Inspiring story of a passionate technical founder who has built one of the iconic fast growth Unicorns in the tech industry.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Dheeraj Pandey: I was born in India in Bihar, a state that played a meaningful role in the independence of India. Eventually, it all got corrupted and became the poorest state in the country. I grew up there for the first 17 years. Then I went to the most populist state in the country and did my undergrad in Kanpur. I was 21. I just moved to the US. For the last 25 years of my life, I’ve been in the US.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you arrive in the US?
Dheeraj Pandey: 1997. It was within a couple of months of finishing my undergrad study in India. I came here to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Texas in Austin. I fell in love with the Valley. I was bedazzled by the internet bubble back in the day. I started working in Trilogy in Austin, Texas in January of 1999. I was on a leave of absence for a couple of years and then returned to finish my Ph.D.
Sramana Mitra: I never returned to finish my Ph.D. I started a company in 1995. I took my Masters and didn’t go back. Your first venture is Nutanix?
Dheeraj Pandey: That’s correct. It took me 10 years. I learned a lot about software engineering. All of the companies I worked for had a theme. They were building distributed systems of some kind. My first startup was Zambeel. It was building clustered file servers. How do you manage data and commodity hardware?
Sramana Mitra: You founded that one?
Dheeraj Pandey: No, I was just a fresh engineer. There’s a lot to learn about startups when you’re working for one. My first learning there was that it was too top-heavy. There wasn’t enough emphasis on design and product management. We had fascinating names of investors. We had raised $65 million and burned it all in a couple of years because of the product-market fit. There is so much gut that goes into defining product-market fit.
Sramana Mitra: There is a lot of gut and there are a lot of processes. I’ve been around in the Valley for all this time you’re describing – this era of overcapitalization. If you overcapitalize without reaching product-market fit, companies don’t do really well.
Dheeraj Pandey: There’s a paradox. DevRev is overcapitalized, but we, in many ways, are stretchy.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, but you’re doing it as a repeat entrepreneur. First-time entrepreneurs tend to have issues with overcapitalization.
Dheeraj Pandey: Right. I went to Oracle for four and a half years and learned about distributed databases and large-scale software shipping. I learned a lot about quality in shipping to 200 countries. I was also itching very much to do something.
I applied to an MBA school in 2006 when I was 31. I applied to the top three business schools. I got this extreme shock in my life in 2007. I got rejections from all three of them. I ended up working for a startup again. This was a distributed data warehouse. I did that for a couple of years and learned a lot. Finally in 2009, we started Nutanix.