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o9 Solutions raises $295M to apply analytics to the supply chain and beyond

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Investors are throwing capital behind supply chain products as the appetite for ecommerce explodes. Supply chain startups raised $24.3 billion in venture funding during the first three quarters of 2021 alone, according to Pitchbook — 58% more than the full-year total for 2020. Many of the companies drawing big investments focus on managing warehouses, matching freight loads to transportation, and mapping out cost-effective routes  — solutions for which demand is rising due to both the climbing cost of logistics and rise of bottlenecks, the Wall Street Journal notes in a recent piece.

The many beneficiaries of boom include U.K.-based digital supply chain and freight platform maker Beacon and  Altana AI, a startup creating a platform to unify global supply chain data. Other companies including Verusen, Paxafe, and NextBillion, and SourceDay have collectively raised tens of millions of dollars of capital. The investment craze has extended to the public market, where issuers like ProShares and Breakwave now offer exchange-traded funds that track the index of companies involved in goods and raw materials shipping.

One of the more successful players in the market is o9 Solutions, a Dallas, Texas-based company that applies AI to help organizations plan their supply chains and more. o9 today announced that it raised $295 million from General Atlantic and General Atlantic’s BeyondNetZero and Generation Investment Management with participation from existing investors including KKR, valuing the company at $2.7 billion.

Supply chain analytics

o9 was founded in 2009 by Sanjiv Sidhu and Chakri Gottemukkala. Sidhu, a former member of the AI technical staff at Texas Instruments, previously founded i2 Technologies, which developed supply chain management software in the early 1990s and 2000s. Gottemukkala served in a range of roles at i2 across product development, sales, and strategy.

After JDA Software acquired i2 in 2008, Sidhu says he saw an opportunity to employ technologies like AI, machine learning, and analytics to build a platform focused on tackling major supply chain and business intelligence problems. He and Gottemukkala formed a team and consulted potential customers to begin developing o9’s platform, which launched in late 2014. Today, o9’s platform supports sales and marketing decision-making in addition to supply chain management and planning.

“The sweeping effects of global supply chain shortages, climate change and a raging pandemic that can be felt at the individual level underscore the fact that we are clearly at an inflection point,” Gottemukkala said in a statement. “Our AI-powered, cloud-native o9 [platform] was born from the need to give organizations the ability to make faster, more integrated business decisions that create customer value and drive better financial results while making efficient use of the planet’s precious resources. Our purpose is to develop the best platform and solutions to help our clients in this critical pursuit.”

Fundamentally, o9 is an analytics platform designed to run on public cloud providers — e.g., Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure — with prebuilt predictive models tailored for particular scenarios. o9 can draw on data to drive forecasting from both unstructured and structured internal data sources, including customer relationship management software, procurement apps, warehouse and factory machines and internet of things sensors. It can also connect to external sources, tapping into consumer market research, point-of-sales systems, and even smartphone hardware.

Over time, o9 reconciles the data to create a knowledge graph. Like other knowledge graphs, o9’s represents a network of objects, events, situations, or concepts and illustrates the relationship between them — putting data in context and providing a framework for analysis.

A commercial planning dashboard built by o9 Solutions.

“[T]he o9 platform was designed as an open platform, allowing companies to leverage new sources of data … and new algorithms for completely new use cases,” the company explains on its website. Beyond supply chain management and supply chain logistics for retail, o9 offers models for revenue management, integrated business planning, merchandising and assortment management.

Applied analytics

In many ways, o9, whose customers include Anheuser-Busch InBev, Caterpillar, and Walmart, competes not only with supply chain management solutions but with platforms like Fractal Analytics, which ingest data from disparate sources to anticipate trends in various markets and lines of business. Other vendors in the “big data analytics” segment include NoogataImplyUnsupervisedPecan.ai, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, Tredence, LatentView, and Mu Sigma.

Big data analytics refers to the use of analytic techniques to make sense of large, diverse datasets that include structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data from different sources and in different sizes, ranging from terabytes to zettabytes.

