For the latest edition of Life @ Netskope, we sat down to chat with Alok Kothari, Managing Director for Netskope India. Alok was the sixth employee hired at Netskope and has been with the company since month three of existence in January 2013. We talked with Alok about how he came aboard with Netskope, what it’s been like watching the India team grow, and what excites him looking ahead at his future with Netskope, among many other things. Here’s our conversation:
How did you initially come to Netskope?
Over the last twenty-five years, I worked at several different startups. The previous three startups all saw reasonably large exits in one form or the other. Just before Netskope, I was on a sabbatical. At the time, I was actually thinking I was done with the industry and doing work completely unrelated to this industry. So when Sanjay called me and said, “Hey, I would like you to help me set up India for Netskope,” I was extremely reluctant. I told him, “I can help you get started, but I’m not ready to jump into a corporate job right now.” Ten months later, I was full-time at Netskope.
What made you change your mind and start your longer journey with Netskope?
Through my experience working with the other startups, I knew that large opportunities exist when a startup is trying to solve problems at the intersection of multiple megatrends. In my consulting months at Netskope, I began to see some of those megatrends. There was a huge disruption around how the industry thought about endpoints. The way users were accessing enterprise resources was changing from a company-given laptop to smartphones, shifting from an extremely controlled, company-owned asset to an employee-owned asset that you do not have control over. Another emerging megatrend was the rising enterprise adoption of SaaS applications. I looked at the intersection of these two, and thought, “What does the intersection of these two megatrends mean when each one of these trends is irreversible?” It was clear that the uber-present, perimeter-centric security stack would not apply to mobile and SaaS traffic. Any time a trend violates a fundamental assumption that was used to build out a particular industry for two or three decades, it opens up a huge opportunity. To me, I thought, “I don’t know how big Netskope is going to be, but the opportunity of security in and from the cloud is really large.” Given the quality of people that I was interacting with and the opportunity I saw in front of us, I thought it’s time to take the plunge and take this baby home.
What has it been like watching Netskope and the India team specifically grow and expand in the time that you’ve been working here?
It’s been just one fantastic journey! You could call it a matter of luck, but we were in this vortex of opportunities that were being created because of the mega, seismic changes in the security industry! At the start, we were a small team, mostly people who I had worked with before who all took a leap of faith to come to Netskope. They’d often ask me, “Are we doing well? Is this working?” So, I used to tell them that building a startup is like nurturing a kid. Every few months, a kid gives you signals about her health. Does she crawl at six months, does she walk in ten months, does she talk in a year. Similarly, a startup keeps giving you signals too: your first product, your first customer, your first million-dollar customer, and so forth. And as things moved along, Netskope was just looking like a real precocious child! Every milestone I could think of from my previous experiences, Netskope was hitting them in time, or ahead of time. This enthused and loyal group of employees continued to expand primarily through references from within the team. A terrific camaraderie at work, a culture of hiring well, trusting people with ownership, and confidence that they will course correct as needed resulted in a totally awesome journey. We were a happy bunch of extremely hard-working people who would do anything for our customers. I feel fortunate to have been part of such a wonderful journey of growth and expansion.
I also used to say to this group, one mark of success for a company is when in the early years, its competition changes every year. If the top company we were competing against changed every year, and we were still there and growing, that meant we were doing well. Our competition was not the same set of companies, which meant we were leaving competition well behind and succeeding. That’s what continued to happen for those first several years. Employees at competing companies looked at this group with envy.
What excites you about your future with Netskope?
I like the different character of opportunities that have come along. I have not done just one thing through the nine years with Netskope. My favorite thing about Netskope has always been the conviction in its vision. It was awesome for a very young company in its early years to think that it could just play for hitting it out of the park. If we realize our potential of becoming a multi-generational, iconic security company, the challenges that excite me are the challenges that don’t yet exist today. And since we’ll go through that journey, I’m just looking forward to solving those challenges and continuing to build this company! So I really don’t have a very definitive answer, but that’s exciting because I do not know what will come of it yet.
What’s one thing you’d like to check off your bucket list?
I would love to scuba dive more than 50 meters in the Marianas trench. I learned the basics of diving when I was living in Santa Cruz and my first dive was probably about 14 years ago, but I haven’t been diving as much as I would like. I am going to an island in Andaman & Nicobar this winter and the whole family is excited about diving. I’ve done diving up to 10 meters, but I would like to go beyond 50 meters. So that’s one thing off the bucket list.