The Digital Seeker with Raj De Datta

Raj De Datta is a serial entrepreneur, he’s the co-founder and CEO of the global software platform, Bloomreach. He’s also the author of the book, The Digital Seeker.

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: Have you ever tried to change anyone’s behavior at work? It can be extremely frustrating. So often with great intention, it provides the opposite results ending in poor relationships, poor performance, and often causes the person to dig their heels in. Still some approaches clearly work better than others. In a study completed by the Harvard Business Review, a data sample of almost 3000 direct reports of almost 600 leaders focused on manager’s 49 sets of behaviors and assessed the leaders under, effectiveness at leading change specifically the manager’s ability to influence others and move in the direction the organization wanted to go to. They then analyzed those at the highest and the lowest ratings on their ability to lead change. Then compared with the other sets of behaviors, they found that some behaviors were less helpful in changing others. And also that two had little or no impact, therefore providing useful guidance on what not to do.

Being nice: I’m sorry, but being nice suggests that you may finish last in the game of change. It might be nice and easy, if all it took to bring about change was to have a nice, warm, positive relationship with others. Unfortunately, this research suggests that that’s just not the case, and by giving others incessant requests, suggestions, and advice. I refer to this as “nagging” to be quite honest. Now, for most recipients, this is highly annoying and only serves to irritate them rather than change them, but is also often the change that most project managers adopt in the first instance and continue to do so despite their lack of success.

But there were some indicators and some behaviors that did correlate with exceptional ability to drive change, and here are the top four. Unsurprisingly at the top of the list: Inspiring others, and there are two common approaches that most of us default to when we try and motivate to change others’ behavior. Broadly, we could label them as push and pull. Some people intuitively push others, forcefully telling them what they need to change. Providing frequent reminders that sometimes following steps and stages with a warning about consequences, if they don’t. But we noted earlier that push doesn’t often work, if it’s certainly not executed well, the alternative approach of course is pull and we can employ variety of ways, and these include working with the individual to set aspirational goals, exploring alternative avenues, to reach an objective, seeking out ideas, methods, design thinking, creativity. And of course this approach works best when you begin to identify with the other person and what they want to achieve and making the link between the goals and the change that they need to see happen.

Providing that clear goal sits at the top of the list too. If I was a farmer attempting to plow a straight furrow, I need to select a point in the distance and then constantly aim in that direction. Change initiatives work best when everyone’s site is fixed on the same goal, therefore the most productive discussions around any change being proposed, start with that end in mind. And it serves that strategy well. Challenging standard approaches, successful change often requires leaders to challenges, status quo or the standard approaches and find alternative ways of working. Leaders who excel at driving change will challenge even the rules that seem to be carved in some. And what seems academic simple to say, courage is next on the list. And it is academically simple to say, but behaviorally it takes a lot of practice. Aristotle said you’ll never do anything in this world without courage. It’s the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.

Indeed, every initiative that you begin as a leader stats with that first courageous act, be that a new hire, a change in process, a new product that you decide to pursue, any changes to your team or your organization. Every speech, all of these require courage. The need for courage covers many realms. We sometimes hear people say, oh, not comfortable doing that. Well, my observation is this, great leaders get comfortable being uncomfortable, especially when they change efforts, demand the willingness to live in discomfort for longer than usual. So for those of you that are regular listeners to this podcast, you’ll know that I’m a many models kind of guy. I don’t believe in following one set of principles or one set of rules. But what I do know is whichever model, whichever book you read, you’ll find these traits of behaviors around leading change and leadership in pretty much most of them. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Please get in touch with us, if you have anything you want to promote through the stories that we share on the show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Special guest on today’s show is Raj De Datta. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Bloomreach. Bloomreach is a leading software platform that powers over $200 billion of digital commerce experiences. And that represents over 25% of retail ecommerce in the U.S. and the UK. Raj is a multiple time entrepreneur and now written in a book The Digital Seeker. A guide for digital teams to build winning experiences. Raj, welcome to the show.

Raj De Datta: It’s great to be with you here, Steve.

Steve Rush: So tell us a little bit about your story and how you ended up with Bloomreach.

