As an entrepreneur with over ten years of experience, Raj De Datta knows success. Raj is the CEO and Co-founder of Bloomreach, a platform that uses AI and customer data to build engaging, fluid customer experiences.
After growing up in the Philippines, Raj worked hard to get to where he is today. After moving to the United States at the age of seventeen, he received a degree from Princeton in electrical engineering. He then went on to receive an MBA at Harvard and eventually ended up where he is today.
Luckily, we discussed his successes and the journey that led him to entrepreneurship and Bloomreach. Below, we will discuss some of the invaluable information he’s shared with us.
Raj describes his latest company, Bloomreach, as a “commerce experience cloud.” With Bloomreach’s assistance, brands can elevate their customer service in a more personalized way. This data-driven service allows businesses to increase their revenue and build a stronger customer base.
Bloomreach shapes your consumer’s journey from the moment they discover your brand. From the time the customer interacts with your brand until they make a purchase, Bloomreach helps facilitate a seamless experience.
For more information on Bloomreach and how it works, watch the video below:
Regarding the Bloomreach experience, Raj states, “From the moment you’re first considering a purchase until you add something to your cart, we call that the core of the shopping experience. And so, making a great experience means making that journey incredible.”
Entrepreneurship and Education
Entrepreneurs often wonder if they need a higher education to get started. When looking at Raj’s educational background, it may seem like that’s the case. However, according to him, that’s simply not true.
When asked if entrepreneurs need formal education, he says, “The answer is no, because the stories of entrepreneurs are so distinct. The ones who never studied anything or dropped out of college and the ones like me who went to decent schools have still built great businesses.” Elaborating further, he states, “Entrepreneurship is a mindset more than anything else.”
Further explaining his path to entrepreneurship, he states, “I grew up far from civilization, hundreds of miles outside Manila in the Philippines. And so, I certainly didn’t have what I have now with respect to my network and resources here in Silicon Valley.”
According to recent statistics, Raj is right. In fact, FreshBooks’s 2019 report showed a decreasing trend in entrepreneurs with college degrees. According to the report, only 56% of entrepreneurs surveyed in 2019 had a college degree.
Although Raj believes that anyone can become an entrepreneur, he also understands the value of his education. In fact, as someone with humble beginnings, he believes that education led him to success. He states, “My ticket was education. The only way I could get on the map was through education.”
Entrepreneurship is like life. Eventually, each of your compounding experiences and capabilities come together and help your business grow. Along the way, the passage you follow gives you individualized skills, turning you into the businessperson you’re supposed to be.
During our discussion, Raj pointed out that it’s easy to look at your career’s outcome and believe that it was shaped by one defining moment. But for many of us, it’s not that simple. Raj says, “Careers are journeys. Each step leads to another step, which leads to another. And you ask, is it step three that really helped me with step ten? It’s pretty hard to decide because steps four, five, and six were built on the shoulders of three. So, might there have been other ways to get to step ten? I think so, but you can’t say you would have gotten there if you didn’t pursue every step that mattered.”
When Raj founded Bloomreach with the help of Ashutosh Garg, a former Google Search engineer, he was faced with several challenges. For example, while working with Bloomreach’s first client, Raj stated that none of the technology worked the way it was supposed to. However, through this turmoil, he discovered a valuable lesson that makes him the successful entrepreneur he is – to be honest.
While recounting his stressful beginnings, Raj states, “We were on the hook to deliver, and we didn’t have an offering that really worked. And I decided to handle that by being totally honest with the people I was working with and saying, ‘Hey, I know it isn’t working now, but we’re going to get this working.’” Raj’s passion and authenticity towards his clients are what he believes got him through his earliest days with his company.
Although Bloomreach has been around since 2009, it hasn’t always been easy. Even after overcoming his initial challenges and running a successful company for five years, Raj faced an important decision. As a company, Bloomreach was no longer viable as a long-term business. So he decided to change directions and adjust his business for the future.
This defining, decisive point benefitted Bloomreach and turned it into what it is today.
Regarding this transformation, Raj states, “We built this business, which was a rocket ship, and it pretty much stopped working and stopped being a viable long-term business. So, we had to totally pivot the direction of the business to what it is today and look back on that moment and say we were kind of fortunate to face it. Because I don’t think we’d have the quality of business we have today if we didn’t face those obstacles.”
According to Raj, being truthful with customers and employees is crucial. If you are candid about where you are in the process, your customers and employees know what to expect.
Regarding his belief in authenticity, Raj asserts, “My approach has not been faking it until you make it. My approach has been incredibly authentic. But don’t confuse authenticity with doubt because what is true is that I refuse to lose. I refuse to not believe that we’re going to build a great company and achieve our vision, and that comes through in passion. So, it’s possible to be real about your challenges and be unrelenting about your destination simultaneously. To me, that’s where the real power is when people talk about their vision. Vision is ultimately a commitment to something great.”
