Cutting edge cyber security at down-to-earth prices
Hemal Patel is a successful serial entrepreneur and a technology executive with diverse skills and management experience, including general, sales, marketing, design, development and financial management. Under Hemal’s leadership and strategic direction Cyberoam has expanded its sales and distribution channels to 150+ countries providing business critical solutions in network security to 65,000+ customers across the world. Amid the accelerating consolidation of the network security market, Hemal’s visionary leadership seized an unprecedented opportunity and successfully led Cyberoam to join forces with Sophos. With Sophos, Hemal has created an immensely rewarding opportunity to provide a comprehensive world class product portfolio for security solutions, making Cyberoam a one-stop-shop for its customers. In this candid conversation with MYB Hemal talks about his entrepreneurial journey and addresses some interesting questions on Cyberoam and Sophos.
My birthplace is Nadiad, a beautiful town near Ahmedabad, however, I grew up in Ahmedabad. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from India. Later, I attained a Master’s in Computer Science from the US in addition to pursuing a program in Advanced Project Management from Stanford University, CA, USA.
During my college years in Ahmedabad, I seized the opportunity to work as an assistant professor at L.D. Engineering College. While, the assistant professorship took up most of my waking hours, it didn’t stop me from looking at other enticing prospects, which is how I the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), a premier research body of national significance. I joined a team that was working on implementing some World Bank computer programs.
I always felt driven towards entrepreneurship, but I also knew that it will take more than just a stroke of luck to get there. The way I see it was identifying and creating opportunities from unexpected conditions. That’s how I started. Having spent a good stint at AT&T in the US, I moved to another great organisation called Amdahl Corporation, a giant in mainframe computing business, but this time I joined as a marketing engineer. My innings at Amdahl enriched my understanding of marketing, sales and allied activities in the technology business and how they really matter as business drivers. While at Amdahl, I observed that Americans tend to perceive jobs as a permanent thing and will develop their comfort level around it. But soon, something unique happened at Amdahl. The company announced two lay-offs while declaring that nearly 15% employees would be laid off shortly. This shook the faith that everyone had in the perception of job security. Luckily, I managed to stay afloat. However, in another six months, a similar incident took place and from thereon out it became something of a regular occurrence. While it kept most of the Amdahl staff on tenterhooks, this shake-up turned out to be a boon for my entrepreneurial zest and I got to start my own consulting business. While the money came pouring in, I also encountered several challenges the entrepreneurial business brings with it. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I also made great friends who would end up partnering with me in my future ventures, like Cyberoam Technologies.
During my early days as an entrepreneur, I came across a gentleman, Rajabhai who inspiringly counselled me on how to balance work and personal life while sensitizing me on why it is important to achieve this balance.
An entrepreneur’s journey is a bag of mixed experiences. Mine is no different. Before I launched Cyberoam, I created and managed three start-ups, all of them were services business. These included a consulting firm in New York, US; an ISP in Puerto Rico and another ISP in India.
Having garnered rich experience and diverse exposure to the techno-managerial functions at some of the world’s leading businesses, I was driven to tap into the lucrative opportunity of running a consulting business, that’s how I got my first start-up.
I can speak about two turning points. Firstly, in 2005, our key markets in APAC and Middle East and Africa (MEA) began witnessing rapid growth momentum and immediately in 2006, we succeeded in getting Carlyle to invest in us. They saw our commitment, putting their trust in our passionate team at Cyberoam. The Carlyle development brought confidence and added immensely to our global image and credibility. The worst phase of my business was in 2008, it touched an all-time low, leading to us incurring heavy losses amounting to INR12 crore. I did not cower, but took this setback as a life lesson and eight years following that phase, I made profit of almost INR100 crore from my business including Elitecore Technologies and Cyberoam.
We also have our share of milestones that I would like to mention here. We created a world-class IT products company with a cutting-edge portfolio of niche expertise in network security, and we did this from a location that was far from any IT hub. We have built worldwide channel partner ecosystems and are represented in over 125 countries. Over a period of years, we have developed differentiated technology offerings including our patented innovation of Layer 8. We have also been voted as the chosen one by leading customer and IT channel surveys and gained recognition for being an innovative network security player, as well as accolades from NASSCOM and DSCI. We have joined forces with Sophos, among the fastest growing IT security companies today.
Apart from applying wisdom and experience gained from previous ventures, I chose to establish the company on three cornerstones. First, I wanted it to a profitable business and hence laid great emphasis on long-term sustainability. Secondly, to achieve nimble expansion, I targeted global markets that offer low cost marketing and sales. And third, I wanted to domicile the business in a location that offers low attrition and low real estate cost, thereby enabling better, steadfast and frugal R&D efforts.
I have always believed in a wholesome and inclusive view of entrepreneurship. After all, our acquisition of Sophos, has managed to turn Ahmedabad into a pivot for future business with Sophos and created 600 new jobs so far.
Let me tell you my secret. It’s this phrase that I have been blurting out to my people “GO YANKEES”! It’s inspired from New York Yankees baseball team, which is exemplary in that it led ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary goals by working as a coherent team. That’s what I have done at Cyberoam, I have given ordinary people a chance to be creative leaders and managers by letting them evolve and innovate.
Focus, passion, spirit of innovation and commitment to transparency are vital to success. As a serial entrepreneur, I have always subscribed to this, and as an innovator, it is very important to go after what customers want and not what your competitors are doing.
All my previous ventures were businesses in service industry and I reached a point when I wanted to diversify and build a product company from the ground up, a totally unique technology product company. I was also determined to become an entrepreneur in India, and particularly one from Ahmedabad.