Despite the potential of — and record investment in — big data analytics, some research paints a mixed picture of its return on investment. A 2021 NewVantage Partners report found that only 24% of executives believe their organizations have realized the goal of becoming data-driven, with cultural barriers including organizational alignment, business processes, change management, communication, people skill sets, and resistance or lack of understanding presenting the biggest hurdles.

As Harvard Business Review explored in a 2013 piece, big data is often hyped so heavily that companies are expecting it to deliver more value than it actually can. Turning insights into competitive advantage requires changes that businesses might be incapable of making. And most companies don’t do a good job with the information they already have — according to Forrester, between 60% and 73%. of all data within an organization goes unused for analytics.

“[W]hile our most recent … survey found that businesses are beginning to reap AI [and analytics] benefits, the reality is they’re not often seeing a financial return — or worse, not even covering their investments,” PricewaterhouseCoopers analysts wrote in a July 2021 report. “Compounding the challenge is the fact that many organizations struggle to define ROI for AI [and analytics] in the first place.”

Still, the global big data and business analytics segment could be worth approximately $684 billion by 2030, according to Valuates Reports — assuming that the current trend holds. o9 claims that “one of the world’s largest beer companies” used its platform to run demand and supply algorithms that reduced supply chain costs and bolstered inventory across more than 32 countries. Another customer — an “American clothing and home decor retailer” — tapped o9 to replace manual and “Excel-driven” processes for inventory planning and management.

“Not only is an agile, intelligent, and resilient supply chain one of the most important growth accelerators, it also inherently leads to a reduced carbon footprint — especially for organizations that operate on a global scale,” Sidhu said in a press release, placing on emphasis on o9’s ostensible potential to improve supply chain efficiency. “A sustainable supply chain requires companies to digitally transform their planning and decision-making capabilities.”

o9 Solutions, which took on its first external financing in April 2020, from KKR (which took a minority stake), has raised $200 million in capital to date.

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Unlock The Entrepreneurial Potential Of Your Team With Employee-Ownership

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A strong team of many outperforms even the most hardworking of entrepreneurs on their own. But when hiring employees, freelancers and contractors, how do you ensure they have the same entrepreneurial skills and drive that you do as your company’s owner? Is it unrealistic to expect employees to be motivated and committed to an organisation they didn’t found?

Nicki Sprinz thinks she has cracked the code of unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of your team, and the answer lies in employee ownership. Sprinz is managing director of B-Corp certified ustwo London, a company of over 200 employees, and cofounder of Ada’s List, an 8000-strong community designed to support women working in the tech industry. ustwo has recently become employee-owned and has already seen the benefits of breaking down the distinction between owners and employees.

According to the Employee Ownership Association, this way of working can improve productivity, support more resilient regional economies and empower team members, resulting in them being far more engaged. Sprinz explained the main benefit for entrepreneurs of this model along with practical tips for managing directors and company founders to make the transition to becoming employee-owned.

Employee ownership protects the company

“Being employee-owned means existing team members, who are now partners, feel empowered as owners,” said Sprinz. She believes that this encourages everyone to put in the work to uphold a strong company culture and course-correct if they see anything awry.

Whilst this might not happen automatically, a founder can make it more likely that their team upholds the vision. Sprinz has put frameworks in place to ensure everyone has a voice. “We hold open firesides, have elected partner representatives on the board, and ensure there are regular channels of communication for all team members to be part of growing the culture and living the values,” she said.

Keeping the team on board means protecting the company. “There are no surprises about the direction we are taking with the business,” explained Sprinz. “We involve everyone in the decisions we make on our projects and ensure we are accountable, both commercially and ethically.”

Attract and retain top talent

In a competitive market, how does your company attract and retain the best talent in the world for the benefit of your clients? Employee-ownership could be the solution. Not only does it make job listings stand out, but it attracts individuals who are like-minded and think long term. They are committed to a future with whichever company they choose to join and are prepared to push themselves to make it happen.

“High quality potential recruits and employees are interested in values and purpose,” said Sprinz. “Being able to talk about employee ownership helps you stand out in a tough hiring market. We have several interview stages so a candidate can get to know us as well as we’d like to know them.”

