The Billion Dollar PM - Sunil Potti (VP/GM - Google Cloud, CPO - Nutanix)

Sunil Potti


Sunil: “If you have the right cultural fabric to keep thinking, that I have to simplify as if it's 10 steps, I have to get it to five steps, you know, but you can only do that. If there's out of the eight to 10 people, they all understand the value. If you're the one or two designers or a PM, trying to do that, and the engineers don't really get it, they can't emphasize with it. It's hard. So that's the biggest thing that I've found is any group that has a high degree of empathy, for simplification, is directly proportional to how effective you are in simplifying the next step”.  


Ankur: Hello, everyone!. Welcome to another episode of ZeroToExit. This is Ankur and Neelima. In today's show we are excited to have with us Sunil Potti ,VP and GM for Google cloud security business. Prior to Google, Sunil was the CPO at Nutanix, a leader in hyper-converged infrastructure. He also held product leadership roles at Citrix, F5, Cisco and others. Sunil is what I call the billion dollar PM. He has consistently led market leading products and is a master of scale. In this episode, we'll talk about how to consistently find the right company to work for? How to land the top role? And how to build scale and sell great products. Hey Sunil, welcome to the show.

Sunil: Great to be here Ankur and Neelima,Thank you!.

Ankur: Yeah, Thanks for taking the time. I know it's a busy season for you and Google and everybody, but I, we really appreciate you taking the time. I want to kick things off by asking you kind of, what's been the biggest surprise for you in the last one year, either personally or professionally?

Sunil: I would say that interestingly, it's probably something that touches both profession and I think personal in the sense, clearly it has to, at least I'm not different than most folks where the pandemic is really top of mind, but, I actually really dig working from home.And the reason why it's surprising is I'm what people think is a highly extroverted social person. Yeah. I like hanging out with people, hanging out with teams, having meetings, going out, you know, bond with folks and so forth. For someone like that, clearly there was , the initial, personally as well as with colleagues it was a little bit,pretty tough, for folks like you. And I think I was able to get away, earlier on when things were a little bit open, we can get a buzz of meeting folks outside and so forth. But, what actually turned out to be the case is that, to me personally, is that I really love working from home, just taking walks, making calls, and, and in many ways I am way more productive than being five, 10 minutes late to a meeting constantly and having to show up in a conference room and then there's four of the 10 people are anywhere remote, you know, the usual things that we're all in a stressed out about the commute and all right. So, in many ways, I think both professionally and personally, I think I'm looking forward to the fact that there's probably zero chance that most companies will go back to the usual way of working.

I'm sure the next 6 to 12 months will be an experiment. At least in Google, we're definitely going to do a couple of experiments and personally, I'm looking forward to this sort of new way of working. And that'll also impact my personal life and my professional life. So.

Ankur: Yeah, couldn't agree more. Right. I often talk about this in the podcast as well. Like I've never worked from home ever. And then like last one year there has been a revolution. It's actually, everything is fine when you're more productive and get to spend more time with the family. My second, I thought that, your biggest, you were going to see your biggest surprises that you would have never thought one in a million year that, artists called people are going to sell an art, for $68 million over an NFT on a blockchain.

Sunil: Yeah. I guess there's many, many surprises, frankly. Put it this way over the last year. Right?

Neelima: Yeah, So I'll pivot your career a bit Sunil, as I look at your career from Cisco,F5, Citrix, Nutanix, and now Google! you've been at the right company at the right time. How did you manage to consistently bet on the right horse?


Sunil: Yeah, I know, I know we talked a little bit about this before, Neelima, the anchor. I see my take is actually, in many ways, what might look like a good trajectory is all relative, right? It could have been much better depending on the opportunities I didn't take ,as well as obviously, you know, much worse if I look at it as an optimistic lens, I would say that, 15 years ago, like most folks, you know, probably in the early part of their career and so forth, reasonably aggressive about outcomes and all that usual stuff.

One thing I was pretty clear about even then was, I don't think. Now I know, but at that point I was pretty clear that I wasn't an entrepreneur who would actually go found things. Okay. And,  you know, if you've watched the movie  “Enter the Dragon”, there's this guy called John Saxon, and this is a very famous line that he uses and  the scene is like, you know, you have to go fight Bruce Lee and both of them are good people, but, and this guy goes, “Look I'm a man that knows my limitations”. I think one of the things to sort of think through your trajectory  is not what you can do, but what you can’t do also, in my opinion, and that's hard when you're younger and aggressive and ambitious and you know, all that stuff.

So, for me, I think the optimistic thing is that earlier in my life, I missed out on some opportunities. I just say that I could have been like,say, an engineering lead in one of our larger social media companies in 2006, But then I was enamored by being a director at Cisco and all the younger guys.

And you know, why would I go and take another job at some of the company that was much smarter, right? So after I missed on some of those opportunities, very, very quickly, I started optimizing for the opportunity than the role” and many folks figured this out, but earlier in your careers, normally to kind of make that trade off is very hard because you're, you're sort of like gifted with roles and more increasingly responsibility.

And you can’t take a step down,it is kind of, to be a smaller fish in a 10X larger pond is much harder when you're young. And  so, that's probably one of the core things that probably helped me was that, partly I knew I wasn't one of these entrepreneurs who just wanted to kind of go big and all that, I could build stuff.

I could scale stuff, but you know, entrepreneuring, as you all know is different, And the second thing that I learned, but probably a little later, maybe not early, but mid stage is the fact to optimize for the opportunity, not the role. And that's really what happened was when NetScaler came on after F5, it was similar.But really what I looked at was, rather than look at the enterprise opportunity, how would we actually go after, you know, coming from behind because in Citrix, NetScaler was like, a stepchild to some extent and all large companies, they have the saying, right? When you have a multi-product company, you can't teach the sales guy new tricks when they're making quotes on their old tricks.

