In this episode of #INSIGHTSPodcast series, we have Dheeraj Pandey, Chairman and CEO of Nutanix, taking us through his journey of building a generational company, its IPO story, and how he built a culture of reading and learning at his organisation.
As we continue with the #INSIGHTSPodcast series, we head to Silicon Valley to meet Dheeraj Pandey, Chairman and CEO, Nutanix. The company helps customers modernise their data centres and run applications of any scale on the cloud. Dheeraj co-founded Nutanix a decade ago and took the company public on NASDAQ in 2017. Today, the company trades at a $5 billion+ market cap. Dheeraj’s entrepreneurial spirit has been recognised with several prestigious awards including Dell’s Founders 50 and E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year, Silicon Valley.
On this podcast, Dheeraj takes us through his journey of building a generational company, his vision of making computing invisible, and the Nutanix IPO journey. Dheeraj grew up in Patna, finished his undergrad as a Computer Science major at IIT Kanpur, and then decided to pursue a PhD at UT Austin. He completed his master’s and dropped out of the PhD programme to pursue a career in the computer science industry. Before starting Nutanix, Dheeraj spent a decade working in the industry with stints at a couple of startups and one large company (Oracle) building software for data servers.
Talking about his transition from engineering roles to that of a CEO to build a business, Dheeraj gives an analogy of how the product and the go-to-market strategy are like the heart and brain of the business and over time he learnt to straddle both ends of the spectrum driven by his passion for building the bridge between technology and business. Dheeraj has always believed in learning from the experiences shared by his advisors and is an avid reader. Learning from other entrepreneurial journeys, he believes, gives one precedence and courage to deal with the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride that building a business can be. He explains that as a company, Nutanix has built an organisation culture that cares about reading.
“It gives you courage, parallels, frameworks, and principles to think about. It’s a great de-stressor,” he says.
Speaking about the journey to IPO, Dheeraj shares how being respectful of systems, processes, and audits from the early days helped Nutanix hold their stead to go on to become the biggest tech IPO of 2016, at a time when the China crisis, oil crisis, and Brexit dried up the IPO market. The journey though is not anywhere near finished, as Nutanix aims to build new businesses adapting to the changing industry landscape and customer needs.
Switching gears and sharing lessons for entrepreneurs, Dheeraj starts by talking about the importance of disrupting yourself with a long-term view versus becoming irrelevant. He says, “You should act as a competitor to yourself because if you don’t, someone else will, and it will be a lot more uncomfortable to deal with the unknowns of a competitor.” This was realised at Nutanix when they decided to give away their software to their hardware partners allowing them to compete with Nutanix (shaving of 26 percent of top line) and again when Nutanix made the shift from software to subscription. Both the times involved a complete change in business model at the scale of a publicly traded company. These bold moves allowed Nutanix to disrupt themselves and extend their reach, stay more relevant as the customer’s tastes changed.
Dheeraj talks about how businesses/entrepreneurs who postpone gratification and think about long-term gains mostly constitute large outcomes. The largest companies have taken long-term bets, something that the mob doesn’t have the courage or fortitude to do. That said, long-term goals must be check-pointed with short-term ones, without losing sight of the larger picture.
Dheeraj recalls learnings from Japanese culture that he believes apply directly to running a business — gaman, referring to ‘stoic endurance’, and kodawari referring to ‘attention to detail’- that can help achieve success in any business pursuit. He emphasises the importance for an entrepreneur to have a set of permanent values that serve as a true north as the cultural principles change. This for Nutanix came out in the form of the 5Hs- Hungry, Humble, Honest, Heart, and Humour.
On a closing note, Dheeraj shares how at the end of the day, family is as much a partner in the entrepreneurial journey as you are.
“You are at war out there and when you go home you don’t want to be at war. Hence it is so important to reduce that friction. You have to believe that your professional goal is something that you share with your spouse.”