Sprinz’ interview stages aim to weed out “cultural and value mismatches that ultimately lead to an unfulfilled team.” They ask candidates multiple questions about their values and examples of them in practice, and they encourage candidates to probe with questions about ustwo. They also “publicise the salary for all open roles and candidates have the opportunity to meet other members of the team,” she added.

Control quality

When scaling a business, ambitious entrepreneurs cannot afford to let quality slip. Growth at all costs is a false economy that ends with the business back at square one and having to work harder to undo reputational damage. “A more entrepreneurial team ensures quality stays high,” explained Sprinz. Not only do your team members care deeply about the work they do, they also know they benefit from company growth, so they are incentivised to keep raising the bar.

“If your team is invested in the long term financial success of the company, they also feel pride that their work contributes to overall success,” said Sprinz. “They respond by raising the bar on their work.” Sprinz also believes that, “Regular transparent sharing of financial results and metrics maintains dialogue on personal and company impact.”

Direct the future

An employee-owned company has options for the future. The owner might one day want to step aside or sell, and the company’s succession plan will already be in place. In the meantime, the company has hit new heights and progressed with new ideas because its foundations are solid.

Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you cannot reach self-actualisation without warmth and shelter, and a company cannot break through ceilings with constant recruitment issues. When team members are bought into the company, they are bought into its future too, making more certain outcomes for everyone involved.

“The partner representatives on the board surface the priorities of the rest of the team and ensure the conversations of the board are directed accordingly,” explained Sprinz. “The representatives are actively part of the bigger picture and playing a huge part in shaping the company’s future.”

Unlock the entrepreneurial potential of your team by exploring employee ownership, advised Sprinz. The best people will be proud to tell their friends that they are part-owners of the place they work. They will feel valued and listened to and respond with their effort and devotion. Could employee ownership be the right step forward for you?

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With $3M new funding, Egyptian startup OneOrder sets out on growth drive • TechCrunch

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OneOrder, Egypt’s supply chain solutions provider for restaurants, has raised $3 million seed funding led by Nclude with participation from A15, and Delivery Hero Ventures. The latest funding brings the total funding raised by the startup to $10.5
million, including $6.5 million working capital financing from financial institutions.

Launched in March this year, OneOrder makes it possible for restaurants to order food supplies through its online platform, solving the fragmented supply chain challenges that lead to erratic prices, waste, quality issues, and storage cost.

By using its platform, restaurants no longer have to deal with tens of suppliers, and can order only what they need, for next day delivery, stemming wastage and doing away with the need for warehouses. The platform also ensures operational efficiency and helps restaurants save money by leveraging OneOrder’s economies of scale.

The startup plans to use the funding to scale its operations in Egypt including increasing its warehouse footprint, and to explore growth opportunities within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, and Africa.

“We are exploring Saudi Arabia and expanding south into our continent. I think Africa has a lot of markets that feel the same pain points that Egypt does,” said OneOrder co-founder and CEO, Tamer Amer, who co-founded OneOrder with Karim Maurice (CTO), also founder Cube, an online restaurant-reservation service.

“The solution that we’re providing has shown that this industry is ready for tech solutions…[and] we are working on a more substantial operating system for the restaurants not just the supply chain and inventory management system, rather the full cycle that would turn their operations automatic by using AI and machine learning capabilities to drive the supply chain,” said Amer, a restaurateur for over two decades, initially in the U.S before settling in Egypt from 2008.

Amer, told TechCrunch that the sourcing challenges he experienced operating two restaurants in Egypt — Fuego, a sushi bar, and Longhord Texas Barbeque — inspired the launch of OneOrder, to serve the country’s total addressable market of 400,000 restaurants.

“I had always taken the supply chain in the U.S for-granted; we would order and get the supplies all the time. We didn’t have to worry about shortages or price changes. I realized that Egypt is so underserved and the industry is really doing a lot of things that we shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

“… restaurants should not have a full-time job monitoring the supply chain and procuring products because it takes away focus on the core business, which is serving customers. So that’s where the idea really started,” he said.

OneOrder plans to, through its partners and backed by its extensive data, begin extending working capital financing options to restaurants as a way of helping them scale their operations.

