Rajeev Shahof Celona: “Embrace ambiguity”

Embrace ambiguity. If you’re going to work at a startup, this is critical. Disruption never happens successfully without this critical lesson. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajeev Shah. Rajeev Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Celona, a […]

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Embrace ambiguity. If you’re going to work at a startup, this is critical. Disruption never happens successfully without this critical lesson.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajeev Shah.

Rajeev Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Celona, a company leading the vision to create the next generation of enterprise wireless connectivity. With almost 20 years of product management/marketing experience in enterprise Wi-Fi and service provider markets, Rajeev has held leadership positions at some of the most influential wireless companies in the industry, including Aruba Networks (now HPE), a provider of enterprise wireless LAN and edge access networking equipment, where he created and lead the Aruba Cloud Wi-Fi business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

From a career path perspective, I always knew I would be in technology and always knew I would be an entrepreneur. Like most kids in India I toyed with the idea of playing cricket professionally, but that dream faded relatively early. I grew up in a time in India when computers had just been introduced and computers and the computing industry were actually glamourous and that sparkle of innovation really lured me in. Combine that background with the lure of being a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and I knew I had to do this.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Celona is disrupting not one, but two different industries.

The first is enterprise wireless networking. With the FCC’s decision to make the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum available for businesses, we at Celona are able to provide a new alternative in wireless connectivity — provide businesses with their very own cellular wireless network that it owns and operates.

The second market we’re disrupting is the traditional telecom market. We are bringing the agility and innovation of Silicon Valley engineering to this industry. With a solution set that’s powered with cloud software and latest AI/ML techniques, the task of setting up private LTE/5G networks are reduced to hours rather than months — giving the service providers the ability to access the highly lucrative enterprise market.

The unique vision we’ve created here at Celona paints a future where a bridge can truly be formed between these two industries — and the journey starts with the team of industry veterans we’ve built that includes former leaders at places like Qualcomm, Jasper, HPE Aruba, Cisco and others.

There is another important piece of the puzzle that’s contributing to the realization of this vision — decomposition of cloud services to the edge of the enterprise infrastructure. As we are getting used to extending the reach of cloud powered business apps to on-premises within the enterprise network, our team is also hard at work aiming to make instantiation of private mobile networks as easy as deploying such applications.

Several large enterprises in the US are starting to view Celona as the bridge between 5G wireless and their next generation of digital use cases at work, and we are looking forward to partnering with them along the way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This story is funny now, but probably wasn’t too funny at the time it happened. As a young engineer just two weeks into my time at Aruba Networks, I told Keerti Melkote, the founder of company, current president and GM for this major division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and overall legend in the enterprise networking industry, that I didn’t think Aruba would go anywhere and would essentially fail. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong, as the firm became a global leader in enterprise wireless. I have since realized that the path to success with startups is not a clean, linear journey. There is a lot of chaos and obstacles along the way, so not only is talent required, but a great deal of tenacity as well. You don’t always feel comfortable marching towards your goal, but you need to have faith and more than a little patience.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

As you might guess from my previous anecdote, Keerti was and still is someone I look to as a mentor. Certainly, he has been the most influential in my professional life. I remember traveling with him and several other executives and due to some mistake, my reservation at the hotel was lost, so I didn’t have a room. Instead of paying for another, Keerti insisted that I bunk with him so as not to incur additional expense. That focus on frugality and a willingness to put his own comfort aside in order to help both me and the business has always stuck with me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption in an industry is almost always inevitable. If an industry can be disrupted, then something was inherently inefficient about it in the first place. However, the means by which this is accomplished and the subsequent impact on the different parties involved in where the value of that disruption will be judged. If this disruption solely benefits the organization doing the disrupting, but doesn’t provide value to customers, vendors and other ecosystem participants, then this could end up being a net negative result. In Celona’s case, our disruption benefits or at least provides the potential to benefit from almost all participants in the wireless networking ecosystem — cloud providers like AWS and Azure, wireless operators like Verizon, enterprise vendors like HPE, traditional enterprise channel vendors, and the enterprises themselves — everyone stands to benefit from this new technology. Forget game theory, this is a win for everyone. That is a positive disruption.

Other examples are not quite as clear cut. A good example of that is Uber. This is clearly an industry that required disruption and its pioneering of this model has been great for the convenience and cost to the individual consumer. However, the total impact on social society is yet to be determined in terms of congestion, emissions, and the treatment of its drivers. Only time will tell, but that kind of ambiguous value and how its disruption will impact the broader industry certainly needs to be considered.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

• Embrace ambiguity. If you’re going to work at a startup, this is critical. Disruption never happens successfully without this critical lesson.

• Persistence is critical. As I learned, during my time at Aruba, tenacity is going to be key if you’re going to build a global leader.

• Focus on the customer. If your customers are happy, you’ve succeeded at the most important part of the job.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Not only am I not done, I’m just beginning! The market for private 5G networks is literally just beginning, but it is already shaping up to an enormous opportunity. I’m currently in talks with some of the largest global brands in wireless technology, so definitely keep a close eye on Celona as this market continues to unfold.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

“Thick Face, Black Heart”, which I initially read in 2002. Most people know I quote it quite often, as it provides a very honest look at how to develop your own self-image while controlling our expressed emotions to achieve the goals you want. This was the first book that really resonated with me as a young executive.

Another is “Golf in the Kingdom,” which is another great tale on how to maximize one’s own potential. I don’t even play golf, but the lessons conveyed in this book are fantastic.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be where you are.” Work is for work. When you’re with your family focus on them. When you’re taking time for yourself, use it to best effect. That reminder to focus on the purpose at hand has always enabled me to separate one role from another and to maximize both my productivity and my enjoyment of life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My heart has always been tied up with children’s education. If we can bring more equity to his issue across all social strata, I believe the impact would be enormous. Even in wealthy countries, the ability to give a child a quality education varies widely across many boundaries, from geography to economics. This is a complex issue, the solution for which would have a huge impact on all of our futures.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow me on Twitter @rajeevshah0514, find me at LinkedIn here https://www.linkedin.com/in/shahrajeev/, and I’ll soon be posting to Celona’s blog regularly here — https://www.celona.io/private-mobile-network-blog

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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