“Not Exactly This” — How Sanjay Beri Hatched Netskope

Netskope Founder Sanjay Beri

By Rusty Weston

He’s sixteen and raising cash for college, performing IT support for Microsoft in Toronto, Canada. His boss pushes him a help desk ticket and says, “Go to the President’s office and fix his problem.” He thinks, wow, I’d better not mess this up. But then he sees that the big boss merely miswired a cable. “I left that room, going, ‘I can do this,’” recalls Sanjay Beri, who would later make good on that vow.

Viewed through the kaleidoscope of time, Sanjay’s trajectory to leading a tech company with a $7.5 billion valuation reflects a modest-means-to-riches inevitability. But the “fixes” he would undertake years later would never be that simple again. In 2012, Sanjay founded Netskope, growing it into an uncommon Silicon Valley success story. But success didn’t happen overnight, and there would be no linear progression to the top. Sanjay’s not a household name, but he’s gaining industry recognition because of his visionary actions, exceptional timing, hard, collaborative work, and guts.

Wait, how did this happen?

1.  Sanjay didn’t expect it to be easy.

Sanjay continued at Microsoft. He worked on a team that created the first version of Internet Explorer and then helped create Office 95 right after graduating with a Computer Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo, outside of Toronto.



Along the way, he gained personal insight into the corporate need for cybersecurity. One of his fellow programmers was feeding Doom code into Microsoft Excel, the best-selling and award-winning spreadsheet. “I was like, wait a minute,” he says. He added his name to the Internet Explorer About box as a test, thinking somebody would scrub it out. But when no one noticed, he thought, “We’ve got some problems in this industry — this stuff can make its way through. And so, very early on, I got my taste of IT and security and some of the issues, and that was the beginning.”

A fellow Canadian computer science student named Arif Janmohamed, now a Partner at Lightspeed Ventures, met Sanjay in 1994. “He was arguably one of the top three people in the Waterloo class,” recalls Arif. “He’s obviously extremely sharp, extremely hardworking, very driven.”

In the intervening decade since they earned undergraduate degrees, Sanjay collected a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford but then began to think twice about programming full-time. “I made my way to California in 2000, went to Stanford and did my Masters and realized I suck as an engineer. It took me a hell of a long time and a lot of money to realize that. You know, when you finish, usually you’re like, Wow, I graduated, I can do this. Sometimes, you also realize I want to do this, but not exactly this.”

Sanjay hadn’t unplugged his tech world cable — he’d fixed his career path. He doubled down on his Stanford degree with a UC Berkeley MBA. Sanjay also took his first foray into entrepreneurship, co-founding Ingrian Networks with one of his Stanford professors. There, he invented “DataSecure,” a product that encrypted transactions, which he eventually sold along with the company.

Then, instead of launching another startup, he became a tech exec, tackling progressively senior management roles at McAfee and Juniper Networks — where he became a VP and General Manager, building and leading a 300-person security product team.

Along the way, Arif became a VC and sought to nurture Sanjay’s talent, telling him, ”Look, you know, you can go the executive route, but you’re so talented,” says Arif. “You should go down the path of starting a company. A few years later, he called me up and said, ‘You know what, I’m ready.’”

Sanjay knew he was ready because he had, by his admission, “grounding in engineering, understanding of product platform — not being anywhere near the best at it — but understanding selling because I was out there selling from an early age.” Sanjay understood cybersecurity and said, “If you have a vision for it and the background in your domain, those are great ingredients to become an entrepreneur. I’ve always had the passion, the juice, and the intestinal fortitude to know that, hey, it’s not going to be easy. That’s what really set me up to start Netskope at that time in my life.” It was 2012.

2. Sure, in retrospect, the cloud seems obvious.

When Netskope started, the Software as a Service (SaaS) concept was far from dominant — least of all in cybersecurity, where clients, servers, perimeters and firewalls were all the rage.

Some people bet on this sea change. “You could see the green shoots of SaaS adoption, even in 2010 and 2012,” recalls Arif. “Only Salesforce was public at that point, but ServiceNow and Workday had already shown how enterprise applications should be built and consumed. And, that, to us, represented an opportunity for a new security paradigm to emerge.”

In retrospect, perhaps it didn’t take a genius to realize the business world would soon shift critical operations to the cloud. Yet it still took a genius or two to make that vision come true, spurring a transformation in how organizations protect their enterprise data and assets. Consider that in 2012, there weren’t many globally deployed, well-secured, cloud-based data centers. Zero Trust, which requires continuous authentication, wasn’t the crucible of anyone’s cybersecurity strategy. Digital transformations were yet to become all the rage.

