The Vision Revision | Haseeb Budhani at Rafay

In part one of my conversation with Haseeb Bedhani, the co-founder of Rafay, he discussed his platform to help manage Kubernetes.

In this second part of our conversation, Haseeb talks about his view that to grow a company, you have to do it like it’s never been done before, and why the successful startups are the ones that revise their vision.

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Haseeb Budhani is the CEO of Rafay Systems, which he co-founded in late 2017. Prior to Rafay, Haseeb oversaw Akamai Technologies’ expansion into the enterprise marketas the company’s Vice President of Enterprise Strategy. Akamai acquired Haseeb’s previous company, Soha Systems, in 2016. Haseeb co-founded Soha in 2013 and served as the company’s CEO.

Prior to Soha, Haseeb served as the Chief Product Officer for Infineta Systems, where he was responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company’s product marketing, marketing communications and partner management activities.

Previously, Haseeb held senior product management, marketing and engineering roles at NET, Personal IT, Citrix Systems, Orbital Data, IP Infusion and Oblix. Haseeb holds an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Haseeb Budhani 0:00
The most important thing is you got to be out that right you got to be you got to be, you know, in their, on their radar in some fashion

Alexander Ferguson 0:14
Haseeb, I’m excited to continue our conversation? I’d love to know your story. Like how did you get to where you are right now? And past two, three years running referee systems like, what got you to this point?

Haseeb Budhani 0:30
Yeah, I think I got lucky. So I went to USC for undergrad was a cow for grad school. And for whatever reason, in 2000, everybody, I knew I wanted to go work at startups. And I didn’t know what a startup was, frankly, at the time, I just kind of seems like a small company. I don’t know why they call it a startup. Okay. So I got I got a job a startup and the startup actually, they were paying a lot of money for 21 year old at the time. Hey, wow, that’s, you know, now these numbers don’t do. I mean, I talked to like engineers coming out of Stanford, with no experience, and they’re making so much money. And it’s shocking, but at the time, $72,000 was a lot of money. And like, wow, okay, I guess I’ll go work get there. And the guys are giving me the most money. I ended up at a startup. And that startup was a company called Publix. And they were arguably one of the two companies that created the concept for behind single sign on in our industry. They were acquired by Oracle. What a fascinating time. I just, it was just incredible, right? I mean, these people move fast. They didn’t care. So in college, I’d done an internship at Cisco, I’d done an internship at Ericsson, very different environment, right. I mean, I had to write like a document before I would make a line change. Here. These guys were just like, they were just running. It was awesome. And then I never ever applied to a big company ever again. So I only worked in startups. It was great. And I, it was me, but this is, yeah. How can you move any slower than this? It’s just, you know, the, the many of the people I’ve worked with back then this was this was not like, it’s 20 years ago, I still know them. In fact, my direct manager, who is now a very, very senior person at a very, very large company. You know, I mean, these people were just, you know, crazy man. And that that just got got me hooked. And I kept working in startups. And eventually, two companies ago got an opportunity saying, this is interesting, I could do this, we should we should give it a shot, and worked out

Alexander Ferguson 2:38
to where you are then. Now, there’s a lot I’m sure you’ve learned. Can you share one difficulty, whether it’s more on the fundraising side on the product development side is getting the first couple clients or scaling? What’s the difficulty a challenge that you were able to overcome? Talk about that tactic? What, what, what was that challenge? And how were you able to overcome it?

