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Kishore Subramanian of Propel: “Our customers are the best marketing we have”

Our customers are the best marketing we have. Any solution provider can make big claims — in fact, many do just that without backing them up. We are firm believers in putting customers first because their success is our success. On that front, 15 customers participated in our recent virtual conference, Propulsion 2020. It was great to […]

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Our customers are the best marketing we have. Any solution provider can make big claims — in fact, many do just that without backing them up. We are firm believers in putting customers first because their success is our success. On that front, 15 customers participated in our recent virtual conference, Propulsion 2020. It was great to hear first hand how they were able to grow their business in spite of the unprecedented challenges this year. We plan to promote our customers’ success even more as we look to the future because they have so many great stories and insights to share.


As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kishore Subramanian.

Kishore Subramanian is the VP of Engineering at Propel, a high-growth SaaS company that is redefining how companies manufacture, sell and service their products. With more than 20 years of experience in software development, Subramanian leads the company’s engineering team and is helping to make Propel more flexible, connected and easier to access and use for manufacturing customers.

Prior to Propel, Subramanian held a variety of senior engineering roles at Google, including leading teams for Action on Google Assistant, Action on Google Console and Files Go Android App. He began his stint at Google working on Google Web Designer. He also held a senior engineering position at Motorola Mobility, a Google subsidiary, and was the UI Lead at JackBe (acquired by Software AG). Prior to JackBe, Subramanian was a principal software engineer at Agile Software (acquired by Oracle) and he led the team that built Agile PLM’s first web-based user interface. His love of software development was sparked with his first role at Infosys Systems in his native country, India.

Beyond engineering, Subramanian is also a spiritual seeker, student and practitioner of Yoga and meditation. He is fascinated by the teachings of Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism — ancient Indian schools of philosophy and amazed at its relevance 5000+ years later. He wants to unlock these teachings and make them accessible to the current generation.

Subramanian holds several patents related to method and system of capturing and using mashup data. He received his Bachelor Degree in Technology (BTech) from the University of Kerala.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I graduated from a school in India with a degree in Engineering in 1995. This period was an interesting time in India’s history. The doors of the struggling Indian economy were flung open by the government in an effort to save it. By the time I graduated, India had become the destination for American companies to outsource and to expand their teams. India had the talent, and Indian companies were able to offer this talent at an attractive price.

Growing up in a middle-class family in one of the smaller cities in India, getting a good, well-paying job was my top priority. So, though software development was not my first career choice, it seemed to be a practical choice at the time. The Indian IT industry had become a powerhouse with seemingly unstoppable growth and the salaries for software developers were much higher than the rest of the industry.

I interviewed for and landed my first software job with the then-upstart Indian company, Infosys. Infosys is now a software powerhouse. The internet was just beginning to take shape in India, and I was enamored by the endless possibilities. Slowly but surely, I discovered my love for software development and never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Immigrating to the U.S. has to be the most significant change in both my work and personal life. It was not an easy decision to leave my family and friends behind and relocate to the US, but I had a strong desire to learn and challenge myself. The allure of Silicon Valley was very strong. I had read about many great companies based in the Valley, and Apple in particular stood out as an amazing place to work. Netscape had just announced their first browser and the internet was taking off in a big way. Back then, I idolized Steve Jobs and one of my main desires was to walk in his footsteps around Apple’s Infinite Loop!

I immigrated in 1998 with 300 dollars (from my parents’ savings), but I had already secured a job. My story is a common immigrant story; many would tell you something similar to this, whether they came here for a job or to pursue their education. There was a lot of struggle initially to adjust to a new country, culture, work, friends, and frankly, a new way of life. This country has been nothing but amazing to me, and it still amazes me to this day. I found my passion for software development on the work front, met my wife here, and we have two teenage boys who were born and raised as Americans. Together, we balance the American way of life with the deep-rooted culture, family ties, and spiritual teachings we inherited from our Indian upbringing.

Additionally, joining Google in 2012 was another significant milestone in my career. The vast reach of the company allowed me to work on projects that were intellectually stimulating all while being used by millions of users worldwide. I truly consider it a great privilege to have worked for Google for those seven years of my life.

Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Propel is in the Enterprise software segment. Enterprise software products are used to satisfy the needs of the employees of a company, as opposed to consumer products, like Facebook and Linkedin, which are designed with individual users in mind.

