Sanjay Beri is the CEO of Netskope, a cloud app analytics and policy platform that eliminates the catch-22 between being agile and being secure.
The single most important quality is the humility to bring in amazing talent, and then turn people loose to do their thing. You have to be confident enough to hire people who will have strong points of view and challenge you. That has been the single biggest thing that took Netskope from a standing start to GA and launch in less than a year. You make the company successful by bringing in a team that has the chops but is willing to roll up their sleeves, and realize that as CEO, your job is not to issue directives, but rather knock down walls to make the team successful.
As we have gotten closer to product GA, we turned our attention to hiring the best field team, with a particular focus on sales engineers. Our goal is to have the best SEs in the business and make them our secret weapon. In early or uncertain markets, customers need to know we have their back. Having SEs who work closely with our customers, earn their trust, and truly represent their interests (not just those of Netskope) has and will continue to have a huge impact on our business.
Rather than tout our wares, our goal is to engage in the industry conversation with credible commentary, thoughtful best practices, and relevant content. We don’t want people who engage with Netskope to feel as if they’re being marketed to. We want them to feel that we provided them with intelligence or useful tool that will help them make a smarter decision. That’s our goal.
We were very careful early on about bringing on the right people. We haven’t used any recruiters so far. At some point, we may need them, but it was the founding team that had the most impact on who we hired thereafter, which has ensured quality and great cohesion. We went for a more senior team – known quantities in their field who we knew would help us bypass many of the rookie mistakes companies make on both the product and culture side. There’s a lot of grey hair around the company – it’s almost an “anti” startup in that way. The technique we used to make the team better is pretty simple: Be transparent. Trust people. Create very little overhead. Make sure every decision we make is for the best of the company. Doing those things keeps everybody focused on the goal.
Complete and utter transparency between customers and engineers. No filter. Tell it like it is. And whenever possible, have engineers hear things directly from our customers’ mouths. Doing that keeps everybody on the same page, and gives us a common understanding of what our customers expect from us.
We did as much vetting of our early customers as they did from us, and applied the same rigor to bringing them on board as we did our employees. A relationship with an early customer is way more of a partnership than a vendor-customer relationship. We needed to make sure they were in the sweet spot of what we were developing, would invest the time to provide feedback and be brutally honest, and that they represented a good mix of industries, size and type of companies, and use cases.
One thing you’re unprepared for is the tremendous sense of responsibility that you feel for your team’s lives and careers. Your early employees are taking a big leap joining you at a startup. Jumping in means truly jumping in with both feet. It’s an awesome responsibility and it drives me every day.
The one thing we did was to go after – with sheer force of will – the early employees, customers, and advisors. It was the opposite of a hack, and rather than being clever, it was the result of a really sustained effort and a never-give-up attitude. Getting on busy, successful people’s radars and convincing them to trust you and join you in your quest…that’s not an easy thing to do.
When we first started the company, we operated out of our venture investor’s (The Social+Capital Partnership) offices. It absolutely saved us because it meant we could focus on the team and product. But we grew so quickly that we were all on top of each other, bursting at the seams, clearing out Social+Capital’s kitchen of all snacks on a daily basis, and would always forget to let new employees know just how crazy the parking around the offices (in downtown Palo Alto) was. Every single person got at least one parking ticket, and several of us got them regularly.