Raj De Datta: Yeah, for sure. You know, I grew up actually in the Philippines and back and forth between the Philippines and India for most of my life and came to the U.S. when I was 17 and went to college and then, you know, spent a number of years in Europe building my first entrepreneurial venture starting at the age of 21. Came back to the U.S. for business school, and then moved out west in 2003 to California and had been doing kind of startups and growth stage ventures really ever since. And somewhere around 2009 was when kind of the initial idea for Bloomreach came about and we were off and running.

Steve Rush: Awesome. So at 21, you set up your first business. Tell us a little bit about that experience?

Raj De Datta: You know, it was a crazy story. I had finished university. I had gone and worked on Wall Street for about a year and a half or so. And I was intending to go back to business school, had accepted admission to do so. And then my boss’s, boss said, hey, you know, you’ve got a summer in between, you know, finishing up with us and going back to school, do you want to help us sort of with a business that we’re getting off the ground, that it involves building high speed internet in Europe. And I said, great. That sounds like a fun way of spending a summer, I’ll do them. And as I got into it, I got so passionate about working with him. And another colleague that the three of us just decided to start that business together. You know, they had families in New York. So I picked up, I had never been to Europe before, but I picked up, got on the flight and first went to Paris and then London and decided, you know, I didn’t really want to go back to school at that point. I was just too passionate about the business we were looking to start and was off and running. And so it was definitely an adventure, learned a ton in that first entrepreneurial venture, but very much career shaping.

Steve Rush: And did you notice that it was an entrepreneurial adventure that you were on at that time? Or was it just one of those things that you look back on and think, oh yeah.

Raj De Datta: You know, I think at the time I just thought it was a ton of fun. You know, the adrenaline was definitely pumping, you know, it was it was just a crazy period of time as well, you know, perhaps dating myself, but it was, you know, in the late nine, 1990s and there was a bit of an internet bubble and telecom bubble going on. And so it was just a crazy time and I didn’t really know any better either. I just found, you know, I was doing every job. I was a product manager, I was a developer, I was negotiating financing, I was raising money, I was dealing with regulatory stuff. It was just a ton of fun and much more fun than, you know, kind of the previous work experience I had both on Wall Street. And I had also been an electrical engineer. I felt like it was a very fulsome experience. That was challenging day and night. I worked 24/7, but I just loved it.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and it’s often those early career opportunities, where you have to put on all of the various hats that you sometimes later rely on in a more mature entrepreneurial life, right?

Raj De Datta: I think so. I mean, you know, I have a blog post out on LinkedIn that talks about why I believe early career people should either start or join, you know, relatively small startups and the logic is that provided you can afford it. The learning curve, you know, for every year that you spend at one of those places is equal to seven years that you might spend at, you know, a big company. And therefore you learn very quickly whether you love it or whether you don’t. And, I had a lot of friends and colleagues that I worked with in that adventure who later on went back to more traditional jobs because they just found it wasn’t for them.

Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

Raj De Datta: And, you know, and I took the opposite course, but either way, we both found out very quickly, much earlier in life than most.

Steve Rush: Now Bloomreach has been a massive success and it continues to grow. And when you start to think of the fact that you power a quarter of retail ecommerce across the U.S. and the UK, that is an enormous scale, where are you going next?

Raj De Datta: Well, you know, I think there’s a long run way, you know, if we look at the eCommerce market as a whole, you know, it’s about a $5 trillion market and it’s been growing consistently at 15% year over year. We’re still in a world, believe it or not, where about 18% of retail sales happen on digital channels. So it’s still really early in that adventure. So first and foremost, we’re going to just ride the wave and ride the growth of e-commerce to make that happen. But it’s really our belief that, you know, kind of the first 20 years of e-commerce. E-commerce is about a 20 year old industry at this point. And the first 20 years of really been about what I call standing up the store, simply being able to transact online in the same way as you could transact at a physical store, but really the next 20 years are about standing out from the crowd because now digital has become a very competitive place. Amazon is one click away, and so the question is what are you as a brand going to do to distinguish yourself so that your shoppers and your customers stay with you and come to you and prefer you? And that’s what Bloomreach is focused on doing, is all the many ways we can enable those brands to compete online for scarce attention.