Haseeb Budhani 2:58
So all of the things you described? Were difficulties? Because it’s all hard, but not nothing? None of this is easy. Just crazy. Not at all. I got a lot of white hair, and it’s hard. I don’t know. Yeah. Every time every time I every every now and then my daughter looks and goes. You like yeah, that kind of hurts? Okay, all right. Now, the fundraising is hard. And every time it’s different, every time I’ve been involved in some fundraising activity, just beard, man, there’s no this book for this. People who say, you know, I can help you raise money. I go, What are you talking about? There’s no formula for this. It kind of works out. Right. But I think that was the most interesting thing. And those things work out. Obviously, you know, we’re here, you know, we are funded, I think that the most interesting exercise that all of us go through is we don’t know what we’re eventually going to be shipping. When we start, it just you cannot know, it’s just not possible. How can you not you have some crazy ideas in your head? How do you know you’re right. And if you get stuck with that idea that you had on day one, you will fail? Or you can get very lucky or you can be Facebook, right? You know exactly what you’re burning, it’s fine. But more often than not for, you know, for for the not for the demigods, right. For normal humans, right. It’s the process, right? And the reason we started this company at a very specific idea about a use case, and yeah, that was wrong. It was not the right use case. It’s okay. But you got to iterate and you got to do it fast. You have to be very open with your team about Look, man, I got I thought this and I have this data. We gotta you know, we kind of shift a little bit it’s not a big deal it just you’re what you’re writing doesn’t change maybe the go to market changes or hey, maybe these features should be thought differently or whatever the thing is, but you got to be ready for that. And my my experience now is and my co founder Nivea if you get an opportunity to make these small and angel investments, and we find that the the teams who get stuck with a core idea Unfortunately, we end up losing our money, because they don’t work out. Right. And that’s, that is a really important aspect or a quality to entrepreneurs,

Alexander Ferguson 5:11
powerful insight to know, if you are stuck on one particular product that you start with and don’t change or iterate from there, you’re likely to fail. What would you say you should focus on something that does remain consistent and current with throughout the life of the business?

Haseeb Budhani 5:30
So I think I learned the hard way back in 2014. And I started, they’ve written together a number of us here at Ravi, they’ve been working together for some time now, you know, the CEO, must be able to sell. That is the view this lesson I’ve learned. I never thought that would be the case. If you can sell your own product. Yes. It’s hard. It’s not gonna work out. Because then, you know, salespeople, how can you coach salespeople, and they’ll come back and tell you all it’s really hard? Nobody could nobody buys this product. Oh, no, actually, no, of course on business. I know how to do that. You need that you need that confidence. Right? And if you’re not, and it’s not, it’s not about closing, it’s about selling, right? It’s about having those conversations, and I don’t mean product management conversations. So so this was my mistake, by the way. I used to think that selling is walking in and telling people, let me tell you how great my product is. Yeah, nobody cares. It doesn’t matter. Right? It’s really about finding that intersection point between pain and solution. Right. And that happens with a conversation not not talking at people. It’s about asking a bunch of questions, right? How are you doing this today? What’s not working? If it’s such a big? Here’s an interesting question. If it’s such a big pain point, why haven’t you solved it authority? You’re telling me that Oh, my God, it’s a problem. But you’re you’ve been living with this for two years? Clearly not that important, by the way. So those are the deals that actually never close. They keep looking for that perfect answer. Okay, I gotta walk away. These are, these are lessons learned the hard way, right, when you lose a lot of deals to learn this, right. And you know, this applies to any business, right? I mean, as they say, in venture capital, it takes $40 million to train a VC right? It means because you lost money. Right? Okay. Here, it takes probably, I don’t know, 50 knows. 100 knows, before you figure out, Okay, here’s where I need to go where I’m going to find that, which is why I described to you the company that are the rare disrupt you before. I didn’t say I’m gonna go sell this to Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs is a product, actually, I think, yeah, they could. But, you know, my focus is here right now, right? I gotta focus on these companies. Because I know that the need is higher, the pain is more, you know, acute, right? I can I can solve a problem there right now in close on business. They’re happy, I’m happy, right? You’re learning that lesson. I think we all take that for granted. We’re going to work itself out. Right, and I’m going to find beautiful salespeople, they’re going to get into these awesome meetings, I’m going to walk in and do a presentation and then everything will just happen behind me. Yeah, it’s not true.

Alexander Ferguson 8:17
The CEO needs to be able to sell it in the beginning. And it’s about being able to ask good questions that just lead out to the to the to where you are the solution that good questions, asking powerful insight for you in the development of Wi Fi systems or previous ventures. Obviously building the right team, like if you can sell it is important, but then building the right team to move it forward is crucial. Any insights you can share of of either building the right team or crafting that or choosing the right people, anything you can share on that?

