The Journey of an Entrepreneur in Data Management and AI Economics with Sunil Soares

The Journey of an Entrepreneur in Data Management and AI Economics with Sunil Soares


In Episode 3 of The Business Philosopher Within You podcast, I sit down with Sunil Soares, founder and CEO of YDC who shares his journey of starting and growing his companies, Information Asset and YDC. 

Sunil emphasizes the importance of focus, building partnerships, and understanding the buyer for data management projects. Sunil also discusses the value of data and the need to quantify it. He reflects on the mistakes he made with Information Asset and the lessons he learned. With YDC, Sunil focuses on the economic value of data and the importance of financial management. 

Further, Sunil shares his journey as an entrepreneur and the lessons he learned along the way. He discusses the importance of building an org structure within the organization and delegating responsibilities to prepare for an exit. Sunil emphasizes the need for thorough documentation and the role it plays in the due diligence process. He also shares the challenges he faced and how he overcame them.

Finally, Sunil reflects on his proudest accomplishments and the personal growth he experienced as an entrepreneur. He highlights the importance of taking calculated risks and continuously learning. Sunil also provides his definition of success and invites listeners to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Listen to the Audio Version of the Episode

Watch the Video Version of the Episode

About Sunil Soares

Sunil Soares is the Founder and CEO of YDC, the industry’s first AI Economics Platform. Prior to this role, Sunil was the Founder and CEO of Information Asset, a data management solutions firm, which he sold to private equity. He is the author of ten books on data management. He has worked as an auditor at PwC and as a management consultant at Booz and Company. Sunil is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and has an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

"And part of it is maybe that it's not just risk-taking, it's maybe just sheer stupidity and ignorance. You don't understand the risk, so you just take it."

~ Sunil Soares, Founder and CEO, YDC

Conversation Summary

Following are the sections we covered in this conversation with their summaries, along with the time location in the video and audio to follow along.

00:00 Introduction to Sunil Soares

Sunil Soares is the founder and CEO of YDC, an AI economics platform. With a background in data management, he previously founded and sold Information Asset to a private equity firm. Sunil is also a prolific author with 10 books on data management, and has experience as an auditor at PWC and a management consultant at Booz and Company. The podcast interview explores Sunil's journey in building a successful business and achieving a successful exit.

01:56 Starting Information Asset

Sunil started his entrepreneurial journey with Information Asset, a data management solutions firm. With a background in accounting and consulting, Sunil saw an opportunity in data governance while working at IBM. Inspired by his experience and the value proposition he developed, Sunil decided to launch his own company in 2010. With the support of his wife and a clear goal to match his IBM salary within a year, Sunil successfully built and grew Information Asset, achieving financial success and paving the way for future ventures.

03:55 Vision for the Company

Sunil's vision for his business was practical and numbers-based. He based his calculations on his previous IBM salary and tried to work out a bill rate, considering factors like vacation time and bench time. His approach was more pragmatic, focusing on billable hours rather than a grand vision for the company. He started as an individual contributor and gradually evolved from there, gaining his first client shortly after leaving IBM. Sunil's practical approach helped him establish his business and gain momentum.

05:43 Approaching Potential Clients

During the initial four months of starting his company, Sunil struggled to acquire clients, learning to navigate the transition from corporate America to being a vendor. He faced challenges with friends not returning calls and experienced being ghosted, but he accepted it as part of the process. Eventually, around November 2012, he began receiving calls and referrals, which helped his business gain traction. His first clients came through relationships built during his time at IBM, followed by referrals from IBM sales teams and partners he worked with. Sunil found that networking and referrals were more successful than cold calling in acquiring clients throughout his career.

07:34 Focus on Data Governance

In this segment, Sunil emphasizes the central role of data governance in his early service offerings and how it evolved over time. He explains that his focus on data governance was consistent from the inception of his business, reflected in his series of books on the topic. Data governance, according to Sunil, involves ensuring that businesses effectively manage and own their data through disciplines such as data quality improvement, metadata documentation, and understanding data lineage.

Sunil also highlights two significant drivers that influenced the expansion of data governance services. Firstly, regulatory requirements, exemplified by regulations like BCPS 239 in banking, necessitated robust data governance practices to ensure data accuracy and trustworthiness, particularly in financial reporting to regulatory bodies. Secondly, the increasing importance of data privacy, evidenced by regulations like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, prompted businesses to prioritize data governance efforts to safeguard sensitive information and comply with legal requirements. These factors shaped the trajectory of Sunil's business offerings and underscored the critical importance of data governance in today's regulatory landscape.

09:10 Identifying the Buyer for Data Management Projects

Sunil shares insights drawn from his book "Selling Information Governance to the Business," a work he holds in high regard as one of his most impactful achievements.

Sunil delves into the methodology outlined in his book, which provides a structured approach for sales professionals to pinpoint potential buyers based on industry and function. He underscores the importance of understanding the motivations that drive these buyers to invest in data management and governance solutions, emphasizing the need for tailored account plans.

