Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman first met at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and, while getting advanced computer science degrees at Stanford (and sharing an office with Sergey Brin), founded Junglee, a shopping search engine enabling customers to search for products from online and offline retailers in India, in 1996 (later bringing on two more co-founders). One of the first backers for the site was the Washington Post online, with a 12% stake.
Two years later, a young startup called Amazon acquired Junglee for $180 million, with Venky and Anand joining Amazon as General Manager and Director of Technology, respectively, working with Jeff Bezos for a while. Junglee.com was launched in India in 2012 as a comparison-shopping website.
They stayed for a couple of years, and then created Cambrian Ventures, backing a number of companies that Google acquired.
In 2005, next to Google in Mountain View, California, they created Kosmix. Kosmix started as a search engine, organizing the web into topic pages, with “a dashboard of relevant videos, photos, news, commentary, opinion, communities, and links” related to them. With the VC connections from Cambrian the duo had an easier time financing the company. In late 2005, Lightspeed Venture Partners gave $7 million, with $18 million in 2006 from Lightspeed and Accel Partners. By 2008, a fourth round of funding reached $20 million from Time Warner Investments, Accel, Lightspeed, DAG and Motorola CEO Ed Zander – even Jeff Bezos contributed, through Bezos Expeditions.
In April 2011, Walmart bought the company for about $300 million and turned it into @WalmartLabs, a tech research division for the company.
Anand also co-wrote a book, “mining of massive datasets”, with Stanford’s Jeffrey Ullman and Jure Leskovec. Jure now is the Chief Scientist for Pinterest, underscoring the small world of AI talent and that you have to know the right people to get the best talent.
As before, the duo stayed on for the transition, as SVPs for Global eCommerce, and then moved on with Rocketship Ventures, a $40 million Silicon Valley fund to back early stage companies.
@WalmartLabs, in the meantime, blossomed into a Silicon Valley research lab for Walmart to test emerging tech, with over 6,000 staff. And according to VentureBeat, the lab is adding 2,000 new full and part-time technologists, in California, Arkansas, Virginia and India.CTO Jeremy King in an interview with VB described optimizing the in-store selection of items ordered online to be picked up as “fascinating machine learning problems”. In order to compete with other tech companies and to appeal to Silicon Valley talent, Walmart pitches the technology positions as with “Walmart Labs” instead of just Walmart, and also emphasizes the scale of their global operations. King in the interview also mentioned creating initiatives like Tech Tuesday Meetups at the Bentonville headquarters for Walmart, with more to come. Walmart e.g. works with Bossa Nova Robotics in a pilot program in stores from Florida to California, to have the robots roam the aisles and scan the shelves to figure out what is in stock and what is selling. Bossa Nova is a Silicon Valley start-up that came out of Carnegie Mellon University, and thus far has raised $70 million for R&D, hiring and international expansion.
It’s a good blueprint for financial services or really any firms to get into big data, predictive analytics and AI, finding a great team with revenues in place, and plugging into them their larger infrastructure, to clean house and help with growth across all departments. And for the right price, it’s of course also a big win for the AI scientists, financially and scientifically.
You just have to know where to look.