Sramana: What happened after FirstMark was sold to PSINet?
Raj De Datta: In 2001 I went to business school. I studied at Harvard until 2003. The good thing about doing everything I had done before business school is that most people I met there were confused about what they wanted to do with their lives. I was fairly clear, and it made those two years much more stress free.
Sramana: Why would you go to Harvard knowing you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Raj De Datta: I was not sure what else to do. I had spent the four years prior working 20-hour days. Harvard seemed like a much easier alternative. I had gotten into Harvard four years earlier and had to turn it down to complete the FirstMark journey. My five-year limit of GMAT scores were going to expire, and if I did not go then I would have had to take that test again.
When I was finishing business school, I was writing a paper with Clay Christensen. The paper was about disrupting the networking industry. That paper was circulated to a lot of places, including Microsoft and IBM. Ultimately, it made its way to Cisco. The essence of the paper was disrupting the networking industry by moving up the stack by developing application aware capabilities in networking devices.
I moved to the Valley right after 2003. I spent the summer at Xerox PARC and had gotten to like the area. I was in the process of starting a company with two other people that was effectively building a company based on the principles outlined in that paper. Cisco had just hire a person to think about this space. That person read my paper and called me and asked me if I would consider rolling my effort into Cisco.
I ended up becoming an employee at Cisco and tried to build the same product that I had envisioned building independently at Cisco. I was there for three years and the product was Application Oriented Networking, which eventually became a part of the load balancers they sell.
Sramana: What came after Cisco?
Raj De Datta: That lasted until late 2007, after which I spent about two years in the wilderness. I was convinced I was going to start a company and decided I was not going to take a job under any circumstances. I explored 10 ideas in that two-year span. I thought each one would have led to something, but they just did not come together. Either the idea was not quite right or the team was not right.
Sramana: That is a normal process. I encourage people to play with multiple ideas. I give people a framework for testing multiple ideas in my 1M/1M program.
Raj De Datta: That makes sense. There is an assumption in entrepreneurship that there is an epiphany moment.
Sramana: It is a gradual process. There are moments when things start to click in place and you start to see things clearly. I don’t think there is one moment when you wake up with an epiphany.
Raj De Datta: I agree. I spent almost two years as an entrepreneur in residence at Mohr-Davidow Ventures. I did a lot of consulting to fund myself through that period.