Milind Borate, Co-Founder and CTO of Druva shares his views on technology, patents, and leading from the front.
He has spent two decades dabbling in technology and building one of the biggest tech startups in India. It comes as no wonder then, that the best way to pass time for Milind Borate is by “philosophising on software development.”
The Co-founder and CTO of Druva, a cloud data protection and governance solutions company, Milind joined us for Conversations@YS, our weekly Ask Me Anything ritual where our readers get to interact with the who’s who of the Indian startup ecosystem. He fielded questions on technology, patents, and leadership with an ease that comes from years of learning and leadership.
Leading from the front
Milind who ascribes to a very direct and honest leadership style considers trust to be the basis of any teamwork. “I also lead from the front and connect with people in smaller forums,” he says.
In his entrepreneurial journey, he has enjoyed the support of his co-founders, Jaspreet Singh and Ramani Kothandaraman. In the initial days, Milind focused on the technology aspect, Jaspreet on product and GTM, and Ramani on operations.
He emphasises that it is imperative to have co-founders. “Starting up involves working on too many different facets of the business. Even if the founders are expected to be all-rounders, it hard for one person to work on technology, operations, and GTM at the same time. As a startup grows, you can get more people on board to focus on different aspects of business,” he shared.
Talking about the high and low of his entrepreneurial journey, he recalls that his toughest moment was when the company had just about enough money to pay monthly salaries.
However, the funniest one he shares was when a prospective customer wanted to use their database disaster recovery solution to back up his laptop. “But that led to inSync which is our flagship product today.”
Druva is almost a decade old and building a global technology company from India, according to Milind, “has become easier over the years.”
Talent pool, venture funding, and local market are the most important factors that impact the evolution of technology startups. Given that product requirements are more or less the same for technology companies across the world, India always had a ready tech talent pool. The two factors, he says, that work against India are the lack of local market and the dearth of talent pool in GTM function.
What worked in the case of Druva was having an R&D team in India and a sales/marketing team closer to the target market, reveals Milind. This is because access to local markets still continues to be a challenge.
Some of the changes on the Indian front he sees are - funding has improved, the consumer market in India has opened up, and consumer startups are coming up.
The enterprise market in India is still in a nascent stage. On generic multipurpose tech startups, I believe that a startup always has to focus on a niche issue in the beginning and increase the target market after getting a leadership position in the niche. Remember, Flipkart started by selling books online.
Instead of casting the net wide and becoming a wholesome service provider for cloud services, Druva has kept its focus on a single problem, data protection. “Data protection is a multi-billion dollar market and is getting disrupted with public cloud adoption. It's a large enough market and is aligned with Druva's strength around cloud data protection. The other critical aspect is focus. We believe in focusing on a single problem and solving it well. In short, data protection is a large market and Druva can build a successful large organisation by focusing on this and delivering a differentiated solution.”
Given that the data protection industry is a multi-million dollar market, how serious are IT companies in investing in data protection and disaster planning?
I could be biased here but I think the Indian IT industry does not understand its full potential. Since the primary data itself is not regarded as a business critical, data protection is not considered critical. Of course, it is changing with new age businesses where IT is a business critical function.
On patents and new technologies
As someone who has filed numerous patents, Milind shares three rules for patent application: novel, valuable and defendable. “It should be something that nobody has done before and is not too obvious. It should be a critical part of a solution that is required by the market. It should be possible to detect if someone is violating the patent and prove it in the court of law if need be.”
Talking about the new technologies on the block such as deep learning, machine learning and AI, Milind talks about them in the context of Druva. Milind doesn’t see deep learning as a disruption to cloud. “Deep learning is enabled by cloud and is in turn driving cloud adoption. At Druva, we started by using deep learning on metadata and deriving intelligence from it. For example, we use machine learning to analyse file access patterns and detect ransomware attack. Presently, we are working on analysing backup data and providing insights to our customers. Of course, the key is to ensure that customer continues to own the data and the insights gathered from it,” he says.
Evolution of the Pune Startup Network
Pune is Milind’s other love after technology. He has spent most of his time here and hence, seen the Pune startup ecosystem evolve at close quarters. He recalls how Pune was an outsourcing hub until 10 years ago.
“Companies like Persistent Systems and Symphony Services started here. Also, Pune was fortunate to host captive software development centres for some of the best Silicon Valley startups. Veritas is a great example. These captive software development centres helped build the talent required for product development. I guess QuickHeal is the first successful product startup from Pune. Today, you see outsourcing startups focused on niche parts of software development. The product startups list is growing with Pubmatic, Uniken, HelpShift, MindTickle, and so on.”
Technology is the disruptor
Milind calls technology the key to solving a problem, an enabler for an idea. He emphasises that, for a startup to win over an incumbent is possible only through disruption and technology is just that - the biggest disruption.
As someone who has followed his dreams and used his love for technology to nurture a tech company like Druva, Milind signs off with one important message:
“I would quote Steve Jobs. Follow your heart. Do what you like to do the most. Success will follow.”