Episode 164 / April 10, 2022

Ashish Tandon on His Journey From Being a Cricketer to 3X Founder!

48 min

Episode 164 / April 10, 2022

Ashish Tandon on His Journey From Being a Cricketer to 3X Founder!

48 min

About the Episode


# Can a passionate cricketer become a passionate entrepreneur?

# Can you and your spouse be Cofounders without conflict?

# How many successful & fulfilling stints can an entrepreneur have?

All the above questions get answered during the episode with our guest Ashish Tandon, Founder & CEO, Indusface.

Indusface is his 3rd venture after 2 successful exits and a short but successful early-career in Cricket.

During the episode, Ashish talks about how his wife has supported him throughout his journey, what led him to start over and over again post his multiple exits and much more.

Notes –

03:08 – Early background in Cricket

06:30 – 1st venture right out of College

08:46 – Getting acquired by SIFY within 2 years

09:49 – What led to his 2nd venture?

13:21 – Multi-million dollar Exit to TrendMicro

15:16 – Reason behind Bootstrapping his ventures

17:55 – What led him to starting Indusface?

19:42 – Problem statements solved by Indusface

24:32 – Journey from $1Mn ARR to current scale

28:10 – Key Levers to doubling their ARR within a year

31:32 – Challenges in building Indusface

36:58 – Having your spouse as your Cofounder

38:50 – Reflecting back how he feels about his journey?

44:09 – Lessons from all his ventures


Read the full transcript here:

Ashish Tandon 0:01

So as I said, the second when I sold the company to Trend Micro, what we were doing is, we were finding out what are the weaknesses in our customers application, their websites or mobile apps and reporting it to them. And when I used to meet a lot of my CIO and chief security officer friends, they would come and tell me that, it’s great, you’re reporting all these things to us, but it takes us time to fix it. And now that you’ve reported, we now know that hackers can hack at any time. So why don’t you come up with a solution where you not only report these weaknesses, but till the time we fix it, you help us get protected through them. So I think we always had this in my mind and once I did it, I don’t think I wasted a single day. The next day of my acquisition the money was given to the bank. The second day itself we were on this, we said that this is what it is and we are going to build this up.


Siddhartha 1:06

Dear listeners This is your host at Siddhartha Ahluwalia, founder of 100x Entrepreneur podcast. Before we begin, I would like to thank our sponsors Prime Venture Partners. Prime is the first institutional investor in category creating tech startups like Mygate, Niyo, Dozee, Planetspark. Prime is now investing out of its fourth Fund, which is more than 100 million dollars. And today we have with us Shripati Acharya Managing Partner Prime. Shripati, when entrepreneurs are looking for money in the company, how do they evaluate the quality of their money?


Ashish Tandon 1:44

While money itself is a commodity, the people behind it are not. Your investor is also your board member for the life of the company. So the key thing to figure out as a founder is do you see your investor as a strategic partner with whom you can have critical conversations, founder issues, hiring and firing decisions, acquisitions, partnerships, exit of the company and everything else. And the way to figure that out, is to not only have meaningful conversations with the partner, but also deep reference checks with the portfolio CEOs of that investor.


Siddhartha 2:23

Thank you Shripati. Dear listeners, let’s dive directly into the Podcast. Today I have with me Ashish Tandon, co-founder and CEO of Indusface, Indusface is one of the leading cloud security and application security platforms from India and is recognized globally by Gartner as one of the top security vendors. And Ashish has been a third time entrepreneur. He sold his first venture to Sify. And since then, he has been building ventures, one after the other, he sold his second venture to Trend Micro, and today we will dive down into his story of how a cricketer became an entrepreneur. Ashish, welcome to the podcast.


Ashish 3:05

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.


Siddhartha 3:11

Ashish would love to know from you your background before you became an entrepreneur, before all of that about your parents, how you grew up, and you’re interested in cricket.