Yeah. And as long as the primary product is making money, it's pretty hard to grow a second business. That's one of the fundamental reasons why people quit companies, right? So, but in the case of let's go, what happened was that at least when I was at F5 and others, I could see how F5 was so enamored by the enterprise, that there was this emerging opportunity at that time, this is 2009 that people didn't really pay attention to things called cloud because there wasn't something called cloud and there was all this growth happening on all these startups using ‘Amazon’ at that time.

Right.  so, and obviously all that build required a scalable infrastructure, et cetera, et cetera. forth. So as long as there was an instinct or an idea to kinda  look at the opportunity being different, the role was pretty similar, frankly, between F5 and Citrix.

It's just that because the opportunity was different, the impact or the outcome spending three years at Citrix was not 2X more than F5, but it was like 5X more than a five because the outcome went from whatever 5,000 million dollars to a billion dollar business and so forth. Right. So I would say that, let me pause there and I'm sure there's probably questions, but it's really the pivot done opportunity versus role.I think the earlier in life that folks do, I think the better off they are.


Ankur: So, one of the things that I was going to ask you later in part,  as we've read more about you, is like looking around the corners for opportunities. So, let's say, you know, you're doing really well in one company for you to be able to see what the future is starting to look like. Right. Just recently, what Coinbase founders saw. A lot of people didn't see that. How do you look around the corners individually? Not just in product decisions, but when you think about career and, and we want some practical advice for our listeners, like working in a company good 20, 30% year over year business, but there's a big paradigm shift happening elsewhere. How do you seize those moments?

Sunil: Yeah, no, man. It's hard. I mean, I, and I frankly, it's even with Coinbase, for example, right. Two years ago and the company is what, a dozen years old or something like that now. Right. it's not a clubhouse,  two years ago. I don't know if people would've said, Oh yeah, coinbase. Right. So, that means that they've been doing it for like seven, eight years without the world  recognizing that there was actually a corner that was turned. Right. There is no, at least my personal take on something like this is, I'm good, but not great at being extremely curious. Yes. And so you can only look around corners, rather look for opportunities, look for people who constantly want to do that. And you curate your relationships to at least have a few people like that. You know, obviously they're not normal people, in a normal situation, but, and, and you'd be surprised how many times turning around corners is not as much as looking around at something. It's to actually follow the instincts of people who are extremely curious.

And then it's up to you as a person to kind of connect the dots a little bit, obviously do some testing and then, you know, put some filters on it, get some signal from the noise, because for the extremely curious people, there's also a reasonable degree of noise in my opinion, just because their personalities are like that.

So if you're like one step removed, I think in my opinion it is the art i.e. one step removed from that extreme curiosity, which allows you to bring a level of balance, but still leaning in around being open to what's actually going on. Why are these folks doing this? Why is somebody talking about this idea, right? And that allows you to kind of then lean and learn more. And then you go to your connection with that. So. So in summary, when people are talking like in the world of security right now, a lot of people like talking about governance and regulations because of the cloud act, the local California act or European shrimp stew regulation now getting into some, you know, security related stuff but when you see those themes emerging and, and the nationalistic regimes are actually locking in post-Trump then you know that there's probably a new era governance, because once you go there, they aren't going to come back. Right. It's  like China, basically once they became nationalistic and they're going to build stuff internally that, so the folks have a role model.

So anyway, just as an example.

Neelima: Yeah! You, kind of, mentioned a management concept that I've been reading, start from doing to leading and that's more of a management thing, but what you're saying is, when you're following the ideas, follow the people who are kind of curating the curious ideas and then focus on one theme and then go after it basically.

Sunil: Yeah. Interesting point of view. I just don't know whether it's, you know, summed enough, but generally it's not even a fast follower type. There's the art of being, not the first person of the door, but just being that really close second.

Just so that you have the option to come back. Or the option, but you don't lose the opportunity to go all in, if it makes sense. Yeah. And that's a little bit of an art. And, you know, that's what people talk about as timing, right? Quote-unquote

Ankur: Yeah. You minimize the risk  because the first person walking in that door is the entrepreneur, which is either committing a suicide or going to make $20 billion  like the Coinbase’s CEO did. But if you're the second guy, you're still ending up with a big payoff.

Sunil: Personalities and not, well, that's what I'm saying is that I think, if you're a product person or a normal, like, if you're going down your normal stuff, I think maybe something like that makes sense. But if you have a chip on your shoulder, you want to run your own company and this is the only way you want to grow and all that you'll have no problem being the first person out.

Neelima: And, and one point that you mentioned is it's so important to also know what you're not going to do. Little practical examples there? How do you kind of evolve that decision tree?

Sunil: There's things in that dimension that apply to your career, as I mentioned, right? Whether you do just because you became successful and then there's a constant set of VCs that'll always go to you and then you'll find that, it's quite enamoring to kind of go build something just because there's money available. Right!. A lot of people do that as we know, and these days, especially there's a lot more money available. So I think on the, on the carrier side, there's quite a bit of that, that I think, again, there's nothing wrong in trying it out. It's just that at some point soon in your life,if you can learn to ensure that like, just, just because things are available doesn't mean you should do them.

So, this is where you just have to kind of really have a filter on, is this the right thing for you? Are you willing to kind of go the distance? And that's what I meant by entrepreneuring versus, you know, joining something to use B or something like that. And there's no harm and fall as long as you're authentic about it.

Right. And, most companies actually prefer authentic leaders who, who sort of like, Hey, look, could I have done a decent job in the founding team probably, but if things went sod and all with that, was that something that I would wake up in the morning and really carry it for probably not me.

Right. But there are a lot of other people like that. Right. so that's just an example of knowing what your limitations are. Similarly, I would say on the independent carrier side, even in product journeys, even in personal lives and all, I think we talk about product scaling all the time, right?

And we talk about product market fit. The whole definition of product market fit is to accept what your product cannot do.  Most folks who had an ambition of building products, you'd be surprised how many people don't apply that filter. Right. and so anyway, because the easy way to define a product like a fit is to give them a big market.

