Balaji Ganesan is the co-founder and CEO of Privacera, an industry-leading cloud access and data governance platform. Hoping to learn more about his experience as a 2-time founder and the advice he would give to the next generation of entrepreneurs, we sat down with Balaji for a conversation.
What inspired you to start your own company?
The Privacera journey started with my earlier startup, XA Secure, where we solved a challenge of access control and governance in big data environments. Hortonworks acquired XA Secure, and the product turned it into a project called Apache Ranger. While at Hortonworks, I spent a lot of time with large enterprises to establish governance and security in their big data environments. Enterprises were constantly looking to extend the governance capabilities to all of their data, not just big data. These conversations led to the genesis of Privacera, where we leveraged the incredible work done in the Apache Ranger community to solve broader data governance challenges for all companies.
This is your second time starting your own company. What are some of the lessons learned from the first time? What are you doing differently this time?
I do get this question on how easy it is doing a second startup. My answer is that every startup is very different, with varied market dynamics, team, and even the customer base. Starting and building a company is a learning experience for any founder. I did learn a lot about taking a concept and building momentum in the market from my first startup.
With Privacera, I've approached things with a bigger vision in mind and a better understanding of the enterprise market. The previous experience certainly helped in our initial stages.
What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur and what is your long-term vision for Privacera?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be nimble and a fast learner to navigate the different challenges you face at each stage of your growth. It's similar to raising a child. For example, a parent may face different challenges when their child is an infant compared to a toddler, growing child, and a teenager.
I am building Privacera with a vision of helping every enterprise company in the world enable secure and governed access to their data using any application, any cloud. Our vision is bold and big. I wake up every morning excited about what we can do today, this week, this month, this year, and in the next few years to accomplish our vision. We are just starting our journey.
What advice would you go back in time and give yourself when starting your own company?
The startup journey is one of constant learning, and I have learned a lot in co-founding Privacera and getting it to where it is today. If I could go back, I would advise my younger self to spend more time on the initial market validations, specifically drilling down into critical customer problems. It's important to talk to many potential customers in the company's initial phase and work backwards on the problems you would like to solve.
As a founder, what question are you asked more than any other?
I get asked about the ease of starting a second startup, having founded and exited a previous startup. Well, the truth is every startup is different; market conditions change. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes navigating a startup through various stages of growth, and having a startup experience helps. The experience of founding XA Secure and its transformation to the Apache Ranger project has certainly helped me with Privacera.
What are some of the challenges you face building an enduring company around an open source platform?
At Privacera, we are leveraging the work we have done with the Apache Ranger community in enabling a broader Access Data Governance across any data and any cloud. We continue to contribute back to the Ranger community in a big way. The work we do with the Apache Ranger community does help us get more extensive awareness and credibility within the enterprise users. When you are building on top of an open-source platform, you must understand that some users will leverage the open-source for free and may not contribute back. But the overall benefits of a strong community can outweigh any risks if done the right way.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I talk to many technical founders who are trying to start a company and see many of them approaching things with a strictly technical or product-centric view of the world. I probably did the same thing in my early days of XA Secure and Privacera. I would recommend that aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start a B2B company spend some time on the frontline selling or working with the sales teams in their current work. Focus on listening to the customer, deeply understanding their pain points, and creating something they are willing to buy. Having this experience interacting with customers is beneficial in the early days of a startup when you want to drill down into a customer need, differentiate between must-have and good to have, and build specifically for the must-haves.