In the last decade, we’ve lived through a revolution in terms of how software is created. Behind software sits code—today’s most valuable and vulnerable enterprise asset—which is driving innovation in virtually every industry. Today’s development process is more collaborative, open, and complex than ever before—with developers using code management and sharing sites like GitHub and Stack Overflow and including open source in more than 90% of all new applications.
While sharing sites and open source have enabled developers to churn out code at a pace never before seen, source code represents a threat to the very enterprise infrastructure that other security tools try to protect. Developers frequently expose credentials and secrets in code that hackers use to access critical data stores. More and more critical information now lives in code in the form of infrastructure scripts, machine learning models, algorithms, and even security policy itself. As code makes its way to the cloud, security teams have struggled to address these new risks. Unfortunately, hackers are noticing and exploiting these coding environments as an open door into the enterprise, emphasized by scores of recent high-profile breaches that started in Git-based repositories, such as Uber, AWS, Starbucks, Capital One, and many more.
Serial security entrepreneurs and co-founders of BluBracket, Prakash Linga and Ajay Arora, were building Vera Security when they realized there was a massive gap in terms of securing code in the enterprise. Customers like Compass and The Pokémon Company International lamented over the challenges they were facing in attempting to protect their valuable IP and underlying systems. After hearing the same talk track from 20-30 customers and realizing that code would only continue to increase in importance, Prakash and Ajay recognized the huge opportunity at hand. This perfect storm led to the formation of BluBracket, the first comprehensive security solution for code in the enterprise.
We recently sat down with Prakash and Ajay to learn more about their entrepreneurial journey together that spans 10 years and three startups, their vision for BluBracket, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Unusual: Can you give us a little background on yourselves?
Prakash: I have a PhD in Computer Science from Cornell and have been involved with computers for a while now. Math and coding have always been passions of mine and building companies from the ground up sparked an interest in me from a young age. After my PhD, I had the opportunity to work at a young firm, Moka5, where I learned a ton about enterprise software, virtualization, security, and secure systems. I had the chance to not only apply many things that I learned at school, but also to grow with the company and ended up leading the majority of the engineering organization. In 2010, our mutual friend Ravi introduced Ajay and me. Ajay and I clicked and our skill sets were complimentary. He had a background in enterprise software and I was coming from more of a virtualization angle. We saw mobile taking off and tried to apply some of those virtualization security ideas to the platform. Specifically, we saw a large pain point around execs bringing their personal iPhones to work and wanting access to corporate email without having to enter a 16-digit password before they could send a tweet. Our approach included applying security just to the enterprise application data without disrupting their personal experience. We were the first to do this for iOS and were fortunate to have several acquisition offers within a year. At one point, the price made sense and we took the offer. Post acquisition, we were responsible for products and engineering for two to three mobile and data products that the acquiring company owned. This was a fantastic experience to learn how to run a larger team and global products. At some point, we got the startup itch again and left to start Vera Security. Vera was built more from our experience selling global security software and with the perspective that data is everywhere, not just on mobile phones. Think about it as Snapchat for sensitive documents in the enterprise, especially when shared externally. Five years after we started Vera, we were speaking to customers like GE, Pokemon, Universal Music Group, etc. who were all telling us that they saw source code becoming important to their business and were curious about whether we could help them with source code security. That got us thinking. We looked into the problem and learned that yes, there were huge trends forever changing the enterprise landscape. The timing was right and we felt we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take on this problem. That is when we started BluBracket to focus on code security.
Ajay: I graduated from University of Michigan with an undergrad degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s in Computer Science. I started out my career as a developer— and not a very good one—working for big companies and realized I didn’t really like the large company environment. So, I decided to move to the Bay Area and began working at Oracle. It was at Oracle that I shifted from engineering into product management—so more on the products, go to market, and sales side of things. Right before the first dotcom bubble popped, I jumped into a startup that was being run by a former Oracle executive. This company was around before SaaS was a thing and was called an application service provider. I ran product management there and then worked in smaller companies until connecting with Prakash. I think Prakash gave a pretty comprehensive background on our journey together, but I’ll add that through our journey, we’ve learned a couple of key lessons. One lesson in particular is that technology in search of a problem is a very bad thing.