Ashish 3:21

Yeah, so it’s been a long journey. But yeah, as you rightly mentioned, I’m a first generation entrepreneur. So clearly my parents weren’t entrepreneurs or did not have any entrepreneurial background. So I grew up in Baroda, I did my schooling, engineering from Baroda. Being a Punjabi I was a fast bowler and I was reasonably quick and I’m a very very keen cricketer. So I played under 19. I played for the West Zone, some of the budding Indian test players now like Amol Muzumdar and Hrishikesh Kanitkar etc, I played with them. And then I was fortunate enough to get picked up for my Baroda Ranji trophy team as well and I always wanted to be a cricketer to play for the country. But having said that, cricket did not have IPL at that point.


Siddhartha 4:15

And you mentioned that you also played with Tendulkar and you bowled out Kambli.


Ashish 4:21

Yes, and Cricket did not have that much money as well. So my parents always mentioned that if you don’t do well in cricket you have to have backups. So as I said, I was keen, I used to be quite good in studies as well. So did my engineering. It was tough to do both but cricket, obviously was my passion and then when I started playing Ranji trophy, my first ball in my Ranji trophy career was to the living legend Sachin Tendulkar. So that’s how I started off. They were in the same zone as we were. And so I started off with them with that match and I have had a reasonably Good career. I think I played only about 13 matches, but every third match I have taken a five wicket haul so it’s like a century. As a bowler every five wickets was like a century. I remember that my data is taken for every third match, and I took a five wicket haul. But I had flat feet and that led to me, leading to stress fractures.


Amongst all this, by the way, I also got Vinod Kamble out at Wankhede in one of our Ranji matches, again a very high point for me. But as I said, being a fast bowler, I had stress fractures in my leg and that three years in a row. So that made me decide whether I can continue like this, or should I take an alternative career path, I had finished my engineering and Like others, I could have easily gone to the US did my management or something like that and started working there. But I always somehow had an entrepreneurial instinct in me and I said, I need to do something which can satisfy me. So I got married and my wife understood my passion. I know that she married me for Cricket, that I would be a national player. But that didn’t happen. But then we had to kind of make do with my entrepreneurial instincts and said, I’ll support you, let’s figure out a way. What do you want to do and how do you want to do it, but that was my growing up.


Siddhartha 6:28

So at what age you started your first venture and in which year?


Ashish 6:33

So my first venture was right out of college. I think I was about 25-26 years old. And at that point of time, the Internet Service Provider licenses had opened up in India, meaning earlier it was all controlled by the government so BSNL was the only one, they opened it up. And Satyam Infoway, which is now called sify, they were the ones who had gotten a license for the entire country, and they wanted a joint venture partner in Baroda. And my wife and I thought that, this is something really exciting, it’s technology, new cutting edge, we should do something about it, let’s get it. So we also applied to become a partner with them, and sent them all the data. But we at the same time knew that, we are just right out of school, just capital will not work here. We will need to show them something, as to why they should trust us.


So both of us, we worked very hard and we figured it out. We worked with about 1000 Plus industries in India, in Baroda, got them to fill a question and say, if you’re given good ISP service, would you subscribe, and if yes, how many people would subscribe to this and stuff like that. So I got some data, followed up with them and got the data back saying that, okay, if given that, we will do that. So when we went and met them, to ask them or inquire about what happened to our applications, they said, you guys are out of school, we need experienced people. Why should we get back to you? And then I showed them these 1000 faxes, which we got from various industries and customers, and told them I can get to 20,000 subscribers on the day of launch. And that took them by surprise, a pleasant surprise. I think the rest was history, I think, then we went ahead and worked together. We were the number one ISP in the next two years, build it out. So I think that was our first venture.


Siddhartha 8:47

How did the exit happen in that venture?


Ashish 8:49

So what happened was that Satyam decided that, they wanted all the joint venture partners, they wanted to kind of own the entire asset, own the entire business back. They wanted to control everything, and stuff like that. And they gave us a good option in terms of exit. So we sold the entire thing back to them. And that’s how our first so-called exit happened in our career. And that was reasonably early. We were 28-29 years old.


Siddhartha 9:20

And was it financially desirable that you didn’t have to work for the rest of your life with that money?


Ashish 9:26

No, that wasn’t the case. It was a good exit. You had nothing and from that we were, I would say we had now got reasonably comfortable in terms of now we have this money we can start another venture or do something more, I don’t think it was a retirable amount.


