“Avoid burnout.” With Mitch Russo & Manoj Nair

For me there are three things that are critical to run a successful SaaS business — or any tech business for that matter. They’re simply the people, the technological depth, and the potential going forward. As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, […]

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For me there are three things that are critical to run a successful SaaS business — or any tech business for that matter. They’re simply the people, the technological depth, and the potential going forward.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manoj Nair, General Manager, Metallic.

An avid foodie, Manoj knows you need more than a recipe for success — it requires vision, creativity, experience working the line, and an unstoppable drive to succeed. With an appetite and passion for creating cloud solutions, he and our nimbly driven Metallic team are focused on accelerating the innovation and growth of Commvault’s Software as a Service (SaaS) business. The former CEO and Co-Founder of HyperGrid, Manoj has served up cloud and security offerings for HPE, EMC, VMware and RSA, and holds more than 12 information management and security patents. He has a Master of Computer Science degree from Clemson University

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in a middle-class family in India. My dad worked for the government in a job where we moved every few years and sometimes to very remote places. I remember my sister was several years older than me and was going to take a coding class. I went along with her and fell in love with computers and the whole notion of technology. I was probably 12 years old at that point. Ever since then I’ve been an avid techie. I went to Clemson in pursuit of a master’s degree in computer science because, at the time, I wanted to work in virtual reality, but I switched paths once I got into the systems side of things. I worked in areas including computer systems, storage, data protection, data analytics, and security — and for the past 10 years I’ve lived in the cloud domain. I was lucky to be able to have a strong family that helped me learn the foundations of life like working hard and being conscientious. I also have a spouse that I learn from every day. Those things have made me who I am today.

Professionally, I’m the former CEO and co-founder of HyperGrid, and have held leadership roles with HPE, EMC, VMware, and RSA, with focuses on their respective cloud and security offerings

What was the “Aha Moment” that led your founder to think of the idea for Metallic? Can you share that story with us?

Shortly after he was appointed Commvault CEO last year, Sanjay Mirchandani recognized an opportunity to deliver enterprise-grade backup & recovery technology fit to the needs of our customers in a simple SaaS offering. SaaS is the fastest growing cloud initiative among companies today — and IDC says that the demand for Data Protection-as-a-Service (DPaaS) will outpace traditional solutions by 2022. Sanjay saw this as an enormous opportunity for the company.

Commvault has always offered the most comprehensive solution among our competitors — whether through our range of supported infrastructure, the types of data and applications we protect, or even what we allow you to do with that data. We also have the leading data protection capabilities for customers adopting public clouds or deploying SaaS workloads. Listening especially to those customers leveraging our market-leading public cloud and SaaS protection capabilities, we knew that a SaaS delivery option would be a big piece of the puzzle for the success of Commvault and our partners, and that customers of all sizes were looking for a delivery model for their data protection needs to match their shifting workload patterns.

We took our best in class technology and 20 years of understanding customers’ needs, together with a new cloud native product and business model, so that companies can get the power of Commvault, with the simplicity of SaaS.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When I first came out of college after my master’s degree in Computer Science, with a focus on distributed systems, I really wanted to be an Operating Systems Kernel developer in one of the few Unix based distributed server companies that were around in the late 90s and luckily, I got that opportunity. But within a year of joining that organization, it was acquired by a storage company that, on day one, announced that it was not interested in the server business. Being part of that team as a relative new hire and going through such a change was definitely a shock.

I again had the privilege of being surrounded by a team who did not give up easily, and standing on the shoulders of such giants, I was able to lead the path into an entirely new software initiative for the storage company. The resultant storage software offering was immensely successful for the acquiring company, and a gratifying experience to be part of and be given an opportunity of technical leadership. There are several such examples I can provide where giving up and going to do something else would have been easier. In fact, the challenges only get harder at scale and as you progress in your career. I thank a strong foundation of resilience built from constant change and values that were instilled in my childhood and continued strength of a supportive family in being able to find strength to persist despite obstacles.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

It’s been a very interesting time to join a new organization. I’ve been here for a little over a few months and joined an organization that’s incredibly agile and moves very fast. I got into their slipstream and immediately started running at their pace. Now we’re coming together as a team in this COVID-19 world where everyone is remote.

