Leadership

Aujas CEO Says Persistence in Challenges is Key to Startup Success

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Editor’s Note: Launched in 2008 in Bangalore, India, Aujas is ranked in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 as one of the fastest growing Security and Risk Management services companies in Asia Pacific. Srinivas Rao, co-founder and CEO, discusses how he built the company and the importance of “keeping the faith.”

SandHill.com: Please describe your company and how it drives value for business customers.

Srinivas Rao: We are in the business of helping customers manage and mitigate information risk. Our focus is large enterprises. We work across different verticals including banking, telecom, financial services and IT services companies. We offer a set of services built around an IP comb framework. Services are around risk advisory, identity and access management, secure development and SAP security. We back this up with a strong framework of tools and processes and some product development as well.

SandHill.com: What is the story behind your company name?

Srinivas Rao: When we finally put together the plan and team after three or four months, we named our company Aujas. The name is coined from the word “Aujaswi” in Sanskrit, which means the strength and energy of a warrior.

SandHill.com: That’s a clever name for the continually evolving security challenges you tackle. What motivated you to start Aujas?

Srinivas Rao: Prior to Aujas, I worked in the IT industry for about 21 years, eight years as an entrepreneur and 13 years working for other companies. My last position prior to Aujas was with Cisco India as Director- Strategy and Operations for six months. I decided to move out of Cisco and pursue something on my own again.

While at Cisco, I met Ms. Manjula Sridhar, an Entrepreneur in Residence at IDG Ventures. She then connected me to Mr. Sudhir Sethi, founder, chairman and managing director at IDG Ventures. Sudhir and I had a conversation as he was exploring investments in the security space. After a point, he checked with me on my interest to start a company, develop a plan and build a team together. He expressed his willingness to fund us if the plan and team took shape, and there we started our journey.

SandHill.com: How did you go about getting customers? The information security space has a lot of competitors.

Srinivas Rao: Our first customer was in the life insurance sector. They were Web enabling a number of their legacy applications and wanted us to assess those applications from a security and risk point of view. We first did our proof of concept (POC) and showed them the vulnerabilities that existed in their applications and promised to help them fix those. A sound POC and a commitment to remediate the vulnerabilities differentiated us from the competition.

SandHill.com: How did you scale your marketing to acquire global customers?

Srinivas Rao: Our customer acquisition model is based on two areas. The first one is our direct sales team in India, Middle East and the USA, who work with large enterprises in their regions to acquire business. The second is our partnerships and alliances with technology companies across the globe whom we work closely with for business. These are supported by the marketing team, which helps create awareness and in demand generation.

SandHill.com: Were there any glitches along the way in marketing and sales?

Srinivas Rao: Yes. One was our recent bid for a telecom company where I got to meet their CISO and he failed to understand that we have a host of services – a complete service package and not just one offering. Not understanding our services made it a very slow and frustrating experience.

SandHill.com: At what point in your venture of building Aujas did you run into the most difficult challenges, and how did you manage to keep moving forward – like a warrior?

Srinivas Rao: We started our operations in April 2008, and after good initial traction, the slowdown from the financial crisis started to impact us towards the end of 2008. We had to figure out how to keep growing and yet conserve cash. We had to make some hard calls then. The team rallied around and recognized that we needed to fight through tough times. The commitment and faith did pay off and we were able to scale our business rapidly despite all the hardship.

SandHill.com: How do you build relationships with partners?

Srinivas Rao: Any partnership is based upon a win-win approach. When we first decide to align with a partner, we try to understand the products the partner offers and how our services can complement them. We train our people on that platform. Then we go to the market together and essentially help the partner to realize more business, ultimately resulting in us also getting more business. Credibility and trust are the key factors in our partner relationships.

SandHill.com: When you encounter challenges or setbacks, how do you pull yourself back up and become inspired again?

Srinivas Rao: I maintain a “be positive and this too shall pass” attitude. I also have built a strong team who shares the vision and keeps the faith even in hard times.

SandHill.com: From the way your company is rapidly growing, there may not be hard times ahead. What’s next on your company’s horizon?

Srinivas Rao: I believe the next 12 months hold great promise for Aujas. We have scaled our business significantly (1000% in 2 years) in the last 45 months and believe that we are now at an inflexion point. Given all the trends in cyber security – cloud computing, mobile, social media networking, and privacy laws and regulations in different countries – we have a huge opportunity to capitalize and deliver value to our customers and investors.

SandHill.com: What is the last interesting book you read?

Srinivas Rao: “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable,” by Patrick Lencioni. I identified with it in reference to my own experiences. And I like the theme-based approach with real-life case studies, reflections and no prescriptions.

SandHill.com: What non-software business leader most influenced your approach to your business and career?

Srinivas Rao: Dhirubhai Ambani. He was an Indian industrialist who founded Reliance Industries, a petrochemicals, communications, power and textiles conglomerate, and one of the three privately owned India companies in the Fortune 500. I admire his growth from humble beginnings. His vision of building everything, persistence while facing external challenges and building a global company has inspired me.

As co-founder and CEO of Aujas, Srinivas Rao draws on more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. As CEO of Aujas, Srinivas is responsible for setting Aujas strategy and vision, building the team, scaling the business and managing investor relationships. Prior to co-founding Aujas, Srinivas worked at Cisco Systems as Director of Marketing Management. He also worked at Network Solutions in various senior leadership positions and was instrumental in scaling it from an early-stage entity to a medium-sized company, before it was acquired by IBM Global Services. He also worked in various executive leadership roles with Microland, a leading Indian IT service provider.

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com

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