Enterprise software has earned the reputation of being clunky, hard to use, and often disliked by the end-users. Unfortunately, this reputation is justified. We at Propel have set a much higher standard for ourselves and as a result, have consistently scored high in user experience benchmarks. This is a key differentiating factor for Propel and in the last few months, we have been working on further leveraging this advantage of ours. We are unleashing a lot more flexibility in the user interface (UI) with our recent investment in what are called Lightning Web Components (LWC). We are in the process of decomposing our entire UI into components so that our customers can reimagine the UI in ways that best fit their individual needs. In a way, LWCs are like individual bricks in a LEGO set. If our customers aren’t happy with our pre-built models, they always have the option to rebuild it using the “Lego bricks” we have provided. Amazingly, even those with little-to-no programming experience can seamlessly build their UI using what are known as “no-code tools.” No code tools lower the barrier to allow anyone — not just engineers or developers — to develop software systems that address their specific needs and unique business challenges.

Propel is built on the Salesforce platform. Salesforce is well known as a leading CRM provider. But beneath their applications is the powerful Lightning platform. The Lightning Platform is the underlying infrastructure that every application is built on top of. Propel is built on this industry-leading application platform, and we leverage most of the features the platform has to offer. We offer a product that is highly flexible and extensible. As a result, our customers can tailor Propel to their needs rather than change how they work. Again, we are enabling customers to do this using no-code tools rather than writing custom-code.

How do you think this might change the world?

Silicon Valley is obsessed with changing the world, isn’t it? My personal philosophy is that any action a person takes:

  1. Shouldn’t harm anyone
  2. Should help people directly or indirectly, at least in their sphere of influence
  3. Should leave a situation better than how it was

When the pandemic was taking hold in early 2020, there were many reports of a shortage of ventilators all over the world. When Medtronic “open-sourced” one of their older ventilators, a group of Propellerheads (as Propel employees call ourselves) decided to import this complicated open-sourced list of parts and designs into a simple to understand Propel instance. In just a couple of weeks, they were able to take raw data and transform it into a format that could be leveraged by contract manufacturers to manufacture ventilators quickly. I was amazed by the speed with which a team of Propellerheads was able to transform an intricate set of disparate data into a single user interface that could be accessed and understood by everybody.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

New technology solutions tend to disrupt existing providers and processes. Silicon Valley usually focuses on the benefits of disruption, but there is almost always a downside to those who are being disrupted. This situation is no different. Legacy providers and their customers will struggle as adoption of the new low-code approach increases. It’s only a matter of time before those older platforms lose customers, which is always a painful process for those involved.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Much of the credit on this goes to our co-founder and CEO, Ray Hein. Ray started in high-tech manufacturing and moved to enterprise software in the 1990s. He had the foresight to understand the market was shifting on multiple fronts. Enterprise software users were increasingly demanding the same user experience they came to expect from consumer software. Platform providers were becoming ever more powerful, allowing startups to leverage the best of breed technology built by the world’s biggest solution providers. Also, end customers were demanding a better product experience, forcing B2B providers to deliver B2B2C solutions. As Ray considered how to corral all of these (at that point) future trends, he realized that building Propel on Salesforce was the perfect solution. This laid the foundation for the development work we’ve done over the past 5 years, which is why this breakthrough is now possible.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

There is significant and growing market demand for no-code / low-code solutions that are part of larger platforms delivering a great user experience. Widespread adoption is taking place at this very moment. Our job is to ensure we deliver a solution that provides value to our customers. That’s the best way to ensure adoption continues to accelerate.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Our customers are the best marketing we have. Any solution provider can make big claims — in fact, many do just that without backing them up. We are firm believers in putting customers first because their success is our success. On that front, 15 customers participated in our recent virtual conference, Propulsion 2020. It was great to hear first hand how they were able to grow their business in spite of the unprecedented challenges this year. We plan to promote our customers’ success even more as we look to the future because they have so many great stories and insights to share.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My journey from a student in a small (and a very beautiful) city in India to working in one of world’s most respected companies (Google) and now leading a team of talented engineers at an exciting startup is highly improbable. When I look back, there have been many people who have played a part, and many situations where I found myself in the right place at the right time. None of which I can take credit for.

