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OODA Network Interview: Dr. Gaurav Banga

This post is based on an interview with Dr. Gaurav Banga, Founder and CEO of Balbix.  It is part of our series of interviews of OODA Network members. Our objective with these interviews is to provide actionable information of interest to the community, including insights that can help with your own career progression. We also really like highlighting some of the great people that make our continued research and reporting possible.  For the full series see: OODA Expert Network Bio Series.

Career Progression:   Gaurav grew up in a small town in India at a time when computers were really big and really rare. He saw his first one in 9th grade and felt like it was calling him.  “I was alive when I was programming!”.  He studied Computer Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.  He especially enjoyed solving technical problems and was introduced to weather forecasting. This field had the most available data and the biggest, baddest computers at the University.  He was hooked!

Guarav was accepted into the PhD program at Rice University in Houston, Texas where his idol, Dr. Ken Kennedy, was busy constructing software systems that would change the world. The internet was exploding into existence, basically developing into the biggest supercomputer imaginable.  Guarav studied network protocols.  After he graduated, he decided to take one year off to work in Silicon Valley before he submerged himself into the life of an Academician. This was 1998 – and he found himself parachuted into the middle of an intoxicating and explosive era of entrepreneurism.

Dr. Banga rode out the dot.com bubble working for NetApp where he learned many valuable lessons about how to grow a company responsibly.  He was quick to understand the importance of Applications for mobile devices that could be connected to the internet. “They were becoming powerful computers in your pocket!” he recalls.  He started his first company, PDAapps, Inc. in 2003.  After learning first-hand how important messaging was, he created VeriChat, which instantly became the number one instant messaging application in the world.  He’s proud that he was able to build the company from the ground up without raising any money for Venture Capitalists, keeping his company in the black by growing in pace with his customer base.

Dr. Banga points out that in his experience there are three types of entrepreneurs:

  1. Those that love the technology they are creating,
  2. Those that want to create a business,
  3. And those that just want to start something because everyone else is doing it.

He finds all three can create value but creating an enduring business has been proven to create the most economic benefits for the most people.

Dr. Banga emphasizes “Our most valuable resource, our most precious commodity, is our time.  If you don’t put enough serious thought into what you are building and WHY you are building it when you start, you’ll never be able to motivate others to your vision.”

When discussing the dot.com bubble, and the current market downturn, Dr. Banga points out that it’s actually a great time to find good companies. There is a ton of talent out there.  Investors are pickier – so only the best ideas find support.  “During a boomtime, the market is overcrowded, it’s chaotic and noisy and hard to find good people.  In a market downturn, it’s much easier to spot the winners.”

Dr. Banga created Balbix in 2015 when he saw that most companies were struggling to understand their cyber-risk.  He’s passionate about empowering organizations so they can visualize their attack surface and better prepare against breaches. “The current pandemic reminds us that we are vulnerable.  As we move towards a remote workforce with greater cloud consumerization, the traditional data center approach with firewalls is no longer sufficient.”

Surprises:   Dr. Banga recalls his surprise at how slowly the web/mobile device intersection occurred.  “I was right in middle of this big new world, but it was so slow in materializing!   Although many tried to get there earlier, it wasn’t until the iPhone arrived that it exploded.  I sold PDAapps in 2005.  If I had waited just a few more years, it would have been a much different experience.”

Technologies you are watching:  The intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Privacy is very interesting to Dr. Banga.  “AI is growing slower than any of us imagined.  For example, when you think of the amount of ‘energy’ needed for a human to understand an image, vs. a computer… you realize we are on the wrong track!   In this crisis, people are rethinking AI and deep learning.  Once we move that needle forward, we will need to control the information shared to be able to reap benefits in a way that benefits the user!  We need clear rules on this.”

Advice for Decision Makers: “Imagine 18 months into the future.  What would you like to see happen?  Try to look at your company as if it were a heat map.  Where are the RED spots?  Now, imagine changing that map so there is more GREEN and less RED.    Once you have that framework in mind, you can prioritize and be in charge.  If you do it blindly you are at other people’s mercy.”

 Views on Thought Leaders: “I’ve had great mentors and look to them for advice.  John Chambers, from Cisco, has been an investor and mentor to me.   I also follow leaders like Bill Gates, and imagine what they are seeing. “

Quick Hits:

 

Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward (Commander, U.S. Navy (Retired)) has over 30 years of experience helping the Department of Defense (DoD) solve difficult technology requirements. She has a proven track record of building, maintaining, securing and certifying technology solutions for use within DoD. She works with Industry to identify key opportunities and provides strategic guidance and support. She is a strategic analyst and cybersecurity professional who has deep expertise in improving enterprise cybersecurity.