Exclusive Interview with Ajay Bulusu, Co-Founder, NextBillionAI

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Ajay Bulusu, Co-Founder, NextBillion.ai (Image Courtesy: NextBillionAI)

NextBillion.ai is an emerging technology company that aims at building the world’s most easy-to-use, cost-effective, and advanced hyperlocal artificial intelligence solutions. The company provides tailor-made solutions addressing the unique map-related requirements that a business may have. During an exclusive tete-a-tete with Sea News, Co-Founder of NextBillionAI, Ajay Bulusu said, “Our mission to enable a true enterprise-focused location ecosystem around the world.”

Below are the excerpts from the detailed conversation…

Tell us something about Nextbillionai, how it all started?

Headquartered in Singapore, Nextbillion.ai was founded in 2020 by Ajay Bulusu, Gaurav Bubna and Shaolin Zheng. All three founders were part of the senior management team at Grab, Singapore based super app and worked closely with each other to develop the mapping solution for the ride-hailing company.

The idea behind starting Nextbillion.ai came as the trio realised that one map doesn’t fit all. They wanted to address the hyperlocal nuances in the location ecosystem for enterprises. They realised in the emerging markets the people are very much internet-savvy, well-travelled and well-informed but the enterprises lacked a clear cut solution that can address the gaps in its last-mile connectivity.  In this regard, the team put together the solution that they had the supreme expertise in – mapping and geospatial AI.

NextBillion AI was founded with a mission to enable a true enterprise-focused location ecosystem around the world. Nextbillion.ai, aims to enable the mapping Industry evolving towards “Linux for Maps”.

Nextbillion-AI aims to be the global leader in the enterprise location ecosystem; addressing challenges like language and the geospatial infrastructure which are very different in each market thus unlocking a superior customer experience and satisfaction for the users. NextbilionAI is a total mapping solution that includes features like route optimization, order batching, navigation, matrix calculation, map data curation, and high footfall landmarks among others. NextbillionAI solution improves up to 50% better accuracy, 10x higher scalability at a fraction of the cost.

In a short time, Nextbillion has been recognised as one of the fastest-growing and most innovative startups by prestigious forums such as Singapore Fintech Festival and SG:D Techblazer.

Transit time is one of the most critical factors in logistics. How does Nextbillionai address this problem?

Transit Time estimation and prediction is a core capability of our platform, and one which we are able to tailor very specifically to the types of vehicles (e.g. motorcycles, cars, different truck varieties), local regulations, changing map data, and accounting for factors like expected wait times, loading/unloading times, rest stops along the way etc. We are often able to provide APIs that are up to 50% more accurate than the present state of the art

Which sectors are your focus areas – in terms of business?

Our focus area would be the vast area of geospatial mapping. We primarily cater to three main segments, viz, Consumer apps, FreightTelematics and last-mile logistics. We have successfully launched AI-driven mapping solutions that customise APIs based on the size of the vehicles. Nextbillionai is working on building geospatial infrastructure essential to enable location-based experiences for global companies.

The company has on boarded a wide range of clients across the globe to solve their mapping concerns. These companies are largely are from logistics, e-commerce, food delivery, consumer internet and freight.  At Nextbillionai, the team aims to build products with AI as the backbone.

Your company is headquartered in Singapore. Tell us something about your team (presence at other locations, expansion plans)?

We are headquartered in Singapore with offices in the U.S.A, India and China.  We are an employee-first organisation.

At NextbillionAI, our team members run the show. We have a transparent and inclusive work environment, with complete independence for team members to own and execute their projects. There are no hierarchies in place, and everyone works in sync, showcasing strong trust and bonding.

I read in an article that – ‘The Nextbillionai team aims to build products with AI as the backbone’. Please elaborate on this.

It is important to understand that the future of location is decentralization. Each market is unique in many ways and a one size fits all solution does not work. For instance, can a mapping or language processing solution for Jakarta hold good in the Netherlands or Mumbai? The answer is No and the solution lies in hyper localization. Similarly, AI-powered solutions are becoming critical because of the exponential growth and potential in markets today.