Unusual: What was your “aha” moment that led you to begin working on BluBracket?
Ajay: When we founded BluBracket, the idea didn’t come from out of the ether. It came specifically from the network of customers that we’ve built over time who approached us and said, “Hey, you guys know a lot about cybersecurity. We’re having this big problem because software is eating the world and it’s now eating our business as well.” We were told that cybersecurity had become so critical to what these customers do and that they quickly needed to figure out: Who has access to their platform? What’s going on with it? Are hackers trying to gain access? Is the business’ intellectual property getting stolen? Is there a new vector of attack? And they asked, “Can you help us out?” When you hear something like that 20 times, you know there’s a real problem there. Prakash and I got together again and said, “The world has so many cybersecurity companies. If we are going to start another one, it has to be for real.” We recognized there was a very real problem to solve that couldn’t be solved with a feature—this problem required a company. So, there was a perfect storm in terms of timing of a customer need, market need, and our ability to understand the technology and product that needed to be built. This convergence was that “aha” moment and we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Unusual: Can you tell us more about BluBracket, its mission, and vision?
Prakash: Security is a $100B industry focused on data infrastructure and there’s this new asset code that has become critically important. We believe that detecting and measuring risk for security and mitigating that risk of code is going to be a massive business.
Ajay: Our mission is to secure the code that’s now driving businesses of all types from the applications and software that they’re creating to the infrastructure the code is running on. Our vision is to become the leading provider of security for that entire lifecycle of software, from inception to deployment.
Unusual: BluBracket is your third startup together. Did you both always know you wanted to be entrepreneurs?
Ajay: I remember graduating college and being super excited to jump into my first job. On my first day they had one of those break room parties to celebrate an employee being at the company for 30 years. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God.” That moment just hit me in the face. I thought to myself, “If I didn’t show up today to my job, would it have a huge impact?” I’m not trying to downplay people who go to large companies and make contributions, but I just had this innate feeling when I was at these larger companies that I really wanted to do something from nothing where whether it worked out or not, I tried. This may sound cliche, but I’ve definitely learned more from my failures than successes—there’s no question about it. I remember my dad told me a long time ago that the only way to really learn something is the hard way. And I never internalized that until becoming an entrepreneur, which is a huge roller coaster of emotions, successes, and failures. But, the drive of wanting to do something original from a blank sheet started from the first day I graduated college.
Prakash: My experience is similar to Ajay’s, but from a completely different perspective. I think I was always excited about original, impactful work—creating things from the ground up with new and big ideas. I thought getting a PhD and becoming a professor was the best path forward to achieve and create this type of work, so I enrolled in a PhD program. I had a lot of fun, made plenty of friends, but very quickly realized that while professors do important work, I’m more excited about building things from the ground up—work that has more of a direct impact. I started talking to a few friends and family and they suggested looking into startups. I tried a startup while I was in grad school and succeeded in raising money. That’s when I caught the startup bug and realized that having my fingerprints on building a company that has meaningful, long lasting impact is very gratifying for me personally.
Unusual: Ajay, you touched on the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. What keeps you both coming back for more?
Ajay: We’re professional masochists. No, I’m kidding. It’s the quest, honestly—the quest and wanting to create something original that has value that keeps me coming back. And I’ll tell you this: I could definitely not do this without Prakash. The trust that we have built over the last 10 years is rock solid and if it wasn’t for this relationship, I wouldn’t keep doing this.