Steve Rush: Time passes really quick, but when you reflect back 20 years for a whole industry to be creative, it’s no time at all really, is it?

Raj De Datta: Indeed, you know, I mean, if we think about how old retail is as an industry, well, it’s actually dates back to the beginning of civilization, right? People were trading something probably, you know, the first people on earth were trading something with each other. So relative to that, e-commerce is a very young industry in many ways. And indeed, you know, like most technology trends, the level of acceleration of adoption gets faster and faster just as, you know, iPhones were adopted faster than televisions. And you know certain social media platforms were adopted faster than iPhones. So everything just gets faster and quicker.

Steve Rush: Yeah, is it fair to say that we’re all digital teams these days?

Raj De Datta: It is fair to say that, and if we’re not, then we’re definitely on the losing end of the digital battlefield. We’re all digital teams. Digital is at the heart of really every enterprise that’s out there, every business that’s out there. And in fact, you know, I think one of the key differences I’m sure we’ll talk about the book that I wrote, The Digital Seeker, and one of the key sort of research outcomes of that is that, you know, in the first age of digital adoption, people thought out of digital as their marketing channel, you sort of had a business and you said, oh, you know, I sell shoes. And now I create a website to sell those shoes the same way I sell the shoes in my store. So digital was a marketing vehicle for my business. And what’s true in 2021 is that view of digital is it tends to be very narrow. Indeed, digital is at the heart of everything we do. And therefore at the heart of our teams.

Steve Rush: Do you think there’s still room for businesses that don’t have a digital or an e-commerce representation these days?

Raj De Datta: I think it is extraordinarily challenging, you know, I will never say never. There’s always going to be, you know, the incredible restaurant that everybody knows with word of mouth that has the amazing chef that somebody’s going to, you know, that people are going to line up outside to get a reservation at that perhaps doesn’t need a digital presence because that’s how well known they are. But we have to say at this point, that that’s very much the exception rather than the rule. And certainly wouldn’t be the way forward when we’re building a business.

Steve Rush: Right, Yeah. So you have the book, The Digital Seeker. So what is The Digital Seeker?

Raj De Datta: Well, I think it starts with really trying to ask the question, why do the winners win and why do the losers lose? And it turns out that if you look across digital winners in category, after category, we’re seeing a tremendous evolution in the nature of digital experiences. And I describe that evolution as the movement from the customer to the seeker. And so, you know, to make it very real, if we think about what’s happened in our own lives digitally, you know, the internet was supposed to make our life easier. And indeed it has, there’s a lot of things available online that we would otherwise have difficulty procuring, but really, you know, places like Amazon have trained us to do a lot more work as consumers. So, you know, we figure out what we’re interested in buying. We ask our friends, we do the research and then we just show up on Amazon and buy it.

That isn’t the way it used to work. We used to, you know, go down to the trusted store and ask them and get some consultative advice and they would do a lot of the work. So Amazon has democratized commerce, but that doesn’t mean it’s made it easier for consumers. And in many ways, the to-do list of all of us digitally is very, very long. We sit in front of our mobile devices or computers and have a long list of things to do. So, you know, it’s our view that the winners actually, aren’t just going to make customers lives easier. They’re going to go to the root of why somebody’s buying the product in the first place and build the experience for that. And that’s what I mean by saying, build for the seeker, not the customer, figure out what they’re really seeking behind the purchase. If they’re buying some plywood, they’re clearly not seeking plywood. Maybe they’re seeking the idea of building out a deck to entertain their friends. So maybe build the website, building the app for building out the deck.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: Not selling plywood. And that really is the thrust of The Digital Seeker is that all of us have something deeper we’re looking for.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: Build for that.

Steve Rush: It feels to me almost like you flipped content marketing on its head somewhat, because, you know, you are looking for a transaction and event knowing that actually that’s part of a much bigger picture that you can then fulfill through that experience, right?

