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Agentless Mobile Security Solutions: A Conversation with i7Networks

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Editor’s note: i7’s PeregrineGuard is an agentless, non-intrusive mobile device security solution using the company’s patent-pending fingerprinting software. i7Networks, a startup launched in June 2012 in Bangalore, is in the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure (India). Manjunath M. Gowda, co-founder and CEO of i7 Networks, discusses differentiation in mobile security solutions and shares advice for other startups. 

SandHill.com: How did your company originate; what inspired you to launch the company? 

Manjunath Gowda: During my last visit to Silicon Valley I met some of my friends and they hated the fact that their smartphones and tablets — for which they paid through their nose — were almost acting like a device their IT group gave. They thoroughly enjoyed the fact that their companies now allow them to use their own devices in the enterprise, but in the name of security they had put an agent or a client on the devices.  My friends were bothered because of the privacy invasion during their non-office hours and because they lost the freedom of which apps to install and the user experience of their favorite apps was altered. 

That was the beginning of our vision. We wanted to provide security as effectively or better than existing solutions but without invading users’ privacy or altering the user experience. Our motto is don’t touch the device, don’t trust the device either (we trust employees), but provide very effective security solutions that makes IT, legal and employees happy. 

Very soon enterprises will be differentiated and classified as those that are highly secure and those that are not. It is our goal to put the enterprise in the highly secure zone. But our fundamental belief is that privacy and convenience of the person/employee is as critical as the security itself. We want to be the non-intrusive innovative secure layer between the employees and the company’s critical assets, be it via cloud, mobile or on premises. We believe security is done best when it’s agentless, clientless, non-intrusive and invisible. 

SandHill.com: Please describe the agentless aspect of your product and other differentiators 

Manjunath Gowda: Enabling BYOD has its own security implications to an enterprise, especially the main threats coming from the unauthorized and the unsecured devices (rogue devices) and the unauthorized access. The main objective of i7’s PeregrineGuard is to discover all such devices irrespective how they try to get in. Then we integrate the devices with MS Exchange (and help enhance its capabilities as mobile management) and provide tiered access control based on the device attributes. 

This is all done completely agentless and non-intrusively using our proprietary sophisticated patent-pending fingerprinting techniques. Deployment is very easy and ridiculously simple.  As we say, “Just Plug, See Devices” — connect to the mirror port of any Wi-Fi aggregator and immediately start seeing the reports. It is that simple. 

We provide mobile security with zero footprint on the device; hence, no hysteria for employees about being tracked or their privacy being intruded during their non-office hours.   

SandHill.com: How did you determine the right pricing for your product? 

Manjunath Gowda: I meet a lot of potential clients and I ask them what is their issue, what is the cost of the issue today to the organization and how critical is it to them? I also find out what our near competitors are charging and what the client is ready to pay for our solution. A combination of all these actually helps me decide on our pricing. 

SandHill.com: Please describe one of your company’s lessons learned and where it occurred in the time line of your product development. 

Manjunath Gowda: My first venture was into services (which was acquired by Blue Coat, a security company in the valley), and my current venture is into product. So there are a lot of things I had to unlearn from the services industry business. Early revenue generation is critical in a services company. But in products you need a lot of patience; getting early adopters and the right product market fit are most critical. Once that is done, revenue will follow. 

SandHill.com: What startup challenges have you encountered that you didn’t anticipate? 

Manjunath Gowda: Market product fit was not as easy as I thought. Trying to meet potential clients/leads and getting a feel of what they think about the issues wasn’t easy either. Not all were similar in their answers and many actually contradict each other. Hence, trying to make a message out of their answers was pretty tough, and then trying to do the market-product fit wasn’t easy either. This is the most essential step and most underestimated one too. 

SandHill.com: What are some of the expectations you had at the outset that you’ve subsequently had to change?

Manjunath Gowda: My initial assumption was that I would not have to touch or integrate with Microsoft enterprise products and probably would be a pure play. Around three months into the product development I realized how wrong I was; Microsoft has a huge footprint into the enterprise and integrating with them is a critical requirement from clients. 

SandHill.com: Did this cause you to make a tradeoff in your time-to-market race?   

