How Vasuki Subbarao Makes Alexa & Amazon Business Work

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In this feature, the Editor-in-Chief of StartuptoEnterprise, Linda Ashok (LA), talks to Customer Insights Principal at Amazon, Vasuki Subbarao (VS). We aim to feature incredible backstage leaders who make our interaction with futuristic technologies an enriching experience today.

LA: Vasuki, as the Customer Insights Principal at Amazon, could you share with us about your work, industry experience, and your leadership?

VS: My current role and work to date spans the entire gamut of analytics, inclusive of business strategy, data engineering, business intelligence, data sciences/ML, and business analysis

I have a very diverse experience spanning diverse industries (Enterprise Software & Services, Management Consulting & Satellite Communications, and Aerospace) and skillsets (Analytics, Data Sciences, Machine Learning, Product Management, Value Engineering, Sales Strategy, Systems Engineering, and Strategy Consulting) with incessant zeal to cross new horizons.

I develop strategic insights with a blend of deep analysis and high-level synthesis. My thought leadership is focused on rapid IP creation and execution.

LA: What technology products are you currently managing at Amazon? Please tell us about your contribution to the products?

VS: As you may know that Alexa and Amazon Business are two of the top five growth initiatives in Amazon. While Alexa is a market leader in smart speakers, Amazon Business is a market leader in B2B marketplaces.


In Alexa, I am responsible for forecasting, developing insights, and building predictive analytic tools to drive engagement, customer retention, and new acquisition. I single-handedly built the end-to-end forecasting platform (SQL queries, Python-based machine learning-based forecasting models, and stakeholder-facing Excel tools) to forecast all key metrics in Alexa Engagement for 2020-22 at the global, country, and domain levels.

I have built automated tools to compare actuals to plan and reforecast using the latest trends every month. I have built and deployed propensity models to reduce lapse and driving usage of routines. I have built a common framework and platform to segment our customers.

For Alexa, to date, I have published 12 customer insights documents (with supporting analyses) inclusive of forecasting methodology, the impact of various initiatives on engagement, customer segmentation, and influence & attribution of domains. I have also provided a multitude of insights to support OP2, QBRs, and other management reviews.

Amazon Business

In Amazon Business, I was responsible for-

  1. management insights and analytics (“Know Our Customer” dashboards, planning and forecasting, sales productivity and quotas, DSI)
  2. sales acquisition and productivity analytics
  3. “share of wallet” analytics, &
  4.  product and category adoption analytics.

These analytics helped drive customer value centricity, higher sales ROI, higher customer adoption, and better category selection. I used data from multiple sources (Amazon DWH and SFDC data, 3rd party benchmarks, and customer data) and provided insightful analytics to various stakeholders (C level management, sales & marketing, product management, and category teams) using analytic tools such as SQL, R, Python, Tableau, Excel; and predictive analytics packages in R and Python.

I published over 25 customer insights documents that drove a top-down strategy for Amazon Business. I was responsible for developing and tracking detailed annual operating plans for Amazon Business, leveraging time series forecasting techniques in Python – my forecasts had ~ 96% accuracy for 4 years in a row.

I architected, built, and deployed VCA (Virtual Customer Advisor) that provides recommendations and alerts to sales reps and customers on the user, feature, and category adoption. VCA uses predictive propensity models (regression, classification, churn & collaborative filtering) built-in R and Python with a UI embedded in SFDC.

VCA went live to all 200 sales reps in the US in June 2018 and was subsequently expanded to all 300 global sales reps, run hands-of-the-wheel campaigns and make recommendations directly to customers through the marketplace in Q1 2019. Today, VCA recommendations drive ~50% of all customer engagements in Amazon Business.

LA: That’s an incredible amount of contribution to products we’ve been using without the knowledge of people behind their success. So, Vasuki, what Industry 4.0 technologies come into use in your line of production?

VS: I use cloud computing intensively in all SQL queries and machine-learning models deployed in production mode using Amazon AWS Redshift and EC2.

LA: Please tell us in bullets new opportunities and threats as a consequence of Covid-19

VS: Covid-19 has affected (mostly in a positive way) all of Amazon’s main capabilities like retail, AWS, and Alexa because Amazon’s products and services are best suited for remote social-distanced usage.

In Alexa, where I work, time spent at home has increased by ~100% due to Covid-19 leading to higher usage of Alexa.

In Amazon Business, retail has become the main way for people to shop during times of Covid-19, with Amazon seeing high growth in our revenues post-March 2020.

In this, Amazon has also taken the lead in using Alexa to disseminate critical health-related information to our customer base.

LA: It’s been wonderful to learn so much about your work-life at Amazon, duties, and responsibilities. I am now curious about the readers about when not at Amazon, what is Vasuki doing?

VS: When not at Amazon, I am with my family comprising my wife, daughter, and loving dog. In addition to that, I run an NGO, Ashraya, and write poetry.

Ashraya: ASHRAYA is a non-profit organization based in the US, established in 1991 to assist the physically challenged rural communities in India in education, vocational training, and income generation. They focus on various challenges such as visual, aural, mobility, learning, and rural poverty; and on different age groups, i.e., education for children, vocational training for teenagers, and income generation for adults. Ashraya strives to use assistive technologies wherever feasible to increase sustainability and leverage. Learn more about Ashraya here.

Amazon Customer Insights Principal Vasuki Subbarao is also a poet. His latest collection, sandmaps, is now available on Amazon.

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