Siddhartha 9:43

And what led to the germination of the second venture?


Ashish 9:51

So because when the ISP says 1999- 2000 dot com boom, and then the burst etc. What I realized was that the convenience of doing online stuff or convenience of banking online or doing transactions online is going to be the future. And that is where the world will definitely move towards because the convenience is so much that it trumps and plus there’s a cost advantage as well. And being in the ISP space, realizing the power of the internet, etc. I thought if everybody is going to move there, somebody needs to take care of the security as well or, if everybody’s going to build houses or online houses, how are we going to make sure the houses are secure? I think that led to me thinking about security, and at that point of time India was just opening up in the technology space. And so my next venture was more on the consulting side where we were helping various organizations in terms of their security posture in terms of processes, policies, technology, etc. So it was more consulting.


And I think within four or five years, we built out a good business, we were the first one of the earlier consulting companies at that point of time, but for me, consulting wasn’t cutting it, I was very keen that, we need to build something which is world class, and it has to be a software, it needs to be in the space of security. And it needs to help solve a customer challenge. And that, I think, within our consulting business, I kind of carved out a new division and worked on a product or launched our SAS first so called SAS security product, which was helping our customers in terms of protecting or identifying malware and application weaknesses. And it was a continuous process, and providing remediation guidelines, I think, guidance on our portal. That’s the product we developed, we started off with.


And I piggybacked on some of our consulting customers and they were some of the large ones who kind of worked with them, shared our product. I think the first six months, I remember my first large customer was ICICI bank in that time, and they were always very helpful trying to encourage new startups. And I remember the chief security officer, I spoke to him and told him, this is what I have. And he said these are our requirements and if you can fulfill them, we will give it a try. I don’t make any promises, but you have to prove that it’s working. So I worked with them to define the product, worked with them to make it happen. And I think after about four or five months of using our product and getting satisfied that this is a company, which will do whatever it takes, they became my first customer. I think from there on, it just took off. And ultimately, in September 2012, we got an offer from one of the large enterprise security software companies, Trend Micro. And they showed interest in acquiring us. And that led to our second exit, and I sold it to them. And that was one of the many rewards.


Siddhartha 13:24

So Ashish, can you share the ballpark figure of the exit to Trend Micro,


Ashish 13:30

I don’t think I would be comfortable in sharing the exit, it was a multi million dollar deal. I mean, it if that helps, it was reasonably rewarding as I said, and so it was a reasonably large exit, I think more than the exit the two things which really stood out for us was one, security software is generally considered to be good from countries like the US, or maybe Israel. And, it was a really high point for us saying that here is a security company, which is built where the product is built in India, conceptualized in India, selling to the world, and the largest enterprise security company by default. So I think that was a very big high for us, apart from the capital, which we gained. And second is that it also as founders gave us a leg up saying that, we can build world class products out of India. And I think before I did that, not many people in the system would have given me that much credit that we can build a security software, that to SaaS based software out of India in 2012, now, it’s a big boom. But we did this in 2012. So I think those were very high points for us.


Siddhartha 14:52

And how old were you when this second acquisition happened?


Ashish 14:57

2012 I was 41 years old.


Siddhartha 14:59

It took you 13 years to build such a scale.


Ashish 15:03

I think because as I said, after my first exit, we started a company where we did consulting for five six years we did consulting, and then we devoted ourselves to the product. So I think the product journey was about five, six years or maybe seven.


Siddhartha 15:13

And you always bootstrap your journey. Was there a specific reason for bootstrapping? Or is it that you were never comfortable with VCs?


Siddhartha 15:20

I don’t think I had an option. And I want to be honest here. In the ISP business, I think we were bootstrapped. And the business itself was paying, so we didn’t need money. In the consulting business, again we were generating 35- 40%, making money to be fine there. On the product side of things, when I started raising money, there were so many questions, whether you’ll scale it, will you build it out of India, do you know how to get quality, you don’t know how we can do it, we could do this, and then we will do that. And then we will invest. And then finally, when I had an offer for exit, there were finally a couple of venture capitalists who were interested in us, and said, we will make an investment, but were like okay we need this many things to be done. And I said, I’m done with doing many things, I might as well pick the money on the table, and establish myself. And with this kind of stamping, when I go next, they will definitely value me.