Raj De Datta: That’s right, exactly. And indeed content is a huge part of it, right? If I was building an eCommerce experience for building a deck, I would need to have videos and links to contractors and you know, maybe virtual reality or augmented reality to place the wood in my own surroundings. There’s a lot of things I would build that would go beyond, here’s some plywood, check out, here’s the price, you know, transact.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: And indeed it turns out that is a much richer experience. It’s what consumers want, and it’s also the source of competitive advantage if you’re an entrepreneur, because if you just put some plywood, then the consumer just says, well, where’s the cheapest plywood? I’m just going to buy there. But if you build this distinguished experience, there’s a good chance that you’ll drive a level of loyalty that you want otherwise.

Steve Rush: So in your book, you call this out. I think you call it by saying, putting the seeker at the center and that’s real philosophy of let’s forget the transaction that’s just occurred. What about the seeker? And what’s happening in other parts of their life and work.

Raj De Datta: That’s right, you know, and very often we’ve heard for 20 years or more the idea of customer centricity and often what that means is, that’s code for reduce the friction for people to buy from us. And that’s fine, I mean, indeed I like it too. If I have to go through two clicks rather than five clicks in order to buy something online, but that misses the boat a little bit on all the other work I did before I made those clicks in the first click.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: And that’s very much what putting the secret at the center means. It turns out to be, you know, everything from what products I build, how I build those product, how I construct my teams, what work they do, how I do research about their intentions. And then certainly how I scope out and build out the experiences that they have with me as a brand.

Steve Rush: So if I was an entrepreneur or a small business owner or a leader of an organization listening to this conversation, and I start thinking about the notion of switching out my focus from my customers to my seekers, how do I start that off?

Raj De Datta: Well, you know, I believe it starts with a lot of whys. So, you know, what you’re trying to do is, you’re trying to discover your seeker first. So to use, you know, some examples from the book. There’s an example of a business called Hotel Tonight and Hotel Tonight, you know, today owned by Airbnb, but was originally a business that was started because the idea was that, you know, you could go to Priceline and you could go to Expedia and you could book travel really easily. But so often there’s a certain percentage of travel that are looking for serendipitous travel. They’re literally looking for a hotel tonight, not rather than planning a vacation. So what the entrepreneur discovered was, yeah, you could go do that on Expedia or Priceline or any other one of these travel destinations, but it’s not a great experience if that’s my goal, because it doesn’t give me all the experiences that I would look for in terms of serendipitous travel at that moment.

And so what the entrepreneur did is ask a bunch of why questions, why is this person looking to travel? Oh, it turns out there’s a certain percentage of travelers that are looking to plan vacations and others that are looking to just book them immediately. And then by asking the why question behind the, okay, why do they want to travel serendipitously? Much of that might be dating, much of that might be last minute business travel, whatever it might be. And then why are they looking to look for a hotel? Oh, well, they’re looking for a hotel that has certain character. So by asking deeper and deeper questions, you can really get to the heart of the seeker’s intention and build these unique experiences. And then when you end up scoping out Hotel tonight, you find, wow, it looks pretty different than Expedia and Priceline. And now it becomes a lot harder for Expedia and Priceline to compete with the Hotel Tonight experience.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: Because it’s built for something deeper. So it’s all about asking the deeper and deeper questions behind why a customer is buying.

Steve Rush: Completely different experiences, aren’t they? Same proposition, same product, but different proposition, different experiences.

Raj De Datta: Exactly.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: And we can find leader after leader in industry, after industry who is asked these deeper question and built profoundly different experiences, which then enable them to compete long term much better than simply I’ve got the same thing for a lower price and a little bit more convenience.

Steve Rush: So I’m intrigued to learn that when you have conversations with your clients and they already have a well-established set of products and solutions and services, how do you then start journey from, I know you want to sell this stuff, but let’s take a step back and look at how do we evolve that seeker intention?

Raj De Datta: Well, it’s a great question. And you know, so many brands and our customers and others are a bit in a rat race, you know, they can be chasing next quarter’s earnings or market share, you know, for e-commerce. What we find is that, you know, the wake up calls typically come from their competitors because, you know, if they are not acting in this way, there is some entrepreneur in a garage somewhere, maybe a well-funded garage these days looking to build a digital proposition in exactly this way. So very often the wake up calls tend to come from external forces like that. And then you start to ask the question, well, look, if we don’t alter our own thinking, then that doesn’t change the market. The market is still going to adopt.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: The better experience. And that tends to be the bit of the kick in the butt, you know, to rethink this.

