Every year, I meet hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs, but rarely do I feel compelled to invest in someone just a few minutes after meeting them. It does happen, though. In fact, this unusual situation reflects a fair number of my investments as a VC since 2005 (Aaron Levie @ Box, David Sacks @ Yammer, Gio Colella @ Castlight Health, Eoghan McCabe @ Intercom). So when my ‘blink’ instinct strikes, I take it pretty seriously, as I did when I met Sanjay Beri, Co-Founder & CEO of Netskope. Some of my Founder/CEOs came with a previous reputation (David, Gio & Sanjay) and others were relative newbies to the Valley (Aaron & Eoghan) so the bias doesn’t skew one way or another. It’s more about an entrepreneur possessing a certain “je ne sais quoi.” I look for that intangible combination of vision and the ability to take that vision, to really believe in it and to convince future employees, investors, and customers of it. But, it doesn’t stop there. The entrepreneur must bring that vision to fruition. Sanjay is doing just that.
I briefly met Sanjay Beri in late 2011 at our office when he was the VP/GM of the Access & Security business at Juniper Networks. Sanjay was one of my partner’s classmates at the University of Waterloo. Our paths didn’t cross again until about a year later when I asked Sanjay to help me evaluate a few companies in the SDN space. His position at Juniper gave him a uniquely informed perspective on the topic. Secretly though, I was hoping to re-connect with Sanjay to talk about what he would be up to next. Given his previous streak as an entrepreneur and all of the excitement around all things cloud in the enterprise, I couldn’t imagine him staying at Juniper much longer. Lo and behold, within the first few minutes of our meeting, it came out that Sanjay had left Juniper to start a company. He had already identified a strong team of co-founders, a solid idea and five investment offers from other investors to boot. I was clearly late to the party.
I spent the next 4 weeks trying to convince Sanjay to partner with us. Rather than putting the hard sell on him, I let Sanjay talk to the CEOs of companies I had previously invested in and offered to work alongside him as if I were already his Investor and Board Member. He made full use of this interview process. We had quick conversations about things as tactical as how much stock to offer advisors to conversations as strategic as how we would go about getting to our first five customers and picking the company name. More than anything it was a chance for us to get to know each other’s styles better and determine whether we would be a good fit for a long-term partnership together.
Sanjay chose us and we quickly closed the Series A investment and went to work in October 2012. Sanjay and his co-founders, Ravi, Lebin and Krishna set up shop at the Social+Capital offices in Palo Alto where Netskope was incubated for the first 6 months of its existence. Our turn-key operation at Social+Capital allowed Sanjay and the founding team to focus on what matters most at an early stage company: hiring the best talent. We were fortunate to attract some of the top engineers and architects from Juniper, Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, VMWare, and McAfee and exponentially grew to 25 team members in less than 6 months. Every person who joined seemed to bring along their favorite engineer from their previous companies. While the IQ level was overflowing at Netskope and the Social+Capital offices, the egos were not. It’s the kind of culture that the founders self-selected in every hire they made. The people we brought on had a soft and personable demeanor to them, but that did not represent any softness in technical rigor and high expectations placed on them. I was fortunate to witness this symphony creation in process. In all this, I stuck to what I do best, which is to work alongside my Founders/CEOs in helping their companies achieve peak performance. The proximity of being a few desks apart from Sanjay allowed us to be exceedingly efficient in identifying and assessing potential recruits, partners, customers and future investors.
By April 2013, Netskope had outgrown its office space. It was either time for our firm to move out of our own space, or for Netskope to find its own space. We were sad to see them leave, but happy to have our snack jars and refrigerators left full again. And we certainly don’t miss the stench of microwaved fish lunches.
On a more serious note, we can now look forward to helping build what we think is the next iconic network security company, but this time one that is built in the cloud for the rapid shift of business applications to the cloud.
Onwards and upwards Netskope. Cloud with confidence.