Haseeb Budhani 8:50
So this is not by design, that kind of happened for us at least. So here’s here’s a litmus test. Hey, I just talked to a customer. And they said that I love your product, but only if it does. It’s one thing I’d be interested. Okay. So you may get one of the following answers. Really, really busy right now. What do you want me to drop from the things I already have on? So I call that engineering blackmail, by the way, right? It’s like, you know, you know, I can’t answer that question. But you asked me that question. Anyway, I’m gonna say no drug drug, nothing. Why did you ask me that question? Right, that’s engineering background. And I of course, I kid when I say those things. But that’s a tough question. But you know, the, the best people in teams, they never say that. Well, this is not fair. Let me see if it’s even possible. I’ll come back and tell you what it’s going to take. And they didn’t make a decision. And then you tell me, you know, what are we doing? Right? So we got had a very lucky that we’re surrounded by leaders in our engineering team who behave that way. And this happens on all the time. In fact, the most recently I personally close to the healthcare company, I think the logos already on our website, but they said to us on the Day of the POC, Oh, you don’t support CentOS? Yeah, that’s not gonna work for us. Okay, send over the Linux variant. Okay, so and we didn’t have that instant, it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. So I talked to the team, and I went back to the customer and said, Okay, I’m going to show you that one week. Three weeks is gonna be in production. Can you wait three weeks? Yeah, no problem. Don’t worry about the people who are interested in buying. They never say if it’s not here today, I’m not going to they will invest in the company. They’re not investing in a point in time product. If your product doesn’t do X today, no way. No deal. Nobody does that. It just now it doesn’t happen. They are investing in your roadmap, right? They will work with you. In fact, the best customers help us build a product better, because they see this as an investment. That customer saw this as an investment. And our team said, Alright, okay, if you believe this is a customer, that’s a real customer. In the end, if they walk away, it’s fine. There’s so many other customers who need this feature anyway, no problem. We’ll get it done. And we got to close the deal. It happens again, and again. By the way, this is not a Rafi story. This is any successful company story. This is how it is. There’s absolutely no way you can avoid everything just not possible. They always be some crazy requirement, and then you have to make a decision. Hopefully you find yourself saying more no than yes. Because that’s the right thing to do. By the way, you don’t want to say yes to everything that is crazy. But you have to make that decision, you have to be in a position where you are able to say no, then you’re doing the right things.

Alexander Ferguson 11:42
Being able to be in a position to say no, that’s a great position to get to but having the right team members, as you say that, don’t just say, well, what are you going to drop but tries to look and find a solution. That’s a great team to build at how many team members do you have now today?

Haseeb Budhani 12:00
I think we’re about 40 people,

Alexander Ferguson 12:02
nice for this now continued direction. Obviously, over the past few years, finding the right product market fit building out that product, as you said, finding the customers that that describe it, and you continue to make it better. Are there any lessons learned or tactics at work to help scale going from from one to five to 10? clients and customers using the platform and beyond any tactics that you found that have worked for that continuous scale?

Haseeb Budhani 12:29
There’s a perfect answer. I’d love to hear. Because because I don’t know, man. I mean, this is this is I mean, everything. I think I think every couple of weeks Alexander, I think my wife and I talk and I can tell her why we do this again. Why did you let me do this this time? And she goes I we had this conversation. And you said now it’s great. Yeah, you’re skating is really tough. I think, particularly at this size VR, you know, every new opportunity that you know, myself, or one of our salespeople find it’s a hard fought battle. And at some point, every company hits that inflection point, and then it just becomes easier. Right? And people say that it does, you know, it takes time. And, you know, in fact, this is a bit of a tangent, but you know, there’s a, there’s a class of salespeople who work well pre inflection point. And 99% of them actually work after the inflection point.

