Rajiv Bhat, CEO of martini.ai: “The strength of your startup often lies in the team behind it”

If you only read one of our TakeOff interviews, make it this one. Rajiv Bhat, CEO of martini.ai, is a serial entrepreneur with a success-studded background — most notably with Groupon acquiring his first startup, social-shopping specialist Mertado, in 2012. So not only does he know the “secret” of creating a compelling technology platform, he has been through the whole journey from idea to exit.

Read through the interview below and you’ll pick up on several themes. Take advantage of the latest technology to solve a problem. Understand pain points. Create a compelling vision. Stay flexible. Choose the right partners. It’s the closest we’ve seen to a recipe for a successful startup, so take careful note.

And if you’re looking for a final reason to believe in what Rajiv says, he clearly has brains on his side: he was a physicist before becoming a serial entrepreneur, with a PhD in many-body quantum mechanics. Rajiv then earned his business technology spurs with stints at McKinsey & Co, InMobi and Kosmix. Read on to find out the story behind his latest venture, martini.ai.

What’s your elevator pitch?

At martini.ai, we’ve revolutionised the way businesses assess credit risk. Imagine navigating the vast sea of over two million private companies and having the power to instantly gauge their creditworthiness. With our advanced AI-driven platform, we provide real-time credit risk estimates, allowing businesses, investors and financial institutions to make informed decisions with unparalleled speed and accuracy.

What made you launch a startup?

The decision to launch our startup was driven by a series of observations and realisations about the evolving nature of our world.

Rajiv Bhat CEO Martini.ai
Physicist-turned-serial entrepreneur Rajiv Bhat is now CEO at Martini.ai

Firstly, the landscape of risk has undergone a profound transformation since 2020. We’ve witnessed events that have reshaped our understanding of volatility and unpredictability in both the business and socio-economic realms.

Secondly, our current era is characterised by a deeply interconnected world, one that is increasingly subject to frequent and sometimes unforeseen shocks. These shocks, whether they be economic, environmental or societal, ripple through our global networks with amplified effects.

Thirdly, amidst these challenges, there’s a silver lining: the explosion of data availability and the rapid advancements in AI technology. These tools offer unprecedented insights and predictive capabilities.

Given these factors, we felt a compelling need to create a solution. By harnessing the vast data and leveraging cutting-edge AI, we believed we could develop tools to help individuals and businesses navigate this new, uncertain world more effectively. Our startup is our response to these challenges, aiming to turn uncertainty into opportunity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Credit serves as the lifeblood of the industry, fuelling investments in jobs and driving innovation. However, during periods of heightened risk, credit often dries up due to a lack of confidence in risk estimates. This impact is especially pronounced for private companies, which historically have lacked robust methods to assess and understand their risk.

Our mission is to bridge this gap. We aim to empower both companies and financiers with the confidence to operate even amidst turbulence, by offering real-time credit risk estimates for a vast spectrum of companies.

Where do you hope your startup will be in ten years?

In ten years, I anticipate our startup to be the backbone of a global commercial finance system.

We aim to be the pivotal force that provides the leverage of capital to industries across the board, catering to companies irrespective of their size, from fledgling startups to established conglomerates.

Beyond just facilitating capital, our vision is to instil a deep sense of confidence in investors, equipping them with the tools and insights to navigate the intricate landscape of risk. In essence, we aspire to be the cornerstone that seamlessly bridges capital providers with businesses, fostering growth, innovation and stability in the global commercial arena.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?

If I could journey back in time and offer advice to my younger self, I’d emphasise the importance of finding a product design partner early on. This partnership can be the cornerstone of creating a product that truly resonates with the market. But it’s not just about design; it’s crucial to ensure that the product or solution addresses a genuine problem for them.

Dive deep, understand their pain points, and tailor your solution to meet those specific needs.

Furthermore, while it’s essential to provide value, it’s equally important to ascertain that this value is substantial enough for them to invest in. Ensure that what you’re offering is not just beneficial, but indispensable to the extent that they’re willing to pay a premium for it. This approach not only guarantees a sustainable business model but also fosters strong, long-term relationships with your partners and clients.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone looking to launch their startup?

For aspiring entrepreneurs and those looking to launch their startups, it’s crucial to anchor your venture in genuine passion, as it will be the driving force during challenging times.

Before embarking on your journey, invest time in thorough market research to understand your audience and the existing gaps, but also remain adaptable, ready to pivot based on feedback and evolving circumstances.

Lastly, the strength of your startup often lies in the team behind it; ensure you surround yourself with individuals who complement your skills and share your vision, as their diverse perspectives can be the bedrock of innovation and resilience. Let passion guide you, stay informed and flexible, and prioritise team dynamics for a successful entrepreneurial journey.

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.