Basil Moftah, the managing partner at Nclude, said: “The product-market fit of the OneOrder solution is very impressive, along with the positive impact it is delivering to all stakeholders in the value chain. Through the use of technology and alternative data, OneOrder’s embedded financing will help underserved clients who are unable to secure traditional financing. This aligns perfectly with our investing philosophy and we are glad to be embarking on this journey with the team.”

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The guide to empowering startups on their unicorn journey

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The world of startups is booming today – there are innovative products and services that are being launched, almost every other day. Interestingly, India is fast becoming the ‘startup capital’ of the world. Over 940 startups have raised nearly 20 billion in the first half of this year, while over 100 tech startups have entered the unicorn club.

The pandemic, too, served as a catalyst, highlighting the significance of technology to scale startups. But let’s understand this – becoming a billion-dollar company is no mean feat. While most believe that funding is the most crucial component for startups – it’s also important to find the right tech partners to foster your growth.

To understand the secret sauce of what makes a startup a part of the unicorn club, a panel discussion featuring Manish Kumar, Founder and CEO, KredX; Monika Jain, Co-founder and COO, Presto; Satish Mohan, Founder and CTO, Dhiway; and Prashant Singh, Co-founder and COO, LeadSquared, was moderated by Viju Chakarapany, VP and Head of Commercial Sales – Asia-Pacific and Japan, Red Hat, at TechSparks 2022 in Bengaluru.

The journey of innovation and scalability

For startups, the decision-making process of selecting innovative technologies is not as easy, particularly when building products. Sharing her view on this, Monica revealed that as a low-code, no-code tech platform that is trying to power up other enterprises to run millions of transactions, they have to be scalable, secure, and stable.

“Open source was our first choice, and a lot of our co-founders have been contributors as well as consumers to open source. We did not fall into the typical myths that are associated with open source. I think a lot of people associate free as being sub-par, but we have noticed that these are some of the most well-tested technologies, and not just us, our customers have also liked that aspect,” she mentioned, sharing that vulnerabilities in the platform show up more quickly when one is building on top of open source.

While scaling is the natural route for most startups, it is ridden with challenges. As Prashant rightly said, forecasting is one thing, but in reality, it is exponentially harder. Since LeadSquared is taking the multi-product direction, it is important for them to differentiate between the products they need to build or buy.

“The second factor is the market. We believe that any market that can give us 10 million dollars of revenue is the right market to invest in. The third factor is profitability, which must also be considered particularly in the long run. But the most important thing is to reorganise the company, so you can defend your market share and also grab it,” he added, sharing that certain central functions like strategy and finance must also be set up.

Creation of cultural touchpoints in tech

Elaborating on the pertinent subject, Satish shared that while he was at Red Hat, he learned the important lesson of creating a certain culture, apart from building enterprise products.

“Open source is the default engine for innovation; it was not like this three decades back. Some things have changed but even today, collaborative thinking is equally important,” he said.

Most people in the startup space make the mistake of looking at a project through a single lens, believe Satish. It is critical to give back, so that it benefits the community at large. This will help them solve scalability issues and other hiccups that come their way.

“Open source is an ethos, it’s not just about license or source code. It’s about all of us coming together and nurturing the open-source model, to keep it as a hotbed for collaborative thinking and creative outcomes,” he added.

Different stages of tech in a startup

There are certain strategies that startups must follow at a fundamental level, but it is essential to know the different phases in tech that they face, shared Manish.

“The first is frugality – how much less can I pay for that tech, so that we sustain in the near future? The second phase is scalability. Can I have the tech that can scale me up from 100 customers to 1 million customers? The third stage is stability – I have 5 million or 10 million customers, can my tech be stable? The fourth piece is security. Most startups see it as a piecemeal approach, but it’s essential to think of a step ahead,” he added.

All in all, it is important to take everything into consideration to meet the high demands of customers. In the case of Monica, she believes that it is important to view any problem holistically and build it in a configurable fashion.

“Measure twice, cut once. Think through what needs to be done, plan more and get feedback from real customers. Customers get carried away, they need the right tech partner to discern,” she concluded.

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