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.

Sandeep’s latest venture, Checkmarx, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Hellman & Friedman, TPG, and Insight Venture Partners.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • 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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About Sandeep Johri:

Sandeep Johri is a senior technology executive with over 30 years of experience in both large corporate and start-up environments. He is a highly-rated and motivational leader with a reputation as both a strategic thought leader and a hands-on executive who delivers results, drives change, and develops talent.

Sandeep has extensive knowledge of the technology industry, including cloud, infrastructure management, security, and SaaS. He also brings an extensive personal network of senior technology executives, VCs, private equity investors, and industry analysts.

Sandeep is CEO at Checkmarx, the leader in enterprise-native cloud application security, a position he’s held since February 2023.

During his first year at Checkmarx, Sandeep has overseen the introduction of the industry’s first security solution for GenAI-generated application code, CheckAI.

Sandeep has also focused the company’s R&D on the consolidation of application security from code to cloud.

Prior to Checkmarx, Sandeep Johri was CEO of Tricentis, the industry leader of continuous-testing software solutions targeted at global enterprises.

Under his leadership, Tricentis grew from a small European player to become the global leader in Continuous Testing with 1,200 employees and operations in the US, Europe, and Asia and $250M+ in ARR, representing a 30X increase in ARR and a 100X increase in EV.

Previously, Sandeep held several senior management roles at HP’s $57 billion enterprise business.

At HP, he led the acquisition of 14 software companies collectively valued at more than $7B and helped grow HP Software from $600M in revenue to $3.5B in revenue and the category leader.

Sandeep has been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mayfield Fund, a leading venture firm in Silicon Valley, where he founded two security startups, Determina and Bluelane (both acquired by VMware).

Prior to that, Johri was the CEO and Founder of Oblix (acquired by Oracle), a leading provider of Enterprise Identity Management solutions.

During his 30 years in Silicon Valley, Sandeep has founded, advised, and invested in several other startups.

He has served on the boards of several private venture-funded companies, including eBoodle (acquired by, one of the first e-commerce comparison shopping services; Dhingana (acquired by Rdio), the leading Bollywood music streaming service; Cenzic (acquired by Singtel), a leading security testing solutions provider; and he was an early investor in Netezza (acquired by IBM).

Sandeep currently serves on the board of Tricentis and LambdaTest. He also serves on the Board of Visitors at the College of Engineering, Wayne State University.

Sandeep holds an MBA from Stanford University, a Master’s in Industrial Engineering from Wayne State University, Detroit, and a Bachelor’s in
Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pune, India.

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Connect with Sandeep Johri:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a really exciting conversation ahead of us. We’re going to be talking about building scaling I mean all the good stuff that you like to hear our guest today you know is a very interesting path you know and journey that he’s had you know from being an operator to then. You know, jumping ship to the corporate side of things and now you know being a Ceo of a rocket ship. You know that we’re going to be talking about. You know, quite quite a bit about ah but then but again you know the m and a side of things you know, especially having him you know let transactions worth seven billion I find that there’s going to be a ton of insights that we can unpack there. But again I don’t want to make you all wait any longer so without fartherdo. Let’s welcome our guest today sand deep yori welcome to the show. So originally born in India but eventually you know you ended up coming here to the Us. So.

Sandeep Johri: Um, thank you Glad to be here.

Alejandro Cremades: Give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.

Sandeep Johri: Life was great growing up I grew up in bombay I grew up in a middle class family but the economy was closed. You know way back then there was no internet. No connectivity used to see the us through movies. So there was a huge fascination. Ah, about coming to the Us and um, you know he was very excited. So when I came for my masters after my undergrad and ah boy I was surprised because reality in the Us is not like they show it in the movies. You know. I thought there’d be like western movies with horses and big cities. All glitzy wasn’t quite like that. So. It was great it was it was great experience so

Alejandro Cremades: So obviously you ended up landing in in Detroit and then you know 1 thing led you to the next and you land in Silicon Valley now it was definitely a different Silicon Valley back in 88 so what was different. How have you seen? Also silicon valley develop you know all the up until now.

