Though Dheeraj Pandey is fairly well known and connected among the who's who of the tech industry, he hit headlines in his home country only late last year. Cloud computing firm Nutanix, which Pandey co-founded seven years ago in Silicon Valley, exceeded market expectations during its Nasdaq debut in September to hit a $5 billion valuation. Long starved for a sizzling tech IPO, public market investors lapped up Nutanix shares. After the initial frenzy the market cap of this enterprise IT startup currently hovers around $4.3 billion.
Pandey, who is also chairman and CEO of Nutanix, is the single-largest individual shareholder with a 9% stake.
"People measure us by the IPO size because of the fact that the IPO did well," Pandey said at Nasscom Leadership Forum last week. However, he thinks the blockbuster IPO doesn't tell the whole story.
"Seven years of existence and we are still a relatively young company but we have gone through near death experiences two or three times along the way," Pandey said. A strong votary of the concept of 'antifragility' - that shocks and failures can increase your capability, resilience and robustness - Pandey says such experiences have only made Nutanix stronger.
Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Platform that boasts of converging computing, virtualisation and storage into a software-defined solution helps big corporations make their laboriously large data centres efficient, cheaper and scalable. This caused disruption in cloud infrastructure business as Nutanix carved its own niche competing with EMC, Cisco, HP Enterprise and VMware.
The firm's revenues nearly doubled for two years in succession and touched $445 million in 2016. It became a Silicon Valley unicorn in January 2014 when it raised $101 million in its Series D round. The public listing some 34 months later saw its valuation growing five times.
Pandey calls the success of listing as "a piece of firework in the night sky" which is nothing but a result of years of toil. "We all like to be recognised not for one piece of firework, but for the ledger of our daily work," he uses this Neil Armstrong quotation to drive home his point.
"So much that we did which was not published or known is the ledger of day to day work. A lot of that ledger of day to day work got the company where it is today," he said.
And of course the company survived a lot of naysayers. "In the last four years, people came back saying you can't survive because you can't hustle," he said. People used to tell Pandey and his colleagues "We know you are great technologists and you can build great products but whether you can build a great business is questionable". That did not dispirit them. "As an underdog, the more people underestimate you, the more it lets you fire."
"All these companies became big over time; you have to walk fire. The mob only knows two things "they do either witch-hunt or idol worship; nothing in the middle. Either they say you will never make it or say you do nothing wrong," he said. "I can't complain because it is the mob that throws stones at you and makes you walk the fire while stones are coming after you and build a great company," he added.
Nutanix has around 2400 employees across 45 countries and customers in 90 countries. The market is bullish on the stock and the outlook is positive. The company is estimated as big as Cisco and EMC in 1993-94 or Microsoft in 1991. For Patna-born IIT Kanpur-educated Pandey, who flew to the US with $900 and two suitcases 20 years ago, it is only the beginning of a long journey.
"We are in this red ocean of infrastructure computing which is half a trillion dollar market. And we have barely scratched the surface," he says.