I started following Metallic when it first launched last October, looking at it from the outside in, and it caught my attention, not just because I knew some of the executive team and the leadership here, but I quickly said to myself, “Wow, that’s an interesting and powerful brand.” You know, I immediately thought of this, a very famous book by Clayton Christensen, who I had the luxury to meet, called “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and recognized how Commvault is really trying to break out of that conundrum.

So, I started following them and fast forward nine months, I’m here leading the Metallic team. We are, for all intents and purposes, a startup within a large parent company and we’re moving fast. Our cadence is different from that of the larger company. On one hand it’s not like my recent experiences running a startup or a venture funded company where you’re trying to fundraise and get access to customers and partners. I don’t have to think much about that aspect. On the other hand, like any startup trying to break out, I have to be very focused about growth and solving must have pain points to deliver value for customers and partners. Again, we are privileged to have the kind of resources that a typical startup does not have, but we are very conscious of our responsibilities that come with that privilege.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Early on in my career one of the opportunities I had was to work with one of the largest customers my company, at that time, had. Being part of a vendor that had both a hardware and software product line that usually came together in the end to deliver a complete server system, and being on the software side, I focused on some performance optimizations in the software that significantly benefitted the customer. Little did I know that there were a few years of hardware innovation that went into the next generation hardware for the same set of performance issues. Initially it was met with a strange combination of excitement in my team and dismay at the higher levels, if one set of innovations done in a short period of time made the other redundant. We figured out how to make the combination of these innovations actually work well together for our customers to deliver a 1+1=3 benefit.

My biggest lesson learned was to broaden the aperture of thinking and collaboration beyond the immediate horizon, and that while there is power in individual innovation, there is much bigger power in team innovation and applying patterns like design thinking where people from different perspectives work together to understand pain points, and are able to apply different solutions to it that together are much more powerful.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As a sub-brand of Commvault, Metallic isn’t your typical SaaS company. We were created to address a particular need in the market with an offering that stands apart from Commvault’s existing products. Metallic has one purpose and that is to provide trusted, enterprise-grade data protection technology through simple SaaS delivery.

One of the most unique aspects of the Metallic team is that it’s made up of people from different backgrounds, SaaS, Security, Data Management, across functions who share one goal: building the best customer and partner experience in the industry. Sure, those with a singular passion for backup and recovery may represent a pretty small subset of the world’s population — but we fly that flag proudly. We’re proud of our technology (because it’s really, really good) and we’re excited to solve your data protection headaches — because we understand how urgent they are.

We also have all the pros of an established industry-leading company with none of the cons. For example, on the Metallic team are some of the original minds from Commvault — industry veterans who have had a hand in the platform’s early code, who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with customers for decades, and who have seen it all when it comes to backup and recovery: the good, the bad, and the ugly. They’re joined by a number of leaders who are, like me, new to the family, and we’re all working together to shape world-class SaaS experiences for our customers.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Burn out, especially now with everything going on in everyone’s lives is a real concern. With even the smallest of separation between work and home going away, and the very real issues of a health crisis, lack of childcare options, etc., families are under very real stress. We are implementing Summer Fridays at Metallic and Commvault to help our teams force a step back. My advice is for folks (and sometimes I am the first who needs this), is to be there, be present, and force a disconnect from the always connected world.

We have a team of incredibly driven, passionate people who gravitate toward the fast pace, the opportunity, and the excitement of building a new business. It’s on leaders to make sure their team unplugs to recharge. Especially now. Make sure people feel it’s safe — and encouraged — to raise their hand and say they need a break. This can be as simple as strongly encouraging employees take summer Friday, encouraging a day off, advocating flexibility.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am a strong believer that one cannot achieve success without standing on the shoulders of giants and without strong help from family. I am grateful for the strong foundation that my parents built in me, not just in education but also values and resilience. My spouse who has been a source of inspiration and strength for over half my life, my kids for their understanding but also teaching me things in their very unique way that makes me better.

