“Never lose focus.” With Sagi Gidali & Mitch Russo

My advice to other founders is to never lose focus. That means not developing too many features at once and not targeting too many markets at one time. It’s also important to plan your budgets and fundraising properly to avoid surprises. That includes calculating your burn rate so you exactly when you should start bringing […]

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My advice to other founders is to never lose focus. That means not developing too many features at once and not targeting too many markets at one time. It’s also important to plan your budgets and fundraising properly to avoid surprises. That includes calculating your burn rate so you exactly when you should start bringing in more cash.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sagi Gidali. Sagi is a UX/UI leader with over 15 years of experience in the field. Prior to co-founding Perimeter 81, he founded SaferVPN, a successful consumer VPN together with Amit Bareket. Sagi has also worked for Siemens as a UX consultant. He has a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Economics from Tel Aviv University and served in the Israel Defense Force’s elite visual intelligence unit (Unit 9900).

Thank you so much for joining us Sagi! 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?

Amit and I met at Tel Aviv University in 2012 while studying computer science, and joined forces to found SaferVPN. We both were working at larger enterprises and had to deal with cumbersome legacy VPN technology that was complicated, difficult to install and not at all user-friendly. SaferVPN is now one of the world’s most-recognized VPN brands, and was recently acquired by J2 Global, a leading Internet and media conglomerate.

Two years later we launched our B2B Network as a Service solution, Perimeter 81. Since its founding, it has quickly gained traction in the Software-Defined Perimeter and Network as a Service market, and is transforming the way companies consume network security. In the past year we were named a Gartner Cool Vendor, won many cybersecurity awards, and holds a patent for Automatic Wi-Fi Security.

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

Due to the adoption of remote workers on the go and the cloud we saw there was a need for a more user friendly network security solution. Due to end-users of majority corporate products are people, we decided to start by building a product for consumers. Amit and I begin by bootstrapping and working out of the Google Campus Tel Aviv Launchpad. While there, they meet their very first client, propelling the start of our business. Fast forward just a few years later and our consumer service.Today, we are bringing this same user-friendly and innovative SaaS approach to the business market with our innovative, software-defined B2B solution.

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?

With SaferVPN, our first year of business fell short of our customer acquisition goals. Instead of reaching 10,000 customers, we only managed to sign up about 1,000 customers. This led us to completely re-evaluate and revise our marketing strategy and taught us to be more patient, less fearful and more willing to take risks.

With our B2B product, Perimeter 81, we took more time carefully planning out our strategies for acquiring and retaining customers. However, enterprise security is a very crowded and competitive market and the sales and marketing strategies are completely different from those we used for our B2C product. The process of shifting to the B2B space and building a B2B brand from scratch presented many challenges.

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

We’ve seen a great demand in the market for our service. In just 20 months, we’ve gained considerable traction in the market, acquiring over 400 paying customers (including the United Nations, Pinterest, Wag! Labs, SuperData a Nielsen Company, SoundCloud, Leatherman and more) and 20+ MSP Partners. We’ve seen an average of 250% growth in our top 25 accounts and an average Quarter over Quarter growth of 75%.

We look forward to continuing to transform the world of secure network access and helping small businesses of all industries securely move to the cloud and empower their modern, mobile workforce.

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?

A few years ago with Safer VPN, we conducted a poorly strategized project that was a massive failure which resulted in the loss of 1 million dollars in potential income. Due to this massive mistake and failure we learnt it’s best not to launch and develop too many features at once and not to target too many markets at one time. It’s also important to plan your budgets and fundraising properly to avoid surprises. That includes calculating your burn rate so you exactly when you should start bringing in more cash.

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

While our competitors focus on large organizations, small & medium enterprises increasingly face the same cybersecurity risks as larger ones. We offer a holistic network security solution to a range of organizations & businesses sizes, with a focus on the mid-size market. Our pricing is extremely competitive & deployment, scalability, and on-boarding of our product is seamless & fast.

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

I’ve learned that it’s important to take risks and dream big, and even more important not to get too discouraged when you fail.

In our first year of business, Amit and I were unable to achieve our customer acquisition goals. We tried to sign up 10,000 customers but only managed to get around 1,000. This setback was certainly disappointing, but ultimately, with a little more patience and careful strategic planning, we ultimately succeeded.

Ironically, this experience made us less fearful and more willing to take risks. Now, when my co-founder and I have new ideas for our business, we have more confidence and conviction to go for what we’ve envisioned and see our ideas through — because we know we can bounce back from anything.

This entire experience has allowed us to pursue our goals and expand our business to B2B. I’ve personally seen how patience, persistence and hard work can pay off.

My advice to other founders is to never lose focus. That means not developing too many features at once and not targeting too many markets at one time. It’s also important to plan your budgets and fundraising properly to avoid surprises. That includes calculating your burn rate so you exactly when you should start bringing in more cash.

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?

There was not one specific mentor, by taking part in different startup programs is a great way to meet and find an experienced mentor. When I started out as a young entrepreneur, my co-founder and I joined a Google Campus startup program where we met different mentors who helped us gear what our product is today. Over the two weeks, we had one-on-one encounters with Israel’s top startup mentors who helped us with our product pitch, roadmap and building a team. Without this mentorship, we wouldn’t be where we are today.“

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We currently have over 400 paying customers and that number continues to grow per quarter. It took extensive market research and competitor analysis to get the product and marketing fit right. But with the team on board with the new business and goals, we found our product market fit and began seeing huge potential in the market.

A few customer outreach strategies that have been effective are our partnerships, including working with MSPs and OEMs that offer our easy-to-use network security solutions to their clientsaffiliate relationships, and our blog, social media channels, and unique email funnels have all helped increase the company’s visibility and organic user acquisition.

We’ve also invested heavily in our customer support program, which includes 24/7 email support, documentation with helpful product guides and personalized 1:1 technical assistance.

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?

Perimeter 81 uses a subscription-based SaaS model. Most of our clients are doing “land and expand” by which they implement Perimeter 81 starting with small teams and then scale up. Because we are a SaaS service, it is simple and easy for our customers to scale up independently; all that is required from them is to select the amount of users, apps, and gateways, and they will be charged automatically. In order to simplify the consumption of cybersecurity, we selected a per-tier/per-seat model.

Furthermore, we have a very strong MSP partner program. We’ve developed a multi-tenant management platform that solves the major pains hardware management has created for them in the past, and allows them to manage their SMB clients networks all in one place. We also have a dedicated PRM Partner portal that allows our MSP partners to easily co-brand marketing assets and enable sales. To date, we have over 20 successful MSP partnerships.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Always use your data when strategizing
  2. QA is essential
  3. Extensive market research and competitor analysis is crucial
  4. Invest heavily in a customer support programs
  5. Technical partnerships is a key element to SaaS success

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. 🙂

Soon after launching our business, we received a letter from a mother in Azerbaijan telling us how our VPN technology was an essential tool that allowed her to bypass the government’s online censorship and share the memory of her son, a fallen soldier. This made us realize the very real impact our technology has.

Together with the non-profit human rights crowdsourcing platform, Movements.org, we launched the #UnblocktheWeb initiative. Through this initiative we provide free VPN access to activists in dissidents living in closed societies, so that they can browse the web safe from government surveillance and free of censorship.

Freedom of speech and online expression is something Amit and I both believe strongly in. It has been incredibly rewarding to take the technology we’ve created and use it for the greater good.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


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

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