Shri Muthu and Will Drewery
Co-Founders of Diagon
Birth of a Digital Matchmaker
Yin and Yang — opposite but complementary forces. The philosophical concept applies to Will Drewery and Shridharan (Shri) Muthu, co-founders of Diagon, a San Francisco tech start up. They combined their supply chain, hardware, and software expertise to re-imagine how manufacturing equipment is sourced and serviced.
“We are the Yin and Yang of Diagon,” Muthu says, company CTO. “We have a very different perspective and different backgrounds, but, together, we have the chemistry of creating something meaningful. We have the hardware and software knowledge to create this digital marketplace that has a lot more interesting opportunities.”
Drewery, the CEO, spent his career in supply chain, logistics, and capital expenditure management, working at companies such as PwC, Tesla, and Astra, a space launch vehicle company. (Learn about Drewery's upbringing in Pittsburgh.) Having helped others, including Elon Musk, build operations from the ground up, he wanted to start something himself.
Muthu has been a software engineer for his entire career, creating solutions for a financial services company, an online dating software app, and a restaurant platform with an ordering app for consumers and back-end software for restaurant owners, (Learn about Muthu's leap of faith and becoming an American citizen.) He, too, was intrigued with tech start-ups, having taken a career break to focus on full-time parenting.
“There's a rite of passage when you leave a company in Silicon Valley,” Drewery recalls, who left his position at Astra in September 2022. “You get invited into the hallowed ‘Alumni' WhatsApp chat where everyone talks about life after a company. I told one of my WhatsApp friends about my desire to build a next-generation procurement platform. I know a lot about equipment sourcing, but I had no idea how to build a software product.”
After an introduction from a mutual friend, the two discussed industry issues.
“Over time, we really started to respect each other's skillsets,” Drewery says. “We talked about the way that we approach problem-solving, the types of companies that we want to work for, and the culture that we wanted to build.”
One of the things they learned about each other early on is that that they both prefer to eat the frog head-first, one of Muthu's favorite expressions (which comes from a Mark Twain saying: Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day).
“We're similar people when it comes to values. We realized that while our backgrounds are different, our values unite us,” Muthu says. “Will is a person who values conversation rather than making a decision right away. That's an attribute you look for when you're building trust.”
Both wanted to be in control of their destinies.
“I remember early on when we were toiling over the decision to start Diagon. I knew that the right thing to do was also the riskiest thing, but I didn't want to say it out loud,” Drewery says. “One of the things I appreciate most about Shri is his adventurous spirit. I don't know if he's actually ever eaten a frog, but that expression stuck with us. When we have a problem, we're not looking for anyone else to solve it, and we take it head on.”
After several meetups and whiteboarding sessions, Diagon was born in early 2023. Target customers are growth-stage manufacturers of hardware products that tend to fall into two buckets: family-owned businesses that are usually less than a hundred people (typical of the manufacturers and job shops attending IMTS) and venture-backed start-ups that are seeking to use capital efficiently until they reach profitability (such as tech start-ups).
“We built Diagon especially for supply chain and engineering teams that need to source high-complexity equipment and services,” Drewery says. “One of the things that qualifies me to start this business is that I've been ‘that buyer' before. Procurement managers spend a lot of time running RFQs and managing their supplier base. We make it easier for them to discover new products and shortcut things like specification development for RFQ events that can take weeks, even months. We bring all these things together and put them at the fingertips of the people who need to make decisions.”
Muthu notes that the norms are “very antiquated in manufacturing” compared to the consumer space, where the digital platforms are the first avenue for speedy product access, to obtain competitive service offerings to meet the customer's needs.
“This is exactly the reason why I wanted to build this company with Shri,” Drewery says. “I wanted to tap into his skillset and experience with building these types of platforms and apply it to the manufacturing industry. Our goal in building this company is to do this in a way where purchasing agents are not working out of a place of desperation anymore. With Diagon, they're armed with information and have all the tools they need to do their jobs well.”
A New Approach
Diagon's approach short circuits the traditional machine and tool sourcing process by helping suppliers deliver better quotes to their customers faster. Drewery notes that “the supply chain industry has already been disrupted” by shocks from the global pandemic, backups at ports, and massive reshoring efforts because companies are looking for ways to de-risk their supply chain.
As he peeled back the layers of the onion, Drewery realized that the U.S. could not possibly re-shore a large portion of products being made overseas without making major investments in manufacturing capex infrastructure. He realized that regional and family-owned businesses were overburdened with sourcing activities related to capex investments, due to long wait times and insufficient bandwidth.
“Capacity is a direct function of labor and assets that shops require to manufacture products,” Drewery says. “Those assets are equipment categories like CNC machines, 3D printing machines, [and] integrated robotic systems. The other capacity problem is labor. Diagon is looking at opportunities to get more assets in the hands of the manufacturers that need them and help them procure it in a way that is a very low touch and lightweight process for the people within those companies.”
IMTS – The Place to Meet Up
IMTS 2024 will be an opportunity for Drewery and Muthu to connect, learn, and build with an industry that, in turn, will learn from them.
As a senior equipment buyer for Tesla, Drewery was shocked to see how few software tools there were to find new suppliers and equipment products. He relied on search engines, word of mouth from engineers, and from talking to people on the production floor.
IMTS 2014 was one of the few places I could go to meet people in this industry in high concentration,” he says. “I could watch demos of their products, and I walked away with tons of business cards. I think IMTS 2024 is a golden opportunity to reconnect with suppliers that I've worked with from my former life as a supply chain manager. IMTS is the innovation hub where the people who are not just dreaming about the future, but are building the future, come together to showcase their work.”
“When software meets manufacturing, everything you do becomes more efficient. At IMTS 2024, we will connect with industry leaders that want to build new solutions,” Muthu says. “We are innovators, and we want to connect with a lot more people in the industry. I want to talk to them about what their sourcing and procurement is going to look like in two to five years from now and build Diagon to be a resource for them.”IMTS Rockstars