Steve Rush: So in your book, you have a model that you use around helping some of this creativity flow and you call it The Three A’s Model. And I just wondered if you could spin through let’s know how we might harness them.

Raj De Datta: I think the observation is that, you know, this isn’t just about sort of business thinking. This has a lot to do with technology. And indeed if you’re a business that has aspirations to serve thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of customers, then you can’t possibly construct a proposition manually for each of them that speaks to them, because you want that experience to be deeply personalized. And so that’s where technology really comes in. And, you know, the three A’s are really about the three technology forces that are changing how we understand our seekers and ultimately build experiences to win them over. And those three A’s are, you know, first a collection of ambient devices. These days there’s more sensors on a piece of clothing than there might be, you know, in an industrial plant.

And so, you know, there’s just a lot of ways our customers are speaking to us through mobile devices and sensory devices and ambient devices. And that’s the first stage is listening to the ambience. The second this AI, which these days have been, you know, very much democratized and AI is there to make sense of all this data so that it can figure out well, you’re the person who’s interested in, you know, this type of apparel and somebody else might be interested in a different kind of apparel. And if I’m an apparel retailer, I should construct differentiated experience on that basis. The AI can help you figure that out. And then the third A is what we call APIs, which is a bit tech speak for all right. If I want to go build a hotel tonight experience or an Uber-like experience, I can’t possibly build everything required to do so, but it turns out there are services across the internet powered by APIs that I can harness to build these unique experiences. So real the three A’s are a bit of the technology trends that we can harness to make our life easier to build secret centric experiences.

Steve Rush: And API’s (application program interfaces) are absolutely everywhere across the digital landscape these days, which does allow more collaboration and more effective use of technology. How’s that played out for your organization?

Raj De Datta: Well, everything Bloomreach offers is a collection of API’s. So if we think about what Bloomreach offers, we’re in the business of offering what we call a commerce experience cloud. And that means, you know, if you’re an e-commerce business, what do you need to build your experiences? You need smart marketing, you need content storage, you need a great search engine. You need to personalize that experience. Well, every one of those is an API from Bloomreach. So you could just plug into it and get that service and power your experience and not have to build it all yourself. And that paradigm is very much true in every aspect of so much of digital building block building. Indeed, as you say, APIs are all across the web and they’re really the Lego blocks that we can harness to build the skyscrapers we’re envisioning for our businesses.

Steve Rush: Yeah, love it. So how have you seen COVID 19 pandemic impact our digital lives, as seekers?

Raj De Datta: You know, I think the pandemic, you know in the book, we talk about how it’s accelerated the notion of digital and we know are not as the rate at which COVID 19 has spread, you know, through the world and it’s been really fast. But the other acceleration has been the rate of digital adoption. In one year in 2020, a five year acceleration of e-commerce and digitally adoption all happen in the same year. So it’s profoundly accelerated everything about digital, whether that be an urgency. We’re seeing new shoppers come online that never were before, we’re seeing people spend more money digitally than they never were before. We’re seeing new categories like grocery and autos, you know, arrive online. So it’s just been a tremendous accelerator for digital and it’s really caused organizations of all sizes to put digital at the center and then ask how they win, which then raises the question of the seeker.

Steve Rush: And how do you see organizations taking advantage of digital in terms of, not just their e-commerce experience, but their internal experiences?

Raj De Datta: Yeah, I think internally we’re seeing a profound, you know, kind of revolution in how people work to begin with, right? So we at Bloomreach have moved to a completely work from anywhere culture where, you know, we believe that for a technology business, the scarce asset is great talent and talent is found everywhere in the world. And so why should we be limited by where we have offices? And so that mindset, you know, I think has itself been a pretty profound shift in how we work and changes everything about the resources and the planning and the hiring and the collaboration and, you know, the culture and all the questions that we previously built around physical spaces now have to be built around digital spaces. So it’s changed everything about the interaction between people. Actually I think it’s going to create a tremendous productivity, boom, economically, you know, for the globe.