Ankur: Yeah. We're going to talk a lot about product growth, actually. That's going to the, the product pieces, because that's kind of the, really the main thing we want to discuss, but before we get there, I do want to kind of segue into the next section, which is, you know, it's hot, hard enough to find the right horse to bet on, it's even harder to be the top Jock, riding their horse.

you've been the top Jock in a lot of the, especially the last four or five companies and managed to land the top product role, at least. Right. I'd love for you to sort of talk about some of the core principles that have led you to land that role. I think what sort of, a lot of people don't recognize is people are like, “Well, if I work hard enough and I learn enough, the universe will give me the top role”. And one of the things I've learned is that that's maybe foundational or not even that important. What have you learned along your journey to, kind of,  got you in the position that you had been consistently in?


Sunil: Yeah. I mean, I think this obviously, in itself, it  is a longer discussion than required to cover everything [both laughs], but I'll tell you a few things that come to mind. First of all, look. Yeah. Was I a top product guy maybe at Nutanix and ironically at Google I'm not the top product guy, they’re all relevant roles but maybe not the top role.

Right. But,the spirit of the question is like, how do you chart that trajectory i.e. both opportunity, And role? Like, remember like five minutes ago we talked about optimization. What opportunity can you do both? Then you get a forced opportunity when you're done. Right. Let's talk about that for a second. So I think if you do well, And you're able to kind of have those instincts or looking around corners on a few things.

Remember what I was talking about following people, looking, you know, in addition to doing a great job executing as par for the course, then you'll be able to sense when opportunity is opening up and you're putting those filters to kind of be in the first 15% that recognizes that opportunity. Yeah. So that gets you in the game, because if you're in the first 15%, the chances of you being set up to do a good role is way higher than being in the 50 percent. Right. Just because by that time, either the person already there would have grown or, you know, et cetera, et cetera. Right. So, that's one way to get an opportunity X Role is to be in the first 15% of an opportunity that you look at, you don't have to be in the first 1%, which is the founding team, but the first 15% or so. Yeah. And then as long as the opportunity is scaling, your role automatically gets to the top. And there are many, many folks like that that you've seen.

Right? So that's your, what I would call a standard technique is. Optimize for opportunity, but make sure that you're not too hesitant as in, like, you're not at 1%, but you're not like don't wait for C,D,E,F  now, make sure that you are in between A and B or equal into that. And that, by the way, that applies to not just a small company that applies to big companies right.

I mean, when there's a new product initiative, the early, maybe one, two, things are harder, but, but once it gets going, if I'm an engineer, I'm a product person and so forth, sort of like being the person that maybe was the second person beyond the GM to kind of help define that new product area inside my New Co. and write that two 50 million hundred million, whatever it is,that defines you.

Right? So that's one way to get the opportunity times’ role , the second way, which is much more elusive and probably much more  ‘elitist’. And to some extent, hopefully folks all get to that is where not only is the opportunity well-known and waiting. But the role is opened up for someone like you, you could argue that the larger the opportunity or the better, the opportunity, the bigger the roles, the big roles are not as open anymore either because they're already taken and so forth, but then you see this all the time, right?

I mean, you know, it's Snowflake with Slootman being brought in as CEO and all right, so you see those with CEO jobs, you'll be surprised, that it also happens with product jobs definitely happens with sales jobs and so forth. So, that's when I think that's a little limited just because you're talking about maybe 10, 20 people per year that are  in that category. But at some point, if you can get to be that 10 or 20 people per year in a certain segment, then that's another way to maximize opportunity time. So, What I mean by that is just to kind of put things in perspective, right? Imagine at CDs D company, you know, you're going to go public in a year or two and highly likely you normally look for a head of sales or CFO, CFO, most of the time, maybe head of sales. Yeah. Very few times they look for a head of product or engineering or things like that, unless something's broken right. At that point in time, they'll score the Valley and look for 10-20 people to, to choose from essentially what, based on whatever work you've done, they're giving you that ‘opportunity times role’, because they want that expertise and so that is something that is earned by, you know, a whole bunch of things that you've done in your past lives to, for them to actually have given you that opportunity. Right? So anyway, those are the two things : Basically go early, but not too early, but go in the 15% or do enough, which is what we can get into the details as to what are all the things that allow you to be recruited in CDs, DNF as a CPO, So.

Ankur: Got it. So that's really good practical advice to, sort of, land the top rule to begin with. A lot of people are curious about, you are organically moving within an organization, right? And consistently going higher and higher, and I'm just finishing up Robert Greene's 48 laws of power and I'm on law number 36. And once I'm done with 48, I mean I'm going to conquer the world. But  the first law in the book is, “Do not outshine your boss”. Okay. My question to you is that as people think about moving up their career, and your personal experience, how do you get to your boss' role?


Sunil: It depends on who you are. It depends on who your boss is. It depends on the company that you're in. And there's lots of dimensions 

Ankur: Yeah.

Sunil: First of all, my instinctive reaction is I don't think I'll follow that law or I agree that law did that, like, listen, I'm sure there's lots of examples and there's some truth there. [ Both laughs].Wait, like human humans, don't like to be outshone. But ultimately I think, let me try to answer that one way ,again going back to my.., if your opportunity is growing 10X to a 100X, your boss is also growing  10X. So for you to do a Boss’ job is just a logical state of being right. You can still be a boss, but it's like, you're kind of like your boss as long as the opportunity goes up 10X.

So, and even in those situations, what I've also found is there's less insecurities. When, people start making $1 million to make 10 or 100 or billion, that people tend to become more gregarious. So, in many ways, if you have a limited opportunity or an incremental opportunity is when you really have to worry about all these things.

Ankur: if the pie keeps getting bigger and bigger, you don't have to worry about all the slicing and dicing. Yeah,

Sunil: That's why I say that. Look, frankly, if you're able to make a fork in your path on opportunity, that's why it comes back to that way. Sooner. A lot of downstream things become easier.

Neelima: Yeah, that's a great point actually, about the pie becoming bigger, never thought of it in that way.

Ankur: yeah, 

Neelima: From a career building standpoint ,and related question, how would you split your time in this bigger pie? You know, the Pie is becoming bigger, so you obviously have an opportunity, but how much time should you spend managing up, down and sideways?