The Drive to Succeed
Raj’s perseverance to succeed is a common trait among entrepreneurs. According to the British Library, his ambition and ability to nurture long-term relationships provide him with some of the key skills entrepreneurs need to be successful. One other trait that Raj has is the ability to inspire the people around him. Through his validity, he has built a supportive group around him.
All these traits work together and help Raj run a fruitful business. Furthermore, they have created strong relationships with those around them. While discussing people’s choice to back him based on his vision, Raj says, “Credibility is key for people to believe it. So, if you’re authentic, in my mind, that works a whole lot better than trying to fake it till you make it. The world is a lot smaller than that. People are a lot smarter than that. If you weren’t going to lose the customer that day, you were going to lose them the week after, or the month or year after because your credibility will be shot.”
Being a Leader
According to Raj, if you want to become a leader, you must first believe in yourself. Next, you must believe in your mission, your vision, and what you’re doing. Then, you are ready to become a leader.
He states, “I learned early in my career that you can want to harness all the best knowledge around you, but ultimately, your job as the leader is to process all the information to inspire people. But you have to have courage in your own convictions, and you have to have an authentic belief in where you’re going. If you don’t really know what to do and you’re faking it, it will come through eventually. So, it starts with actually believing that you have the answer, that you have the judgment to know how to lead.”
By building yourself up and fighting for your business, you give people a reason to follow you.
Elaborating further on leadership, Raj says, “I think it starts with a core inner belief and strength. I look at how to transmit that. In Bloomreach, we have three missions for our company, not one. The first is that we have a mission to be the single most impactful professional experience of people’s lives. And that comes grounded in the fact that people you know and culture are the major impacts you actually control. The business outcomes are descended from that … The second mission is about why the company should exist, which for me, is all about creating an incredible e-commerce experience. I believe that commerce changes lives, and therefore, I believe in the mission that if we can create really incredible commerce experiences, we can touch the lives of billions of people. So, belief in the mission and transmitting the mission is number two. And number three is knowing that you have to build a real world-class business along the way for the other two to actually happen.”
If you want to build your leadership skills, now is a perfect time. According to LinkedIn, we are currently facing a leadership shortage. During the 2021 Global Leadership Forecast survey, only 11% of organizations rated their leadership bench highly.
According to a recent article published by Forbes, a company’s culture can be its greatest advantage. And for good reason, we all know what it’s like to be stuck in a job that we hate. Recently, the pandemic has made everyone question what their role is and if they’re happy at their jobs. In April of 2021, nearly 4 million Americans left their jobs to pursue greener pastures.
For entrepreneurs, this is a great opportunity to create a business. Consequently, the pandemic has also fueled people’s desires to create their own business. In 2020 alone, almost 4.5 million business applications were completed. This is currently the highest number on record.
While speaking to Raj, we asked him how entrepreneurs can motivate employees and create a positive work culture. He replied, “I believe the most powerful force is pride. And when I say pride, I don’t mean ego. I mean being there for your team, your colleagues, customers, shareholders. I’m here. That, at the end of the day, is what really motivates us. We want to do what’s right for the people around us.”
Raj further states that before he started Bloomreach, he wrote down his company’s culture and values. These very values can still be found on the Bloomreach website today. Check out the video below to listen to Raj speak about these values:
To support his company’s workplace culture, Raj always communicates with his employees and keeps everyone informed. He says, “I said, we’re going to treat it as part of the operational cadence of the company. What I mean by that is, we talk about software releases, we talk about customers, revenue, growth. We’re going to view our culture through the same lens, and every quarter, we’re going to report on it. Every next quarter, we will talk about what we need to work on to make it better. We’re always going to talk and celebrate victories and be authentic about things that aren’t working.”
This approach might just be what separates Bloomreach from its competitors. According to the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness, conflict can come at a huge cost. Their research discovered that 85% of both leaders and employees report experiencing conflict at work.
Furthermore, a 2020 CIPD study found conflict reduced productivity, cost businesses time, and increased employee stress.
A negative workplace culture can cause employees to resign or feel isolated. By guaranteeing that your employees are taken care of, you increase your business’s profits and take care of the wellbeing of your employees.
According to Raj, this thoughtful approach helps him make his customers successful.
During our interview, we asked him to advise entrepreneurs who have found themselves in a toxic workplace. This is what he had to say, “It starts with taking responsibility. You have to take responsibility for the fact that the culture is toxic. Then, diagnose the source of it often. It could be certain policies or certain people.”