Steve Rush: Hmm, yeah. I agree. I often see organizations who maybe 18 months ago might have been digitally aware are now really digitally enabled. And as a result of it, it’s unlocking new ways of working and new learning along the way.

Raj De Datta: Indeed, It’s really been a shift pretty dramatically in how businesses work. Now, I think to be fair, we have to be careful about leaving behind the billions of people that do work, that isn’t digital. And we’ve seen that through the pandemic as well. All the people that kept us alive, the teachers, the healthcare workers, the food delivery people, you know, and on and on who may not have been in digital work and we’ve found we need them more than ever. So it raises as many questions as it answers.

Steve Rush: Coming back to mindset. I suspect a lot of that is mindset of, I’m not in a digital world, whereas many of those careers and manufacturers are in a digital world, but may not have experienced it or felt that they were part of a digital community at that time.

Raj De Datta: That’s right, yeah. That’s certainly the case. And I think we can do a lot. We have the technology and the desire I think to make lives, you know, just as effective through digital for that group of workers in our economy, as we do for many white collar jobs.

Steve Rush: You’ve been in the digital e-commerce community for a number of years. And I’m just curious to find out from an innovation perspective, how on earth can you keep tabs of future emerging trends when it’s moving so fast?

Raj De Datta: You know, it’s incredibly challenging to do so. But I think the benefit of the place we sit is that because we work with 1100 of the world’s largest brands in the world, the data flowing in is very rich. So I try to invest in my own education. I try to invest in conversations with people that might be outside the ring of where of interaction and just keep challenging myself. And I’m constantly amazed. And so it is a rich learning experience, but that’s what keeps it fun.

Steve Rush: It’s also what unlocks your next journey because it’s the unknown, unknowns where the future is, of course.

Raj De Datta: Indeed. Yeah, it’s certainly true.

Steve Rush: So we’re going to turn the tables a little now, hack into your leadership thinking and experiences, having led a number of different businesses over your career arch, and I’m keen to try and get them down to your top three leadership hacks tips or ideas, what would they be?

Raj De Datta: Yeah, you know, I think the first one is, you know, if I were sort of advising a first time entrepreneur, it would start with believe in yourself or don’t start the business in the first place. Because all you have really, as an entrepreneur is your own judgment and your own wit and your own work ethic. And so very often, you know, we have these dark moments as entrepreneurs and we struggle with how to deal with situations. And ultimately, you know, the answer is in our gut, and we may as well trust it because it’s ultimately what’s going to either make us succeed or fail. So, I believe in belief.

Steve Rush: Right.

Raj De Datta: Let’s start there. You know, the second is to be deeply authentic in the business you start and the people you work with. You know, of course the leadership books about how and should do things, but the most important thing is to be true to yourself and express that in every other way, because authenticity is what we all value, whether it’s a customer or whether it’s an employee or anywhere else. And then the third is to constantly pay attention to culture and values and how rebuild the business as much as whether the business succeeds and lots to talk about in terms of how to achieve that. But those are the three things that come to mind for me.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I love those three. They’re great hacks and culture sits at the heart of everything, doesn’t it? And will shift.

Raj De Datta: It certainly will. And, you know, I think that the fundamental mistake that most organizations make is that they think that culture is a static thing. And they think that it’s really about what the culture is. And you know, lots of people spend lots of time in meeting rooms, defining the culture and to tell the story of Bloomreach, you know, I wrote the document around what our culture and values should represent before I started the business, you know, before I even knew what the proposition was.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: But actually I think the most important thing we did is to make it real in the everyday lives of every team member. And that means treating it as an operational priority, the same way I would treat sales as an operational priority or product development or anything else. I would say, all right, I’ve got this culture now, what am I practically going to do every day, every week, every quarter to advance my goals of meeting the aspiration of that culture, because it almost it’s never done. And it always is a work in progress.

Steve Rush: And I love the way you operationalize it as well. Because many people that I coach and leaders I coach, we often have the conversation around culture being this non fiscal return, but actually there’s a direct return on investment on culture, isn’t there?

Raj De Datta: There totally is, and a world in which so many businesses are reliant on high quality people, you know, a culture, you know, hiring the right people and putting them in the right culture is 80% of the game.

