Jay Chaudhry knows from experience that there are many considerations involved with bringing a new product or service to market. How you handle matters such as timing can be the difference between success and failure.
“That’s the toughest thing,” says Chaudhry, founder and CEO of Zscaler Inc. “If we had a crystal ball to figure that out, we’d be off doing very good.”
Though he doesn’t have a crystal ball, Chaudhry has managed to grow Zscaler – his sixth company ? from a startup cloud security provider to 120 employees in four short years. Yet, timing is just one obstacle in capitalizing on new market opportunity.
Smart Business spoke with Chaudhry about how business leaders can set their companies up for growth in new markets by overcoming these initial challenges.
Strike before the iron is hot.
The most important thing I look for in a new opportunity is: ‘Is the timing right?’ The right timing and the right area are the most important stops. Many times people start too early. It’s a little market. It never evolves and that’s tough. Then they get stuck and are swimming upstream. But that’s few. I think the majority of people end up entering in the market that’s too late. They are already in Times Squares with the product. If you enter a market when the market is already that hot, by the time you are able to deliver a reasonable product, it’s a little bit too late. If you look at all the products I’ve done … I look for a new market opportunity. The market is still not there, but feels like it’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months.
Go with your gut.
If we are too early in a new market, we could be starving because the market doesn’t take off. If we are a little too late, then it becomes a ‘me too.’ So first, I do my homework. I work in adjacent markets quite often and not in totally different markets, so there’s a feel for the markets … I’d not be accurate if I told you its all spreadsheet driven numbers and that stuff. It’s not.
Is there an easy way to quantify timing? Not really. A lot of gut feel goes into it. I need to listen from the market and from the customers, what and how they take it. But at the same time, I also keep in mind [the] saying, ‘Don’t listen to your customers; otherwise, you’ll never innovate.’
Don’t fear mistakes.
We push people to push the envelope and try to new things and make mistakes. I often say if you don’t make any mistakes, you are playing too safe. If you are playing too safe, you are never going to achieve anything significant.
We are the only company that doesn’t require any hardware and software. It’s because we gave people enough time and freedom, and didn’t really kill any of the ideas to say this is no good. In the process, I realized that some of these things may not work, but that’s part of trying and learning new stuff. You don’t want to kill those ideas up front as if you know the answer, because you don’t.
Look ahead, and behind
There’s a cost or there’s a benefit of getting ahead of the market and becoming significantly large. If you throw too much money and add too many people, are you creating indigestion? Because it’s not just hiring. How do you really get those people trained to become productive members of the company? If you are a little slow, you’re behind, your sale got ahead, your support function is behind, your other stuff is behind, then your customers suffer. So it’s constantly watching and monitoring and adjusting to make sure you’re putting enough resources in investments.
We’re pretty pleased with where we are, but we’re executing the way [businessman] Andrew Grove said, ‘Only the paranoid will survive.’ As confident, comfortable and less paranoid it makes you it as a leader … they are shooting at you from behind. How do increase the gap between you and the second party out there so they can’t shoot at you, so you are out of the shooting range?
How to reach: Zscaler Inc., (408) 533-0288 or www.zscaler.com