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Q&A: Project44 COO ready to help fine-tune world’s ‘economic engine’

Former US CIO Vivek Kundra rolls up his sleeves for new role with real-time visibility provider

Vivek Kundra is getting to work as project44’s new chief operating officer. (Photos: project44, Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A month after announcing a $240 million investment led by TPG, Thoma Bravo and Goldman Sachs, real-time visibility provider project44 announced Vivek Kundra would become the company’s chief operating officer, leveraging experience that includes leading the country’s technology initiatives.

In an interview with FreightWaves, Kundra explained his fascination with supply chains, his past work with customer experience management software Sprinklr and service as the first chief information officer of the United States and how he plans to incorporate those experiences in his new role at Chicago-based project44.

Questions and answers were edited for clarity and length.

FREIGHTWAVES: Your two most recent working experiences have been as executive vice president of and chief operating officer of Sprinklr. What attracted you to taking a role specific to the supply chain industry? 

KUNDRA: “The global supply chain industry is the economic engine to everything. Today you cannot watch the news or read the newspaper without hearing about the challenges of the supply chain crisis. When you see this, look at where we’re headed and see the massive technological transformation the industry is going through, you realize you can have a huge impact on improving the state of the world.

“If we could remove the friction within this economic engine and allow companies and countries to be more productive, we could really impact people’s everyday lives. From the distribution of vaccines and medicine to food and aid around the world, the impact of a technological transformation in the supply chain is amazing and we’re just in the first inning.

“When I think about my journey through life, I have always been drawn to companies or organizations that have a strong mission. Project44’s mission and what they could do for this industry is what really attracted me to the company.”

FREIGHTWAVES: The project44 team had an eventful 2021, leading to $2.4 billion valuation right after the new year. What has it been like working with this team so far?

KUNDRA: “First, its founder [and CEO Jett McCandless] has a very compelling vision and it stems from improving the lives of everyone everywhere. He talks a lot about creating a connected, predictable and sustainable world and that is such a powerful mission.

“When you look at the overall leadership team, whether they are in culture and talent, sales, product or engineering, across the board, we have continued to attract some of the best talent the world has to offer. That is incredibly exciting and they are all focused on bringing Jett’s mission to life. 

“Part of this is also reflected in the number. We have over 1,000 customers, just exceeded $100 million in annual recurring revenue and now we have over 1,000 employees around the world. There is so much momentum as we continue to scale.

“At the heart of this growth is our customers. The reason we have built this culture and hire the best the world has to offer is for our customers. When you work with companies like Amazon, Lenovo, ExxonMobil, Starbucks, Dollar General, FedEx, General Mills, Goodyear and Unilever, you realize your company is going to have a huge impact on the world. 

“We are really thankful for the customers and we will continue to make sure that they are at the heart of everything we do on a daily basis.”

FREIGHTWAVES: You had a huge impact on moving the government to the cloud in your role as chief information officer for the United States under the Obama administration and you pushed Sprinklr to expand its capabilities past social media. Your specialty is scaling companies and initiatives that are revolutionary to the industries that they serve. How do you plan to take these experiences and apply them to your work at project44?

KUNDRA: “My No. 1 focus will be making sure we are building the best visibility product in the world that allows our customers to serve their customers better. Whether you are a shipper who is focused on railroad capacity or you are a brand that is selling online or in brick-and-mortar stores or a government agency moving aid, we have to recognize all of them are central to a global supply chain. 

“Our No. 1 value has to be obsession with the customer experience because the best companies in the world, and the ones that win in the long run, are the ones that are focused on providing the best product to their customer and making sure every day, every week and ever quarter the product is even better than it was before.

“My job will be making sure that we have this drumbeat of constantly improving and that is going to be central to how we continue to scale. The rest is just hard work but getting the team alignment and recognizing how you have focused on customer obsession becomes really important.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Under your leadership, like we saw during your time at Sprinklr, should we expect to see project44 file for an initial public offering?

KUNDRA: “Candidly, I think of IPOs as nothing more than a fundraising event. What we really need to do is make sure we are building a long-term sustainable business that is going to be here for hundreds of years, if not longer. So the way you approach that is focusing on the fundamentals. If you get the fundamentals right, the IPO, whether it happens or doesn’t happen, is not as relevant. If you don’t have the fundamentals, nothing else matters.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Since taking this role, what has struck you the most about the supply chain industry as a whole?

KUNDRA: “I think what I am the most awestruck by is how big our opportunity is in this space. Companies like Amazon have completely changed people’s expectations around visibility and transportation. So the biggest surprise for me coming in the industry is just how much opportunity there is around just applying the same kind of principles at a global scale. We have a massive technological opportunity and project44 is going to play a massive role in closing that technology gap.”

Watch now: How is project44 making data actionable?

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Grace Sharkey

Grace Sharkey is a professional in the logistics and transportation industry with experience in journalism, digital content creation and decision-making roles in the third-party logistics space. Prior to joining FreightWaves, Grace led a startup brokerage to more than $80 million in revenue, holding roles of increasing responsibility, including director of sales, vice president of business development and chief strategy officer. She is currently a staff writer, podcast producer and SiriusXM radio host for FreightWaves, a leading provider of news, data and analytics for the logistics industry. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Michigan State University. You can contact her at [email protected].