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Monster Markets 4KTA by Naveen Bisht
Naveen Bisht
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Happy New Year to you all! May this bring a monster success in whatever you endeavor to accomplish this year. This month's article brings you lessons from Keerti Melkote, a highly successful entrepreneur, prolific angel investor and advisors to multiple startups that are applying technology to transform many diverse industries including wireless, security, datacenter, social networking, healthcare, sports and construction.

Keerti is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Aruba Networks. He started Aruba Networks in 2002 with a vision to enable mobility for enterprises of all sizes. This started with the creation of Aruba's secure mobility platform for deploying enterprise-scale wireless LANs. He led Aruba through its IPO offering in 2007 and continues to guide Aruba's strategic direction as it grows and expands into the leading provider of enterprise mobility solutions. Prior to founding Aruba, he held leadership roles in product management, technology marketing and engineering at Cisco, Intel and leading networking startups such as Shasta Networks. He has been granted multiple patents for innovations in the field of networking and communications and was honored by Purdue University as an Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineer in 2009. Based on my recent discussions with him, here are four key take away (4KTA) points that center on the concept of starting your company with a monster market opportunity as one of key criteria.

Attack Monster Markets - A very important lesson an entrepreneur must focus in on is to identify monster markets. As an entrepreneur when you put everything in line from family, time, money and other resources to turn your dreams into a reality, it better have a huge market potential. A monster market is defined as the one that has the potential to grow into billion dollars or more of untapped opportunity. Personally, three large market opportunities that I've been involved with over time have included Ethernet switching for plugging the world into internet, plugging the world to the broadband through Shasta Networks and finally unplugging the world into internet by providing wireless access to the internet with current company Aruba Networks. In each case, the individual markets were billion dollars or more. It did not start out that way, however. When you are developing products and services for monster markets, you have room for error in case markets did not materialize in the way you envisioned it. Once you have identified the market, the next significant question is how you go about validating it. At Aruba, the validation happened the day Intel decided to make wireless chip part of the motherboard, now known as Centrino program. Another one was a well published hack that happened at TJ Max validating that our choice of security as a key differentiating factor was right on.

Sustainable Differentiation - If the opportunity is huge, then you should expect to have a lot of competition from startups to incumbent vendors in that industry. A key differentiation in the form of technological innovation or disruption of current business models or a combination of both is a must. For instance, at Aruba Networks, we created a new way to build enterprise wireless LAN using centralized controllers and also, bet on security as the core technological innovation as a differentiator. Similarly, our focus on business model disruption was another differentiator aimed towards existing vendors who were selling wired LAN switches for internet access. Though it took longer for adoption, finally we prevailed. Today everybody talks about wireless workplace.

Team - It's very important to hire best of the best during early days because fundamentally that's what will differentiate over time. Technology and markets will evolve and change over time. However, if you have smart people around you, they can adapt faster and find solutions as you run into unforeseen challenges. We started Aruba when economy was not doing well. It helped us in recruiting lots of really good people who joined us. There is usually a temptation to hire only experienced people. In hindsight, I'd recommend hiring lots of smart fresh graduates and create a good mix of talent among the team. Never be afraid to let go of the people immediately if they are not a fit for any of the reasons. For instance, it took us couple of tries before we settled on the right VP of Engineering in our early days.

Culture - The most enduring thing an entrepreneur can do is to build a culture around the Customer Focus in every aspect. It's not the technology or the products. It's what team does to meet the needs of the customer. You must put teamwork, collaboration and customers on top. At Aruba, we have a saying, 'Customer First; Customer Last.' Lots of entrepreneurs get seduced by next generation technologies and forget what customers want. For example, when we have a tough problem, we always start with the customer first. You can find lots of smart people but one other important element is chemistry among the team members. It may become less important as the company matures and grows into a bigger scale. Another example is of 'No Jerks Allowed' philosophy that we implemented at Aruba. What it means is that you allow constructive confrontation and the differences of opinions to be acceptable. These must not become personal. You must lead by setting an example by following elements of your culture so team can observe that you are walking your talk.

In summary, the four key take away points for entrepreneurs are identifying and attacking monster markets, creating a sustainable differentiation, building an A+ team and creating a culture focused around the Customer First mantra.

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