Q&A with Ratan Tipirneni, Tigera CEO
Last week, we went live with our new website and shared details of our first commercial offering, Tigera Essentials for Kubernetes. The observant among you will also notice the addition of Ratan Tipirneni on the Tigera Leadership page, taking over from me as CEO to drive the next phase of the company’s evolution.
Since we launched Tigera in early 2016, we have exceeded our wildest dreams. From a promising project with an enthusiastic but small group of early adopters, we have grown to support a thriving community with over 100 contributors and thousands of users including many of the world’s largest enterprises and web-scale cloud operators. We have also built a solid base for the business with an impressive list of high profile customers generating revenues well above our original business plan.
With that success comes an awareness of the massive opportunity ahead, and the need for us to execute on the transition to a company with a combination of open source projects and fully packaged enterprise products that meet the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base. When we met Ratan, we knew right away that he was someone we wanted on our team to help us effect this transition. And we are thrilled that he was just as excited about the opportunity and decided to join.
I thought you’d appreciate getting to know Ratan a little better, so I asked him a few questions to introduce him to the Tigera community.
Q: Ratan, tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I enjoy building software businesses. I have been lucky to have worked for some great start-ups and worked with some very talented people in the valley. I have learned a lot from these experiences and it’s also been a lot of fun. I have also been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a founder a couple of times. I have also had the opportunity to incubate, build and scale businesses to a few hundred million dollars. While I learned a lot during the process of building these businesses, those lessons pale in comparison to my learning from the ventures that didn’t work out. In many ways the valley is a special place and I feel very fortunate to be living here in the midst of such incredible innovation in both technology and business.
Q: What in your view makes a successful startup?
A: There are a few ingredients that are required for a successful start-up:
- A market that is being actively disrupted.
- A deep understanding of your customer’s “job” and their emotional drivers.
- A phenomenal product that can make your customer successful in their “job” and one with which they can’t live without.
- A great team that can continually innovate to reduce customer friction.
In addition to these factors, when you are building a business on the cutting edge of technology, you have to be able to drive technical innovation and lead the market. This is a balancing act and you have to find the right balance between leading the market and listening to customer feedback.
Q: And how does that change with an open source business model?
A: With every start-up you have to be insanely focused on finding a product-market fit. That is no different in the case of OSS — but you do have the complication of dealing with two separate inflection points. One is finding the “project-market fit” for your OSS projects, and building a vibrant community around them. The second, of course, is your business model, which comes down to the product-market fit of your commercial solutions. Many startups fail by focusing on one to the detriment of the other: staying focused on both as equally important and mutually supporting elements is, in my view, the key to success in open source.
“Every time an application architecture is re-invented, the entire stack has to be re-invented.”
Q: What was it about Tigera that attracted you? What in your view are the opportunities and challenges the company faces?
A: The first thing was the space that Tigera is in — enabling connectivity between applications in this emerging cloud-native world. It is just incredibly exciting! This market transition will be larger and faster than the market transitions that we saw with client-server and virtualization. Every time an application architecture is re-invented, the entire stack has to be re-invented.
Second, I like to be at the cutting edge of technology. While I am a business person, I am also a bit of a geek at heart and my entire career has been spent pushing forward the boundaries of technology. The Tigera founding team had a vision for how applications would communicate that was way ahead of the rest of the industry — with the possible exception of Google. That put them in a great position as cloud native architectures took off.
Just as important, as I did my research in the industry, it was clear Tigera had built a phenomenal product. Customers are using it in at-scale production systems, derive real differentiated value from it, and love the technology and the company behind it.
Which brings me to the team and culture. The founding team of Andy, Alex and Christopher have led from the front with a vision that has attracted some truly world-class engineers, and more broadly built a solid foundation for a company that is set to scale. From the outset, they established a pervasive culture of excellence, innovation, openness, and respect that is impossible to bolt on as an afterthought. This was hugely important to me personally, and I know will be critical to our success as we grow the team.
“We have been fortunate to have had the benefit of working with some of the largest Kubernetes deployments out there… Essentials is a direct consequence of a lot of the lessons that we learned”
Q: What does the launch of Tigera Essentials for Kubernetes mean for Tigera, and the industry?
A: With all the excitement about Kubernetes, it is easy to forget that a significant cost of an application comes from keeping it up and running in production. While the developer community has embraced Kubernetes with a level of intensity that I don’t think we have ever seen before, we now need to turn our attention to the Operations community and build solutions to make them successful.
Given the scale and complexity of these applications, the operations teams responsible for ensuring high levels of availability will require powerful tools and technologies to ensure application health and security. This is the class of problems that we have set out to solve in the domain of Application Connectivity through Tigera Essentials.
We have been fortunate to have had the benefit of working with some of the largest Kubernetes deployments out there (think: thousands of clusters, with the largest scaling up to thousands of nodes) because our Open Source Projects were an integral part of these deployments — and in many cases we were working closely with the largest users to help with their implementation.
Essentials is a direct consequence of a lot of the lessons that we learned from helping these teams take Kubernetes-based applications from a proof-of-concept to production, and what it took to keep them running. We have packaged up all this knowledge into Essentials in the form of some very powerful software tools.
We will also embrace innovation that comes from the rest of the community. For example, we believe that the Istio project embodies a powerful vision for application development. We took the decision to embrace it, assigning senior engineering resources to the Istio team at Tigera. Today, it is part of Tigera Essentials for Kubernetes and we offer technical support for it as part of that package.
The definition of Essentials will continue to evolve and expand. It is delivered via a subscription model that gives us the vehicle for delivering to our customers a stream of new features and capabilities that we are already working on and have in our backlog. So watch for a regular cadence of incremental releases every few weeks.
“We will build a high growth business that will have the scope and profitability to be a very exciting, independent player in the enterprise infrastructure market”
Q: What should we expect to see from Tigera over the coming year? And what is the long term objective?
A: I think we are rapidly establishing ourselves as the leader in the Application Connectivity space in the Kubernetes ecosystem — and we expect that position to strengthen over the coming year.
We will do this by staying very focused on listening to our customers, understanding the challenges that they are running into in the application connectivity space, building innovative solutions to address those gaps, and working closely with them to ensure their success.
Many of those solutions — particularly where they involve critical fundamental technologies where the broadest possible adoption is critical — will be in open source (both our own projects and others we embrace from the community). Some — particularly those targeted at enterprise-scale operations teams— will be delivered in commercial products such as Tigera Essentials.
Putting all this together, we will build a high growth business that will have the scope and profitability to be a very exciting, independent player in the enterprise infrastructure market.