I am incredibly grateful to my friends and family who have been immensely supportive. And I would not be on this path if it wasn’t for Deepak Alur, the VP of Engineering at a startup I was part of. I learned a lot by observing Deepak going about his work. Additionally, Sean Kranzberg, my manager at Google, was instrumental in helping me achieve success. He saw my potential and entrusted me with very important parts of the product.

And I would not be leading engineering at Propel if it weren’t for the support and trust of Ray Hein , CEO at Propel. I am incredibly grateful for his continued support and mentoring.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As we discussed earlier, my improbable journey was only possible because so many dots connected at the right time with the help of many people. I give back to the next generation by sharing my experiences and perspective through mentoring.

I am a student and practitioner of Yoga and meditation and, as a result, I am a seeker and committed to lifelong learning. There is so much out there to learn, and the more I know just reinforces how much more there is to learn. I realize that one of the ways in which I can give back is to simplify these Yogic teachings that are more than 5000 years old and package them in a way that is applicable in today’s world, where mental health and well-being are top concerns. I do this by writing (on Medium), recording podcasts and more recently, by making YouTube videos (Happiness Beyond Mind).

These are small contributions and I am only getting started. I hope to do more of this. Who knows — maybe it may help connect dots for others.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I would like to share something I have come to appreciate a lot. I wish I had known this concept when I started my career or even before that.

Ikigai

I encourage you to google “Ikigai” and “Ikigai diagram” to read about this. I won’t go into what this other than to say that this is an ancient Japanese concept or framework for “a reason for being”. It is a framework to identify your purpose. It can be used to make decisions about your career for instance. A student entering college can use this framework to narrow down their area of study. Similarly, a professional seeking a job change or a different career can also use this framework to identify what they want to do next.

At Google, I was working on a certain project which had pivoted to a completely different area than when I had joined this project. Over time, I realized that I was no longer interested in working on this project. Of course, I was earning well and building my beloved software, but there was something missing. I didn’t know about Ikigai back then, but knowing this concept now, I realize that what was missing was one of the circles in the Ikigai diagram — “What the world needs.” At the time, the product had pivoted into something I considered useless, which led to a steep drop in motivation to continue working. After a few weeks, I made the decision to leave that team, which in retrospect was the right decision to make at the time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I like to share an idea with your readers using this platform. The core idea is around happiness. We are conditioned to think that more money, the next promotion, the dream house, the next vacation, etc will give us happiness. We pursue it relentlessly, often at the expense of our own physical and mental health. But rarely do we take a step back and ask ourselves why we do what we do. In fact, if we keep asking “why”, we will end up with “I want to be happy”.

The ancient Indian teachings from more than 5000 years ago, in no uncertain terms, point out this basic human problem. We look for happiness everywhere else except within.

I like to leave your readers with this: happiness and unhappiness are in our own minds. And guess what, it is in our control and is independent of external factors.

So, the next question is: am I suggesting that one shouldn’t have goals or be ambitious? Absolutely not. Get the latest gadget, or a house or go for that vacation, and post your pictures in social media. But don’t tie your happiness to that. Don’t do it for happiness. Do it from happiness.

Mental health, well-being and awareness has never been more important. I feel there is a solution and I hope to make it more accessible through my own practice and by sharing it with others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Right Action, Right Intention, Right Effort, Right Attitude

Let’s do the right thing — in thought, speech and action — with greater good as the intention and do the work for work’s sake, for the intrinsic value of the work. Of course, all actions will have a result. When it comes, let’s accept the result with equanimity towards favorable and unfavorable outcomes.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Well, it is not a pitch but a call to action around digital well-being.

We have created products that are habit-forming and in many cases, addictive. There is increasing evidence — scientifically proven and qualitatively understood — that social media may be responsible for depression in youth and young adults. This is very troubling and it is only going to get worse if we don’t do anything about it.

We are often distracted by the device in our hands. I see an increased need in children to be constantly engaged with their phones, so much that their minds are never at rest. They meander from one app to the other, one device to another often leading to stress and anxiety. Also, if their minds are never at rest, how can creativity happen?

The plea is to invest in startups that are working on digital well-being and awareness.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on linked in at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kishoresubramanian/, on medium at

https://medium.com/@k1shores or on twitter at https://twitter.com/k1shores.

To follow and learn more about Propel and the work we are doing, visit us on linked in at https://www.linkedin.com/company/propelplm/.

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