Here are some excerpts from the interview of Mr.M Srinivas Rao, Co-founder and CEO of Aujas Networks. Aujas is a pure play digital security services provider offering life-cycle security services such as Application Security, IT Risk Management, Identity Management and Vulnerability Management. Aujas was co-founded by Srinivasa Rao, Sameer Shelke and Manjula Sridhar in 2008. The company received seed funding of $3 million from IDG Ventures India. This is the part 1 of the interview & this will be followed by the video sessions of the interview.
About Mr.Rao’s background: After passing out of IIM Bangalore Mr.Rao joined Sonata Software when it was still an early stage enterprise. From there on, his corporate journey has taken him to a number of small companies that he helped grow large –Network Solutions (Netsol) being an exemplary success. He has also worked for Microland (was again one its first few employees), IBM-Netsol and Cisco (his last corporate stint before starting Aujas).
Q: Mr.Rao, are you a first generation entrepreneur in your family? You have obviously enjoyed your entrepreneurial journey, was it difficult?
A: Yes and No! Entrepreneurship does not run in my family and I have been the first person to go down this path. But it’s not that I started out all of a sudden in entrepreneurship. It was a gradual process. I joined Sonata Software after graduating from IIM B, you can classify this as a bit risky but not totally entrepreneurial. My subsequent jobs were similar in nature and risk levels. I was amongst the initial employees in Microland and started their distribution division & handled various divisions like education services etc. Then Network Solutions happened – I was a partner in the company and we built it up for 8 years before selling it to IBM. Aujas would qualify as the first company that I am attempting to build from ground zero.
Q: A number of our readers are MBA aspirants and are also interested in entrepreneurship. You worked for a start-up after the MBA, any advice for our readers?
A: Well, I joined IIMB right after my engineering without any work-ex. Actually, I did work for 5 days at a cement plant as an electrical engineer (smiles). In my opinion, having some work-ex before doing an MBA gives more value as you are able to relate the concepts that you study to real business life. For a fresh grad, it will all be just theory. Having said that, for me IIM B was a great experience. I made great friends there, learned a lot and there are absolutely no regrets on doing it right after graduation.
Q: So just before you started out in Aujas, you were working with Cisco. What role did the Cisco environment play to spur you to start something on your own?
A: I would say whatever Cisco and other big companies do to do well works for them. There are standard procedures for doing things and there is certain amount inflexibility – of course it works for them. But from a personal point of view, there are factors you cannot control and a number of times you have to toe the line – so to say. I had gone to Cisco thinking that I would spend the next 2 years in the company but exited in about 7 months.
Q: What’s your take on serial entrepreneurship? This is your second entrepreneurial venture after Netsol.
A: Yes, I would say 1990 onwards, the nature of my work has been entrepreneurial. Serial entrepreneurship excites me a lot mainly because when you work in a smaller organization your ability to ‘impact and influence’ is a lot more than when you work for a large company. So that is very encouraging of course. When I worked with IBM after the sale of Netsol to them, my leeway got decreased. Basically the degree to which you can ‘impact and influence’ goes down in such cases.
Q: So what made you stick to IBM-Netsol for one-and-a-half years?
A: Well, we had sold Netsol to IBM and being part of the top management at Netsol we were legally obliged (also, we felt we were duty bound) to integrate Netsol with IBM. We also had to ensure that the interests of our employees – who had become IBM employees then – were protected in the new environment. Another important reason for my staying around was the protection and enhancement of the several successful customer relationships we had built by then. So I basically worked until I could safely say that all interests were taken care of.
Q: One major facet of entrepreneurship is the ability to build teams. What has your experience been in the case of Aujas and what major quality of yours has come in handy while forming this team?
A: Oh! This is an interesting story. Manjula Sridhar (now the Chief Technology Officer at Aujas) was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at IDG Ventures building technology in the area of digital security services. IDG was keen to invest in this space and had been supporting her endeavors. When Manjula’s technology was ready to go into business, IDG asked her to build a suitable team. That’s when she found me on “Linked-in” (http://www.linkedin.com/) and liked my profile. She contacted me and I got interested too. Then we met the IDG team and were asked to prepare a business plan and build the complete start-up team.
As for the other team members, I had known Sameer (Sameer Shelke – Chief Operating Officer for Aujas) from my days at Netsol. He was with the Professional Services team at Cisco and I represented Netsol in an engagement with Cisco. We had a few things in common too – both had worked at Microland at some point in time and both had worked at Cisco too. He joined us as COO. Our other team mate, Naveen is also a Netsol Alumnus.
Q: Interesting, so you were just an acquaintance with Sameer but obviously you remembered him as someone who could join you. How do you manage to identify people with such qualities?
A: I basically look for people who have an entrepreneurial proclivity. You may be working for a large company but your entrepreneurial nature is evident a lot of times. A lot of us secretly aspire (smiles) to be entrepreneurs but are worried what might happen if the company goes bust – worried about our security and safety. Many such people need that one spark to spur them on.
Q: Ok. Let’s come to Aujas specifically. How big is the size of the opportunity for Aujas?