$500 million and counting

Digital Transformation in SaaS: Exploring Manik Suri's Insights at GlacierGrid

Manik Suri , Founder & CEO of GlacierGrid

Embark on a journey into the realms of technology, climate impact, and sustainable innovation with Manik Suri, the visionary founder and CEO of GlacierGrid. This compelling content unravels the fascinating narrative behind GlacierGrid’s evolution, tracing its origins in civic technology to its current standing as a trailblazer in climate-positive solutions. Delve into Suri’s insights as he sheds light on the company’s mission, offering a panoramic view of GlacierGrid’s pivotal role in shaping a greener, more environmentally conscious future.

GlacierGrid is a technology company pioneering climate-positive solutions, leveraging innovation to protect our planet while driving positive change in the industry.

Manik Suri
Founder & CEO of GlacierGrid

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Wytpod. My name is Harshit, and I’m the Director of Business Analysis at Wytlabs. We are a digital agency, specializing in SaaS and e-commerce as well. Today we have Manik Suri with me. He’s the founder and CEO of GlacierGrid. Now, GlacierGrid is a technology company. His mission is to protect our food and our planet. A big welcome to you, Manik. I’m so happy you’re having me.

A pleasure to be here, Harshit. Thanks for having me.

Great. Now, Manik, do you have a hiring and interesting journey, even before GlacierGrid? Our governance lab that we call out here. Can you please start by telling our audience about your professional experience?

It’s a twisting and winding road, but I think life sometimes makes sense in the rare view mirror. You don’t always know where the road is taking you. I started my career in private equity and investing at a big hedge PE fund called DE Shah. I was there for about four years in 2006 working in emerging markets and living partly in Asia. I lived in China and India for three years investing on the ground. Decided to go back to my origins and my roots in public policy and my interest in government and impact, I went to work in the White House during the Obama administration as a junior guy on the economic policy team and went back to law school in between and got a law degree. I think that was the first twist in the road. The second twist was I was in government. I met a woman there. She was the Deputy CTO in the first Obama White House, and she had also gone to law school and taught herself how to write code, Beth Novick. She convinced me that there was a huge opportunity to build tech around public problems, civic technology, as we called it.


There was an opportunity to use the power of products and technology to do good and do well. I joined her, left government, and started a center at MIT and NYU called the Governance Lab or GovLab, focused on tech for good, raised about 20 million of funding for that center, and did that for a couple of years as a do tank. That’s how I got into technology. Then a couple of years later, I decided to become an entrepreneur and took the plunge and started working on problems around safety and sustainability in the food industry. Which is close to my home and close to my origins. I grew up in an ag town called Fresno in the Central Valley of California, halfway between LA and San Francisco, was trying to figure out where safety and sustainability problems could be solved with tech, and discovered that the farm-to-fork supply chain was broken in many ways, had lots of problems, and we’re using technology from the 1950s, even though it’s only an hour away from Silicon Valley. That’s how I got into the food supply chain and farm to fork, and started a business called Coinspect, which pivoted and became GlacierGrid, and the rest is history or just getting going.

Yeah. I think this transition happened in 2019, I would agree, right?

It did. It was a pivot When you’re in the middle of a pivot, you don’t realize you’re pivoting. You’re just trying to figure out what you’re doing. We were growing this product called Collaborative Co-Inspect. We had grown it to about 5,000 users. It was a fast product. Replacing physical manual workflow in the food industry that was being done on a clipboard, a paper clipboard with mobile apps that can use instance, geo-location, and photos to get better data, more accuracy, and then to use legal requirements to guarantee safety and quality on the back-end. It turned out that most of what people were checking was temperature, the temperature around the product, and the temperature around perishables. That was a key endpoint that needs to be monitored, both for safety and for preventing food loss and food waste. We started thinking, we’re just replacing a piece of paper with a digital clipboard. People still have to check this four to eight times a day. That doesn’t seem like a great solution. That’s incremental at best. How can we do a better job? That’s what led us to automation and opened the possibility of using sensors as a better way of solving the problem.


