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How Venky, Anand From Chennai Powered Amazon and Walmart to Fight Global E-commerce War in India

As the two US giants wrestle in the world's fastest-growing major economy, the strange thing is that technology developed by two Chennai-bred men is at the heart of the war in the land of their birth.

Madhavan Narayanan |

Updated:May 10, 2018, 8:45 AM IST
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How Venky, Anand From Chennai Powered Amazon and Walmart to Fight Global E-commerce War in India
The logos of Walmart and Flipkart. (New18 creatives)
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When the Allies defeated Hitler's forces in the Second World War, one British leader remarked that the US-led forces were aided by German scientists who fled the Nazi rule. "Our German scientists were better than their German scientists,” said one of British PM Winston Churchill's closest aides, Sir Ian Jacob.

That saying came to mind this week as US-based global retail chain Walmart acquired a 77% stake in Bangalore-based Flipkart for $16 billion for a big-bang entry into India's emerging e-commerce market to take on Amazon. Bentonville-based Walmart will take on Seattle-based Amazon to win hearts and wallets in a seemingly all-American war on the Indian soil, targeting an economy of 1.3 billion people.

But what is not so well known is that both of them will be powered by strategic technology developed by Indian American startups they acquired. What's more, both these startups were co-founded by the very same Indian guys.

So it turns out that Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan both of whom are Chennai-born and both of whom are B Techs from IIT, Madras and PhDs in computer science from the prestigious Stanford University in California, have turned out to be key arms merchants in a global e-commerce war. Venky's Wikipedia page says he still holds an Indian nationality.

Back in 1998, Venky, Anand, Rakesh Mathur and Ashish Gupta co-founded Junglee, one of the first shopping search engines. They sold it to Amazon the same year for $250 million in one of the hottest Internet acquisitions in its early days.

Seven years later, Anand and Venky went on to found Kosmix, a search engine that allows users to perform advanced searches through multiple filters. Six years after that, in 2011, Walmart acquired Kosmix for an estimated $300 million. The acquisition powered @WalmartLabs, a key technological arm that helped Walmart turn from a brick-and-mortar retail giant into a major technology-driven player.

Anand Rajaraman has served as Senior Vice President at Walmart Global eCommerce, where he used to head @WalmartLabs, which focuses on the intersection of social, mobile, and retail commerce. He was earlier director of technology at Amazon.

Anand and Venky thus are common to both Walmart and Amazon. As the two US giants wrestle in the world's fastest-growing major economy, the strange thing is that technology developed by two Chennai-bred men is at the heart of the war in the land of their birth.

Let's call them digital age arms merchants.

(The author is a senior journalist who has worked for Reuters, Hindustan Times and Economic Times. He tweets as @madversity)

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