge that I deal with daily is balancing work and life. Wanting to perfect my personal responsibilities — as a mother, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a daughter — while simultaneously giving my business venture my full attention, can be very challenging. I have had to dig deep. Relaxing the need for ‘doing it all’ and coming to terms with it was very tough, but my husband has been incredibly supportive and helpful.
What are you hopeful for the future? What are you wishing for in 2021 and beyond?
Customers are experiencing the post-pandemic world in new and different ways. As a result, they are expecting similar experiences regardless of industry: Simple and easy access, Personalized services and products, Real-time response, Unique and Differentiated experiences, and Trust.
We are living in an experiential economy. Marketplaces are transforming from product-centric to customer-centric business models, shifting how and where value is created. It starts with developing (a) a clear understanding of customer’s needs, powered by (b) the intelligence of multi-dimensional data (quantitative, qualitative, behavioral, and contextual), and innovating from © a human-centric standpoint.
These are the new rules of engagement that any company — whether it is born-digital or a traditional company — must embrace to prosper in this digital age. For those who adapt, the future is bright.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
First and foremost, talk to everybody, whether they’re in your space or not because entrepreneurial pains are very similar across industries. Also, talk to people who are just starting out. There are powerful learnings everywhere. The second is patience. It takes time — longer than you might start out thinking you will need. No matter what it is that you’re doing, it takes time. You have to develop the gut for it. It is a mindset. The moment you make that shift, i.e., “Hey, it’ll take time.” — it automatically shifts you into that process of focusing on what you’re trying to solve versus worrying if you will be successful or not. Thirdly, entrepreneurship is a bet, and you should be okay with the risk that comes with it. I’ve been on both sides, and I can tell you it’s something that everybody owes to themselves to give it a shot and take that risk if feasible.