Three immigrants started SanDisk in Silicon Valley and sold the company to Western Digital for a whopping $19 billion. Flash memory products today are so widely used that we take them for granted, but in the 1990s the idea was novel.
It was the year 1988. The founders had met each other as college graduates. “We essentially were three technologists who were interested in a technology in its early concept stages, when it wasn’t even open to the public. But we were keen about it and saw a huge opportunity in the space,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, former president of SanDisk, at the TiE Global Summit in Delhi.
The market, he believed, didn’t exist. Recalling that time, he said,
“But as engineers we had the vision that this technology, which was there in the labs, would be huge one day. That today is a $35-billion industry and when we started it was just $6.7 billion. And this was a time when there were no mobile phones or digital cameras.”
Starting from the basics and refining the products, the team were able to build SanDisk. But starting a business is different, where several nuances need to be paid heed to.
Sanjay added that lead founder Eli Harari had a failed business behind him. It was that very failure the team took pride in, as it taught them things they would otherwise never learn — like how to build a company, deal with markets and VCs, and how to focus on details. The learning that accompanied the failure taught them about business.
Sanjay believed that complementary skillsets would help the team divide and conquer. “We weren’t a team of great businessmen. We were a team of engineers that had a vision. It was a team that believed in the vision we had,” he explained.
Sanjay also threw light upon other things that are important in running a business. “If you listen to the customer, you can build a business; nobody is born with business skills. You learn on the job. What you envision at the start of the company isn't there down the lane. In the tech industry, things change faster,” he said.
Once you have the fundamentals of an idea, you need to display your vision. In the case of VCs, you need to ensure that you choose the right one.
“The first VC gave us $250,000 seed money. He was with us through the 27 years till we sold to Western Digital,” Sanjay said.
You have to be prepared that things won't go the way you think they will. Adaptability is the key.