Sunil: I think in general, by the way, when we talk about career management, I think there's a  bipolar answer that I think I want to give here, which is that, at some point you want to be intentional in carrier management. No question about it, but I don't know if that is the Leading indicator, let me tell you what I mean by that. Bezos or somebody else has these inputs and outputs, but basically  the general thing about what is a lagging indicator, What's a lagging indicator? Like if you have great products and a great market and great customer satisfaction, you have great top line revenue. Right. You know, our stock price. So that's lagging, this is the leading, so I would say that  intentional career management is important, but it feels to me like it's more on the lagging side. What is probably more leading that's why  when you think about managing up or societal sit down, that means that you're making that the primary thing.

Yeah. However if you are focused more on it, it varies from opportunity to opportunity. It's easier said than done, right? But predominantly, I think , even in the worst companies or in the worst situations, people respect a few core dimensions.

Right. Which is like,  Are you highly accountable?  “Say what you do, do what you say?” Second, Are you reasonably good to work with?  And then third, Are you someone that is more genuine about what they're doing? Yes. Career is important, but they're generally more, more concerned about the outcome than the job. Yeah. And that's hard to differentiate, but  what I'm saying is that the leaning indicator is to let the managing up ,down and sideways come as an after effect of an intentional approach to do better things and what you do. Right. Like tonight, go and source new ideas, even in a normal PM job. Right. Can I actually get five customers to come inside and have a pitch to my CEO? Right. Or somebody like that. Right. Basically do things that surprise people that go above and beyond what you're supposed to be. And I think that reduces a lot of the, what I would call the natural, not friction, but the natural requirements to kind of be much more intentional of working upward sideways and downwards.

Neelima: Yeah. So what you're saying is overdeliver and basically rest of the things will follow.

Sunil: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I know it's easier said than done, but over delivery could be, it doesn't have to be on the core project. Right. It could be in any set of surprises, Where people are saying, look, this person came to help me and this person said a good thing. And eventually all those will add up where the system recognizes you as someone that is a little different than the standard.

So then you don't have to work extra hard on the standard techniques of that. Makes sense.

Neelima: Yep.It totally makes sense.

Ankur: Yeah. And it's, I've, I've talked about this in the podcast a couple of times, but like, I think, Peter Theil, back in the PayPal mafia days, and Keith Rabois talks about this whole battles and ammunition analogy where if there are interesting project, if you can become the battle in an organization, like people will naturally seek out to you for interesting projects, that'll lead you to interesting work and you are right. Sort of like thinking too much about like, sort of, Hey, like how should I manage up? And should I spend time, it can be all consuming, just do the right thing. Basically, be the battle in an organization rest will follow.

Sunil: Yeah. And also, I think, look, these days, what does change? Right? Like twenty-five years ago, there were 50 companies that mattered in tech and there are like 5,000 companies. There are all kinds of companies that matter. Right. And I think that era has completely changed in my opinion, where you, if you actually give it a shot of being yourself and, you know, whatever, all that good stuff for a couple of years, and for some reason it's not doing well, just maybe it's not the right company.

It's okay. There's 5,000 opportunities. Right. Unlike, twenty-five years ago, you kind of had to grind it out through Amazon or IBM or something like that. Right.

Neelima: Totally. All great points.

Ankur: Pretty good.

Neelima:  Thanks. So we talked about how to bet on the right horse. How do we top jock? Let's now talk about how to win the race. There is a ton of tribal knowledge in Silicon Valley around getting zero to initial traction. What we don't hear is a playbook to do this at scale. What are some core principles you found across all your companies that have helped you build and scale products? They're generating hundreds of millions in dollars in revenue. So in a nutshell, act two and act three of a growth product, What does it look like?


Sunil: Sure. I think, and, and it, coincidentally, can speak a little bit beyond the Nutanix thing on, on both how Google's GCP is doing a little of that, but also even, even in a, not so exciting area, like NetScaler, right. There was a beta, but talk about Danny's as an example. So, but what is the common pattern across all three, I think is that whether you're building a smaller company or you're building this in a mid-sized company or whatever it is, is to always covet a large opportunity.

Yeah. Remember we talked about personal careers, very congruent to product growth. Yeah. Because in many ways, product growth, career growth, you know, if you're Tito career as a product, not the same strategies apply. Right. and we all know that our multiple acts and all that usual stuff that tick, what I've found is to make sure that the activation energy to go from act one to act two is as low as possible. Obviously you'll have to find reasonably connected arcs. Right. So I don't, I mean, we can go into those details, but I'm presuming most people know that look, you want to kind of revolutionize IT then let me start with compute and storage because that's what runs most of our workloads. And then let me look left and right. And then add. Some data services on top, and then I'm just giving you a simple John yet on cloud, right? I mean, whichever way that people slice and dice the three arcs public cloud, I think in the case of Nutanix, think about it. Is that the pattern? Yeah.


Whether it was done completely intentionally upfront or over a period of time was that, imagine an ambition and an opportunity being about, simplifying how infrastructure is operated and infrastructure, that the scope of infrastructure was not just compute and storage. It was everything that touches an ID admin. Okay. The definition of an ID admin could be everything from, you know, how are we, how are our machines, how I secured it. I'll operate my networks, my monitoring, everything. Right,You could have been in a big pie. But how do you chunk that is you, therefore, think through a platform approach from day one, but we all know taking a platform approach is extremely dicey because you don't have product market fit. You don't have a compelling thing built, et cetera, et cetera. So you don't do it enough to kinda survive from 0 to 50 while you're building towards a billion. We've seen many examples of that. There are a few examples where that works, but we'll come to that separately. But in most enterprises that doesn't work in my opinion. And so, but however, if you felt like you had a platform approach to support the three arcs, but the first arc happened to be your initial insertion or killer app. So, in the case of Nutanix, the, like I said, a platform was being built to simplify IT operations and do it. But our first admin that we tried to help was the storage admin, and that storage admin for virtual desktops. Because the admin for virtual desktops didn't want to go to the storage person all the time, but they needed a lot of computer storage. You know, they depended on infrastructure. So if you get the power of infrastructure to the virtual desktop, user or the admin, then they got that personal infrastructure basically as a silo. And that was fine because it was much easier to use, easier to grow. So that was the first step, but architecturally, the platform was being built to support other silos.

