Building a Router for the B2B Economy

By Karthik Sridharan, Co-­Founder & CEO at Kinnek

Kinnek is building a new way to connect your business online

What’s a B2B router? At Kinnek, it means connecting demand from a community of small businesses to relevant supply. That’s a challenge our engineering team faces every day…

Routing Your Connection

We’re building a marketplace to connect small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in any industry to suppliers — and each other.

For business buyers, Kinnek makes it easy to receive tailored quotes from multiple suppliers at the push of a button. They can also interact with those suppliers (and each other) to build an online network that supports business growth.

What about suppliers? They now have access to an on-demand stream of customers ready to purchase. That’s a lot of new business to manage, so suppliers also get tools to streamline and maintain lifelong business relationships with their customers as well as acquiring new ones.

Much like an old telephone exchange the key to success, which I’ve talked about in other posts, is matching relevant supply to demand. The result is a router-like system that relays information and, in our case, equipment and supplies all over the world. Our engineering team is hard at work making sure that’s the case.

We think it’s time for a business reboot

Why? It’s Time for a Business Reboot

Business purchasing is bogged down by paper invoicing, trade directories and endless back-and-forth phone calls.

That process seems pretty antiquated, especially when consumers have been benefiting from online solutions for over a decade.

Kinnek’s cloud-based platform connects buyers to suppliers selling at their desired price-point in a fraction of the time and effort. With 4.7 million SMBs buying $2.2 trillion worth of equipment and supplies in the US alone, we have a huge sandbox to play in.

Driving growth with engineering insights

Driving Growth with a Product-centric Approach

While the opportunity is big, changing the status quo is never simple. We’re solving a complex puzzle. Thankfully, we’ve gathered a great team of people to address these massive inefficiencies in the economy.

As an engineering-focused startup we know infrastructure and data is turnkey.

Figuring out how to leverage transactional or behavioral data in order to help buyers purchase or suppliers secure new business is an exciting challenge. It’s one that requires engineers to be involved at every point in our stack.

Data fuels development

Data = Development

Recently, we’ve been focusing on delivering data-driven insights.

Take requesting quotes, for example. While a small business may have input the information they think they need to get a relevant quote, we see issues arising in buyer-supplier communications all the time.

Analyzing market data can yield clues as to why that might be.

Maybe businesses aren’t specifying the right type of information to get a supplier to quote? Maybe the supplier isn’t responding with the right type of information to lead to a purchase decision?

No matter where the chain of communication breaks down, those insights can be turned into actionable product developments that translate into business benefits on both sides of the marketplace.

Conversion = data + engineering + design

Beyond understanding what functional data is needed to get a result (a quote or an actionable “request for quote”), we also need to structure the data the way a customer or supplier expects to see it. The sum of these inputs will get us an output, namely a customer or supplier conversion (quote or “request for quote”). Communication across the marketplace is the enabler.

Boosting communications the right way

Boosting the Right Communication

To facilitate better communication our engineers created data filters, among other things, to build buyer-supplier connections.

For example, a supplier can sift through any number of potential customers to target those ready to buy now. That saves countless hours a week normally spent on follow-ups.

Deploying these types of communication-focused features requires close collaboration between backend engineers and data scientists to figure out efficient ways of performing and storing often resource-intensive calculations.

Programming Languages

So how do we translate our marketplace’s language into functional engineering? It all starts with data.

First, building our backend in Python was a no-brainer. With the versatility of Python we can build powerful analytical tools then seamlessly integrate them into web APIs without having to switch languages. That lets us rapidly test, deploy, and iterate on new ideas for how to put data to work for our users.

Our frontend is primarily browser-based and built in HTML, CSS/SASS and JavaScript with an emphasis on responsive design. We also use Angular and Gulp.

That supports a mobile storefront experience too. Purchase intent isn’t confined to the office but can also happen in the field (for our farming customers, literally).

Web Frameworks

We chose Django as our main backend framework. It was worth the extra learning curve because of all the tools and goodies that come straight out of the box like the ORM layer and admin interface. These features let you configure what you need with just a couple lines of code.

Databases

We use MySQL for permanent storage because our data is highly relational and MySQL is fast, reliable and well-supported.

We’ve also become big fans of Redis, which we use for just about everything other than permanent storage including temporarily caching denormalized data for quick lookups or acting as a broker for our distributed task queueing system.

We also maintain a separate Elastic search cluster to handle the heavier search queries from our users.

DevOps Tools

Finally we manage code deployments and configure new environments and AWS cloud resources Devops system, deliciously-named Dabbawala. We keep close tabs on app and infrastructure health with both New Relic and Datadog.

Obviously there’s a lot more to our marketplace than engineering but these tools have enabled us to lay a solid foundation for the rest of our business.

In Summary: Routing and Computing

All this to say, our business relies on data. From the tools that help us support and manage customer and supplier communications down to Kinnek’s underlying engineering architecture, we’re routing and computing information about small business demand to reveal just how powerful this community (and sector of the economy) really is.

That’s a challenge our awesome engineers and entire team face every day. Most importantly, its purpose is what keeps us excited for tomorrow.

Learn more about how Kinnek’s engineering team is building better connections for small businesses and suppliers on our careers page.


Ask me a question!

Karthik Sridharan is co-founder & CEO of Kinnek.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he was formerly a Researcher at AQR Capital Management.

His mission is is to build a marketplace that supports small businesses with their purchasing and supplier relationships. Join our team today.

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