That insight that we could automate the work entirely got us thinking about new types of connection and led to us discovering that long-range radio-based sensors work well for refrigeration and getting signals out of the inside of a fridge or a freezer. That’s how GlacierGrid was born.

Brilliant, man. Now, let’s talk about your accomplishments at GlacierGrid that you’re most proud of. How do they contribute to your company’s mission of combating climate change?

Sure. I think the reason I got into tech was to build tech around safety and sustainability and problems that I thought the current set of solutions wasn’t tackling. I was interested in building tech for good. But to do that, you must first solve a real user problem or create ROI for your customer. With GlacierGrid, what we were able to do was align the user incentive with the customer incentive. In doing that, the social benefit came out of it. With the user, what we’re doing is we’re replacing a manual workflow that takes 5 to 10 minutes, four times a day with automation. It’s saving them time on task and reducing back-of-house workflow. For the customer, which is typically an owner-operator of a business in the food industry, a restaurant, a convenience store, a grocer, or a distributor, we’re giving them real-time visibility into their equipment, particularly equipment that stores thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of product. We can catch equipment issues early and often. We can prevent food loss and reduce the chance of spoilage and shrinkage. It’s like an alarm or insurance, providing them peace of mind. There’s ROI around that. There are dollars.


By doing that, by catching issues in the equipment and preventing food loss, we’re reducing the amount of refrigerants that are leaking from these devices, and we’re reducing the food waste, which is a big source of emissions. Both of those are big drivers of emissions. The social impact, emissions reduction, is a byproduct of saving businesses money and making life easier for managers and employees.

Makes sense. If you have to pick because it’s still a competitive space that you’re in if you have to pick one specific USP of GlacierGrid, what would that be?

Yeah, I would say, we are the most reliable, most user-feature-friendly, or consumer-grade product in the category. It’s a drop place, do it yourself, you’re up and running in 10 minutes product, which makes it accessible to small businesses and large businesses with high turnover in the back of the house. It’s just a very consumer-grade, light, and simple offering. I think that’s our differentiator. There’s a lot of technology underlying that, but essentially, I think that’s in a nutshell.

Got you. Because GlacierGrid is getting to major brands, McDonald’s, 7Eleven, and so on. What lessons can other businesses learn from this collaboration of your company with these big brands?

I think that one of the things we learned early on is you have to match the ambition to the stage of the business. We tried going after corporate accounts early, but we didn’t have the product or the sales and marketing resources to meet the customers where they were. The requirements were often way more significant than what we could handle, and the sales cycle was often much longer than our team or our capital supported. That is a mismatch. What we started doing with GlacierGrid, that was with Coinspect, what we started doing with GlacierGrid was going from selling or trying to sell to the corporate owner to targeting the franchisees. The franchisees are often smaller, they’re quicker to adopt new technology, they test and they iterate a lot more. With The franchisees, because they’re smaller companies and because they’re more nimble, we were able to get faster validation and we were able to get faster deals closed. We picked up many more accounts. In doing that, we were able to improve the product, and continuously get feedback from the same operators, McDonald’s, whether it’s owned by a corporation or a franchisee, with similar operations and, a similar footprint. But we were able to get a lot more traction in a short amount of time.


That revenue from the logos helped us eventually raise more capital, which has then allowed us to go back to the corporate buyers and say, Hey, we’d love to work with you now. Now we work with operators of Tako Bell, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Marriott, Hilton, Seven11, and a bunch of other brands. But the sequencing is key. Going after enterprise accounts early, unless you have a very clear idea of how to meet their requirements, and if you have the capital to support a long sales cycle, is pretty challenging for an early-stage startup.

Yeah, makes sense. Now, we’re going to talk about your marketing. I would love to understand what specific strategies have been fruitful and what specific channels have been most profitable in that sense.