So, the second arc was going to go to the branch admin. Can we go to the enterprise admin because that allows you a time to also build features, right? Because as you're building these things, you're also trying to catch up on functionality. Like we didn't have all the functionality that EMC had on day one. So, you have to choose wisely, where do you start? So those are other important reasons for these RX, but ultimately what it allowed us to do was to kind of give us three to four years to catch up on what I would call the, 80-40 rule, which is 40% of the functionality that hit 80% of the EMC base.

Okay. And, and because, we shot at it by VDI, then brands and a few areas that allowed that first art to prosper. And that was a couple of billion dollar market, right. At least 5, 10 billion, if not a few billion. Yeah. But then that allowed us to raise the bar, then go to the next real art, which is, Hey, rather than simplify, just compute and storage, everything that's try to virtualization also needs to be simplified because they're sort of tightly coupled because there's very little difference between a VM and a, and a compute instance or the storage access. Right. So, that allowed us to kind of increase the scope, as our, to actually simplify virtualization. And then while we were doing that, it was just a matter of time that people said, look, but virtualization, what if you can, instead of virtualizing computer storage in your data center, can you virtualize clouds?

You know, that's the beginning of the journey and that you're talking about 2016, 2017 about that third arc. And that's a very long arc. Sometimes these arcs are also what I've found is that the first arc is three, four years. The second arc is six to seven years. The third arc could be seven to 10 years because, remember, they become exponentially both bigger  but also harder. That's why it's important to include it as a platform strategy because you don't want to kind of know, take a lot of energy to go from one arc to the other and many companies that don't do it this way, the best ways that they do it is they start over because it takes so much energy to kind of go from arc one to other. So,. 

Ankur: It did. And it's interesting, You should mention MNA obviously, you know, as you go from that sort of one product to multiple products, because one of the key, like I think there were two key insights, right? One is, sort of, looking around the corners and understanding what the industry is going to be in few years and ship multiple products on top of the platform, which is to build it sort of organically, uh, Palo Alto's approach obviously has been since Nikesh is like, “Hey, let's acquire and grow”!.

And you know, usually it's a combination of both, which made a lot of sense by the way.I guess the question for you is that like, as you go to that scale, when you are, sort of, growing from, I don't know, quarter billion to now, obviously Nutanix is over a billion dollars in run rate, anything on product and people scaling that you should think about, like, is it just, you know, adding fuel to the fire, just hire more BD and sales and product people, or are they like fundamentally different sort of trajectory as you can….[voice of ankur and sunil mingles as sunil picks up answer to the question quickly]

Sunil:  I agree. I mean, every company goes through this, like Palo Alto, I know went through this. Every company goes through this, I know people have this oversimplified view, which is every two years you calibrate your team and assess whether they're who you would hire if they were interviewing for the next two years.Now that sounds a little mercenary. And, you know, frankly, you know, you can go, I would caution people to do that too aggressively just because it changes the dynamics a little bit, but I'm just saying that if people had all the right good intent and all, that's the mindset to apply, but do it in a authentic transparent way. That'll be the trick where the team themselves know that we need to do this to put ourselves in the best spot for the next two years or the next four years. If you didn't like Tisha's way and you hired recruiters to, kind of,  go to keep looking for the next VP of engineering or the next director of product or the next head of sales for regions, then that just breeds insecurities everywhere.

Right? However, there's a way to kind of do it in a very creative way, in my opinion, which is, you're just saying, look, we just crossed this, but now instead of just being. if  I'm just making this up, but like, if I'm CrowdStrike, if I'm just doing an endpoint company I'm finished doing No, no, no, no. I could actually be way bigger than an end point company. And here's my long-term vision beyond being an endpoint company. And to do that, like when I look at key functions, can those folks actually get us there?, but that's a discussion that could be had deep, you know,  especially when you're successful is a great time to have that discussion.

And the most important thing is to put yourself in that, by the way, because most people, if you had a, you know, director of engineering and are trying to do this or a director of product and trying to do this with your PMs, you have to put yourself as well, right. As in you, the right person to lead that, to that next level and most people find it much harder to do it. Right. So, that's in a scaling of arcs, One of the things that I've found is that one of the biggest issues, again, just like. If your arc one is doing well, that is your single biggest innovator to build arc two. And that's just not a salesperson hitting quota in order your product person who is so good at arc one will always bitch and whine about arc two's products as to why are we taking resources from our, putting it into an arc? I mean, you get, everybody knows this, right? And this is where ultimately product leadership, which is the tip of the spear, more so than engineering in some ways, have to have that, you know, sort of like step function, mentality of thinking about portfolio management and how to expand the portfolio while still not compromising on focus and that is an art and, and people who are able to kind of step back and think that way. Ultimately are the people that will continue to scale for multiple acts because, remember, right, the prior arc was like in the nineties, you took 10 years on arc one, like ,Take “Foundry”. They took 10 years to build a world's best,

I don’t know whatever they built it's, combination of balancing, firewall, whatever that thing is. Right. And same thing with the checkpoint maybe. Right? So on a single product, you could, you could make a lot of money for 10 years. Whereas these days you're talking about arc two coming in, maybe in the third or fourth year. Right. And then also I think conventional wisdom thinks that your arc one  is 10 years, which is actually much smaller now because there's lots of people reimagining things, lots of shifts happening and so forth. And so that's, that's the big thing with traditional product managers who have probably been  in the two thousands and nineties, is that they're so used to having a single product because  it's correct. Right. In some ways, you have to be singularly focused and all of these are distractions. Right. For what it's worth. I think that is a little bit of an art there of portfolio management ,that folks who get it and know how to kind of balance things while retaining focus on arc one, but also doing enough of arc two will continue to grow whereas those folks who can't do that inevitably get,..