So in our second venture, which I don’t think many people backed me or thought I would. I don’t blame them. It’s just that it was a stage that did what was, and then, in the current business, because we had a reasonable success in terms of our exit, and availability of capital. I also realized that when you’re building a software security product, you have to do it right, because it’s the trust which customers and businesses put in you. So you have to do it right. And sometimes, in the end, this is not like pulling a lot of money and marketing and selling them substandard software, then figuring out things on the way I wanted to do it right. And we had the capital to back us up.


So I think we built it, we made sure we had the right team, we got the right kind of customers, they put the right kind of quality in place. And once we were ready, we went out to the market and said, Now we are ready to scale this and grow this business. And that is when we got our Tata capital to invest in us. So to cut the long story short. First two instances, bootstrap was by design, and not by choice. Not many people backed me, in this company, it was by choice that we wanted to make sure we build it right and then get the right investor when we are ready to kind of scale up.


Siddhartha 17:53

And can you describe the journey after the second acquisition? And what led you to starting Indusface?


Ashish 18:00

So as I said, when I sold the company to Trend Micro, what we were doing is we were finding out what are the weaknesses in our customers application, and their websites or mobile apps, and reporting it to them. And when I used to meet a lot of my CIO and chief security officer, friends, they would come and tell me that, it’s great you’re reporting all these things to us. But it takes us time. It takes time for us to fix it. And now that you reported, we now know that hackers can hack us any time. So why don’t you come up with a solution where you not only report these weaknesses, but till the time we fix it, you help us get protected through them. So I think I always had this in my mind. And once I did it, I don’t think I wasted a single day, the next day of acquisition after the money given the bank. The second day itself we were on this, we said that this is what it is, and we are going to build this out.


Siddhartha 19:00

And you didn’t have to compete. Because, your second venture was also in security. And the third venture?


Ashish 19:07

No I think the non-compete was on the detection piece, which was the detection piece I could not build off my own because that’s what I told him. So what I did was I actually partnered with them and said, Why don’t I use the same detection piece and I’ll build the protection piece out. Because customer detection continued to be that and I put the production piece out. And I think now over time, the non compete got over. And now the detection piece also built it out again. So now we have the entire suite back.


Siddhartha 19:36

And can you describe the problem you solve at Indusface in layman’s language? And who are your customers and why do they use you?


Ashish 19:44

Sure, so predominantly, anybody who has a digital business and when I said digital means anybody uses a website, or mobile app or an API to interact with their subscribers or their partners or their employees. Because these applications are available online on the internet, apart from these, this ecosystem, the hackers also have access because it’s open to the internet. So the simple problem statement is when your application is exposed on the internet, you want to make sure that whatever software which is out there, you are completely up to date, in terms of, there are no loopholes or security patches within that or security loopholes, which a hacker can exploit, you need to continue to keep finding them because nowadays applications change very, very quickly, for whatever reason.


So when you change them, you inherently add more vulnerabilities or weaknesses which a hacker can exploit. So one problem statement is that you want to continuously make sure that you find out what is happening. And while we reported them, the customers wanted us to get immediate protection against that. So that even if we have the vulnerabilities or weaknesses, no hacker is able to exploit those weaknesses. That’s the second problem. And also what the customers realized was that a lot of times these hackers or adversaries, might not be able to access your vulnerabilities, but they would bombard your application with DDoS or bot attacks, or put unwanted traffic on your application and bring the server down itself. So you are not available. So that’s the second aspect the customers used to face when they have an application, which is digitally facing the internet.


Third aspect was that while we want security, the performance and end user experience should not go down. And security generally tends to deteriorate the application performance a bit. So all these other problem statements and other aspects were we as a business, neither have the time nor the expertise to make sure that, we are continuously monitoring this, making sure all the things that we manage for us and and make sure all this entire platform runs in a seamless manner. And we achieve the single goal that our applications and we are secured from hackers. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done.