Sure. I think the marketing playbook that we’re running is a combination of a few different channel strategies. First, we have a traditional, if you will, product marketing team. Traditional in the sense that our product marketing team Our strategy is focused on sales enablement. Our sales channel is a direct B2B sales motion. We have account executives doing inside sales, supported by business development representatives, and BDRs, qualifying and generating leads. That motion, which requires people to talk to other people, means you have to have collateral and materials. We have case studies, ROI calculators, decks, and teasers. All of that collateral is that’s provided by our product marketing team. That’s sales enablement and sales support. That’s our primary growth channel. Additionally, we have a team that’s working on inbound. That team, we think of as growth marketing, and some people think of it or describe it as demand generation. We’re using a combination of SEO, SEM, ad buys to drive traffic through a series of landing pages. We use those landing pages to bring warm marketing-qualified leads to a decision. That decision could be to talk to another person on the team for a larger account, for a larger deal, or self-purchase.


We have an e-commerce channel where you can go in and buy our product online. It’s a smaller portion of our revenue base, but considerable. Still, a considerable portion of our revenue comes from e-commerce. And so demand generation is largely supporting that channel, a B2B e-com approach. And then we have a PR and comms marketing team. They’re The objective is really to raise the profile of the company, to help us get into the right room, to help us get into the right conversations. They’re elevating the vision the mission and the profile of the business. And that’s both in service of attracting human and financial capital. There, we’re trying to position ourselves as an early innovator and a leader in an emerging category around cooling and climate. Those are the three marketing efforts: product marketing, growth marketing, and then PR.

Any particular challenge that you would like to highlight concerning your marketing side that you have surpassed, or overcome recently or in the last couple of years?

I think there are always challenges, and I think we’re working through many different issues early stages. But I think one of the biggest challenges early on is figuring out who your ideal customer profile is or who you’re selling to, who wants what you’re building. As that question gets answered or as one gets more clarity around that question, then I think a related question is how to reach those ideal customers as efficiently as possible. That becomes a secondary, but also a very important question to get to scale. Those are, I think, two areas we’ve had lots of learning and lots of growth. One is, who wants what we’re building? There’s a lot of refrigeration and cooling in the world, with 200 million units in every country in 10 verticals. So figuring out whether we should be working with blood banks pharmacies clinics hospitals or food service establishments was an early challenge. It was particularly hard because We launched GlacierGrid at the end of 2019, and about three or four months into launching, we had a global pandemic that shut the entire world down for almost two years. So that made it hard to do customer development and talk to people.


So we had to rely a lot on marketing. Particularly, we use a lot of testing online. We did a lot of campaign work online to try and figure out who might want this early product we were building. Those campaigns in that testing exposed latent demand. It exposed interest in certain segments and verticals. Those learnings turned into our go-to-market strategy, which then we applied more capital and more bodies behind with a direct sales effort. But the learnings came largely from campaigns and efforts we were running online in 2020 and ’21 when you couldn’t go in person to meet and interview people.

Got you. All right. Now, because you’re somewhat lately connected to innovation for social impact, how do you band what happens to the need for technological innovation with the broader goal of creating a more sustainable client?

I think that there’s an order of operations to doing it well. I think that, as a colleague of mine said, A decade ago to me, a successful entrepreneur who’s had a couple of significant exits. If you want to change the world, you must first accept it. I think that understanding incentives, and what exactly is driving the adoption of your product or products are key. If you can understand what motivates users and customers, then one can work with that and often align with those incentives in such a way that the products one builds have a positive social impact. But if you try and build a product that has a positive social impact, but it doesn’t solve the user’s problems or generate ROI for a customer, whether it’s saving them money or making them more money or providing them with peace of mind or what have you, if you don’t provide value to the user and the customer in a measurable quantifiable way, it doesn’t matter how socially impactful your product is. It’s going to be super hard to get any traction. It’s going to be super hard to get anyone to adopt it. You’re not going to get much social impact.


