Sheshank Kamalapuram: (00:00)
Vanguard International Solutions is a privately held company. Its main objective is to start a wholesale distribution company with a focus on international supply chain and sourcing. My background has always been in sourcing and supply chain. I’ve been in this industry for a little over 15 years. I’ve worked for a small privately held company called Tradex and we were bought over by a giant pharmaceutical company, Cardinal Health, about five years back. So as part of the acquisition, I went and worked with Cardinal health for about three years. I left them in January of 2018 and I started Vanguard International Solutions. What we do initially, on top of supply chains, we also focus on developing a wholesale distribution for medical, industrial and foodservice products. I’ve had such a good relationship with Cognos and I didn’t want to get back into sourcing distribution and compete with them directly, so I worked in supply chain solutions. So what it essentially means is- I help companies with their supply chain, operations, and sourcing. I help them out mostly with international sourcing because of my background in customs, logistics, and FDA related issues. So I help companies from overseas make sure their product is compliant with the FDA and they have all the documentation. Since about a year ago, I have started distributing medical products under Vanguard. We supply gloves, gauze, bandages and stuff like that to small, midsize and large distributors all across the U.S.
Kai Moon: (02:42)
Wow – those things have such a big impact, right? You may not hear about it every day but when you think about the medical industry and everything that’s going on in different people’s lives across the U.S., that ultimately is a really important service that people need, which is healthcare.
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (03:04)
Absolutely. The crisis we are going to right now is a perfect example, right? We have had this Coronavirus (COVID-19) and we talk about it, see about it in the news, but it has a real impact on what I do. Because I do have some manufacturing partnerships in China. And we make masks in our factory – face masks, gowns, footies and hoodies, and nonwoven coveralls. It has had a huge impact in the last two or three weeks because China is going through their own crisis so we have been gathering a lot of products and donating it back to China so they can get some masks and gowns. It’s interesting how the global supply chain is so interconnected nowadays.
Kai Moon: (04:03)
It is. I want to touch on the kind of relationship between Acuity and Vanguard International Solutions. We’ve been working together for just over a year now and you’ve been partnered with Lisa, a dedicated bookkeeper. What has the experience been like having Acuity handle your financials each month and deliver data insights?
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (04:38)
It has been tremendous. I have actually recommended Acuity’s services to multiple of my customers. I still consider myself to be an entrepreneur. When you look at technology, it’s amazing how things have evolved. I mean, when I started working for a company we used to have traditional accountants. The ease of doing business is credited to the beauty of technology nowadays. And this is a true example of how two companies can work together. I’ve not seen anyone in person from your company, but I’ve spoken to multiple people and they are always helping me. In about one year we went from almost 2 million to over $13 million – and it was all done online. The way we communicate and the clarity and transparency is phenomenal. Technology is going to shape business models for companies like us. Because my core competency is not cleaning up my books – my core competencies are providing selling systems to my customers. And to get a day back with that much more time to do what I’m really good at and I’m still confident about my books being clean and running efficiently is essential. For any business to be successful, they have to have a clear set of books, in my eyes.
Kai Moon: (06:28)
Absolutely. That’s powerful. We’ve really enjoyed building a valued relationship with you during this time. You also talk about relationship management in your own business and that’s something that sets you apart. What are some ways in which you’ve fostered better relationships with your customers?
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (07:12)
The biggest and most important reason is honesty, transparency, and efficiency. These are the three main mantras for my company. You have to be honest in terms of what you’re communicating to your customers and what you’re selling and how you’re selling that product to your customers – because that sets you apart. That’s what creates and maintains that relationship. If you are smart you can entice people into giving you business. But after that, they called you a service, right? I know what I have promised them and how I am keeping that promise – and that for me is very powerful. When I worked in Cardinal health I learned to make sure you promise what you can deliver and you deliver that consistently – and that comes from being really honest with your customers, giving them information and telling them the reality about the markets. The way technology has moved in the last couple of decades, it is very important for you to be as transparent as possible with customers. Not just in terms of communication but with the entire supply chain making sure that they’re getting notifications in time, making sure they’re aware of international situations like the Coronavirus, which is impacting the health of thousands of people is also impacting the supply chain in multiple sectors. People don’t talk about that – it has multiple effects where about 50 million people are quarantined in the U.S. and about 13 or 14 cities in China have been completely under lockdown. So what happens is, when you have a product coming from China, even though the product is ready and the ships are available to sell, who is going to move that product from the factory to the port? When there are multiple roadblocks or if the local government is quarantining it becomes a challenge. And how do you handle those challenges? You make sure you handle them properly and communicate back to your customers. You intervene so that they are not panicking, but at the same time, they also know the gravity of the situation. It’s all about transparency and communication at that tone. And the most important thing is efficiency – keeping it really, really simple. You’re not rocket scientists. It’s the basic movement of product from point A to point B and it’s your job to make it as simple as possible. How do we keep it as simple as possible? When your customer is trying to get information, give them exactly what they need rather than going through 14 or 15 people trying to figure out what is going one. Those are the three most important things in driving success and providing guidance.
Kai Moon: (10:45)
That’s great. Those values are very similar to those of Acuity. Transparency is huge on our list. That’s something we’re always striving for – to be more proactive, informative and transparent. You talk about efficiency, right? When I hear that word it reminds me of the word facilitation. That’s really what we’re involved in on a day in, day out basis, right? It’s facilitating and making things easier for people.
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (11:36)
You guys have been phenomenal. You guys are a great example not just with accounting, but you recommended my HR partner, Gusto who has also been phenomenal. I’m practically running my entire business through my cell phone. That’s how easy it is right now. This hasn’t been hundreds of years, It’s day and night. Everything is so much more efficient and transparent. It allows me to concentrate more on what I’m good at rather than getting bogged down on looking at books. There’s no “wait, where’s my cash flow? What am I making? Am I in the right state of a healthy business? Or can I buy more products?” and so on. So you guys have been phenomenal.