So the earlier option was to go to various vendors that do stuff and get somebody to look at it. So what we realized was that, if this is the problem statement, we let us build a platform, which will continuously detect the security weaknesses, will immediately patch it for them so that hackers would exploit it, we continuously monitor these applications, see if everybody’s trying to bring down the servers by doing DDoS or bot attacks. And we had a CDN layer added on top of it so that the end user performance does not decrease. And all of this is fully managed with an SLA. So our company’s mission is, and what we tell our customers new to go digital fearlessly, while we’ll make sure that we manage your security with an SLA. So, that part really met all our customers aspirations, they wanted all of this to be done, they wanted to make sure that it is done in the right manner, somebody is monitoring it, somebody supporting it with an SLA.


So I think that really helped us and that is what is helping us achieve against our competitors. And mind you, what we are doing is not something very, very new. It’s like at least the firewall is around for almost a decade. But because the way we have put together a platform, understanding every requirement of our customer to make sure that is safeguarded, that really sticks with our customer. Now look at any vertical. I mean we have 3000 plus customers in 90 plus countries now, almost 35% of our customers are international customers. Last year it was just 20% so clearly our business globally is working very well, at any vertical, banks, insurance companies, mutual funds, startups, FinTech, media, you name it, and we have it. So I think this is clearly what is really stuck with them, and is helping them.


Siddhartha 24:30

And can you describe your journey to Indusface to 1 million ARR to 5 million ARR and the current milestone in terms of ARR where you are at, like what it took to achieve that number?


Ashish 24:43

Sure. I think, as I said, when we started this venture, we had one capital so I think the first few years is spent in making sure the technology is right, building the right stuff and making sure it’s done well. And then, like any startup, it took us some time to get to our first million ARR. The good news was because as entrepreneurs or founders we were known, so it kind of head the cause, and uniquely, most of the Saas companies I see here, building out of India now, they kind of cater to an SMB to a digital model, and acquire customers and then move up the ladder to go and get enterprise customer. Unlike that, we are interested in a unique model. So our first few customers are large enterprises, whether they are banks or insurance companies, so we started off with them, and they were extremely demanding, and they were like, they want things this way, so we kept on getting our product well.


And that’s why it took a little more time to get scaled up, we actually moved to a digital offering only about two and a half years back. Where we reach out to our customers across the world through our online mechanism, and typical, digital product and marketing and inside sales model. And that has been a driver. So now that we have all these work for the last two years, you’re also building out a partnership channel and making sure that we are partners across. So we have quite a few partners in India, but we just signed a very large partnership with the world’s number one IT consulting company, TCS. So now as part of their managed security services offering for the protection side of the application, they use our product module as the backend.


So this has all led to our growth from one to five and now seven. And I think as we hit the 3.5, 4 million, 5 million, we got an investor, now that we know that we have a sizable ARR. And we are on a growth path with all the social proof available in terms of customers, in terms of analysts in terms of product market fit. We raised capitals, and we are using that now to kind of make sure our ship is off the ground. And we are trying to get more and more customers as quickly as possible. I think that’s what our current journey is.


Siddhartha 27:26

If you remember, in which year you would have hit the first 1 million ARR and then 5?


Ashish 27:30

First two, two and a half years were more about building the product out. I think it took us almost about a couple of years to get to the million dollar. And then I think that now the acceleration was much faster, and it has become even faster after the investment.


Siddhartha 27:47

Estimate Like around 2017 or 2018, you would have the first one million ARR, in 2020-21 You would have got 5.


Ashish 27:57

Correct, absolutely. That’s, like strategically. it’s an interesting question, I never thought about it, we’ve never kind of taken a step back and documented that but yeah, you’re right.


Siddhartha 28:08

And right now, what are the levers, partnerships and other things that you are leveraging to make sure that you grow at 50% year on year from here. To say become a $30 million ARR company,


Ashish 28:23

Actually, we are projecting doubling our revenue next year. So, just to start with that it’s not 50% we actually feel and there are quite a few trigger points, I think the number one trigger point is we have the capital to infuse. So we just raised capital only some time back. So now we have the money to kind of make sure that we are able to reach out to as many customers as possible across the world. The second other important development has been, Gartner has been a very big influence in terms of technology decision making and Gartner has a program called Gartner Peer insights which is nothing else but it’s a curated program where customers in our product category would go and independently provide an input in terms of Gartner to Gartner saying that what technology what product they use, and they have several parameters they look at and rate the company on that perspective. And it is the customers’ report.