Alexander Ferguson 13:28
Can People’s

Haseeb Budhani 13:30
Most salespeople expect a lot of stuff to be ready before they will sell right? leads are coming in and content exists? And there’s an email template and marketing has given me sequel or, you know, sales qualified leads? Yeah, no, we don’t have that. Right. They want how can you have it that doesn’t exist? Right. So so there’s a very special class of salespeople who actually thrive in that chaos? And those are the ones who probably are, you know, the unsung heroes of startups, right? Because they actually go figure out right? Now, the CEO could be one of them. Right? But I don’t mean it does have the title. But in terms of the personality and the person, they go look for the companies and they go pitch a story. And then they come back and say, yeah, that didn’t work out. The customer says that just That’s a stupid, right or whatever, right? And you can and the attrition happens there. Right? So So those are the people who help you build a machine. Right? I am trying to be that person. You Oh my there’s no there’s I’m trying and I’m I don’t think I’m there yet, but maybe you get lucky. If you get lucky. And then if you don’t get lucky. Here’s what you do. You you bring in people and then you are very open with them about a friend. Look, that’s what we’re looking for. And most people just by the way, feel free. My greatest thing obviously, you know, I’m good at selling. They are good at selling themselves. Right. And sometimes it doesn’t work out. You should just be very open about this right here. Look, man, it’s fine. This is not for you. It’s okay. Right. Right, nobody’s gonna pay you $4,000 You’ll be very happy. Gopher, right? And we go be Milan, it’s okay. It happens, but having that open, you know, clarity on what we’re expecting, and then clarity on what, you know, when it’s not working? iteration, right? Same as product, right. But you trade fast, fast, fast. Here we trade fast, fast, fast. And we make progress, you know, stagnation is that.

Alexander Ferguson 15:28
Moving forward from here, obviously, there’s new challenges, considering the world that we’re in, social distancing and etc. Messaging getting connected, there are new ways to look at how do you how do you grow? How do you build how you communicate both externally as well as internally? What do you see that you’re going to need to overcome? And how are you approaching these new challenges?

Haseeb Budhani 15:53
Yeah, I think the given the market we’re in in that companies are out there looking for something like this. That makes it a little bit easier. It’s not, it’s not free, because, you know, we’re just this tiny company, nobody sort of our goal is to be in that topic consideration than an enterprise makes a decision. That’s any under any, any company vendor like us, right? It’s not about being you want to be the best, but that’s not the really the question. Right? Now, the question is, when somebody says, I want to look for Kubernetes management, do you show up in the top three? Right, then there are ways to make that, you know, influence that right? You know, working with analysts that advisors talk to as one example of the thing that one should do, you know, but the most important thing is, you got to be out there, right? You got to be you got to be, you know, in their, on their radar in some fashion. Right, they have a sphere of, of kind of information collection, right? So they’re collecting information from a number of different places, and they gotta, they gotta see it. So when they make a decision, they know, okay, you know, this company, I know this other company. And I’ve heard about this company, Rafi. And I remember that they are, they have the deepest integration with Amazon and Kubernetes, which is eks. Okay, and I’m an Amazon shop, I actually talk to them. There’s a, by the way, as a completely selfish blog, there’s a blog about Rafi on Amazon’s website, talking about how Rafi helped an Amazon customer, you know, deploy Kubernetes in Amazon, right? So I don’t believe there’s others other blogs like that on their website, which is awesome. Right? So this, these are the things that are helping right, you want to be in, you know, you want to very make it very clear where you fit, right? We’re not trying to boil the ocean or do this. If you’re if you’re using Eks Rocco’s hands on the best product in the market, you should talk to us, and then kind of staying fresh in their minds, right? Because the reality is, just because I would love for 5000 companies to buy a product this year, not all of them will make a decision this year. And that’s okay, so long as they know. And when they get to that decision point, they’re able to reach out we are in touch with them, etc, that sort of the internal one is actually even more of a challenge. That one is standard, right? We all get mark, maybe I don’t. But we have a really strong VP of Marketing, who knows exactly what he’s doing. And he’s got a great plan. But the internal part is, I think more interesting, because it’s really hard to make sure that everybody has all the information they should have, because they’re not in the office. I mean, I’m sure every company is dealing with this. And everybody’s got some great ideas. You know, people do like these Friday, whatever. Zoom bashes, and whatnot, I don’t know how well they work, but people don’t. And our team does them also, with one small thing we started doing is, so every Wednesday 8pm Pacific, because we have a team in India also, we get on a call for an hour zoom call, and we just talk, this agenda, this talk, we don’t talk about and then more often than not, and here’s the most interesting part would be end up talking about are the most recent POCs, or you know, that one account or we tried our product or external work. That tells us a lot about what they care about, right? They care about who’s buying that thing that they built? And what did they not like about it? That’s what they care about. So we got to be very, you know, over communicative about that with engineers, because they are spending 18 hours a day writing code. And they want somebody better by the code at work for 18 hours a day, right? So I see what are you doing about it right? Did you find a new customer or not? That’s what they care about. I find more than they care about other things, but that is like top of mind.