Neelima: Great. Really good insights. So, in your talks Sunil, you often talk about keeping things simple in the product. Now, going back to the arc point, as you traveled to these arcs, how do you keep things simple still in your product?


Sunil: Yeah, it's a great question. That's actually super hard and it might, in fact, I'll tell you my journey of really understanding simple came first hand from my Citrix days. When our CEO, Mark Templeton, and he was one of those extreme curiosity learners, even my Nutanix foundation years were like that right and at least in Marks’ case, he had a degree in design, but before design was cool. Right. Whenever that was.Right. Industrial design. Now of course, design degrees are the rave. Right. So, he was a natural instinct to design. And when design became averted in mid 2000s and so forth for enterprise companies, because design and consumer is a little bit natural. 

I would argue that designing an enterprise is way harder in some ways. Yeah. and so therefore through the lens of sitting beside someone who actually emphasized two things to me, one was the art of simple. And the art of storytelling. And I'll tell you how they're related, but because great storytelling is also very simple, right? In many ways, but,  just on the products being simple or keeping things simple and so forth. So tactically, there are a bunch of things that you should be thinking about. One is, many companies in engineering and products do it. Most of the products and engineers come from the traditional school of thought of innovation and so forth.

The standard 101  is to make UX half PM. Okay. And design have, people that are doing that extra extensively. Now, pretty much all the startups do that though. I'd say one additional thing that I don't see that many folks do in that is in addition to UX during half PM, at least one of the PMs being an operator, not a product guy  as in, I'll give you an example, like, you know, we acquired this company called Chronicle.

Both of the founders of Chronicle were actually security analysts at Google, they were not security PMs and there's pros and cons. Right? Obviously there might be certain fundamental things that are building good products that may not have come to.But I can tell you the sort of like signal of doing 10 things that are, which eight out of 10 met the use cases for that particular, customer journey and so forth were very high, architecturally and there were a bunch of other trade-offs and product and all that could've been done. So that was the other thing, by the way of keeping things simple. That's what, friend!, focus on the people part, because ultimately that's what it is!

“If you have the right cultural fabric to keep thinking, that I have to simplify as if it's 10 steps, I have to get it to five steps, you know, but you can only do that. If there's out of the eight to 10 people, they all understand the value. If you're the one or two designers or a PM, trying to do that, and the engineers don't really get it, they can't emphasize with it. It's hard. So that's the biggest thing that I've found is any group that has a high degree of empathy, for simplification, is directly proportional to how effective you are in simplifying the next step”.  

So if you only have two out of 10 that really understand why you need to simplify, then your job is that much harder. So that's why one of the things that I would highly recommend that I tell people all the time is whenever you're building this product docs or whichever it is, make sure that it's just not designed to land at least a third of your product team needs to be operators. And that changes the dynamics of the input criteria that's coming into your, into your product. 

Ankur: Yeah, Very well  said, I mean.Yeah, like you said, each of these teams can take a podcast in of itself. But you know, we've got a condensed version here even with an hour. So I'm going to move to, hopefully, the last question, the last one or two questions before we go to the rapid fire scenario. so, you know, obviously “Cloud Wars” are arguably the biggest battles happening in the enterprise right now, what's going to be the winning play in the next five years. You know, you're really good at intuition and looking around the corners, what does the five-year in the cloud Wars look like, in your, very non objective opinion?



Sunil: I mean, look, obviously we're all in the security market. So. I'm not saying that I'd be biased, but genuinely, it's one of the reasons why, like, just think about it,Right. I have relatively little security background compared to most of you folks. Right. And so, in fact, when I did the Google thing, it was  mostly to kind of work closely with a few people like my manager  and so forth. 

Ankur: That's a feature, not a bug, by the way. Sunil! [ LAUGHS..]

Sunil: But there was a reason to choose security versus say a few other areas, and again, this is where I tell you, it will say if you optimize for, in the cloud Wars, look for where the opportunity is, it's sort of most fertile as in, Hey. Yeah. Could we build a better job with the next generation of processors? Absolutely. There's going to be a little bit of an arms, arms war there, but ultimately, you know, if you put enough resources this way and that way, at least in the next five years, right. We're not going to come up with a new chip per se. That's going to change mankind, but those kinds of things,Right. I think, you know, we could do things more hybridly. We could make things more, whatever, but there are things where there's still going to be a lot of churn because that's where opportunity is.  And so clearly in my opinion, that's one reason why I'm pretty bullish that the world is secure, you know, the world is going to continue to be unsafe for many, many, many years.

It doesn't matter. It's all the best efforts, right. That we're doing. and you know, we've seen this now, even in the last year and so forth. So, at least in the cloud war. So what I'm hopeful for is I'm looking forward to the clouds actually coming together to compete in security with, when I say with each other, for, with partners on the top or alongside partners and so forth.

But my point is that security as a market is going to have a lot of churn. And in doing so I think in the cloud that actually takes a step function change in that approach to  materially do something in the world of security? I think with type standards, that's one area, for sure. I think if I look around the corner, that's like, okay, it's a fertile market.

Yeah. The second one is I actually think the three clouds that we know of, if you remove productivity app, as in like, Oh, these are the five, the three clouds don't really have an app per se. Like they haven’t reimagined the business process. And I think it's only a matter of time before the surface area increases to include business process reimagination,right, by the three clouds.It has to!. Right. Because, you know when you think about,like, have you looked at man, ServiceNow has been around for a long time. Like it's an awesome company, great Salesforce, but I don't really think the technology is that great. Right. So, and the stack is quite antiquated and so forth, you know, we still have to think about, think through what does it mean to,, kind of, reimagine the CMDB of the future and all that. So, I think that's another example of a thematic area where business process reimagination done by the cloud provider is probably at hand in the next five years. So anyway, those are two areas where I think there could be more exciting developments on the cloud Wars.

Neelima: So just related question, before we go into the rapid fire, among the big three, one of them owns the stack from end to end. Do you see that as a leg up compared to the others? Others too, especially on the security side.

