Suddenly machines can execute tasks that once needed human cognition. In the past, computers could execute only the rigidly defined tasks for which they were programmed. Now they can be given a general strategy for learning, enabling them to adapt to new data without being explicitly reprogrammed. This is mainly done through big data and [...]

Business Times

Linear Squared: Addressing big business problems


Suddenly machines can execute tasks that once needed human cognition.

The team

In the past, computers could execute only the rigidly defined tasks for which they were programmed. Now they can be given a general strategy for learning, enabling them to adapt to new data without being explicitly reprogrammed. This is mainly done through big data and advanced analytics (Machine Learning and Deep Learning) which isn’t freely available.

Linear Squared is determined to change that. A start-up that was born after its founders recognised a massive void in big data and advanced analytics solutions that exist in the market, it has made long strides.

Almost all solutions that exist in the market, not just in Sri Lanka but globally, are analytics toolkits, says Sankha Muthu Poruthotage, Founder and CEO at Linear Squared. “Organisations need extensive amount of specialised internal resources to turn data into actions using these toolkits, which most of the organisations don’t have. Therefore most of them turn into service organisations which is time consuming and expensive,” he says of their start, sitting down to discuss the company with the Business Times.

Big business problems

Linear Squared provides ready to use solutions for big business problems by converting data into proactive actions. “In other words we are disrupting the toolkit framework as well as the consultancy framework. Also, Sri Lanka has a lot of untapped, world class talent. Helping the country, in whichever small way I could, to realise its true potential was a motivation too.”

Sankha says that he got into data science well before the hype of big data. “Therefore I had the advantage of working with data in many sectors such as consumer goods and financial services. It helped me to have a better perspective of gaps and the opportunities.” Over the last few years, while working with some of the largest organisations in Sri Lanka and in the region, he was able to validate the existence of this gap.

As many would have experienced, starting a business in Sri Lanka is not the easiest thing. “As we all know we don’t have an eco-system that is conducive to starting businesses. There is very little institutional support,” Sankha reminisces about the testing times. “So setting up that initial administrative structure was a challenge.

Hiring talent is also a challenge as most of us want to settle into a comfortable position at a well-known organisation, which is pretty much the social norm.”

Millennial mindset

However, he’s happy that things have started to change. There are enough and more fresh graduates who are willing to join a company that inspires them, he says. “I, in fact, like the millennial mindset. Even though the society is by and large critical of them, I think they demand meaningful engagements that inspire them.”

Linear Squared’s initial set of investors, Jithendran Gajendran from JLN investments and Rajan Anandan, Prajeeth Balasubramaniam and Rishi Srivastava from BOV capital have been absolutely encouraging, he adds. “Our initial set of clients who believed in us gave us the initial impetus which is essential for any business. The Linear Squared team has been prolific all along the way. We have very low employee turnover, touch wood! They not only build fancy Machine Learning (ML) algorithms but also chase the garbage trucks with the same vigour and determination.”

Linear Squared works with many large tier 1 companies in Sri Lanka. Sankha says that it was natural for them to start with companies with good data infrastructures as data is their basic ingredient. “However, with some of the products we are building we think we can really make ML solutions mass market.”

Turning data into proactive actions within a ready to use solution framework is the key for Linear Squared. “With that product offering we think we will have global relevance. That is our goal and challenge. We think we can start playing in that global arena within next 12 months,” Sankha says.

He explains that in order to do this, they have many seasoned professionals in the team who want to make a difference. Out of the total of 24 staff, 10 are data scientists.

Others are software engineers, QA engineers, business analysts, domain specialists etc. As an example their CTO is an ex-Google engineer with a PhD. in computer science. Mohit Pande, the Senior Vice President has led the Google cloud business in India before Linear Squared. The plan is to double the team size within the next nine months, he adds.

Global technology

Mohit says that the career move to join Linear Squared was because the company was doing something different. “It’s a great time to be in the Tech start-up world. Data Platforms have evolved exceptionally over the past few years, and access to fast and economical computing platforms has become very easy, thanks to Cloud,” he says noting that there’s significant potential for ML and AI to solve problems in ways never imagined before.

“I also think that while we are seeing great progress in the consumer world, solutions built on ML/AI platforms will create a huge impact in enterprises and B2B scenarios. Most enterprises are just starting the journey to adopt ML/AI platforms. Hence, the next three to five years are going to be very exciting.”

Linear Squared is playing exactly in this space, he notes adding that with one of the largest pool of data scientists in the region, Linear Squared is building some ‘amazing’ ML/AI based solutions for enterprises. Led by Sankha, Linear Squared represents a great combination of deep understanding of Data Science, technical depth of ML platforms and wide domain expertise across many industry verticals like Telco, FMCG, financial services and apparel. He was also attracted to the very sound backing of reputed investors and senior management professionals like Mr. Anandan and Mr. Balasubramaniam.

According to Mohit, as enterprises in APAC grow their adoption of Cloud and SaaS based solutions, Analytics and ML solutions will be areas of top investment. “Linear Squared will have a great opportunity to grow and thrive in this phase. With a growing base of Sri Lankan enterprises, Linear Squared has big plans to expand regionally in South East Asia, India and West Asia. We are also looking to aggressively expand our team of Data Scientists, ML specialists and Software Engineers. With a great leadership team, Linear Squared has all the makings of a global technology company emerging out of Sri Lanka.”

He adds that the company has been seeing great traction with enterprise customers in Sri Lanka. “As we build our new solutions, we need a steady pool of data scientists, ML specialists, deep Cloud expertise, high quality software engineers and industry expertise around many verticals. Being able to hire quickly will be one of the challenges which we will need to overcome.”

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