And Gartner comes up with a quadrant within that and the ones which are chosen are on the top right quadrant are considered to be customers’ choice. So which essentially means you’re the leaders in that segment from what we hear is that as per the latest Gartner report, which is scheduled to come out anytime soon. Indusface is the customer’s choice in almost all categories, the report that will come out to me. And we are competing with the likes of Akamai and Cloudflare of the world in that category. So it’s gonna be very exciting. And it gives us a leg up across the world. Gartner is a very well respected analyst and their reporting, it’s going to be more effective, because this is what the customers are saying. This is the customer’s view, nobody else is better than a customer. Nobody can be better than a customer telling you what product they like.


So I think that’s going to be another very huge opportunity for us to kind of help us scale much faster globally. Another TCS is a very large partner that we just cracked. So that should give us, and they only go after the fortune 1000- 2000 customers. So all these things put together, we are really excited about the future.


Siddhartha 31:00

That’s really awesome. So now you’re able to do things which can scale you much faster, rather than closing each customer one by one.


Ashish 31:09

Exactly, and now we have the ingredients, we have the capital, we have got the analyst telling us we are great. We have got customers, we have wonderful customers now. And fourth, we have a partnership to piggyback on to go after some of the larger brands and customers across the world. And of course, we continue to do a lot many more things. But this is something that we are getting into next year with this. So it’s very exciting.


Siddhartha 31:31

Ashish, what have been the challenges in building Indusface and how have they been different from your previous ventures?


Ashish 31:39

Frankly, the challenges for Indusface, Of course there have been challenges, but they have not been as lethal or as pronounced as they were when we were in the starting up mode. And my first venture or second venture, when sustenance itself was a big question mark. Unlike that this was a little bit reasonably a better opportunity. But I think, as I said, that we were getting into a space, which was not new. They were established players. There was always the lingering thought that would we be able to differentiate and get customers to buy us instead of them, which was definitely one of the biggest challenges. I think as a company, as founders, as the team we were always grappling with, but we always knew that, if we have the right kind of software and the service combination, which addresses the customer’s business challenge, we should definitely do well.


So it took us some time. But I think our belief in what we were doing has now on the hindsight we can say has paid off and we are doing a great job and Gartner putting us in as a voice of customer in all their categories is definitely a great testimonial of what we had thought was a challenge and how we overcome it.


Siddhartha 33:10

And in your second journey, if you can just share the specifics of like, how did the acquisition happened with Trend Micro, is it like you approached Trend Micro, or was it Trend Micro found you through some I-banker?

Ashish 33:22

I-banker and all those things were very far off the mass, nobody was ready to put money in me. So I had friends and I used to go to a show called RSA. It’s a very large security show, which happens in California every year. And I used to generally go there more so to learn, what are the new technologies coming in, what is the industry moving towards. And being there for several years, I had made some reasonably good friends there as well, in turn, they were running various large security companies. And in one of those discussions, I was chatting with one of the Trend Micro executives in terms of telling him what I’m doing and what I’m planning to do and stuff like that. And he said, Hey, we are really building out our application security stack. And this is something which might be of interest, would you be open to discussing that? And I said, why not, I haven’t thought about it. But if there is something which we can be worthwhile, which will help both of us, I would be happy to look at it so that’s how the conversation progressed. We actually didn’t even have a second shooter or we didn’t even make the significant shooter. I think everything worked out quite well. But we didn’t have any investment bankers.


Siddhartha 34:42

In how many months from the first meeting did the acquisition close? Like the money hit your bank?


Ashish 34:48

Yeah, it took a little bit longer, predominantly because one, for us everything was very new. We had no idea about how acquisition happens and it was like unfurling a lot of peels of orange, peeling the oranges was the feeling we were getting, one first they wanted to test our code as to how accurate our code is stuff like that. They want to do business diligence, technology, diligence, legal diligence, taxation, the diligence itself was overwhelming for us, we’ve never done this, a lot of things are not even online. Because we didn’t know how it would work out. So that’s why it took a little bit longer. And especially, we also learned a lot of things on the way, we were not experts, nor did we have anybody to advise us, Kind of it was me and our team, and then our legal and financial advisor to help us get over the process.


