Feel Good Friday with Ajay Bulusu – Co-Founder of NextBillion.AI

The pandemic has not only been challenging but also quite retrospective when it comes down to ‘what you want to do?’. The pandemic has taught a lesson or two of life in general and some very interesting findings that one might not have learned if the world was on its course of ‘business as usual’. While these times have been ‘grey’ or ‘black’ to many and one can’t argue with the hard times most of us are facing every day, the burgeoning growth of digitalization has become an inevitable reality. Start-ups with this initiative have been growing even in the pandemic at a modest to semi-fast pace. One such digitally powered deep-tech start-up is NextBillion.AI that offers a wide range of AI-powered hyperlocal solutions, from business mapping to data management. I have the immense pleasure of knowing one of the co-founders & CEO of the entity, Ajay Bulusu, through a common friend, and I was immediately driven. With a unique solution to the frustrating mapping issue for the businesses and a brave entrepreneurial mind, Ajay launched NextBillion.AI with his co-founders amidst the pandemic. Unwavered by the covid times, let’s speak to the man himself.

What was your life like before you set out for your own venture? 

After finishing my education in the UK, I went on to work with Google for five years. Following which I was in Japan working with Indeed.com, then in New York with Amex. Then, I moved to Singapore to work on with Grab. Traveling across continents with exciting working opportunities, I got the exposure I wanted. In Grab I got the opportunity to start my team from scratch which gave me the flair of intrapreneurship. Speaking with different people I realized that many businesses are facing the issue in mapping and the location AI space. The cost to solve this in-house for businesses was heavy and we saw a huge scope to solve this as it is a more global issue. Hence, when I was confident that my experience and knowledge is sound enough to help these companies, I and my other co-founders started up with NextBillion.AI.

How do you choose your ‘pro team’? How does hiring in a multi-billion dollar firm differ from choosing the first team in a start-up? 

While starting out, I would say we were lucky. Some of the best companies in the world are built when the best yet known people come together. Hence, we first hired folks we knew and have worked with them in the past. For an early-stage start-up, we are blessed to have a very senior technology team mostly coming from top tier Chinese firms like Alibaba, Tencent. Having said that, I reckon as we scale and grow bigger the hiring so far which was based on our referral pool will shift, much like the MNCs.

Does your vision change in the course of COVID situation? How do you see the business coping with and recovering from here? 

Born amidst the pandemic we are adapting to business as usual. While during these times businesses based on mapping have skyrocketed, like food or other deliveries like groceries, etc. Hence, the businesses realized that having a well-established infrastructure is more necessary now than ever. So, with the explosion of businesses, it has been good for us as people as taking infrastructure need of maps seriously.

What do you do when you are not brainstorming? Your idea of fun is… 

As we started this year itself, it has been all work. But I love to travel, eating out and playing basketball.

Would you like to share few thoughts for all the aspiring founders out there?   

The only tip I would like to convey is that please do not start something because everyone is starting. You could start when there is a real problem to be solved and when things fall into place. Along with this, it will be good to start when other things in your life is at some kind of a balance. Thinking and starting off practically than chasing a dream which isn’t yet a reality makes more sense.

Interviewed by Manali Debroy for The Post India