One of the main reasons we created this TakeOff series of articles with tech company founders was to show the sheer variety of people who make the leap. There is no template here. Many are serial entrepreneurs, but some are like Dharmendra Mohan, CEO of Sonet.io: an established leader in a big-name company who decides to give up that security for the uncertainty — and excitement — of a startup.
To use Dharmendra’s own words, “I realised that if I wanted to build something great, I’d need to go out on my own”. Although, like so many other founders we have interviewed, he knew that he also needed a co-founder who shared his vision and supplemented his skills. And he needed a killer idea.
Fortunately, this is where over 20 years of building successful cybersecurity solutions came into play. He has launched global cybersecurity services and scaled them to global deployments. And he helped Blue Coat grow from a startup to a security business bought by Symantec for a cool $4.7 billion.
How much, we can’t help but wonder, will Sonet.io be worth in ten years?
What’s your elevator pitch?
Sonet.io is built for IT leaders who want a great experience for their workers, and efficiency in their IT teams. We make it easy for remote workers to access SaaS apps, desktop apps and servers from any device or browser while enhancing security and observability. IT teams can eliminate hardware shipments, and expensive virtual desktops and save up to 10x on IT costs for remote workers.
What made you launch a startup?
Previously I worked at BlueCoat and Symantec as a Director of Engineering, but I realised that if I wanted to build something great, I’d need to go out on my own, so I co-founded Sonet.io with Venu Banda.
We wanted to solve the problem of access, security and observability with a simple but powerful solution. A problem that most companies encountered even before Covid-19, and most large companies appeared to not be taking on. How can you enable your employees to access what they need, when they need it, without hindering productivity or compromising security? How can this be done without cost-prohibitive VDIs and without having to ship devices in a gig-economy-led world?
The problem cropped up with freelancers, contractors and new hires, and none of the large companies wanted to solve it in a scalable manner.
So what exact problem are you trying to solve?
Sonet.io is solving the problem of remote work access, security and observability. The modern workforce has changed and now includes employees and contractors spread across the globe, but IT teams are still burdened with legacy tools that don’t match the modern workforce requirements.
Existing solutions like VDIs, DaaS, shipping devices or installing agents are time-consuming and don’t provide a good experience. Remote workers want to use their own devices and the browser of their choice. IT teams need to be able to see what’s happening — know how many licences are being used, know if there are security incidents that they need to address in real-time and see exactly what actions users are taking.
Can you talk us through your journey so far? What’s a major milestone you’ve reached?
When Venu and I decided to start Sonet.io, we had the product idea in mind, and did the work to establish technical feasibility — and then just around when most companies get ready to raise funding, Covid hit.
Startups and VCs would take another six months to figure out how to do this whole thing remotely, but we were already in it. So, we decided to bootstrap. I went from Director of Engineering [at Symantec] to learning how to file company registration documents, creating smart pitch decks, understanding the nuances of user experience, and so much more besides brainstorming solutions and building prototypes.
And the hardest part was reaching out and asking for help.
Asking for advice from those who have done this before.
Hearing about different paths to take, different journeys that have led others to success.
And making decisions about which one we might want to start with.
Then hoping like anything that it was the right thing to do.
That we made the right move.
Most times, it has worked out. Sometimes different than we had originally planned, but our customers are happy and growing every day.
In early 2022, we launched our product, and the response was exactly what we had hoped for. We started reaching out to find early adopters. With every conversation, we discovered more about the potential of our product, this amazing solution that we were building, that is going to be integral to the “future of work” — whatever that holds.
We are competing against industry giants, those that have established a way of doing this, and Sonet.io is disrupting their foothold with every conversation we have.
Every day we consciously make the decision not to pursue an opportunity, as much as choose to pursue one. We choose to always prioritise what will bring the most value to our customers, today, and solve their most immediate problems.
How has the startup scene in Silicon Valley helped Sonet.io’s development?
Silicon Valley has a great ecosystem of founders that you can tap for advice. There are service providers catering for early-stage startups that help get you going. Funding was challenging but available for the right ideas and a capital-efficient business. There are a lot of engineers and smart ideas around to leverage and incorporate into your product.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and how did you overcome it?
We were building the solution that we believed that customers wanted by listening to a few customers. We needed to have many, many customer conversations to understand their true pain points and prioritise exactly the features that they wanted. We have since shifted towards having many, many conversations and finding a common pattern of what the majority of them want before we prioritise building something.
Where do you hope your startup will be in ten years?
We will be a well-recognised name to connect any user to their tools to get their job done. We will be globally deployed and used by tens (100s?) of thousands of users every day.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
My advice is: to buckle up, prepare for the uncertainty and enjoy the ride — it’s the best and the worst. But it’s a journey that I am thoroughly excited to continue on.
What would you say to potential investors reading this interview?
Remote work is here to stay and the way we do things today needs to change to fit the new way of doing work. Sonet.io offers a vision that is fundamentally aligned with how people want to work while reducing considerable IT friction. Security and observability are the key pillars of any remote work solution and Sonet.io provides the core functions that are needed to make remote work productive, secure and hassle-free. Workers can use any device, any browser, from any location to access any app or server and have a native user experience.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone looking to launch their startup?
You have to really know your customers first and understand the pain point that is affecting them deeply so you build the right solution, at the right price point.
More interviews with startup founders
- Taha Zemmouri, Eden AI: “It’s very difficult to project that far ahead in an AI world where developments occur in weeks, not years.”
- Gabi Steele, CEO of Preql: “Take bigger swings, you’ve already proven you can do this”
- Edmund Ng, CEO at Doxa: “You need to have Co-Founders. They will help you to cover your blind spots”
Generative AI is about more than just automating sales and marketing. It’s about making it more personal, too.
Amazon and Microsoft trade blows over cloud competition
Chetna Gogia, Chief Human Resources Officer at GoKwik: “Go deep in acquiring the right knowledge before you advise on HR practices to management”
In this Coffee with HR interview, we speak to Chetna Gogia, Chief Human Resources Officer at GoKwik. She has over 20+ years of experience leading HR functions across various sectors