Steve Rush: Absolutely. Next part of the show, Raj, we call it Hack to Attack. So typically this is where something in your work or your life hasn’t worked out well at all. In fact it could have been quite catastrophic, but you’ve learned from it. And that learning experience now serves you well in your life or work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

Raj De Datta: The story of Bloomreach, my own business has had lots of twists and turns in the road. And I would say several near death experiences. And, you know, if I think back to where the business was, I had started it in 2009. We were somewhere around 2015, 2016. The business had been successful early on, but was definitely falling apart. And therefore, you know, by 2015, 2016, 7 years in, it was on the verge of complete failure. The initial product was no longer working as effectively as it once did. And the newer efforts were very nascent. And in the meantime, we had hundreds of people in the business. So, you know, it required a fundamental shift in mindset, in thinking and just a dogged stubbornness to continue and press forward. And I remember the meeting I had with the team members in 2016, where I said, look, we’re going to have to let go of some people and that’s going to be really painful. And let’s face facts. It’s not working. And I’m here because I want to be a fixed point in the ground. And I believe we’re going to build this into the business we all aspire it to be, but we have a lot of open questions and I’m not exactly sure how and that authenticity and the culture we had built kept the team together. And seven years later, it turned out to be a much larger business than the original one that we built.

Steve Rush: It’s fantastic, takes a lot of nerve, but most importantly takes a lot of commitment to pivot away from something when it isn’t working too.

Raj De Datta: It does, you know, and that’s the quality about entrepreneurship that I think is perhaps less talked about is, it’s this really narrow Venn diagram between dreaminess and reality, you know, ability to see reality and truth, because without the dreams, there’s no aspirations, there’s no long term goals. And you know, you don’t aim for the stars, but without the reality, you never get it on, you know, you never start to build a rocket.

Steve Rush: Yeah, in fact, most entrepreneurs who fail aren’t grounded in reality at the same time.

Raj De Datta: That’s right.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Raj De Datta: Exactly.

Steve Rush: Awesome. Last part of the show, we get to give you a chance to do some time travel. Bump into Raj at 21, and you get to give them some advice. What would those words of wisdom be?

Raj De Datta: Yeah, 21, you know, I think I would say I had, you know, all the optimism, all the drive to go do something big. And I think I would tell myself, you know, go after it. Fortunately I feel like I did go after it in many ways, but I might have said, you know, go after it even bigger, go after it, even earlier, go after it with even less regard to whether it will work out or not. The world is an incredible place and our time is scarce. And so I would just say, you know, get after it.

Steve Rush: Love it. What sets you apart Raj, is the fact that even though you’ve been Uber successful and created some superb and successful businesses, you still have this ability to be restless and not satisfied that there is something else out there that keeps you going, where does that come from do you think?

Raj De Datta: You know, I think it probably comes from my parents more than anything else. My father is a really world renown agricultural scientist and he was unrelenting in his pursuit of, you know, what he described as feeding the world. My mother was a very well regarded, you know, actress and dancer and a consistent learner. And after never having, you know, completed high school at the time when I was born, now has a PhD and did most of that later in life. We studied together in many ways. And so, you know, both my parents have that restlessness and I think it’s a good word.

Steve Rush: That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing it. So how can we connect our listeners to you? Maybe help them get a copy of The Digital Seeker and understand a bit more about Bloomreach.

Raj De Datta: Yeah, well Bloomreach. We can go, you know, you can go to B-L-O-O-M-R-E-A-C-H and you’ll learn all about how we really drive business growth for e-commerce. And on The Digital Seeker, you can find it in any bookstore. You can go to Amazon and search for The Digital Seeker. You can go to Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore and it’s available online.

Steve Rush: Brilliant, we’ll put some links in your show notes as well, Raj so that people can finish listening and head on over.

Raj De Datta: Thank you very much, Steve.

Steve Rush: Raj, it’s been great chatting. I’m delighting you to see Bloomreach, grow, and continue to grow. And I’m also delighted you shared your lessons through The Digital Seeker, and thanks for being part of our community here on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Raj De Datta: Absolutely, Steve, it’s been a pleasure.

Steve Rush: Thanks Raj.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

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