Manjunath Gowda: There are hundreds of features that are essential for our customers that are enabling enterprise mobility solutions using the Microsoft stack today.  While we would like to provide all of them, we’re a enter company with limited resources, so we can do only a few (which is true for big companies too). 

That is where the real genius of a CEO comes to fore, and that is where I keep thinking of Steve Jobs. Do only one thing and do it well was his mantra. Keeping this in mind, we dropped the integration module with Microsoft System Center for now so that we could go to market faster and only with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) integrator. Of course EAS itself is a huge value add. 

Today we integrate into Active Directory for authentication, into Exchange ActiveSync to provide complete mobility security solutions around EAS and will soon come out with integration into Microsoft Systems Center to provide a complete reporting of all BYOD discovery and activities of an enterprise onto a single configuration and reporting system. 

SandHill.com: What have been the most valuable aspects of being in the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure (India)? 

Manjunath Gowda: There are three things I could have not done right without the Microsoft Accelerator:

  1. Connection to the right (high quality) mentor
  2. Connection to potential leads and early adopters
  3. Access to Microsoft’s system software 

All three were great and thoroughly invaluable. They also provided great VC connections too, which will continue to help in the days to come. 

SandHill.com: What was your toughest moment since you launched your company? 

Manjunath Gowda: Pivoting from deep packet inspection to provide QoS (Quality of Service) over Internet bandwidth to provide enterprise BYOD security solutions was really the toughest moment I faced so far. We developed a product that could crawl into each of the network packets and do a deep inspection and then provide analytics. 

In the process of doing these detailed inspections of network packets, we figured out ways to identify and fingerprint all of the new class of mobile smart devices (for which we have applied for a patent here in the United States). That solution alone made us pivot to the new, hot, growing market. Making that decision was very tough but in hindsight was so right. But we then spent a lot of stressful days to finally leave that QoS and embrace the new one. 

SandHill.com: If you could spend an afternoon this month with a top exec in a well-established software firm to learn some insights from the exec, who would you choose? 

Manjunath Gowda: He is dead, but I wish I could spend time with him. He is none other than Steve Jobs. I read his biography and am very impressed. If there is something called ghosts, I wouldn’t mind spending a whole day with Steve’s ghost.  

SandHill.com: What have you as the company leader found it necessary to do in order to build a corporate environment that will enable your employees to move beyond the early stage of a startup? 

Manjunath Gowda: Marketing, product-market fit and how to see the customer use cases are things one needs to know in addition to technology. Marketing is not a job but a culture where everyone needs to participate. Trying to fit our product (the concept, the features, etc.) to the way the customer thinks is super critical. In my opinion, this is what takes startups to the next level. 

SandHill.com: Is there a story behind your company name? 

Manjunath Gowda: Of course, yes, we have a story behind everything. We were very clear that we need to play in the BYOD security space and what is known as the “Internet of Things.”  With IPV6 networks, printers, medical devices, watches, etc. all will log onto the Internet. We considered that we will be looking into the “internet” (it is “i” followed by 7 letters — “nternet”) and looking into all 7 layers of the network stack to provide effective security to enterprises, and our previous success story (S7, acquired by Blue Coat). So we named it  i7 Networks. 

SandHill.com: What do the next 12 months hold for your company? 

Manjunath Gowda: I am expecting getting into revenue in the next 12 months for sure and also see the scalability happening with hiring for business development as well as architects. We also will probably be raising funds. 

Most importantly, due to the huge consumerization of IT happening in a big way across industries, there will be a scramble for tools and solutions to enable the same, which will be a huge opportunity for companies like us. 

Mobile and cloud together are changing the way we work and will turn upside down all the assumptions about how IT and an enterprise should work. In this new era security becomes paramount for an enterprise, and that is the area where we will be playing.

Manjunath M. Gowda, co-founder and CEO of i7 Networks, is a serial entrepreneur. He has held various positions in the software industry in his 20+ years of professional experience. Manju was the co-founder and CEO of S7 Software, which he ran successfully for six years before it was acquired in 2010 by Blue Coat Systems, a Calif.-based security company. Contact him at Manju.m@i7nw.com or following him atTwitter @manju_s7 or LinkedIn: http://in.linkedin.com/in/manjunathgowda.

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of SandHill.com.

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