Can you tell me a bit about your company?
Cyberoam, a Sophos company, is a global network security appliances provider, offering future-ready security solutions to physical and virtual networks in organisations with its comprehensive range of network security appliances (UTMs/ Next-Generation Firewalls), centralised management appliances and centralised reporting solutions.
Why did you start this particular company?
As an entrepreneur you always have a choice to initiate your business by disrupting the market or continue to sustain an established market by offering value differentiation. At the time we entered this market, we had to compete with established players. The thought of offering radically new solutions does seem promising; however, disrupting the security market is not as easy as it sounds in theory. Enterprises are not always ready to experiment with their security infrastructure. However, we also felt the need for holistic solutions which offer value to a large SMB sector, a market that was (and still is) unaddressed by the established vendors. This is where, the thought of Cyberoam as a comprehensive security provider came to us. Obviously, my past association with networking and technology did help me a lot.
How is it different from its competitors?
If you get into the details of technology, Cyberoam has its own patented Identity-based Technology which offers unparalleled ease in managing modern day office setups where there are multiple logins from different employees on a single system, during a day. Managing security in this complex environment used to be a difficult task before we came up with the User Identity Based Security. This is a major differentiator in terms of product experience, and that’s why users rate us high on ease of usage or manageability parameters. Also our customer support services are as good as they get; we were the first UTM vendor to get ISO certification for our customer support services.
What exactly do you offer?
As I said before, we offer identity based security for physical and virtual networks in organisations with our Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) and Unified Threat Management (UTM) appliances. The virtual and hardware Cyberoam Central Console appliances offer Centralised Security Management options to organisations, while Cyberoam iView allows intelligent logging and reporting with one-of-their-kind, in-depth reports. Cyberoam has recently added next-generation management (NM) series of Cyberoam Central Console (CCC NM) appliances and next-generation reporting (NR) series of iView appliances, to its range of product offerings. Cyberoam offers comprehensive network, web and content, application and email security while providing secure remote access and data leakage prevention.
How has the response been?
The response has been overwhelming, we have constantly achieved impressive double digit growth on YOY basis. Our UTMs offering best in the class performance have been most successful in emerging markets. We have our product deployments across 125+ countries in the world. Moreover, Cyberoam is accredited with prestigious global standards and certifications like EAL4+, CheckMark UTM Level 5 Certification, ICSA Labs, IPv6 Gold logo, and is a member of the Virtual Private Network Consortium.
What are the future plans?
After joining forces with Sophos, we have become part of a larger organisation which has been dealing in the security space since last three decades and has a stronghold both in the endpoint as well as network security market. This opens up new possibilities for both organisations to collaborate and bring newer, better products and solutions for users.
Market share of this industry?
In India the information security market is yet to establish itself. According to NASSCOM, it contributes just 1 per cent to the entire IT-BPM market in India. However, it is expected to be worth 10 per cent by 2025.
What is its market potential?
The market has very high potential with mobile and IOT becoming more and more commonplace. There is a steady demand from Indian SMBs, which are second only to China in numbers. Moreover, these SMBs are registering a double digit growth and their security budgets are increasing every year. There is hardly any business which doesn’t use emails or has no website or doesn’t depend on some cloud service for its operations. As their exposure to the Internet grows, the security demand will also grow.
How will you tap this opportunity?
We have a very clear timeline of product development with both Cyberoam and Sophos teams working together on projects and there are major announcements scheduled in coming days. We aim to simplify security for IT security practitioners who deal with increasingly complex networks on a day-to-day basis. This means developing solutions which offer better analytics and actionable intelligence to the network administrators.
How has your team built the brand? How is it picking up?
I think it’s our channel which has played the most crucial part in establishing the brand. Our Partner Program is among the best in the industry. Moreover, by adopting the channel model we have been able to reduce operational and logistics costs. We will continue to leverage this avenue for our future marketing goals.
What is the growth you can forecast in the coming years?
As Cyberoam and Sophos are now a combined entity, we have to wait before we start predicting numbers. Having said that, we have proved critics wrong by not only making this association successful but also launching new products in just one year of this integration. So far we have achieved all our sales goals before time, and I am confident that we will continue to do so in the future as well.
What is your and your partner's previous experience? How has it helped you in running this company?
I started this venture with Ben (Ben Casado) who has prior experience as a consultant in networking design and LAN/WAN setups. Apart from that we also co-owned Eclipse Micro Computer in USA. However, the security was an entirely new area for us and it was Ben’s constant support and trust which was the main driver for me in the initial days.
Why do you think you both make a good team to run this particular company?
The good thing about having your own business is that you can do whatever you like or are good at. This allowed us to take on roles according to our comfort levels. I recall how at one time I was the single source of contact for all major operations and decisions. I believe our past association and camaraderie was crucial for giving the initial boost to our business venture.
Did you think you were well suited to be in this industry?
Yes, it is only this inner belief which keeps you going during the tough times.
What do you need money for? How much?
We started as Elitecore with just 10 employees in 1999. The initial phase involved a lot of work in the product development and convincing the market that an Indian company can handle security as well as any other company in the world. The company was making profits, but to grow and expand further, it needed additional funding. Approaching VCs in India was slightly tough since the company was not focusing on the U.S. or European markets, the VCs had their share of doubts on both the product development capabilities of an Indian company and its success in new markets such as Asia Pacific and MEA. All this changed after Carlyle funded us. Thankfully, our insistence on maintaining focus on emerging economies paid off and it shielded the company during the recession. After Carlyle, Sophos took interest in our capabilities and now we are working together, achieving higher synergies in R&D as well as marketing areas.