July 19, 2017

Up Against All Odds: Versa Networks’ CDO Kumar Mehta Reflects on Early-Stage Startup Hardships & Growing Pains

This month’s ‘Startup Stories’ dials in on Versa Networks. We sat down with Co-founder and CDO Kumar Mehta, as he reflected on growing and nurturing an idea into a successful startup that delivers next generation WAN at the forefront of the software-defined branch industry.

The greatest innovations start out as nascent ideas – built by passion and determination, they stumble through conflict and debate until the idea develops into a solution to a problem that no one else has thought of yet. It had been nearly 20 years since the last major innovation occurred in wide area network (WAN) architecture and it became clear to me and my brother Apurva, that the antiquated design did not meet the new usage pattern of the WAN. It was not equipped for the paradigm shift to SaaS application nor did it provide for a better user experience in the increasingly complex world of growing cloud usage.

From Versatile to Versa Networks

Amid the innovation vacuum and with the pioneering vision to make the WAN architecture more software defined, we decided to start Versa Networks (Click to Tweet). The name Versa Networks was inspired by the versatility of our solution and reflects its multipurpose, adaptable and flexible nature.

Apurva and I knew that we needed to attack what we thought would be a difficult and complex technical problem: creating a native cloud platform and software architecture for the software-defined branch that could deliver digital transformation with more agility, less complexity and better economics. Additionally, this platform would allow for better application user experience in a world that is adopting cloud and SaaS expeditiously. Rather than trying to build technology based on existing software, we took on the challenging task of designing an architecture and platform to deliver the next generation WAN from the ground up (Click to Tweet).

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Things Are Going to Get Worse Before They Get Better

We understood that building a startup would be an arduous journey and we faced many difficulties along the way, one of which was securing funding.  We had pitched our vision to several VCs and were quickly garnering attention, but understood that choosing the wrong firm could bungle this endeavor.  One of the firms was so eager to hear about Versa that I pitched them while on a family cruise to Alaska. So, while my wife and kids were out exploring the great outdoors, I presented the vision for Versa from a ship in the Gulf of Alaska. Knowing that this decision would likely set the tone for the company moving forward, it was difficult to determine which VC firm was the most strategically beneficial for Versa.

Solving a technical quagmire and securing the right funding are two of the relatively predictable hardships in developing a startup (Click to Tweet). A challenge neither Apurva nor I could have prepared for was that a month after we received our first round of funding, I was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.

The future can change quickly, leaving you to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. Apurva and I, who had set out to build a company together, were suddenly facing a myriad of dreadful possibilities –  we now had funding, but were essentially down a founder; we had offices in India and California with only one person to be in both places. While I had to spend six integral months recovering from surgeries and complications, Apurva had to keep things moving forward with the company. Thankfully I am now in good health, but this added complication made an already daunting task even more challenging.

Our Team: Raising the Level of Innovation

Building a startup is like walking up to the gates of uncertainty – you stand there without a guide, without a handbook for success, without a single line of code written.  However, we continued forward in the hope of helping to shape the landscape of the new digital transformation and of directing the tectonic shifts in the industry. It’s vital to have a partner who complements you and will take that courageous step with you (Click to Tweet). Apurva is truly the yin to my yang - where I take a step back and look at the macrocosm and strategic level of business and technology, it is Apurva’s depth, expertise, and attention to detail to the microcosm that balances us out.

I think the best thing you can do at a startup is surround yourself with smart people you trust who will challenge you, because it is only then that we can innovate and champion changes that will unlock unprecedented and unquantifiable value. At the end of the day, Versa is about the team and all that we have done and continue to do together. It is because of the unwavering and steadfast support that I, in the words of Margaret Meade, “have never doubted that this small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” It was they who raised the level of innovation to position Versa at the forefront of the software-defined branch industry.

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These are exceptional minds with years of experience, unique insights, a commanding ability to execute, and an unshakable dedication to creating innovative solutions. Even when the late nights waned into dawn as we worked tirelessly, it was our common struggle and collective hope for Versa that has allowed us to bear witness to those achievements together. It is only through this team’s dedication and hard work that Versa has reached such heights, and I am so proud to be in their company.

From time to time, I look back and realize how incredibly humbling it is to see our company grow and prosper from what was once that nascent idea. Versa isn’t just a company to me. It has become a formidable force that breaks assumptions and creates innovations to propel technology forward. We aren’t just making incremental changes to the industry landscape, rather, from the very beginning we have endeavored to achieve the paradigm shifting changes necessary for technology transformation.

Tags: Andrew Der , Startup Stories , Versa Networks