Professionally, I have had some great leaders and colleagues who I have had the pleasure of working for and with, and several who continue to make the time to informally mentor me and be a sounding board as I make difficult choices on patterns that may be new for me. Folks like Pat Gelsinger (CEO of VMware), Art Coviello, Tom Heiser and Chris Young (all current or former CEOs of RSA, McAfee, etc.), Antonio Neri (CEO of HPE), and Sanjay Mirchandani (Commvault CEO and my current boss) are all leaders who not only supported me when I worked for or with them years ago, but continue to check in, mentor, advise, guide, and make time despite their very busy schedules. They are an inspiration I use to learn from, but also to give back and mentor others, who I also learn a lot from.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview.Can you share with our readers three of the main steps Metallic has taken to build its community?

Our approach has been three-fold. First, we have been heavily engaged with industry and social media influencers and IT pros to help them understand our value. When you’re a new brand or offering, like Metallic, it’s important to educate the community to build trust. That’s in our DNA.

Second, we’ve activated our partners through social media, blogging and all-around awareness building. We realize we are not in this alone, and a strong partner strategy is central to the Metallic strategy.

Lastly, we listen to our community and take their needs into consideration when we make decisions. We’re in an unprecedented situation today, and Commvault and Metallic looked at what our community needed and how we could step up what we do in order to help them.

For example, just six months after we launched the Metallic SaaS portfolio — just as we hit our stride — we decided that the most important thing we should be doing is taking care of our customers in an unprecedented situation. That’s why we pivoted to offering our Metallic Endpoint Backup & Recovery solution to customers free of charge for six months. They needed help transitioning to a remote workforce almost overnight and giving them free laptop data protection was a no-brainer.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Metallic protects data and believes that the monetization model for that needs to be very aligned to how users procure the primary workloads. We have multiple ways of pricing, per user, instance, and tera-byte. We recently introduced Metallic on the Microsoft Azure Marketplace recently for O365 workloads, here is an example where even the final transaction can be on Microsoft paper and users pay a simple pricing at $4/user or can work with us for volume based pricing. The goal was to eliminate friction. We’ll continue to expand our routes to market and explore various monetization models.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to run a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

For me there are three things that are critical to run a successful SaaS business — or any tech business for that matter. They’re simply the people, the technological depth, and the potential going forward.

Although I’ve just recently come on board, I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with several people on Commvault’s leadership team in past roles and lives. And, I have gotten to know many more members of the Commvault team beyond our Metallic-ers since officially joining. The people here made it possible for me to hit the ground running.

I have also been very impressed with the depth of technical, operational, and market innovation and thought leadership shown from the top, on the Metallic team, and throughout Commvault. With more than 20 years in the data business, Commvault has stared down challenges to remain sustainable with customers and has overcome the classic Innovator’s Dilemma to launch Metallic, a disruptively innovative offering, quickly in the market.

Which brings me to the third reason — the potential. I believe that Metallic is for Commvault what Azure has been for Microsoft. For 10 years, every part of Microsoft contributed to making Azure one of the top cloud leaders. That is our aspiration for Metallic’s next phase of growth, and everyone at Commvault is behind us.

Metallic will be the market-leading SaaS data management solution, delivering the simplest, cloud-first experience, leveraging the best of Commvault’s market leading IP. Metallic is the go-to SaaS delivery mechanism for protecting critical workloads.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Especially today, every aspect of our lives has moved online. Along with it comes many concerns — security, privacy, online-bullying, phishing — targeting of the population that are newer to the online world, especially the younger and older generations. If I could, I’d start a movement for a newer, more trusted internet, with fundamentals of security, privacy, and protection built into the fabric.

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