Business

How to capture Cisco’s attention: An exclusive interview with Biren Gandhi

This is part one of a five part series sponsored by Under the Radar, aimed at helping innovative startups attract the attention of C-level executives, to pitch them on forming sales or partnership agreements.

Meet Biren and hear how he manages technology at Under the Radar 2013, May 22-23, in San Francisco. Register today using special discount code VentureBeatVIP.

VentureBeat: As a principal architect at Cisco and the person spearheading web and mobile tech initiatives for WebEx Social, there must be thousands of Silicon Valley startups and VCs trying to get your attention.  How do you handle it?

Biren Gandhi: It’s like any other time management challenge. It’s difficult, but at the same time highly rewarding. Having an opportunity to meet and engage with so many smart people is indeed a privilege. My personal motivation always comes from an environment that provides sustained learning in some domain. Getting referrals from startups/VCs is a great learning experience and although at times it demands a lot of energy, it’s all well worth it overall.

VentureBeat: How many pitches do you receive in a week?

Gandhi: Probably three to five.

VentureBeat: What is your vetting process?

Gandhi: It’s a simple 3-step formula with a weed-out filter at each stage:

  1. Accept referrals from trusted sources/mentors.
  2. Perform my own domain research and get a perspective of competitive landscape.
  3. Look at the founding team, the idea, proposed business model, and the sustainable advantage.

Anything that successfully passes through these stages deserves detailed due diligence.

VentureBeat: What is the last company you bought and implemented?

Gandhi: Won’t be able to disclose due to confidentiality reasons.

VentureBeat: Darn. Okay, what are the things you most look for in new technologies?

Gandhi: Simple, intuitive, secure, high-performance, portable (cloud and on-premise hosted) and a delightful user experience! Products, solutions, and tools must make people’s lives easier, not more difficult!

VentureBeat: What is typical sales cycle from pitch to adoption?

Gandhi: Depends on how complex a product/solution is and how many players need to be involved. The more players, the longer the process becomes. If the product/solution is dead simple and solves a specific pain point, a general ballpark timeframe from pitch to adoption is three to six months.

VentureBeat: What are your challenges in adopting early stage technologies?

Gandhi: Culture mismatch and social validation. By their very nature, smaller companies are more agile and want shorter cycles — from business negotiations to engineering/integration to customer shipment. Larger companies expect similarly agile responsiveness and get disappointed in the end. Another challenge is finding social validation for products and solutions, especially if they are very early stage; a few passionate, vocal customers whoa re able to demonstrate value will speak louder than the most charismatic of founders.

VentureBeat: What is your advice for startups pitching you?

Gandhi: Have patience while dealing with large enterprises; they take their own sweet time during evaluation and due diligence. It may not have anything to do with your product or service. Don’t get disappointed, discouraged, or disengaged.

VentureBeat: What is the worst pitch you’ve received?

Gandhi: Nothing specific comes to mind, but a general annoying pattern is “we do XYZ and we believe we can be great business partners…” Wait! Have you tried to understand my problem? Do you know whether your solution is the right one for my needs? Arrogant pitches typically don’t work very well, IMHO.

VentureBeat: How about the best pitch?

Gandhi: Again, no specific names, but a general pattern. A solid team that has a good grasp of the problem domain, possible alternative solutions, an ability to communicate the superiority of their offering in the competitive landscape and, at the same time, an open-minded, discovery-driven, humble approach to engage in a trusted manner are strong indicators of a successful partnership.

VentureBeat: What value do you get out of Under The Radar?

Gandhi: 1,000 brains are better than my lonely one! Being able to meet some of the smartest minds of Silicon Valley, hearing their ideas and being able to engage/partner with them at an early stage are all great opportunities provided by UTR.

Biren Gandhi, Cisco principal architectCurrently working as a principal architect with Cisco, Biren Gandhi is spearheading crucial web/mobile technology initiatives for WebEx Social, an enterprise social software offered both on-premise and in the cloud to Fortune 1,000 customers. Prior to joining Cisco, he was divisional CTO of a few gaming studios at Zynga and a senior architect at Facebook. He also cofounded AdMunity, where he created a highly engaging collaborative social platform for the advertising community. He loves sharing interesting, action-oriented articles on innovation, leadership and organizational culture at http://thoughts.birengandhi.com/

Debbie Landa is the CEO of Dealmaker Media/Under the Radar.

Top photo credit: Cisco


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