Episode 27: Kunal Agarwal, Co-Founder and CEO at Unravel Data Systems, on Managing Big Data Applications and Momentum

Kunal Agarwal, Co-Founder and CEO at Unravel Data Systems

Kunal Agarwal co-founded Unravel Data Systems, Inc. in 2013. Prior to that Kunal led sales and implementation at several Fortune 100 companies. Earlier, he also co-founded Yuuze.com, a pioneer in personalized shopping and what-to-wear recommendations.

Before that he helped Sun Microsystems evaluate Big Data infrastructure like Sun’s Grid Computing Engine. Kunal holds a Bachelor’s in computer engineering from Valparaiso University and a M.B.A from The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.

In this episode, we learn how Kunal and his Co-Founder, Shivnath Babu, convinced top notch talent with cushy jobs to make sacrifices for a common vision at Unravel. He shares how Unravel has kept its cultural values in check while growing from 11 to 100+ employees across multiple continents. We learn why the “shout-out” Slack channel is the 4th most used Slack channel at Unravel and why the Unravel team spent 3 years defining product-market fit. Spoiler Alert: Kunal’s recommended reading is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Listen until the end to get a crash course in race car driving.


1:24 Your Co-Founder is Shivnath Babu. He’s a tenured professor in computer science at Duke. Is that where you guys met?
1:55 How did you convince a professor at a great university to get off that train and get on the startup.
2:41 Give us the elevator pitch of what unravel does and tell us about kind of the initial vision and how it evolved over time.
3:58 Where did the vision for the company come from?
5:17 How did you convince at such an early stage good people to come onboard?
8:19 When people are sacrificing for a common vision, did that build strength and resiliency into the company?
10:41 Do you think it was the right move to have a consultant and do you suggest to other founders to do something similar as they’re going forward?
13:39 When you’re recruiting somebody who’s gainfully employed and doing well it’s not easy. What are some of the tricks when hiring?
16:03  How hard have you found it to hand over control? How do you manage the process?
19:26 So on that point about culture you’ve mentioned hungry but humble. Is that the kind of the essence of how you’d describe Unravel’s culture today?
22:17 Have you had some hiccups on culture as a result of growth and how have you tried to deal with those?
24:54 A lot of people talk about emojis on Slack, do you guys use photos too?
25:44 You are not IBM yet and you are serving big companies. How are you managing to do that?
29:24 Internally, how do you align product, sales and engineering to ensure that you’re building the right thing at the right time for what the market needs?
31:46 Lightening question round!

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GGV Capital is a global venture capital firm that invests in local founders. As a multi-stage, sector-focused firm, GGV focuses on seed-to-growth stage investments across Consumer/New Retail, Social/Digital & Internet, Enterprise/Cloud and Frontier Tech sectors. The firm was founded in 2000 and manages $6.2 billion in capital across 13 funds. Past and present portfolio companies include Affirm, Airbnb, Alibaba, Bitsight, ByteDance (Toutiao), Ctrip, Didi Chuxing, Grab, Gladly, Hello Chuxing, HashiCorp, Houzz, Keep, LingoChamp, Namely, Niu, Nozomi Networks, Opendoor, Peloton, Poshmark, Slack, Square, Wish, Xauto, Xiaohongshu, Yellow, YY, Zhaoyou and more. The firm has offices in Beijing, San Francisco, Shanghai and Silicon Valley.

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