Kai Moon: (13:00)
That’s great. It’s allowed you to find more happiness and joy in your job because you’re not having to focus on those maintenance and technical pieces. You’re able to dream bigger about things in the future that you want to do. That’s really exciting and empowering. Vanguard is also a global company with seasoned international experience as you mentioned. How have you seen the international market change and adapt over the years and has the global economy become more accessible?
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (13:45)
It’s amazing how things have changed, right? You don’t remember the days when there were no cell phones. For me, I’m a huge globalist. I love the way the market is moving towards a centralized model where a global initiative is centralized. What is happening more and more is the market is driving those initiatives. Every one of us, whether big or small, are becoming a stakeholder in the global arena – which is really good because now the services and products are going to flow to the most efficient place rather than the most collective side where it was because of political reasons you might have to end up buying or selling somewhere. What’s happening is in the last 10 years, I’m moving towards efficiency. If you’re not efficient, no matter how big and how powerful you are, the product and services are going to move away from you. And that’s what’s amazing. Right? Then you know, what you’re looking at is just excellence, the excellence of product, the excellence of service and excellence of process. They’re either getting bogged down by, “this is what you need to do” but you could work from anywhere. Look at my company, I have products coming from China, Malaysia, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, and I’m sending it to the U.S. It’s all a global network. China is going to impact my supply chain, when there was a trade war between China and the U.S. it impacted me in a huge way. But I had to reroute my products to other countries because the customer still needs those products. Doctors who want those gloves or the labs who need those gloves, have to buy those gloves. So how am I helping my customers buy the most efficient product and at the same time not sacrifice the quality? It’s just so interconnected, which is what’s exciting, right? It’s not just the U.S. or China, it’s every country, whether you call it India, Malaysia or Europe, as much as production is rising, globalism is trumping all of it because efficiencies are the most important thing. And businesses are the first indicators of it, right? If you’re not efficient and if you’re not making the right product, they just worry. You become a global citizen, you don’t become an American or Chinese or a Japanese, you just become a global citizen – and that’s how it should be. Politically you might have borders, but in terms of efficiency, we share the whole world. Exactly, I mean you go to Amazon and you don’t even know where the product is going to be shipped from.
Kai Moon: (17:11)
Yeah, I do that all the time. I’m like “Oh, this is coming from Indonesia. Oh, I didn’t know that. Cool!” And It’ll be here in one week – and next thing you know, it’s in my PO box.
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (17:22)
What makes this whole process so much more exciting is that the customer becomes the most important element. I was always taught that the customer is the King and now the customer becomes with Emperor, he doesn’t care about what’s going to happen – all he wants is efficiency. He wants the best pricing and quality products and to see it as soon as possible. When you placed that order which was shipped from Indonesia, your objective was to buy the best product at the cheapest price.
Kai Moon: (17:59)
I think about that all the time, how amazing it is. We just have so much more power at the tips of our fingers and we can order what we need to do all the research and Google is an incredible tool. I am constantly researching and learning from people that I never would have probably come in contact with had it not been for global technology. The way that it’s just really interconnecting everyone and everything. It’s a new space. I like that you talked about how it’s really coming down to businesses to what the client wants. While part of me thinks, “Oh, that’s a little scary, right?” another part of me thinks it’s a great opportunity and challenge to become a thousandfold better. There’s kind of a set of standards and now there’s room to expand upon those and build upon those.
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (19:10)
You’re absolutely right. You have those corporates where every company has their own ethical and moral codes. And we used to always ask, “what’s the value proposition? What’s the main tagline for your company?” Now people are talking more about the business motto. They’re talking about an ethical-moral. I’ve seen 9 out of 10 companies I work with all have some great initiatives and everybody would want to work ethically, right. Nobody wants to buy from a company using children as labor or nobody wants to work with that company. Nobody wants to do it even though it’s cheaper. That tells you how companies are becoming more and more ethical about certain things. More and more companies are taking initiative on themselves to do that.
Kai Moon: (20:24)
That’s awesome. I think of the history of workers’ rights and conditions in factories and I love that you talk about that. Companies are even being proactive themselves. And that’s a result of technology, holding people accountable and increasing people, being able to share, communicate across channels and get the word out about important things. Can you speak to some of the business challenges that you’ve seen in your field of business and where do you dream of seeing some improvements made further?
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (21:13)
There is still a lot of room to improve. As I said, transparency in the supply chain has come a long way. But especially for somebody who deals with the global supply chain and logistics. But I’m a part of it, so I’m part of the problem too. My whole goal, as much as I want to become a solutions provider, is to focus heavily on software infrastructure and keep the whole system fun from the point of placing an order over here in the U.S. for a product in Delaware. We are developing a system where you can track the shipments like how you do when you order something from Amazon. We do container loads from overseas, but we want to have the same tracking method where you can have access to all of it. As much as globalization is working in the infrastructure, as everything is moving in the right direction, we still have a lot of room to improve and to go towards globalization and efficiencies.
Kai Moon: (23:01)
Absolutely. Before we go, are there any initiatives, projects or products or any other business-relevant items that you’re excited for personally in 2020. If yes, how could you use help, and how could others help you?
Sheshank Kamalapuram: (23:47)
Yes! I am looking for anything that is going to make the supply chain efficient. Even though I think we have a good system in place, I am still aggressively looking for anybody who has ideas or solutions to make this whole process more efficient. Anybody who is innovative, anybody who wants to take this on and try it out – those are the people and those are the companies I’m looking forward to working with. I’m all ears and you know, hoping to talk to and meet them.