But at the same time, they were very nice people. So they kind of worked out very well. And they understood where we were coming from. And I think one of the things which helped also was that they knew that they are dealing with a company which is honest, which doesn’t have wheels or they do not have any other stuff going on. So I think that really has been some of the areas where we didn’t have enough information or it helped us push it just because they thought that these guys are honest, and they know what they’re doing. But it was, I think, from a process I think the day we signed the NDA to the closer I think maybe three months, three to four months, I don’t actually remember the exact time again, something which I’ve never thought about. But yeah, it was an overwhelming process for us. And personally, myself, it drained me out, it did, because especially when you’re not knowing, now that I’ve done that, I know things. It’s now much easier to know what they really look for. But it was quite a process.


Siddhartha 36:58

And your wife has been your co-founder, your partner in all of your ventures. You both have been professionally co-founders for more than the last 20 years, how difficult or easy it is to have your spouse as your co-founder,


Ashish 37:13

I think both of us had a very clear rule. And we follow it even today. None of us discuss business at home. Especially with our kids around or whatever. We would hardly talk about business. And that’s a rule because that can get sanity in our house. The number two rule is that I am the CEO of the company. So in the office, I am the boss and not she and at home she’s the boss and not me. I think these three simple formulas we continue to follow. Having said that she’s an extremely bright individual. I hate it when people kind of tag her that she’s my wife and give her credit. I don’t think so. I think she has been exceptionally bright. She has done whatever functions she has been told to take up, she has done very well.


For example, now she’s our CPO, Chief People Officer, and a co-founder. She’s doing phenomenally well. We just got a great place to work certified two times in a row. And from what I know is we have got exceptional scores. So let’s see we might even be one of the world contenders. We’ll see what happens but that’s the role she plays and clearly with a third party validation, like greatest work talks highly of our capabilities and it’s not a mom and pop shop, it’s absolutely professional in terms of dealing with between ourselves and with our employees and our team.


Siddhartha 38:50

Ashish you’ve a very unique Journey, I have not seen one, as unique as yours. You were a Ranji cricketer, aspiring to play for nationals. And you have come so far as an entrepreneur, if you reflect back on your journey, what does it feel like?


Ashish 39:08

A roller coaster. It has been a roller coaster to say the least. It’s been fun. I think I have no regrets in my life. I think I have enjoyed every aspect of my life. I think we’re playing cricket and aspiration and putting in that hard work to play for the country was as exciting and as fun and I did it with all the diligence and sincerity. When I realized that I can’t make it, I started to explore my entrepreneurial aspirations. I’ve been happy, I’ve been lucky. God has been so kind that every venture has not only taught me, it has given me the ability to be reasonably successful as well in their own capacities. There have been ups and downs, but I still look forward to getting up and coming to my office. There is not a single day when I don’t look forward to going to the office. There could be days of stress, but I think I just love what I do. And I think as long as I’m enjoying it, I think I am doing well. I personally feel that, unless you have that zeal and enthusiasm and excitement of what you’re doing, you will normally never do it again. So I think I’m extremely happy God has been kind, the ride has been a kind of a roller coaster, but I have no complaints, I think I am very lucky to be where I am.


Siddhartha 40:51

And I believe your drive would have played a very key role in your entrepreneurship journey. Because initially the drive was to play for the country. And then because of health reasons, it couldn’t materialize. That all drived and channeled you into entrepreneurship.


Ashish 41:07

Absolutely, I don’t share this much often. But being a cricketer, who was reasonably good, I wanted to play for the country. And that’s like the thing for any cricketer, he would aspire to. I have a similar aspiration that in whatever we do, for example, we want to build a world class product, which is recognized, respected and picked up. So I think, in some way, data validation is going to be a step towards that aspiration. And we have much more to do. And I think the other thing I would love to and what I always aspire to, is help from whatever little experience I have, especially in the cybersecurity space and the technology space, help and guide and motivate some of the other entrepreneurs to have the aspiration be at it. And we can do it. I mean, we are not just another service country, we can produce world class products.


