The last few years have seen an increased adoption of digital technologies and consequently an increase in usage of Cloud infrastructure by businesses of all sizes. Amazon made a first-of-its-kind announcement at its Re-Invent 2016 conference, when they announced FPGA based instances in public cloud with AWS. The origin story of Valtix starts there.
The other two founders of Valtix are Vishal and Praveen and we’ve known each other for over 20+ years, and that deep relationship formed the bedrock of our new journey together.
Vishal and my background in computer science and specifically around networking and security got us thinking about the opportunity to go build a true cloud based high performance network inspection engine. With the experience of the SDN world behind us (having built Cisco ACI), the seeds of a true cloud-based service to deliver a high-performance network firewall were being formed. Since Vishal and my areas of focus were very deep inside the network and security stacks, in-short the plumbing, we needed someone who had the cloud expertise. This is where Praveen enters. Praveen who had prior experience working on the networking and security stack had decided to move into the field of data analytics, where he was building the foundations of a modern, scalable, distributed data infrastructure with a microservices architecture in the cloud. He was a very early adopter of the VPC architectures using the “default VPC” in AWS and the extension into supported customer created VPCs. Later, he went on to work at Google Cloud on their network control plane which manages all of networking and compute assets for GCP’s tenants.
Vishal and I called Praveen with the idea of delivering network security as a service in the cloud using accelerated compute as a strong differentiator. We weren’t sure if Praveen would be interested and so approached him with an informal pitch. Praveen jumped at the idea and decided to come join us on this journey and we took the first steps together.
Very soon, after running a few proof-of-concept experiments, we started pitching the idea to a few Venture Capitalists for seed funding. We were very grateful that Jonathan and Peter believed in this idea and funded us to kickstart our journey within a few weeks. We incorporated our company as NBTIS since we wanted to get going fast with the acronym standing for “Next Big Thing In Security”.
Right around this time we started forming a list of advisors. Since all three of us have strong backgrounds in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), one of the best engineering schools in India, we figured we should start by talking to a few alumni first. Praveen and I, short-listed a few folks from IIT-Madras and Vishal did the same from IIT-Delhi. This is also where our association with the IIT Madras Foundation started. The IITM Foundation is a non-profit organization in the United States, established to raise funds to help propel IIT-Madras into a global top-50 institute. It is made up primarily of alumni volunteers with connections to a number of very successful alumni like Arvind P., Rohini Chakravarthy, Kannan Govindarajan to name a few. Vishal also connected with Gokul from IIT-Kanpur and Mohit from IIT-Delhi who had already built a couple of unicorns (Nutanix and Cohesity) by then. We were told we had to pick a proper name for our company.
Since there were three of us founding the company, we started searching for names of the strongest alloy that have three elements in them. Vishal found an alloy with Vanadium, Aluminum and Titanium was popular in aerospace, energy and manufacturing due to its high strength, corrosion resistance and workability. Being big fans of Asterix and Obelix, where every character’s name ends with an X, we decided to add an X at the end of the name. That was the inspiration for the company’s name - Valtix.
We built a core team of engineers after this and got to our 1.0 release in just 9 months which was a testament to the strength of the team. We are proud to say that the core team is still with the company. We also started talking to a few customers around this time so they could try it out and more importantly give us precious feedback in molding the product.
During the first year of the journey, the idea evolved based on understanding the market and customer requirements and better understanding of how the public clouds operate - at a technical and operational level.
The fundamental precept of the cloud is its simplicity and utility-like consumption model. Everything in the cloud is delivered as a service to make this happen (think public utilities like electric and gas companies). Consumers don’t worry about setting up the equipment (electric poles, wires, gas lines etc). They just focus on effectively utilizing electricity and gas for their needs. What was glaringly obvious and struck as a jarring note was that network security was still stuck in the old world (fundamentally delivered using appliances that were deployed on-premise). This was completely against the ethos of Cloud because it was a Do-It-Yourself exercise for customers. They are being asked to do the equivalent of setting up electric wires and gas lines! Another premise was "retrofit does not work". So that gave us extra confidence to take on the big boys of on-premise delivery models.
At around the 1-year mark, Karan decided to be part of the Valtix journey by funding us.
We launched our company a few months after this.
Very soon with the help of the experienced product management team and customer feedback, we realized that we needed to expand our focus from ingress to egress and east-west for securing cloud workloads. This also helped us de-emphasize high performance based on FPGA since many customers weren’t ready for it yet in the cloud. But, the product architecture was future-proofed for massive scale. These were crucial learning steps.
This took us to our 2.0 release with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) set of features in a cloud network security solution. Later part of 2.X releases got us Discovery in our SaaS controller, another very fundamental addition to our product. This later led us to adding Free Tier signups to our SaaS controller which was a very important tool for marketing. We were embarking on a product-led-growth strategy.
And then Covid hit!! We started our first year of selling in that year of Covid, when everything including the NBA season was called off.
We had to rely on marketing to play a key role in getting our inbound leads and helping kickstart our Go-to-Market motion. Some of our largest customers came after their architects tried our product using self-serve sign ups, something that is unheard of for a product category such as Network Firewalls. They already had an idea of what Valtix is about before they had that first technical deep dive with us which was great for us.
With the strength of our product architecture and the initial marketing driven GTM motion, we were able to grow the business. Starting from humble beginnings with a very small non-profit customer who deployed one gateway and growing to have a customer who deployed us for close to a thousand gateways (a gateway is our security enforcement point in our cloud service).
To drive this initial growth we needed to have the operational discipline in monitoring the funnel or pipeline and see what was working and what was not working. Another very important piece was the solution architecture and customer success. Selling a service in the cloud is a highly technical process since the customer doesn’t get to see the plumbing and this can be an uncomfortable experience at first to those customers coming from on-prem experience of physically touching the solutions that they deploy for security. This is where patient education and being a trusted advisor went a long way for our customers.
I truly believe it takes a village to take something from concept to reality and our founders journey is a testament to it. We are extremely grateful for all those who believed in us and joined us on this ride - building an everlasting memory called Valtix.
We hope that, now under the umbrella of our mothership Cisco, we can spread our vision broader in securing the cloud workloads in a simple and effective manner.
Our foundations started at IIT Madras by giving us a world-class undergraduate education and giving us an excellent set of peers with whom we have been able to build everlasting friendships. Some of these friends went on to play a very crucial part in our Valtix journey, always being there to lend their ears, their expertise and never hesitating to help whenever possible. The IITM Foundation also played a crucial role and they help connect alumni with other alumni as well as with the institute. The Foundation is helping further advance the strategic plans of IIT Madras and supports the continued goal of providing a top-notch engineering education powered by research and a thriving entrepreneurial community made up of alumni.
I am forever grateful to IIT Madras and it has made an indelible impression on me, which is why I happily donated back to IITM via the IITM Foundation, and will continue to do so in the future as the opportunity arises. I encourage all of you to do so as well and pay it forward.