That’s the thing I would say I’ve continued to appreciate about tech and technology products. With a product, you’re relying on a user and on customers to adopt and scale your intervention. In my previous life, I was in government, and as a legislator or as a regulator, you can make people do the right thing. You can make people do what you think is good for society. You pass legislation, you pass regulation. Those are ways to make people do what you think is right, even if they don’t want to do it, even if it’s not in their interest or their incentive. But with a tech product, if you just want people to do the right thing, but your product doesn’t solve a problem or make their life better in some way, it’s very hard to scale. I think the best way to have a social impact as a technology entrepreneur with products and services is to find user problems and customer problems that you can solve but solve them in a way that has a positive social impact built-in. For us, we reduce business costs around labor and food and also energy. All of those are things businesses care about, and they care about a lot right now because inflation is high and there’s a lot of pressure on margin.

But we happen to do it in ways that also reduce to reduce emissions in a quantifiable way. That’s an additional benefit of the solution, but not the reason necessarily why they’re buying.

Tell me one more thing, what role does user feedback play in your organization for the product development side of the memory? What exactly is the process for you to monitor and incorporate that feedback with your product development? How does that process make sense?

I think that we’ve developed, I think, a more robust approach to product development over the years. Early on, when we were getting started, when the company was two people, the user feedback and the product development process were embedded into sales and success and frankly, business development as well. The same person was getting all those inputs and trying to figure out how to parse that for both selling and also building at the same time. We have now a more established product team that uses a combination of structured and unstructured input. We do user interviews every month. We provide surveys and embedded questionnaires into our products and into some of our product marketing materials to get input on various dimensions of the product. Sometimes it’s input It’s on new features, sometimes it’s input on the product overall, and sometimes it’s input on potential gaps in the solution that might be valuable to add. We also have a very strong feedback mechanism between our revenue team and our product team, so revenue is talking to the customer and potential customers all day long. That’s sales development reps, account executives, customer success managers, and customer support managers. All of those roles are talking to the market, talking to users and customers.


We have a set of processes and tools internally for structuring that input and those ideas and some of that feedback and then distilling it. We use a combination of some boards and some off-the-shelf tools, third-party developed tools for structuring that input and then making it available to the product team. Then lastly, we do a fair bit of direct user observation. We’ll send out our product team to watch users interact with our product, talk to customers, and do field surveys, field interviews, and observations. That helps provide some more rich context around our products and how users are interacting with them.

That’s brilliant. Okay, Manik, concerning the customer retention side, do you mind if any specific strategy or program that you have launched that has done wonders for the organization, anything on that? Could you put some light on that? Yeah, and also how is the genre in the organization?

For sure. When you say the churn rate in the organization, do you mean retention within the team?

Not within the team, but within the customers.

With the customer. Okay. We’ve been fortunate, I think, that despite launching early on in the pandemic, we were We’re able to provide value to customers that became more important during the pandemic and after. The core value drivers of our solution include providing visibility into the equipment and the inventory inside and then reducing costs around food and energy. Those became more important during 2020 and 2021 when customers had to shut locations temporarily when they had to have less staffing because of labor ever shortages and tightness, and because guests weren’t coming as often. We sell to restaurants, hospitality, and food retail companies. A lot of those businesses had tight staffing and limited hours of oversight. They wanted more visibility and more data coming from their boxes. Our products did well, and so we grew rapidly during the pandemic. After the pandemic, the dust settled, so to speak. Because inflation and labor and energy costs are high, people have continued to want products like ours. There’s more and more pressure to run businesses tight because these margin challenges have not gotten easier in ’22 or ’23. We have almost no churn. We’ve got around 3% churn on our customer base of over 1100 customers, and we have net revenue retention that’s over 110%, so a good amount of expansion from our customers.


We’re thrilled about those numbers.

Yeah, that’s brilliant actually. Any specific program or strategy that helps you achieve these numbers?