Alexander Ferguson 19:36
So for outwardly, being gaining awareness so that you show up in the top three, that’s like, a crucial role internally and creating spaces are opportunities for just conversation to talk about whatever’s top of mind and then actually, you’ll what bubbles to the top is what your developers are creating what they want it to be used. To create space for them to, to converse provides good insight. That’s powerful. Do last questions for you one, as there are any books, audio books, podcasts that you read to listen and have enjoyed in the past years, and would recommend.

Haseeb Budhani 20:22
So my, I don’t know what it’s happened. But you know, my favorite book, which I read a few times now is, is a book by Mr. Horvitz been Harvard’s, which is the hard thing about hard things. I don’t I’m sure not, I’m sure. But you know, maybe some of the stories he tells are polished, right? I mean, you know, it’s fine. Right doing it, because it’s a book, right. But, I mean, I’m sure that book speaks to all of us. We’re doing this, right. I mean, there’s no, you know, story that like this, right? I mean, everything. And I forget the following code, I leave this as this stone, but I apologize if I’m getting getting the person wrong, that you know, every overnight success took 10 years. It is hard, right? I mean, it takes time. And those kinds of you know, being able to read those kind of stories where others have gone through this. And, and, you know, look, it just didn’t have any answers, either. It just kind of worked out. Right. I mean, sometimes you just I think, you know, luck is a function of trying, right? You just, you just stay at it. And it works itself out. I think those are the things that have been definitely I mean, when you ask the question, as they think, Okay, what books come to mind, the two books that came to mind, were Good to Great, Jim Collins. This is from college. So it’s been a while, and hard thing, but I think those two books clearly have left an impression in my head.

Alexander Ferguson 21:50
Last question for you. What kind of technology innovations do you predict? We’ll see in the near term next year? So in the long term, 510 years?

Haseeb Budhani 21:59
Oh, no. Fight hard. I think, I don’t think buying cars will happen in that in that short time, in my very limited understanding of those things. I think we’ve been talking about modernization for forever. Yeah, different names, digital transformation, and, you know, SOA, and all these, you know, phrases, but I think, you know, arguably the words change now, right? I mean, particularly because of COVID What is different, you know, travel will be different, and everything will be different now. Right. And I think we will interact with each other, indirectly, more than than we are used to, you know, already, you know, no, we don’t shake hands anymore. That changed, right? You go to the grocery store, and there’s a glass barrier, right. And usually, when I when I tell them, you know, hey, you know, if I ask a question, they can’t hear me anyway, because there’s a glass barrier. So then they kind of go around the day, you know, which because this, at some point isn’t going to somebody’s going to find a better way to do this. But I think we’re going to begin to interact more indirectly, even in real life. And that’s going to drive a whole new set of, you know, applications and channels that maybe they haven’t really thought about. Right, like, as an example, like, obviously, you know, we’re talking when what what is it today, the second of September, and zoom stock went up like 40%, yesterday, after they announced a 400 or whatever, it was crazy, right? But isn’t the best product? I don’t know, right? I mean, we’re gonna probably see some innovation there. Right? I mean, I saw a beautiful tweet yesterday, which says, you know, the, the biggest feature missing on Zoom is, you know, when you’re in a collar, 20 people and somebody is droning on and on and on in a meeting, I can kind of look to the side and, you know, kind of nodded my cardigan. So this guy, yeah, I can’t do that on June, right? I need that feature, right? Somebody is going to build a company for that. Right? Oh, my God, this guy, right? This will happen, right? So we’re gonna, but you know, broadly speaking, I think we’re gonna have, you know, channels of indirect communication that we haven’t thought about. I’m excited for that. That should be interesting to see.

Alexander Ferguson 24:08
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