I recently had the pleasure of hosting a SaaSQ fireside chat with Dheeraj Pandey, founder and CEO of Nutanix. Nutanix is a publicly-traded hybrid cloud provider of hyper-converged infrastructure systems. It is one of the rare startups that made it to a multi-billion market capitalization in the public markets.
Dheeraj’s career journey is one rich in experience from both sides of the enterprise software spectrum: scrappy startup and corporate behemoth. An “interesting paradox,” says Dheeraj, “to know how to work at a startup and move fast and break things and know what it’s like to work for a corporation and move slow and not break things.”
He worked at established enterprise titan, Oracle, where he managed the storage engine group for Oracle Database/Exadata and co-authored numerous patents in the area of distributed databases. He then took a risk and jumped to a hyper-growth startup, Aster Data (now Teradata), where, as an early employee and VP of Engineering, he helped build the product and its engineering team from the ground up. It was in 2009 that he made another risk, this time to start his own company, Nutanix.
Speaking with Dheeraj about the creation and evolution of Nutanix, I was struck by his evolution as a tech entrepreneur and the nontechnical components that have guided him as CEO. Chief among them? His reverence to exceptional design, the premium he places on relationships with others and even the power of breathing and a good night’s sleep.
Thinking with design in mind
At his core, Dheeraj knows he’s a technologist. But, he also believes product is as much about technology as it is about organizational process and a design. Demand generation and funnel science is important, he says, but so too is the product’s brand. It’s a paradox - a CEO has to go get business for this quarter, which relies on math and engineering a product with market fit, but they must also think about the long-game of getting their brand to win hearts and minds - to get those important eyeballs at the top of the funnel.
Design is also crucial to the organization of a company and its people. For Nutanix, this notion is particularly salient today in light of their 10-year anniversary and recent enterprise business model transition from hardware to software to hybrid cloud subscription. Redesign isn’t easy, he says. It involves a lot of risk. But, he’s confident that constantly assessing and altering design is what will keep Nutanix a future-forward company.
Decision-making from the ground up
Designing the processes and systems for Nutanix’s customers and employees is important, but just as important to Dheeraj are the people themselves. It's customers and employees that really guide the company’s decisions. Without them, he says, a CEO is nothing.
Take market fit decisions. Crunching numbers and conducting research isn’t everything. For Dheeraj, ensuring existing customers are repeat customers is crucial. Customers are investors of a company - how does a CEO encourage and foster that continuous investment?
Or, look at Nutanix’s decision to go public in 2016. Going public wasn’t the only option but, talking to customers and employees, Dheeraj heard again and again that the company should keep going and not get acquired. It’s these people, he believes, who really have a good pulse of what’s actually going on.
Now, as he thinks about the next 10 years of Nutanix, and “whether we survive and thrive,” he has heard again and again from those close to the action to “keep going,” and “take more risks.” When you believe you have a lot to lose, he says, you stop taking risks. Transitioning to the subscription model was a risk, but Nutanix could never offer a hybrid cloud without it.
The simple things
Assessing the highs and lows, the move to public markets and the continued evolution of Nutanix’s business model, what, I asked, is his secret to navigating it all? His answer: controlled, meditative breathing and good sleep. The most automatic behavior in life is breathing, he notes - if you can control breathing, you can control a lot of other things in your life.
Thank you again to Dheeraj for joining me in such a fascinating discussion. Check out the video below for the full conversation.