Playing the Infinite Game: My ZEPIC Odyssey
Life is short. Career is much shorter. Do meaningful things that bring joy together with people you love and respect.

This has been my epiphany during the pandemic. Thanks to my family, friends and some caring coaches, I was able to sail through the tough times of the pandemic and thrive at the end of it. This is my story on why I joined ZEPIC and why I am so excited about it. So buckle up for a little long read 😀

Zarget, the rocketship

I grew up in a small town and read a lot about tech, entrepreneurs and business stories. Like many of my generation, I started my career as a software engineer (first at Cognizant and then at SAP Labs). I accidentally bumped into a product management role a few years later and started loving it. As an engineer turned product manager, it was easy for me to understand product building and shipping. But understanding how sales & distribution works, how successful companies crack it like an algorithm, and how companies scale and flourish - these were the problems that I found fascinating.

I started devouring books and essays on startups, company building and biographies. I still remember the impact and after-effects of reading Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. There was an allure to thinking in first principles, doing things people were not ready to do and, more importantly, having high agency and accountability for the decisions made. It rekindled my dream lit by the decade-long reading of biographies and startups. That dream made me quit my long stint at SAP and get into the startup rabbit hole. After experiencing a few false starts in 2015, I finally joined Zarget, a startup that has catapulted my career into hyperdrive.

Freshworks (Freshmarketer) team's retreat at Kerala

Cambrian Explosion of customer data and business systems

Zarget was a startup focused on solving problems for performance marketers trying to improve conversions. Freshworks acquired Zarget and it became Freshmarketer, and we started solving problems for marketers in SMBs and mid-market companies. During my stint at Freshworks, I was privileged to tackle many ambitious projects, learned a ton, and got a front-row seat on scaling and growth. 

As a company scales, the software tools and systems proliferate. Every business unit and organisation wants to achieve their goals, and all get into the action with their tools of choice. The teams double down on the plans with the tools to reach their goals and propel the company's growth, but it comes with a cost. I was able to witness a lot of them - data silos (the sales teams with no clue about the ongoing marketing campaigns), broken processes (stale data from one system impacting the campaigns in another system), plumbing different systems (data from CRM to be plugged into RevOps system), getting a unified view of a customer who is using/trying out various products of the same company and many other ‘good’ problems that every growing company has. 

I was fortunate to be part of an initiative at Freshworks where we wanted to address customers' needs in the D2C market. We were building a first-class integration and experience for the D2C stores. In that process, I spoke to many customers who were solopreneurs or small team operators (less than five people). Everyone had a common requirement but voiced it differently - they wanted to run cost-efficient, highly personalised campaigns. It was my biggest realisation that there was this unmet need of customers in all segments - be it SMBs or enterprises. Everyone wanted to uplevel their personalisation capabilities powered around a trusted, real-time, comprehensive customer record system like the CDP.

Midjourney Prompt: "Cambrian explosion of software systems" in modern style

Unified Customer Record-centric products

It was a no-brainer decision to join ZEPIC when I understood they were solving the same problem. I got so excited about them when Naveen gave me hints that they were looking into the CDP space with this lens - to make it easy to ingest and unify the records, to empower all the delivery systems for running effective campaigns using the unified golden record. I know the space is thriving with many discussions like “composable CDP vs. decomposable CDP” or “warehouse-first approach vs. CDP-first approach”. Many customer engagement platforms are becoming CDP systems (and planning an IPO), and many CDPs are expanding to add engagement tools with them. It is a Cambrian explosion moment in this space, and building products in this domain is exciting.

Many systems like CRM, ESP or MAS are built to solve customer problems first; they only try to think/leverage the unified customer record later. Solving that after creating the system comes with its own cost (delay, redundancy, syncing various systems in real-time).

What if you were to build a system with unified customer records as the foundational piece? If we create a system that makes it so easy to ingest, transform and unify the customer record, what exciting experiences can we deliver to the customer on top of it? With the unified golden record-centric architecture, ZEPIC is just now getting started and is in the very early innings. The future potential that gets unlocked by ZEPIC is what truly excites me. 

Venture out alone or join a pack?

As a product manager, I find joy in building products, collaborating with engineers and designers, forging product-market fit (by working with sales, marketing and the entire GTM org), doing customer development interviews, and listening to feedback from diverse sources. I value them as fundamental product-building skills agnostic of any industry or domain. 

In running a startup, product building is just one aspect. While getting that part right is vital, the most crucial element is building a team. Every founder knows hiring is the most challenging part of running a startup.

It doesn't end there at all - building a team with your company’s core values and keeping them motivated is a different challenge. Money helps make the right noise and attract talented folks, but money alone is not enough. To face the daily challenges of running a company and sometimes to face the frequent curve balls thrown at your team is entirely different. I have seen many startups crumble because of people issues - a lack of sync between co-founders and critical stakeholders. Building trust, connection, and respect takes effort, time and luck.

Interestingly, once you find a core team you can trust, all the challenges of running a startup (hiring, product building, scaling, firefighting) become quite enjoyable. It's not easy, but you can tackle any challenge and derive pleasure from it, just like any sport. You may not hit all the balls out of the park, but you know the team is always there to play the game together.

Finite Games vs. Infinite Games

I had worked with Naveen and BK right since the day I joined Zarget. I have worked with Sunil since we got acquired by Freshworks. I have heard many good things about Sree during my stint at Freshworks; if Naveen, BK and Sunil trust him, I am all in. Building a company is much more challenging than building a product. When I know a team that trusted and respected me, why not solve the problem together instead of fighting the battle from scratch? 

I am a big fan of the “Infinite Games” concept by James Carse.

Finite games are played to win or lose. Infinite games are played to keep the game going. Infinite games are much more fun and meaningful because they yield infinite rewards.

At ZEPIC, the core team is the main reason for me to play the infinite game. Zarget, Freshmarketer or any fun project in Freshworks are all finite games with fantastic outcomes. But I am interested in the infinite game - working, playing, and facing challenges with the team I trust and respect. The infinite rewards are camaraderie, memories to cherish, and building value and wealth.

When you have a team that always makes work feel like play, would you refuse the opportunity to be part of this epic ride?

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