Defying the axiom that if you stay in a job more than five years you’ll become too comfortable to leave, Kumar spent ten years at Cisco before successfully transitioning to being a startup founder with CloudGenix. Ultimately, it was his deep-seated motivation to have a substantial impact that gave him the impetus to create his own company and disrupt the sector of wide area networks.
Kumar’s own attitude as he talks reflects what he learned from his father growing up in Mumbai. Kumar’s grandparents were farmers in Tamil Nadu, but when severe drought struck in the 1950s, his father – only around 5th or 6th grade at the time – decided he had to set out for the city to make a life for himself and to support his family. That burning ambition meant he’d sacrifice, sleeping on porches, eating where he could, rarely in the same place from one day to the next. But he put himself through school and studied engineering, and was able to live well while also helping many other people from his large extended family.
His father saw himself as being in debt to all who had helped him achieve his position in life. As Kumar says, “If we stay true to our motivation, good things happen.” Kumar returns to this theme at the end of the interview, when he recognizing how much he owes to others who have helped him along the way. He also sees in the “Silicon Valley culture” an attitude of “pay it forward” – anyone he’s offered to repay for a favor has always told him he should instead help others in turn.
When he first left Cisco, Kumar was excited – he even took a picture in his rearview mirror of the building and posted it on social media. But at 3 AM the next day, he woke up in a panic that he wouldn’t be successful and that he’d never get another job. At the time, he thought it was a one-time thing, but found his emotions to oscillate between extreme euphoria at starting his business and extreme panic!
Kumar has firm beliefs about what’s needed for a venture-funded startup, all of which he found in the area of wide area networks that CouldGenix addresses:
- Very large market
- Strong, disruptive change
- Strong tailwind
He believes strongly in “lean startup” model of Steve Blank, and how to seek input from outside the company
When he left Cisco, the cofounding team was already taking shape. He took over the business and sales reins, and had a developer and a business architect, again following Blank’s model of hacker/hustler/developer. “Hustle” would become the key word for him, as he tried to reach out and make connections with prospective clients. Along the way, he met a lot of rejection but knew he had to keep trying.
Consulting with potential customers right away helped save time and costs because they knew what they had to build. They worked hard to get honest answers; sometimes those answers didn’t surface until they were ready to implement a prototype, and suddenly all kinds of objections were raised.
Never be afraid to fire a customer, says Kumar. Although he admits it sounds odd, he says that carefully choosing early customers is important, because they will do so much to shape your product. The customer also needs to have confidence in you, as Columbia sportswear did with CloudGenix.
Failure and success are just part of the process for Kumar. Constant testing and trials mean that you’re going to fail at times, but as a leader, you have to celebrate the failures as learning moments. To truly be disruptive you have to be 24 to 36 months ahead of the current leaders in your field – if not, Kumar believes you shouldn’t exist. But that also entails risk and accepting setbacks.
When it comes to advice Kumar says, “Bet on yourself and do it!” You can always find a million reasons not to do a startup, but there’s only one reason to do it: believe in yourself, not out of arrogance but out of commitment to yourself.
Currently, CloudGenix systems handle a billion transactions a day. The past year was about keeping balance and maintaining the center of gravity with the customers. It’s a sales-led company – and that means they’re customer-led.
Kumar says that the hardest part of a startup isn’t what most people would think. It’s not fundraising, or building the product, or finding a solution. Instead, he says, it’s about people. Choosing the right team and making sure they complement one another, luring high-quality people away from secure jobs to a new risky venture, and being honest and direct while recruiting is really tough.
Eric Reis – Lean Startup
Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Mark Beniof – Behind the Cloud
David McCullough – The Wright Brothers