Sanjay’s view of the cloud’s destiny was anything but cloudy. “I had foreseen leveraging the movement of data from your data center to the cloud. The reality is I felt we were at this inflection point in the world where the biggest market in security would transform, and I felt I’ve got to capitalize on this,” recalls Sanjay.

But first, he had to win over his family before approaching potential investors. “You have to know what you’re up for — you’re going to hit a lot of roadblocks — things aren’t going to go as planned. A lot of time, you’re alone trying to solve these problems. Your family has to be up for it, too. It’s not for the faint of heart, but you’ve never been for the faint of heart.”

Not surprisingly, the Beri clan proved to be the border pieces of the puzzle — the easiest converts. Next up were tech buyers — appealing to decision-makers Sanjay knew quite well. He’d led product teams at McAfee and Juniper Networks and met often with CISOs and CIOs. “At the beginning, you heard a lot of naysayers” about the cloud, remembers Sanjay,who estimated that “8 out of 10 CISOs” told him the vision was just plain crazy. “In many cases, that’s normal. If you’re trying to disrupt the market, (your vision) is not as apparent to others who might be investors, analysts, or your customers.”

Netskope offered the industry a big vision and, over time, would flesh it out. Sanjay describes Netskope’s vision succinctly as “How do I connect anything to anything and secure it and optimize it?” Netskope sought to converge network and data security in a method called SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) or, sometimes, the subset of SASE called Security Service Edge (SSE) that covers the “security side” capabilities. To realize that vision and to differentiate itself from its two largest competitors, Netskope has built “the world’s largest cloud network for security.” Netskope has earned Gartner’s coveted highest ratings for “vision and execution” in its 2023 SSE Magic Quadrant, according to CRN.

“I knew this cybersecurity market would never go away, and over time, it would grow bigger,” explains Sanjay. “Data would become a new kind of oil.” Then, in a widely chronicled megatrend, the pandemic accelerated business dependency on the cloud as an operating model. “It further validated that the way people work has changed,” adds Sanjay. “It built awareness of Netskope and what we do.”

3. Sanjay completes the puzzle.

There were two other essential puzzle parts for Sanjay to complete. First, attracting a world-class team, as every startup sets out to do. And second, luring backers who wouldn’t just write big checks but would find other ways to add substantial value. He knew these important pieces would fit together if he instilled a desirable corporate culture.

“It’s a competitive industry, but he’s managed to attract people who want to lean into building an iconic independent company,” says Arif, who serves on Netskope’s board and whose company has led or participated in numerous rounds of funding. He believes Sanjay attracts people who share his belief in a “team-first” culture. It’s where you can do your best work and lean into technical problems. This should be the last place you work.”

It’s not just about tech chops. Sanjay evaluates his team on factors such as collaboration and transparency — attributes you rarely hear about in Silicon Valley. “Those traits are important to us,” says Sanjay. “We metric people on those traits, and they’re rated on them.” His team is judged by how well they collaborate with others “no matter what the org chart says.” He emphasizes “self-awareness,” focusing on “what we need to do better. Not hiding that but actually making it a part of meetings, readouts, and all hands (meetings). That instills a culture of never getting complacent and getting better” in areas such as customer experience.

Sanjay didn’t reinvent the wheel when seeking funding for Netskope, but he applied his cultural compatibility litmus test. “For me, I pick my board members, my investors, the same way with my people,” Sanjay said in a recent video about his long-term relationship with Lightspeed Ventures. “Are they open, transparent, collaborative and innovative? And that’s Lightspeed. That’s who they are. That’s the number one reason I picked them.” It also didn’t hurt that he had a longstanding relationship with one of Lightspeed’s partners — trust is foundational to long-term relationships, not just ones involving funding and management.

Sanjay also believes that “Lightspeed has grown a lot during our journey. They’ve introduced growth and opportunity funds. They haven’t stayed stagnant —  changing how they support entrepreneurs even when they’re public. With Lightspeed on my board, you want people who work well with other members. It sounds like a small thing, but having a well-functioning board is very important.”

Netskope has raised a sizable amount of venture capital in the past decade, roughly $1.5 billion, according to the company. Neither Arif nor Sanjay will commit to a timeframe for taking the company public, but Arif declares, “It is something that we will do.”

Sanjay’s Netskope story is far from over, but he’s presented a bold vision for cloud cybersecurity and executed it. Like nobody else.

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