Gaurav Dhillon founded Informatica, took it public, and ran it for 12 years before handing the reins over to Sohaib Abbasi, its current CEO. Five years ago, he founded SnapLogic, a company that has raised almost $60 million in venture capital and has tripled in revenue last year. Gaurav knows a thing or two about how to identify an opportunity, validate or invalidate it, and craft a product-market fit that has significant scaling potential in the world of enterprise software. Read Gaurav’s Entrepreneurial Journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal story. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? What’s the backstory of your entrepreneurial journey?
Gaurav Dhillon: I was born in northern India. I grew up in an industrial town, which is well-known as a light engineering producer.
Sramana Mitra: What about education? Where did you do all that?
Gaurav Dhillon: I went to school in India. I have a degree in Electrical Engineering from Punjab University. I started doing my masters in Computer Science in California, but I dropped out to take up my first job with a large computer manufacturer.
I also want to say that those degrees are valuable but education was all around me in the small industrial town. My real education began early on by talking to entrepreneurs around me.
Sramana Mitra: You wanted to be an entrepreneur fairly early on?
Gaurav Dhillon: Very much so. I wanted to be in technology. I had an uncle who is an engineer but is now retired. Very early on, I wanted to be in electronics. It was very clear to me that I wanted to build something. All the entrepreneurs around me were my inspiration.
Sramana Mitra: Give me a sense of when you came to America and what were the first things you did that leads up to the Informatica story.
Gaurav Dhillon: The short version is I came to America in 1987. I had never really traveled abroad although I had family in America. My father had studied abroad and come back to serve the country. I would say the first couple of years were really about finding my feet and understanding how to fit in. At that time, you only left India with $20. India was a developing country.
Sramana Mitra: I do remember.
Gaurav Dhillon: I would say one part of it was adapting to the culture and understanding the social mores of how things were done, the other part of it is realizing that getting other degrees was not fast enough development for me. I had to go part-time. One summer I was offered an internship at Unisys Corporation, which at that time, was the second largest computer company in the world. At the end of the summer, they made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. I became one of the youngest system architects in the history of that company.
It was a good place to learn because in large companies, there’s a lot of training. There’s lots of people who mentor you. Unfortunately, the company was not able to transcend the transition from mainframes to client server. Going from mainframe to client server was the impetus for myself and some of the other people I worked with to jump out and start Informatica.