It helps to I think tight feedback loops between the user and customer and what you’re building. I think having a better product development process with tighter feedback loops has made us more rigorous and more effective in building features that create value for the user and create value for the customer. As a simple example, much of our reporting from GlacierGrid came directly from customer development and user interviews around what types of data would best be served and in what format they could best be surfaced to the user. Most of our reporting and reporting features are directly taken from customers’ inputs. Similarly, our predictions around equipment failure, that’s a product feature we offer. That feature has become very much informed by the user input and user inputs over the last few years. Those kinds of changes, adding a reporting module, adding predictive insights, and building features that are responsive to customer needs help drive value. We do that because we’re a SaaS company, and the product is always being evaluated. A customer could churn anytime. You can cancel if you don’t like the value creation. We’re constantly working to improve it and still providing value every week, every month.

Iterating and adding based on customer feedback, I think has been one of the most powerful ways to maintain a customer that’s happy and lower the churn. The last thing I’ll say is having a tight process of supporting unhappy customers. We’re pretty customer-friendly, I would say. We have, at this point, 24/7 customer support, which is unusual for a company of our size. That allows people to talk to a human at any time, including late night on a Saturday night. A lot of our customers work nights and weekends, in restaurants, and hotels. They need to have issues resolved at times when traditional businesses are closed. Providing that high touch customer support and willing to do things like shipping out replacement sensors, the batteries are dead, covering the costs of return. Those types of features on the support side make for, I think, better customer experience and drive retention as well.

That’s brilliant, Manik. Also, Also, you know what? There’s a challenge when you are customer-centric. That’s a good thing, to be honest. But when you want to take your customer feedback way too seriously, definitely there are a lot of requests, feature requests, and all that, coming from multiple customer bases of yours. Then selecting or entertaining a feature request, that could be served to the wider audience, and that selection process becomes a challenge. Have you faced something similar in your organization And if so, how do you address it?

Let me see if I understood you, Harshit. When you say selecting, that’s the selection process. Do you mean finding the ideal customer within the possible?

Say, for example, you’re serving 1,000 people. Market. All of those 1,000 people, 500 people have come back to you with some of the other add-on thing or feature requests, those things. And then might be unique for their own business, but might not be so for a wider range of audience that you’re catering to. How exactly does the next year and that scrutiny happen?

Yeah, that’s a good question. The reality is it’s always a judgment call, and Knowing who’s input to listen to at any given time when you have a lot of sources of input is hard. I think that’s why doing product development well is often it’s as much art as it is science. I think part of the exercise is having a strategic view of where you’re taking your business. What business are you building? What types of products and services do you want to develop over time? Part of it is maintaining a sense of vision and internal direction. That can be a filter because that can take some ideas that come from the market or come from users off the table. You may say, Sure, we got X number of people saying we want this, but the direction we’re taking the company, this request, or this set of inputs, doesn’t fit. We’re not going to go and do that, for instance. That’s a general point. It depends on the specifics. The other thing, I think, the other filter is to be looking out for, I think people have described this with different metaphors, but I think to be looking out for whether a set of requests or inputs falls into the nice to have or the need to have a bucket.


There are lots of nice-to-have features, and then there are some need-to-have. Being able to figure out what’s vitamins nice to have versus what pills need to have. That’s a really, I think, effective way to prioritize what to build because many things could go into a fully featured product or platform. But the art is knowing which things you have to build in the short term to get more traction and opportunities so you can build some of the nice-to-have features later on. And so listening with a close ear to those inputs and reading or listening closely to figure out whether those inputs are falling into the nice to have or the need to have bucket is another, I think, important filter.

That’s why it’s pretty good. Okay, for climate-positive solutions, how do you leverage what leadership to raise awareness and drive positive change in the industry?

Yeah. We are doing some things in the product as well, so I can talk about those. But outside of the product itself, we are participating in and engaging with the climate innovation community at multiple levels. We attend several meetups, conferences, and retreats that are around the themes of energy optimization, food waste reduction, and climate innovation. I think being in the room and telling the story and finding like-minded partners is part of it. That sometimes opens up opportunities. Because we were doing some of that in 2019, we got invited to a hardware climate accelerator in Brooklyn run by BMW, an urban house called UrbanX. That allowed us to build hardware. It opened up an opportunity. Conversations, like we were having with some of these kinds of stakeholders, opened up opportunities with government loans and grant programs that we’ve been pursuing recently. It certainly helps with raising the profile of the business. I would say half of our leadership team joined the company because they reached out to me inbound cold by email or LinkedIn over the last four or five years, just hearing about our work on a podcast or in an article or some talk I gave.