Moreover, Sunil highlights the practical value of his book, which is enriched with numerous real-world business cases spanning various industries. These cases offer invaluable insights into the decision-making processes of prospective clients, empowering sales professionals with actionable strategies.

Bhavesh acknowledges the significance of Sunil's expertise, recognizing that data management can be a technically challenging domain for many within enterprises. He emphasizes that Sunil's insights are particularly relevant for enterprises grappling with substantial volumes of data.

Reference Book

Selling Information Governance to the Business: Best Practices by Industry and Job Function

The above book, authored by Sunil, was referenced in the following section, "Creating a Client Avatar." 

11:28 Creating a Client Avatar

Bhavesh delves into the concept of creating a client avatar with Sunil, emphasizing the importance of understanding the individuals behind the titles and functions within organizations. Sunil shares insights into identifying the ideal client for data management and data governance services.

Sunil explains that historically, the primary targets for such services were the Chief Data Officer and the Data Governance Leader. However, with the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, the landscape has shifted, and now the focus extends to various C-suite executives and business unit leaders tasked with developing AI strategies.

He elaborates on the diverse set of individuals involved in decision-making processes regarding data management solutions, emphasizing the need to understand their respective motivations and pain points. Sunil highlights the importance of targeting not only the traditional decision-makers but also other stakeholders within organizations who may influence purchasing decisions, such as the Chief Risk Officer, Head of Compliance, Chief Financial Officer, and even developers.

Furthermore, Sunil shares a personal anecdote about his experience building partnerships with companies like Collibra, emphasizing the value of mutual collaboration and support in business growth. He recounts his proactive approach to learning about Collibra's technology, which ultimately led to fruitful partnerships and business opportunities for his company, Information Asset.

This segment provides valuable insights into the process of identifying and engaging with the right clients for data management projects, highlighting the significance of understanding their needs and fostering collaborative relationships within the industry.

20:13 Starting YDC and the Focus on Data Value

Sunil explains that YDC's focus differs from his previous venture, centering on assessing the value of data assets. He discusses the increasing importance of intangible assets like data in today's economy, citing examples from companies like Google and Tesla.

Sunil emphasizes the need for organizations to understand the value of their data assets and advocates for better recognition of data's financial impact. He shares insights into YDC's mission to help organizations quantify the return on investment (ROI) for their data and AI models.

Furthermore, Bhavesh asks Sunil about any lessons learned from his experience with Information Asset and how they influenced his approach with YDC. Sunil reflects on the challenges of scaling a founder-led company and the importance of delegation and team-building in his new venture.

Overall, this section highlights Sunil's transition from Information Asset to YDC and underscores the growing significance of data valuation in today's business landscape.

24:11 Mistakes Corrected in Building YDC

In this segment, Sunil reflects on the mistakes he made while building his previous company, Information Asset, and how he corrected them with YDC. He discusses the challenge of scaling a founder-led company and highlights the importance of delegating responsibilities to facilitate growth. Sunil shares advice he received from a friend to focus on the organization chart and appoint a chief operating officer to streamline delivery responsibilities. Additionally, he emphasizes the significance of financial management and recounts the difficulties he faced when his previous company was approached for acquisition without having clear revenue projections. Sunil explains how he addressed this issue by hiring a CFO and prioritizing financial statement audits for Information Asset. Overall, this section underscores the importance of addressing organizational and financial challenges to build a successful company.

"My first book, my second book, all the way till book number eight, was all around some version of data governance. I think of data governance as ultimately making sure the business owns the data. So then there's disciplines around data quality, improving the quality of the data, metadata, making sure it's properly documented, making sure the lineage of the data, knowing where it comes from." 

~ Sunil Soares, Founder and CEO, YDC

26:06 Building an Org Structure

Sunil discusses the importance of building a solid organizational structure for a company's growth and success. He reflects on the mistakes made during his previous venture and shares how he rectified them with YDC. Sunil outlines the key components of an effective organizational chart, including roles for HR, marketing, offshore operations, and sales. He emphasizes the need to delegate responsibilities and eventually hire a CEO to oversee all aspects of the business. Sunil's experience highlights the significance of proper organization in achieving scalability and eventual success.

27:41 Preparing for an Exit

Sunil discusses the process of preparing for an exit strategy for a company. He highlights the importance of hiring a competent CEO to take over the business, allowing the founder to transition into a non-executive chairman role. Sunil emphasizes the need to plan for an exit well in advance, focusing on aspects like audited financials, the presence of a CFO, and a solid leadership team, which are factors that potential buyers would be interested in.

Sunil emphasizes the importance of documentation in business operations, particularly when preparing for an exit or capital raising process. He stresses the need for thorough documentation of legal, financial, and operational aspects of the business, including employee and customer contracts, intellectual property filings, tax records, and state filings. Sunil highlights how having all documentation organized and readily available can significantly impact the due diligence process and mitigate risks for potential buyers or investors.