We at Nextbillionai aim to build solutions that help to find the best ETAs, find precise pick and drop locations and the best route for the vehicle type enterprises are using. If you need weather updates and or want to incorporate other hyperlocal nuances, the mapping solution can cater to those needs. The solutions are tailor-made for specific business needs, based on their data and geography. The solutions that Nextbillionai offers to customers include: distance, time and route estimation APIs for two-wheelers, four-wheelers and trucks, last-mile route optimisation for logistics companies, OpenStreetMap tools and map data editing for accurate maps and POI and address data enrichment, for more efficient deliveries.

While large players like Google already exist in the mapping space, it is noted that solutions built for customer-first cannot be directly used for enterprises. This is where our products stand out. We build open-source tools that can be amended by customers for a granular level of customizations and give control over the product.

However, it is important to understand that each market is unique in many ways and a one-size-fits-all solution does not work for them unless it is customized and personalized.

Cyber security has been a major concern for clients. How do you see this and deal with the challenges posed?

We are very cognizant of this challenge and for this reason, as a preventive measure, our platform works at a backend integration layer with our customers, and we avoid handling any sensitive personal data / business critical information.

Other than that, we are GDPR compliant and invest heavily in data privacy and security.

Has COVID-19 impacted consumptions (consumers)? If so, how long is it going to exist? How has it impacted your business, if so?

We definitely saw a dip in some of our customers such as those in Mobility, but also saw an uptake in sectors like e-commerce and on-demand deliveries. All in all, it’s been a mixed bag, and we definitely don’t see full recovery happening at least till the end of 2021.

For us, the biggest shift was not being able to meet customers in person, and switching everything to remote video meetings. This is definitely not ideal for an enterprise software company, but we adapted to it, and our customers were also accommodating.

What is the idea of new-age Clients about technology? Has technology acceptance levels risen? Your opinion on this?

We think new age clients are very tech-first and digital-first, and they are a lot more accepting of technology in all aspects of the business. This includes conducting business over tech (e.g. video), collaborating with internal teams on shared docs (e.g. Google docs), hiring employees having never met them in person. We definitely think this is a trend of the better, and we only see this accelerating.

Tell us something about your products and solutions in brief?

Our core products help transportation, logistics, and e-commerce companies with better fleet efficiency, faster arrival times, and lower operating costs. We do this through a combination of better map data and APIs that takes into account the unique conditions which each of customers operate under. These include their unique modes of transportation and delivery, their local regulations, map data customisations, APIs that are specifically designed to handle the large scale usage that enterprises desire. We have seen customers who have been able to reduce operational costs in some areas by as much as 80%!

What role is AI going to play in Logistics and Freight in the near future?

The current infrastructure of mapping solutions is a standard format based on the assumption that most vehicles are four-wheelers or cars. Routes are calculated and estimated as per this, however, we have seen a food-delivery done using two-wheelers and heavier trucks are used for larger freights. One standard mapping solution doesn’t suit all business because a two-wheeler can pass through smaller lanes while heavy vehicles need to follow wider roads along with RTO regulations on timings. The maps used today do not accommodate these aspects, resulting in loss of time, fuel, overall CAPEX and efficiencies. It is proven that deeper the automation, more efficient the result is. It no longer deems fit to use one size fits all solutions when there is an immense potential to have bespoke solutions for all your pain-points.

Custom map stacks help companies to optimize route planning, provide precise ETAs, seamlessly allocate vehicles, save time, cut costs and eliminate the error. Skilled mapping specialists can create maps that are customized as per your unique work requirements, as well as build AI models to seamlessly support your business. Custom map stacks use your private and proprietary data to create maps that cover every aspect of your business. Customized maps `listen’ to you and give you control over your maps. Your maps turn into an integral infrastructural asset for your business. Custom maps can either be hosted on cloud or on-premise, to provide high throughputs and low latencies to meet your exacting engineering platform needs. Furthermore, it plugs all leakage-points and keeps your data safe and in-house.

Sea News Feature, March 18

Baibhav Mishra
Author: Baibhav Mishra

Associate Editor, Sea News