Often, people try not to address their workplace culture. According to Raj, this is something that needs to be changed. He says, “I think you’ve got to be very real about the reason why people don’t tackle culture, even though they know it’s kind of toxic, is because they’re getting results because the people involved are pretty good at some other thing. Everybody knows they’re kind of toxic, but no action is taken. So, you have to make some tough calls. Then, you’ve got to model what good looks like because often, people settle into a particular rut.”
If this happens, Raj believes in making a full change to management and tackling the issue. There should be a zero-tolerance policy for workplace toxicity. The problem must be dealt with at the source, and everyone must work together to collectively resolve any issues they may have so that the workplace does not interfere. If people do not want to be a part of the solution, they cannot participate in the positive transformation.
As a company, everyone needs to have the same goals and understand what’s happening. Raj believes that open communication can help everyone achieve the same mission and work in harmony. However, you should always be aware of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
For example, he draws the line at letting his employees knowing each other’s income, but he is open to discussing the company’s financials with his team. It demonstrates the company’s communal results and gives everyone a deeper understanding of how the company operates.
Entrepreneurs often discover that funding can be tricky, especially when it comes from outside the company. But, as Raj describes, opening yourself up to outside investors means allowing them to become a part of your company’s process.
Before you decide that you must use outside sources for funding, Raj advises, “I encourage people to really think hard about what they’re going to do with the money. People often think money’s going to solve their problems, and it turns out that it doesn’t. A thought experiment is to ask what you would do if you had all the money in the world. Would you do things differently?”
If you ask yourself these questions, and you find that things would be the same, something else may be wrong. According to Raj, there can be several different causes for friction within your company. For example, maybe your product doesn’t work well, or your workplace culture is toxic.
Further elaborating on these questions, Raj states, “You’ve got to figure out why the money unlocks value.”
If you are not having luck raising money or finding investors, Raj believes that this means that one of two things is true. Either you have an awful idea, or you’re a terrible salesperson. As he puts it, “the world is full of capital. Genuinely, there’s money everywhere. So, there’s more money looking for good people and good ideas and good businesses than ever before.”
Building a Digital Team
In Raj’s book, The Digital Seeker, he provides readers with insight on how to create a digital business that reaches the heart of its customers. While writing this book, he discovered that the same ideals could also apply to his team. According to him, creating a successful digital team lies in asking yourself what motivates your employees.
He explains to ask yourself the questions, “Why is this person working for me? Why is this team member working? What are they looking to do?” To him, figuring out how to be successful lies within asking yourself these questions about your staff.
Currently, Bloomreach has approximately 700 employees. With such a large staff, they have still figured out what’s effective. He states, “What works is to put the digital team at the heart of the business and understand that digital does not mean digital. It’s actually a cross-functional pursuit to chase whatever customer output you’re trying to achieve. So, within a digital team, there need to be product managers, finance people, tech floors, and marketing folks, with everybody centered on delivering an incredibly good digital experience. It has to be integrated at the heart of the company.”
He further develops this idea by creating a comparison between Peloton and NordicTrack. In it, he states, “Peloton effectively makes a NordicTrack with an iPad. But yet, Peloton is a digital business because of the gamification, the size of classes, and streaming. Now, if the people that do that separated the team into a team that handles the bike and a team that handles the experience, I would say that’s what NordicTrack tried to do. But Peloton said that it’s actually the gamification and classes and digital experience that is intimately tied in with a digital team at the heart of the enterprise.”
According to Raj, that’s why Peloton is so successful in the digital space. They have a cross-functional team that works together to build their enterprise.
When asked about finding a mentor, Raj stated that it’s impossible to believe that one person will tell you everything you want to know. He thinks that the people around you are the ones that can help. According to him, all the people around him are the ones that help him learn and grow.
He states, “I am unquenchable and looking for help in all kinds of different ways. But I also have a value proposition for each person to benefit from and also lend their expertise in ways that are specific. I think that with mentorship, you’re always just looking for the next mentor that will help you with the next challenge. Ultimately, accumulate a group of people who have your best interests at heart, maybe even have some economic upside and success, and go to them in all kinds of different ways to evolve your business.”
Raj also works as a mentor when he can, but he’s always honest about the agreement. Since he’s always limited on time, he lets them know that he’s there to support them when he can.
As we included our interview, Raj gave us his five best tips for entrepreneurs:
Do it for the right reasons.
Don’t be an entrepreneur because of others.
Have a passion for solving problems and believe that you’re the only person who can solve them.
Believe in yourself and test it. Figure out if you have the judgment to be a CEO and make good decisions. Do you trust your decisions?
Invest in culture and your mission.
As Raj puts it, “When all of those things are in place, do it. There’s no substitute for it. There’s only so much analysis and studying and planning and thinking that can get you so far.”