Neil Patel

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Sandeep Johri’s journey from his middle-class upbringing in Bombay, India, to becoming a successful entrepreneur and CEO in Silicon Valley is a compelling narrative of resilience, adaptation, and visionary leadership.

In this exclusive interview, Sandeep shares the intricacies of his remarkable career, from his initial fascination with the United States to his pivotal role in founding and leading successful tech companies like Oblix, Tricentis, and Checkmarx.

Listen to the full podcast episode the review the transcript here.

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From Bombay to Silicon Valley

Growing up in Bombay, Sandeep was captivated by the allure of the United States portrayed in movies, fueling his ambition to pursue higher education there. His arrival in the U.S. for his master’s degree marked the beginning of a transformative journey that defied cinematic expectations.

Landing in Detroit and eventually making his way to Silicon Valley in 1988, Sandeep discovered a dynamic environment that contrasted with his preconceived notions of the American West.

Silicon Valley: A Paradigm Shift

Sandeep’s Silicon Valley experience in the late ’80s exposed him to a world where work hours were flexible, casual attire was the norm, and immigrants could become successful founders and CEOs. He recalls how Silicon Valley was “hot” but only for geeks.

Sandeep started out working at GM because he loves cars, but the pace was slow and laid-back. This realization prompted him to shift his focus from the auto industry to the burgeoning tech landscape.

The early days of Silicon Valley were vastly different from today, but Sandeep recognized its potential, especially with the rise of computers as the future.

Consulting: The Bridge to Entrepreneurship

Not having a coding background, Sandeep entered the tech industry through strategy consulting. Working on diverse projects at companies like Apple, telcos, chip manufacturers, and software firms over the next four years broadened his perspective.

This consulting experience became a crucial framework, providing him with industry insights and paving the way for his entrepreneurial journey. Sandeep recalls how he ended up joining a company called Silicon Graphics, where he worked for two years.

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Oblix: Pivoting to Identity Management

Oblix, Sandeep’s first venture, initially aimed to build enterprise applications based on web technology. However, pivots led them to become one of the earliest identity management companies specializing in single sign-on, authentication, and authorization.

Essentially, Oblix pivoted into security. That’s where Sandeep learned to sell licensed products to large enterprises.

Facing the challenges of fundraising in a nascent VC landscape, Sandeep’s persistence paid off with a successful series A round led by Kleiner Perkins for $3M. They were the most prestigious investor at the time, so it was an incredible experience.

As Sandeep recalls, at the time, there were maybe 30 VCs up and down in the valley. They did a seed round with friends and family for $600K, put together a team, and started building the product. Sandeep also talks about how he had to face rejection multiple times, but that taught him how to be resilient.

Storytelling is everything, which is something that Sandeep Johri was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

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Transition to Corporate Development

After Oblix’s acquisition by Oracle, Sandeep gained visibility into the acquisition process, laying the groundwork for his future roles in corporate development. Even before the acquisition, he was ready to take the company public and had laid the IPO groundwork.

Next, Sandeep was involved in a comparison shopping company called eBoodle, which was later acquired and eventually rebranded to Shopzilla. His fundraising and acquisition deal negotiating experiences taught him different lessons.

Sandeep later joined HP, leading 14 deals totaling $7B and gaining valuable insights into the buy side of acquisitions. As he explains, to execute successful transactions, you have to have a good brand in the market that people are aware of.

Company owners also need to list potential acquirers even if they are not ready to sell and develop an awareness of the market and the technology that could interest buyers.

Sandeep also advises founders to make sure their products can integrate with acquirers’ products and have a robust customer base.

Ultimately, buyers purchase a company because their customers find it valuable. Instead of focusing on the company, they are more concerned about whether their two products are interacting and if there is synergy and the integration makes sense at the customer level.

Founders may think that they own a billion-dollar company, but a potential acquirer may also view it as a $5M company. This not going to move the needle for a billion-dollar company or help it grow bigger. What matters is how it retains customers and how it expands its customer base.

Scaling Up: Tricentis and Cultural Transformation

At Tricentis, a European company, Sandeep faced the challenge of transforming it into a global leader. From setting up a presence in the U.S. to cultural changes and strategic shifts, he led the company from $5M to over $300M in ARR.

Sandeep’s ability to adapt and redefine strategies at different growth stages became a hallmark of his leadership. He remembers how he had to rethink his mode of operation, how he managed people, and how he worked on different functions.