Sunil: You see, I think. Yeah. Good question. So I think, look, I talk about it directly and answer the question about Google versus Amazon versus Azure, Right. So we all know, right. Amazon's on one side they're doing services and security. It's unclear what their security strategy is and all that.

But look, they're a major provider there and they provide services for their customers on their platform. And everybody probably has to do something with them, right? Like, just because that's where the customers are. So, you have to go play that. But it's unclear whether people actually fundamentally trust whether they have a partner strategy or so forth. Right. But it's also unclear what their actual strategy is. There might be no other hand. I think Microsoft actually has done a commendable job of turning what I call a liability into competency. Well, in the last 10 years, windows were the most hacked OS probably still is,  right. And they've taken all the work that they've done over the last decade into becoming a security business. They want to be the full-stack Neelima as you said, and all that good stuff. Right. I think Google, what we're trying to do is, look, we are number three, and we genuinely believe that there needs to be a reasonable value in choice to our customers. But at the same time, if choice can be coupled with leverage with partners, we just have to choose a few areas that we opine on and then build them as like I was giving this example of platform products to which we can get synergies and leverage  to our joint customers. So, that's how we're thinking about that market as Google, saying that, look, there are a few areas that we will, we feel like we need to play in because we are Google and we have some competencies, but we're going to do it in a way that there's a strong ecosystem.

EDR is a good example. Like firewalls are a good example, right? I mean, these are things that we think that we can do a better job with leverage of partners. But the one thing,though, that I think in our strategy goes back to our simple thing ultimately, so “if we can create the best of breed with the usability of best of sweet, then that provider will win”. Right now with a single stack, you get the best of suite, but you don't get the capability part. With the, obviously the other, the other extreme, you don't get the operational simplicity. So the art here will be an, I don't know when we'll do a good job, but the art will be while we partner and we have a portfolio of products internally and externally, the artists can be truly simplified to customer experiences. 

Ankur: Got it. One of the questions I was going to ask you is that sort of the underlying theme in your prediction, not predictions, but, sort of, how you see the next five years in the cloud Wars is, that applications and security being an application will sort of really rule and differentiate where the computer, the infrastructure just compute, networking, et cetera. It's going to be layers of commodities. Do you see any way? So, you know,what Apple did with the M1 chip set, right? Like completely changed the landscape, but we thought that like, yeah, like hardware is hardware, like most livestock. Is there any opportunity even with quantum computing and other types of technology whereby “compute” can become quote on quote sexy again, and one of the vendors can, yeah.

Sunil: You're right. I think I actually think the commodity layers by default are where the true generational opportunities are, Ankur!

Ankur: Yeah.

Sunil: Because commodity layers are what is ignored. Like your point of computing is, it's a generational opportunity. It's just that when you ask the question of the next five years, the answer will be different than 10 years. To me on the horizon. You're absolutely right. just what happened with arm plus, plus, you're going to see probably another big radiant coming soon.

And quantum obviously, a  lot of people have hopes on quantum, So we'll see.

Ankur: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Neelima: Clearly  we needed two hours.

Sunil: No, thanks for keeping it easy. Yeah.

Neelima: Oh no, it's just great insights. So I'll, I'll go….[ANKUR CONTINUES]

Ankur: And, by the way, Neelima  he just said, it was easy because he doesn't know what's coming.

Sunil: All good. All good.

Neelima: So, since you were a product guy, I'm going to ask you some product questions. 

Ankur: Simple, easy. Yes or no quick answers. All right.


Neelima: What's your favorite B2B product?

Sunil: Favorite B2B product, TensorFlow.

Neelima: So there's a part B to this. You're now the GM of this product and you have to double the revenue in a year. What's your number one go-to market or product move on ‘TensorFlow’.

Sunil: To me, TensorFlow, the reason I like it is because it's a generational platform capability. So my number one thing would be to figure out what my initial killer app is.

Like. We talked about,Like ,something that actually solves a problem materially differently against a well-known budget. Right. You know, all the usual characteristics of a good product, but built on TensorFlow.

Neelima: Next killer. Yes. Go

Ankur: Sorry, this is not part of the question. I didn't mean to steal your thunder. Um, do you have a killer app for ML? Like, I mean, not for TensorFlow, but what is going to be the first killer app for ML?

Sunil: No, I mean, I know, I actually think it's already, look man!. I think it's already there. Like, you'd be surprised how much a search is powered by that. How many ads are powered  up, right? How much of my Google photos are powered by that? Right. I mean, there's a lot of, I think things that are seeking in is just that they seep in subliminally versus, Oh, that is this intelligent device suddenly from this dumb device.

Right. It's a gradient, in my opinion, where the devices have become intelligent over time. So I've been thinking about it, Tesla. I don't know whether they use ML or not. It's become an intelligent device. Right? We know this.

Neelima: So actually piggybacking on that question, before I go to my next one, when you think ML two ML will actually start impacting security products, and we know that it's kind of used in some layers, but it's not as good as yes.

Sunil: It's a great question. I don't know. I mean, like this is, this is an example of knowing your limitations, right? I'm not sure that I have a good answer then. All I know is that you're correct. Right now there's a lot of buzzwords being over there, and you know, there's incremental things. My gut tells me that it is part of a security product that is driven by ML.

We will know when ML emerged when 90% of that product efficacy could not have been done without a degree of learning .Like, today. Right?  In any talk about ML insecurity operations, for example, that's very common in ML, in anomaly detection, so forth, there's quite a bit of anomaly detection that you can still do without ML.

So that's why it becomes gray as to what was the real value of ML versus non NMO, right in that area. However, if there was a hub app that was much more binary, driven from ML in the security, as in 90% of it, or whatever was only driven by ML, then I think that's. And if that app became very successful in all, I think when people would look back and say, look, that's, that's probably the starting point. And I don't know what that app is.

Neelima:[Chuckles and asks further] In the process of developing a major capability for your product, you have only one option, time, people scope, which one are you picking?

