In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, certain visionaries stand out for their ability to innovate and transform industries. Sanjit Biswas, a seasoned entrepreneur, has navigated the entrepreneurial terrain with remarkable success.
From the acquisition of his first company by Cisco for a staggering $1.2 billion to steering his second company, Samsara, into the realms of digitizing physical operations, Biswas’s journey is a testament to resilience, creativity, and the pursuit of impactful innovation.
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Early Years and Education
Born in Canada to academic parents who immigrated from India, Sanjit’s early years were shaped by cultural diversity and adaptability. The family’s move from Texas to California during the tech boom of the 1990s exposed Sanjit to the burgeoning Silicon Valley, igniting his passion for technology.
Sanjit recalls how he was able to make friends simply because of his ability to teach them how to use the internet. Having an engineering mind, he was keenly interested in puzzles and problems and trying to find solutions for them.
Sanjit’s academic journey took him through Stanford for his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering and computer science. He then went on to MIT for grad school, where he met his future co-founder, John Bicket.
The duo spent the next four to five years together working on research papers.
The Meraki Era
The roots of Biswas’s entrepreneurial journey trace back to the inception of Meraki, a company focused on revolutionizing Wi-Fi technology. Building on their “Roofnet” research project, Sanjit and John created innovative solutions for large-scale internet access.
Sanjit has an interesting story to tell about Meraki, which he developed with John at a time when broadband was very expensive. They created this project by installing antennas on the rooftops and broadcasting signals using a mesh network. And, basically, gave grad students free Wi-Fi access.
Despite initial skepticism, Meraki’s blend of hardware and software, coupled with a unique cloud-managed networking approach, gained traction. The company’s growth, profitability, and commitment to sustainability attracted attention, eventually leading to a $1.2 billion acquisition by Cisco.
At the time, Meraki had a run rate of $10M, and just six months ago, it had raised funding worth $400M.
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Lessons from Meraki
The Meraki experience wasn’t just a financial success; it was a masterclass in resilience and entrepreneurship. Sanjit remembers facing all the fundamental hurdles of starting a company. They were grad students with no money of their own or VCs investing in them.
Being in Boston, Sanjit and John couldn’t have applied to the Y Combinator, nor did they have the backing of a large network of people to support them. They bootstrapped their way by convincing some of their first customers to prepay for the hardware and then got it manufactured.
Being a small startup worth just a couple of million dollars and run by two students, Sanjit and John didn’t have connections with investors. They were not convinced that this company could take on giants like Cisco, Huawei, and Juniper.
That’s when they attracted the attention of Sequoia Ventures, which offered them series A funding. This step started them on their “venture-backed journey,” as Sanjit describes it. Eventually, they raised $40M over several rounds.
Sanjit highlights the challenges of blending hardware and software, convincing skeptics in a mature industry, and the significance of venture capital partnerships. Meraki’s journey exemplifies the art of scaling a business and the importance of creative problem-solving.
Samsara: A Market-First Approach
Spurred on by success, Sanjit and John embarked on their next venture, Samsara. This time, the duo adopted a market-first approach, identifying industries in dire need of technological transformation.
Samsara aimed to digitize physical operations in sectors like energy utilities, transportation & logistics, public sector, agriculture, field services, and construction. The company’s comprehensive platform provides AI-powered, real-time insights to improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
Samsara builds a complete system using sensor devices and gateways. Next, it deploys software to run the hardware and also has a cloud service that compiles the data. In this way, Samsara provides real-time workflow information about the ongoing physical operations.
The platform compiles a massive amount of data and processes it in the cloud using AI capabilities, creating insights for customers. By leveraging the information, customers can take real action and, in this way, improve the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of their operations.
Navigating Samsara’s Growth
Unlike Meraki, Samsara began with the founders’ personal investment before securing additional funding from Andreessen Horowitz. Sanjit emphasizes the importance of not overcapitalizing early in the journey, focusing instead on achieving product-market fit.
The ability to scale rapidly was facilitated by Sanjit and John’s familiarity with the entrepreneurial process and their commitment to pattern matching. Sanjit emphasizes the significance of having a high-quality venture capital partner beyond just financial investment.