Those efforts to be in the room and to tell the story They’re not just to sound, to fill the time. The goal is really to unlock opportunities, build the team, attract resources, to get more like-minded innovators to care. And beyond attending and joining and participating in these kinds of events, we’re starting to do more writing and speaking formally around these themes. So trying to get the word out in a more structured format, which is something I’m taking on this year in a bigger way.

I’m great to see the future in energy management and sustainability planning. How is positioning itself to capitalize on these trends?

I think that we’re seeing a lot of interest in energy efficiency, energy optimization, and built environment transformation space, those spaces. A huge amount of capital is being deployed around these themes. That’s partly because there’s a lot of social social and economic cost at stake. We need to use less energy, and we need to use cleaner sources or forms of energy. That’s very clear. Math is unequivocal, and many people talk about it every day now. Given that we have a huge amount of gap today between the need for cleaner and more efficient energy and what is out there, there are essentially more people and capital looking for solutions than there are solutions available at scale to deploy that capital behind. I think lots of ways to answer your question, but we’re seeing a lot more early-stage capital, I think, going into the energy innovation environment and themes around energy efficiency, energy optimization, and a built environment transformation. We’re seeing later-stage capital going into these. We’re seeing government funding. Look at the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, as just one instance of tens of billions of dollars of government subsidy to accelerate this transition. We’re seeing thousands of people moving into these industries every year, which is great.


We need more people working on the solution. I think you’re going to hear about it in the news more and more, with energy prices rising and energy being increasingly premium and geopolitical tensions. I think in the next decade, we’re going to see a lot more in the news about how we can do in terms of generating, distributing, and using energy, and how we can get cleaner in energy, the value chain. I think there’s a lot of political interest as well in getting this right, both because of the geopolitics and because of the social and economic consequences.

All right. We’re coming to an end, and I would love to have a quick rapid-fire with you. Let’s make this a conversation. Okay? Are you ready for that?


Okay. If given a superpower, what would you choose? Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or be able to talk to animals?

Talk to animals. I think I want to know their view on everything.

If you were to travel back in time, what period would you go to?

The Homeric era, the Greco, and the ancient Greece into classical antiquity. I think there was just so much fundamental ideation about human existence in that period and just so many interesting people and stories that came out of it that we still talk about 3,000 years later. Okay.

Was the fastest speed you have driven in a car?

Mile to an hour, going down the highway. We were in Napa coming out of the wildfires in 2017. My wife and I had gone for an anniversary trip, and we got caught. Our first night was the first night of the worst wildfire in California history, and it was just starting. It lasted for several days. We woke up in the middle of the night and the hotel innkeeper said, Hey, look at your window. There were orange flares everywhere in the distance. At the time, the innkeeper said, Okay, everyone in the hotel, we’re going to have you collect around the pool. I want you to jump into the pool in case the fire hits the hotel. My wife was like, No way. I’m getting out of here. We’re going to get in the car and drive back. We live in San Francisco the city an hour and 20 minutes away. We drove faster than I’d ever driven out of that small town with fire on both sides of the highway around us. That was intense.

Yeah. How many hours of sleep do you need?

Too many. Half a minute and a half, I’d say, is my sweet spot.

Okay. Now, maybe your very last question is, what’s your last Google search?

Best vegan restaurant, in San Francisco. I’m meeting a teammate of mine for lunch who’s vegan. I am not, and I aspire to be more progressive in that regard. I know zero vegan restaurants, even though there are many in San Francisco.

All right, Manik. Thank you so much. I’m going to share with you a lot of experiences about the company. I appreciate your time here with me. Thank you so much. Yeah.

Pleasure, Harchit. Thanks for having.





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