As Sandeep opines, sometimes people have to be replaced at each of these stages because not everyone is appropriate for each of these stages. He had to remind himself of the size of the company and how to make the right impact over the next six months and take it to the next quantum level.

Tricentis was a European company, selling primarily in German-speaking areas, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Sandeep remembers adapting to the cultural change through their ambition and long-term strategy to become a global company and leader.

One of the first things they did was to make sure they had a legitimate mass of business in the US. Most software companies, especially for enterprises, couldn’t hope to be considered legitimate unless they could build a presence in the US market.

They needed to have American customers and be in constant contact with analysts and industry experts, which is why setting up the US entity was first priority. Sandeep did everything from defining the strategy to micromanaging the small teams to get them to adapt to the Silicon Valley culture.

He took the initiative to have them visit organizations like Google and Twitter to introduce them to the environment and observe how people operated there, which was a gradual process.

Current Chapter: Checkmarx and Application Security Leadership

As the current CEO of Checkmarx, Sandeep is on a mission to make it the clear leader in application security. It ended up getting a minority stake in a private equity company.

With a vision to secure all software applications globally, Sandeep emphasizes the importance of inspiring and motivating teams to achieve exceptional results. Checkmarx checks every software and application created by an enterprise or tech company.

The objective is to identify security challenges before deploying the applications into production, and they do a number of different checks.

As Sandeep explains, Checkmarx is a VC-funded company. Its two founders started the company in Tel Aviv, Israel, around 15 years ago and raised VC funding there before coming to the US.

In the US, they raised money with Insight Partners, which is a large PE firm based in New York. At the time, the company was doing around $10M in ARR, and Insight was invested as a major majority shareholder. Over the next five years, they grew from $10M to $100M in ARR.

That’s when Insight sold out. The current majority owner is Helman & Friedman, based in San Francisco, who has been in the business for more than 20 years straight. Helman & Friedman brought Sandeep on board as the CEO.

The vision for Checkmarx is to be the largest Application security leader with a comprehensive Cloud Native Platform. Sandeep envisions people thinking of Checkmarx as the prime Application Security company in the same way as they think of Salesforce in the CRM space.

He would want all software applications to be secure since the world runs on applications. Their job is to make sure that there are no embarrassing security flaws that can cost companies money and other risks.

Leadership Insights

Reflecting on his diverse leadership experiences, Sandeep emphasizes the importance of inspiring and motivating teams.

He believes that leadership involves unlocking the full potential of individuals and fostering a culture of excellence. His career exemplifies how effective leadership can drive companies to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Sandeep underscores that leaders can figure out strategy and make decisions to pivot or make a billion-dollar exit, or $3B exit.

However, these things happen because of circumstances, luck, and execution. The most crucial factor is to have high-functioning teams with a mission who strive for excellence. These are the people inspired and motivated to succeed.

Advice to Younger Self

Sandeep’s journey, though successful, leads him to advise his younger self to be patient and gain more experience in the business and industry before diving into entrepreneurship.

However, he acknowledges the paradox that entrepreneurs inherently lack patience, and their impulsive nature often propels them to take risks that lead to groundbreaking success.


Sandeep Sandeep’s journey from Bombay to Silicon Valley encapsulates the spirit of innovation, adaptability, and tenacity that defines the tech industry.

His experiences serve as inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, showcasing the evolution of Silicon Valley and the enduring impact of visionary leadership.

As he continues to lead Checkmarx toward becoming a global leader in application security, Sandeep’s story remains a testament to the limitless possibilities within the ever-changing landscape of technology and entrepreneurship.

Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

  • Sandeep Johri’s journey from Bombay to Silicon Valley showcases the transformative power of adapting to new environments and seizing opportunities.
  • Silicon Valley’s evolution, as witnessed by Sandeep since 1988, highlights the region’s dynamic nature and its pivotal role in shaping the tech industry.
  • Consulting became Sandeep’s bridge to entrepreneurship, providing valuable industry insights and shaping his strategic thinking.
  • Oblix, Sandeep’s first venture, exemplifies the importance of resilience and adaptability through successful pivots, ultimately leading to identity management leadership.
  • Sandeep’s experiences in corporate development, particularly at HP, offered invaluable insights into the intricacies of acquisitions and deal processes.
  • Leadership insights from Sandeep emphasize the role of inspiration and motivation in unlocking teams’ potential and fostering a culture of excellence.
  • Checkmarx’s mission to be a global leader in application security reflects Sandeep’s commitment to driving innovation and securing software applications worldwide.


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Neil Patel

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