Prakash: As Ajay said, we’re lucky enough to have met early and have known each other for a long time. We spend more time with each other than our families many times, so we’re fortunate to have the kind of relationship and trust we have built over the years. That’s something we lean on and what helps us go do our best work. We also have positive attitudes and mindsets that have enabled us to move mountains and make things happen time and time again. So while there are a lot of emotions, sweat, and tears that go into building companies, it’s also extremely gratifying to build a company from nothing and see it grow.
Unusual: Now that we know why you keep doing this to yourselves, what did your families say when you told them you wanted to start another company?
Prakash: That is a good question. The first startup was tough, primarily from a financial perspective. The second, was tough from a time commitment standpoint and my family said, “Oh, no—not another one.” With BluBracket, my wife wasn’t surprised. She told me she thought another one was going to happen and didn’t know when, but was resigned to the fact that I’d be going back to the drawing board. Both of our families have been incredibly supportive.
Ajay: I think my wife knows that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. She also knows I am working with Prakash, so there’s a comfort factor there. But you know, it’s tough. We both have kids and we sacrifice a lot of time away from them, but our families have been so supportive. I think they just realize this what makes us happy and we’re lucky that they support our passion.
Unusual: If you had the chance to start your journey over again, what would you do differently? Or what do you know now that you wish you knew when you launched your first company?
Prakash: I was naive to go from my undergrad to grad school right away. If I could do it again, I would definitely get some industry experience after undergrad to understand how things are built and used in the real world. This would have given me a much greater appreciation for both what I learned during grad school, but also to better understand what really drives and excites me. Additionally, one of the things that I’ve realized over time that I wish I understood much earlier is that market size is extremely critical and you cannot create a massive market. You have to find an idea in a space that naturally lends itself to a massive market. That’s a variable that is important to keep in mind early as an entrepreneur when pursuing ideas. This is a filter that we started to apply much more rigorously for our second and third companies.
Ajay: Honestly, I’ve made so many mistakes, but I have learned so much from them and Prakash has been so supportive through these learning experiences. I’ll focus on two big lessons I’ve learned. The primary lesson is that you can’t just expect and assume that everyone thinks the same or that everyone has the same priorities for the company or life in general. It’s so important to respect other points of view from every single employee. I think I spent so much time being so focused on the customer and growing the company, that I didn’t spend enough time focused on the people who were at the core of making it all happen and what their priorities for themselves were. I just assumed that everyone was like, “Let’s go in and kill, kill, kill it in the market.” I think taking a step back and making sure you understand your employees’ perspectives is so important. The second lesson is to just take a deep breath and let what does not matter slide and pick what you focus on. If you get riled up about everything, you’re going to wear yourself and everyone around you down. I think if I did these two things differently at the other companies we’ve started, there would have been a major positive impact. But, self realization is part of the process—I don’t know if you can gain that realization in any way except going through it. Maybe there are people who are much smarter than me who can, but it definitely took me a while to really learn and internalize these lessons.
Unusual: What is your greatest fear either as an entrepreneur overall or in terms of your business, and how do you manage that fear?
Prakash: This is my first time as a CEO, so I just don’t know if what I’m doing is good enough, great, or awesome. So, it’s trying to find a way to really gauge how I’m doing and where I need to improve, but that’s where Ajay is fantastic and gives me helpful feedback. John has been awesome too, as has Maggie as a coach—she’s been so helpful in keeping me grounded. Another way to put it is it’s a fairly lonely job and trying to understand what it takes to do a stellar job has been challenging.
Unusual: Anything else you want to add?
Ajay: A lot of times entrepreneurship is dramatized and it’s painted to be this really cool thing. You read so much about unicorns and that’s what gets highlighted, but there is a toll this journey takes—it can be quite lonely. There’s a lot of time you spend alone, especially in the early days, and it can be hard. I think it’s important to emphasize that embarking on this journey with a co-founder you implicitly trust and having a support network around you is so important. You need these two things if you want to be successful in overcoming the obstacles that you will inevitably face.