Drawing from their experiences with Sequoia in their first company, the focus is on strategic, long-term-oriented investors who bring diverse perspectives to the boardroom.
Samsara, being an eight-year-old company, has had over 30 board meetings, underscoring the enduring impact of such partnerships.
In the transition from the previous company, Meraki, which had hundreds of millions in revenue, to Samsara, a billion-dollar enterprise with over two thousand employees, Sanjit and John carried over important lessons.
In retrospect, Sanjit highlights the importance of a customer feedback loop and maintaining a customer-centric culture. The emphasis on understanding real-world challenges and building technologies to address them resonates with him.
Raising Funding for Samsara
Sanjit elaborated on Samsara’s scale and growth trajectory, indicating the need for more capital to support faster growth.
They raised over $900M in venture capital and additional funds through a public offering, emphasizing the importance of having a well-capitalized image, especially when dealing with conservative customers.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Sanjit Biswas 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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The decision to go public was partly driven by the desire to showcase financial stability. Sanjit talks about how he and John acknowledged the operational challenges of being a public company, but he also highlights the benefits of transparency and clear operating margins.
Samsara’s explosive growth during a challenging macroeconomic environment was attributed to staying focused on fundamental business elements and efficiently solving customer problems. The company’s stock price has increased by an astounding 182%.
Vision for Samsara
Regarding Samsara’s vision, Sanjit believes that the world of physical operations would run on Samsara. Leveraging sensor data, analytics, and AI to drive impactful actions was seen as a world-changing opportunity.
Real-world impact stories from customers, such as DHL and XPO, preventing accidents on the road reinforced the positive influence of Samsara’s technology.
In one year, Samsara has helped customers prevent an estimated 200,000 accidents. Samsara caters to big addressable markets and core industries that are responsible for 40% of the world’s GDP.
Sanjit is confident of the massive impact they can have by assisting organizations to streamline their operations. They can successfully coordinate and align millions of frontline workers, pieces of equipment, and vehicles. In this way, they can leverage partnerships to scale quickly.
Aside from preventing road mishaps, Samsara helps save millions of gallons of fuel and lowers the impact on the environment. Sanjit counts that as an impressive win that will likely be sustained over at least the next five years or more.
Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
In a reflection on advice to his younger self, Sanjit stresses a wholehearted commitment to entrepreneurship, citing his own experience of taking leave from Ph.D. programs to start Meraki.
He talks about the idea of fully embracing the entrepreneurial journey without hedging or being risk-averse, emphasizing the rewards of building a positive working environment and navigating the uncertainties of entrepreneurship.
Sanjit Biswas’s journey from Wi-Fi pioneer to IoT trailblazer showcases the essence of entrepreneurial spirit. Through acquisitions, market disruption, and a commitment to impactful innovation, Sanjit exemplifies the qualities needed to navigate the complexities of the tech industry.
As he continues to lead Samsara into new frontiers, one can’t help but be inspired by the resilience, adaptability, and visionary thinking that define his entrepreneurial legacy.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Sanjit Biswas’s journey underscores the importance of resilience and innovation in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of technology.
- Meraki’s success story highlights the significance of creative problem-solving, blending hardware and software, and the role of venture capital partnerships in scaling a business.
- Samsara’s market-first approach to digitizing physical operations showcases the importance of identifying industries in need of technological transformation and providing comprehensive solutions.
- Samsara’s growth strategy emphasizes not overcapitalizing early, focusing on achieving product-market fit, and later securing substantial funding for faster growth, including a successful public offering.
- Transitioning from Meraki to Samsara, the founders carried over lessons on the importance of a customer feedback loop and maintaining a customer-centric culture.
- Samsara’s vision of leveraging sensor data, analytics, and AI for impactful actions aligns with real-world success stories, emphasizing the potential to coordinate and align frontline workers for positive environmental and safety outcomes.
- Sanjit’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs emphasizes wholehearted commitment to the entrepreneurial journey, embracing risks, and building a positive working environment to navigate uncertainties successfully.