Siddhartha 42:10

And you were initially not a technologist. So how did you keep on learning so much that ultimately you are building one of the top technology ventures from the country? It must have been a very, very sharp learning curve for you.


Ashish 42:27

I’m an electrical engineer and did my management from IIM Ahmedabad but I have never claimed and never will claim that I’m a technologist or I understand technology very well, I’ve never really done anything on that track. But I feel that I have a good understanding of the customers problems or customers problem statement in any business I went into, and try to work backwards in terms of, if that is the problem statement , how do we make sure that we accurately deliver and solve the customer challenge, and for that, what all is required?


So again, I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had great co founders, CTO co-founders, I had one, the one when I had the Trend Micro acquisition. And now we have Venky, who’s my co-founder, he joined me as a CTO and he brought in the technology progress and has made so many software products based out of the US coming in here. So I’ve always relied on, and had been very lucky to have great co founders. And now that we have a great band now that we are successful, we have a very big team. Now we have capabilities in every area. But yes, I have always leaned on technology, co-founders and have been very lucky to have some awesome ones to work with.


Siddhartha 43:59

And if you have to reflect back, what are the three to five lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from your journey?


Ashish 44:07

I think I have a lesson in every venture of mine. When I was playing cricket, I think one of the things we learned was that it’s a team game and second is never get overawed by your opponent’s. So for example, we used to play when Baroda was a smaller team and Mumbai was the de facto almost the entire Indian team. And we used to face them every year. And whenever we used to face them, it was this over powering. But I think what I learned was that we beat them twice in my state. It was when I was playing for Baroda and it was all because we kind of made sure that we went through the process and did the right stuff at once.


So I think that made me realize that nothing can be overpowering if you have the will and the will to do it. I think that’s the first thing I got. And I always use that in my every venture, I don’t get overawed by competition or customers or even even government officials. I mean, that’s not something or anything which is overpowering. And that was my first learning, from the first venture I realized, my learning was that you have to envisage that if you’re becoming an entrepreneur, you’re doing a business, you need to envisage, what will it take for you to become successful? And, how do you work towards it? And in a very diligent manner, like, for example, convincing Satyam to invest in us or become partners was a learning that wouldn’t have happened if we were not envisaging that they will not hire us, or they will not partner with us, if you don’t have enough to show them because at the end of the day Satyam was looking for a partner who can sell for them or who can make sure that he understands the region and has them do that.


So I think researching and working on what it takes to become successful and what is the requirement was the second learning. The Trend Micro exit, my learning was that I was going across so to decide whether that company should go further or sell and trust me, the selling was not just for monetary reasons, it was also because I already knew what I need to what we want to do next. And and as I said no VC was ready to back me, I had a consultant company or a consulting company or services company built out of India, tags whether he can build a world class security company, or not all these things were, lingering on and I thought that I had to take a call, which could help me build the next one.


And I think in hindsight, I think it was a great call. Because the Trend Micro did not only give me capital, but it eliminated all the questions anybody would have had in terms of whether we can build a security product, do we know about scalability? So I think that’s the third learning. And in this business, I think it’s been going great, but I think a couple of years, two and a half years back we realized that being Bootstrap is not going to really help us grow we need now to get into more of an acceleration and we need the right partner. Make sure we have the right partner who can guide us who has the right kind of capabilities apart from providing money.


So we went and partnered with the fortunate, Tata is a very trusted brand. And we are their partner, they are invested in us. But the learning here was that we needed to take the money and not hold on to our equity and say, oh, we need money to grow faster. And we realized that time is of essence. So we need to make sure that we have the right stuff. I think these are some of the learnings which I have learned and which helped me. I hope they can help your listeners and viewers as well.


Siddhartha 48:25

Thank you so much Ashish, it’s been fantastic to walk in your shoes. Imagine your journey through this conversation. I hope my listeners and entrepreneurs listening to this podcast, enjoy and learn from it as much as I did during this conversation.


Ashish 48:41

Thank you so much.



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