30:24 Overcoming Challenges

Bhavesh and Sunil discuss the challenges Sunil faced during his entrepreneurial journey. Despite the appearance of a smooth ride, Sunil recounts the stressful moments, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when clients canceled contracts and faced payment delays. Sunil shares how he navigated these challenges by ensuring financial stability through a line of credit, managing cash flow, and adapting to government stimulus packages. Additionally, Sunil reflects on the loss of a key team member to COVID-19 in early 2021, highlighting the emotional and operational difficulties faced in maintaining business continuity during such a crisis.

33:12 Proud Accomplishments

Sunil reflects on his proudest accomplishment, which he attributes to the people he worked with during his time at the company. He highlights the growth and success of his team members, many of whom started with the company early in their careers and progressed to significant milestones such as obtaining visas, buying homes, and starting families. Sunil expresses pride in the professional development and achievements of his former colleagues, emphasizing the positive impact they had on each other's lives. He views their growth as a testament to the supportive and nurturing environment he cultivated within the company.

References from the Conversation

Following are some of the references we made in our conversation:

Collibra was a business partner that Sunil worked with in the beginning of his career and helped him gain clients. 

Khalil Gibran is perhaps best known for his collection of poetry called The Prophet.

Joseph Cambell was an American writer and a professor of literature who is best-known for his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he discusses the journey of the hero shared by world mythologies. 

36:17 The Hero's Journey

Bhavesh discusses Joseph Campbell's concept of the hero's journey, where a protagonist faces challenges and undergoes personal growth. Sunil reflects on his own journey, acknowledging the misconception that he was risk-averse, contrary to his willingness to take significant risks in his career. He describes his decision to leave a stable corporate job, emphasizing the importance of calculated risks and learning from potential failures. Despite his background in finance, Sunil emphasizes the human factor in entrepreneurship and the need for considered risks rather than reckless ones. He shares personal insights into his decision-making process and the supportive context in which he pursued entrepreneurship, highlighting the importance of family and a willingness to learn from both successes and setbacks.

41:53 Creating an Independent Organization

Sunil emphasizes the importance of building an organization chart for entrepreneurs who have built stable businesses but find themselves still running the show. He highlights the critical roles of bringing in new customers, managing existing clients, and overseeing day-to-day operations. Sunil suggests that entrepreneurs should focus on establishing repeatable processes for these key functions and consider bringing in professional executives like a CEO to handle the operational aspects, allowing the founder to focus on strategic growth.

45:05 Scaling the Organization

Sunil discusses the importance of taking calculated risks as an entrepreneur. He shares his experience of delegating responsibilities and hiring a professional CEO to run the show, emphasizing the need for humility and self-awareness in recognizing one's limitations. Sunil also highlights the significance of structuring the organization for scalability and growth, drawing insights from his own journey and advice from industry peers.

46:15 Rest and Recreation

Sunil shares that him and his wife likes to travel and catch up with the English Premier League when he can. 

46:40 Defining Success

Sunil shares his perspective on defining success. He highlights the importance of not only financial achievements but also personal happiness, continuous learning, and serving unmet needs. Sunil emphasizes the value of never stopping learning and reflects on past experiences where he may have neglected broader learning opportunities. He discusses his current focus on AI immersion and personal curriculum development, illustrating his commitment to ongoing education and professional growth. Finally, Sunil invites others to connect with him to learn more about his business and engage in meaningful discussions.

49:11 Getting in Touch

Bhavesh asks Sunil how people can get in touch with him if they want to connect or learn more about his business. Sunil suggests reaching out to him via LinkedIn and mentions that he's happy to chat. Bhavesh confirms that he'll include Sunil's LinkedIn profile link in the show notes for the episode. They conclude the interview, expressing gratitude for the insightful conversation.

Please follow and connect with Sunil Soares by following this link. If you make a connect request, please mention this podcast. 

"Yeah, so I think you have to look at org chart. It's as simple as that. There's probably a couple of roles that are absolutely critical. The first role is where is the customers coming from? Where are the new logos coming from? And then who's managing the existing logos? And then I guess, what's happening on a day-to-day basis?" 

~ Sunil Soares, Founder and CEO, YDC

Conclusions And Take-aways

  • Focus on a specific area, such as data governance, to establish expertise and differentiate your company.

  • Build partnerships with companies that can bring you leads and help you grow your business.

  • Understand the buyer for data management projects, such as the Chief Data Officer or Data Governance Leader.

  • Quantify the value of data and its impact on the company's financials.

  • Learn from past mistakes and invest in financial management and auditing to prepare for growth. Building a box structure within the organization and delegating responsibilities is crucial for preparing for an exit.

  • Thorough documentation is essential for the due diligence process during an exit or capital raising.

  • Challenges are a part of entrepreneurship, and it is important to stay resilient and find solutions.

  • Proud accomplishments as an entrepreneur include the growth and success of the company and the impact on employees' lives.

  • Taking calculated risks and continuously learning are key factors in entrepreneurial success.

  • Success is defined by personal happiness, continuous learning, and serving a need in the market.

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