Sunil: Easy answer to remove is to scope. So it's between time and people. I would obviously remove time and pick people, okay. I think if you can, because in many ways, just to give some clarity, if you hire the right people, they'll manufacture time for you. Okay. And, as in, there are a few people that, you know, you've seen this, like the 10 X, we call it 10X engineers. Right. And the reason we call them 10 X engineers is, not just a capacity thing, but they’re also solving for time that they're able to build a great product in maybe half the time that other people  have battled so far.

Neelima: So I think you kind of answered the next question, but the last, not the least, you can only build one big feature knowing that scope,  one that a bunch of customers have asked for another one where your CEO is asking you to vote. Which one are you going to pick?

Sunil: No, I mean, yeah. So obviously the I, I think as in, you know, what customers are asking for right, is the, it's the first choice. Right? Look, I actually think that's what I'm saying, I'm saying, right? Like normally these tend to be. You know, easier to say on paper, hard to operationalize in reality, especially depending on the personality of the CEO and everything else, but, you know, look ultimately remember that original discussion that we had about managing upwards side rates and all that.

It all comes down to where you are in your progression of earning that respect. And, and so there is no wrong answer because then maybe the right answer is to listen to the CEO, because they may know something in the first year of founding the company, because that's what, that's what founders do.

Right. That's what leaders do, right? Like if you just listen to customers, you know, the famous saying, right, “you have faster horses because Henry Ford listens, whatever, you know, they will drive the car” . Right. You know, they're usually, they're not as he comes. So I think there's always going to be, you know, a few exceptions like that. But I would say that generally though, obviously, you know, as you get a little bit more, uh, You're not mature and a little bit more self-sufficient and so forth. Clearly you need to have conviction and the conviction needs to show up. 

Ankur: And especially the entrepreneur CEO, they have a sense for that. What percent of time did you disagree and committed? with Dheeraj?

Sunil: 30% of the time.

Ankur: Oh, wow. Okay. So 70% of the time you had your way.

Sunil: Well, or agreed also, right? Yeah. You know what I mean? There's two options.

Ankur: yeah, yeah. Got it. 

Neelima: Okay. Next question. You have an opportunity to run products at any company on the planet. Which product role are you picking outside of Google? Of course.

Sunil: I think at this stage in my life. And you know, so personally, and just answering personally, I optimize for like, what are the levers right. A great time for many years, which is basically a great time means you need to really like the people that you're working with and you need to really like the opportunity right. Between those two. So those, that would be my two primary criteria I would apply great time equals you know, great people, plus whatever great opportunity. And the second criteria would be, yeah, there has to be a reasonable outcome. Like you want to, you want to, and my definition, at least in Google, the way I think about it is doing it in a smaller company is there's a material chance to come from behind, in a short period of time, to leave a legacy. That man Google  cloud really actually, we almost wrote it off two years ago. But there were these 12 people that put it on the map. It can't be one person. I mean, Thomas has grown a great job. He's probably 50% of the reason. Right. But I'm just saying, you know, there'll probably be 12 people that people will recognize as people that putThe  Cloud on the map at Google.

And so, a similar sort of feeling of leaving a legacy is important for me.

Ankur: There is no way Sunil!. If Elon Musk said you get the top role at space X, you're declining that role!.

Sunil: No, no, no, no, no. But think about it actually. No, no, no, that's it. So, let's talk through that for a second. Assume that we got the job as the President of the United States. Okay. But I mean, just like equally big role.

Ankur: Yeah. This was the product role question.

Sunil: So, you know, space X, product ops. I genuinely believe right after a certain point, after a certain point, why do you want to mess up your legacy when you know you cannot do a good job. Okay. Yeah. Would probably have a good time for six months, three months or whatever. Maybe not even a good time for two days. So I think you have to kind of, it has to be in that plus 20, 30% stretch. Right. It has to be, you know, a reasonable stretch, but you know, when it's  5X and it's going to break, right.

Like  SpaceX, you know, I don't even remember my college physics that well, right. So there's some obvious things there that don't work for me to kinda go to spaceX. 

Neelima: Sunil, you didn't answer the company name though.

Ankur: Oh, he said Google. And that was a very safe answer. He said Google basically, or something like Google.

Sunil: Honest, I'm focused on that.

Ankur: Yeah, of course. Of course it makes a lot of sense.

Neelima: Totally. And last question, who should we invite next on the board?

Sunil: I would say someone who can blend awesome knowledge, storytelling, all around good capability, but it's like, already not hit the circuit as often as  Dheeraj, Dheeraj is good choice, would actually be Sudhish Nair. So, this was, and I, you know, I can set it up, but, but basically he joined Dheeraj and Mohit and all those guys are good people too, talk to it. Right. But Sudhish joined them pretty early, almost like a lead sales guy ,Single-person has never led sales before. And then I'll let you, you know, if you guys get them on this thing, you'll know what I mean. Right. He can provide a totally different, kinda, takeaways for their companies.

Neelima: Absolutely. We are a sucker for that kind of knowledge, so totally great. So, Sunil, thank you, that wraps up this episode of ZeroToExit. It's been a pleasure to have you on the pod. We appreciate you taking the time and best wishes as you help Google cloud security reach newer Heights.

Sunil: Thank you, Neelima and Ankur. It's a great pleasure. You know, I didn't tell you this, but I purposely didn't listen to any of the podcasts because I didn't want to be influenced by how good people were. But now that it's done, I'm actually, because as I said this before we started, right. I, you know, I'm quite impressed by folks who are able to do these things out of genuine, you know, whatever intent, but you're doing it outside of your main thing and, you know, doing it in a very intentful way.

So,I'm a sucker for listening to podcasts. So I'm looking forward to actually going back and checking on a few of those, by the way.

Ankur: Yeah, thank you so much Sunil. Yeah. We wish you the best at Google cloud, obviously, you know, podcasts are set as companies, Palo Alto and Google. We have worked together and, you know, you build incredible machinery and wish you the best. Thank you so much.

Sunil: Thanks Ankur. Thanks Neelima.

Ankur: Bye..