Sandeep Johri: Um, I mean Silicon Valley was hot even then but not for everybody. It was hot only for geess I was working at Gm because I love cars I I wanted to work in an auto company I got there. It was kind of boring. You know it just didn’t move as fast and stuff. I came to visit Silicon Valley and I was shocked people allowed you to work any hours people allowed you to come in and out of the office at any hours people allowed you to wear any like casual clothes. All this was foreign in the late eighty s so I’m like I want to be here and then. As an immigrant I saw some founders who had become who had started companies which was mind-blowing to me. Um that you can come to the country be a founder have an accent all that good stuff and still start a company and be a Ceo and all everything about Silicon Valley was shocking and. Really refreshing. So I determined I want to come to and it was hot because computers were the future. This is where everything was going to be so I guess I had a good note that you know this is where the future is going to be not in the auto industry and got excited so came out here and you know. Everything was different in Silicon Valley vis-a-vis the rest of the country but silicon valley itself has changed a lot right over the years so

Alejandro Cremades: So So in your case you know it was a pretty interesting transition in sequence of events that needed to happen for you to become a founder and it all started with consulting but that was the ah bridge that got you into starting your first company. So. So How did that happen. What? what?? What would you say needed to happen and also what kind of Framework did it give you to also be a consultant before.

Sandeep Johri: So yeah I wanted to be in tech but I was not I mean I’d taken programming classes and I knew about computers. But but I wasn’t computer science. But the business school allowed me to go into strategy consulting at a company that was focused on consulting in the tech industry. So I was there for 4 years and you obviously join as a junior person. You don’t know anything about the industry but over the four years you learn a lot about the industry I did consulting at Apple. For their sales and marketing groups I did projects at telcos I did projects at chip companies I did projects at software companies all consulting projects so it gives you a really broad perspective on you know, learn about the industry and the like. Unlike many other founders I didn’t come from kind of the coding background if you may and then I said hey, but you know as a consultant you’re still on the outside. So I endeded up joining a company called silken graphics and I woke there for 2 years and then just like we have jenai like you can. Blink and eye without hearing about je ai cook. The internet was that hot then so I’m like I got to start a company so started talking to so I was there I was at silicon graphics for 2 years and you know learned a lot about the industry and the like and kind of got into the industry and then.

Sandeep Johri: But together with friends and decide to start a company and no matter when you start a company. It’s a brand new experience. So yes.

Alejandro Cremades: So and this this was your first baby Oblix so with obates you know what? what? what ended up being the business model. How are you guys making money with oblis.

Sandeep Johri: So we started out. We wanted to build um enterprise applications based on this new technology called the web and stuff and we we started in 1 place and then we you know that wasn’t quite working out and we pivoted and then we pivoted. And eventually we landed up becoming an identity management company so we were one of the earliest identity management companies and ah you know what today we know as like octa and ping id and stuff but this was. We were one of the first identity management companies you know doing single sign on doing authentication authorization. So we kind of pivoted into security. We didn’t start out being security as a identity management company. We were selling to the enterprise. So that’s where I learned to sell. Large enterprises so you know selling to I departments license product kind of standard enterprise sales. So.

Alejandro Cremades: And this was obviously in the 90 s where the Vc landscape was perhaps not as developed as as it is today. So how was that how how are the capital racing efforts you know for you guys. You know how much did you raise in total and then. Or is that experience of going from one cycle to the next during that time.

Sandeep Johri: Um, yeah, it was. It was kind of crazy when I think about it you know there were all of maybe 30 vcs up and down in the valley. So it wasn’t you know now there’s almost an unlimited number of vcs from small to big to you know all kinds of flavors and. Operating vcs and this and that at that time there was like you know about 20 maybe 30 vcs that mattered and um and fundraising was much smaller. You know we did a 3 we had a seed round with friends and family like half a million and that’s how we got the team together started building prada and then some meeting Bcs and you know I landed up getting Kliner Bokens as the series a and they came in at 3000000 and that was thats sort the normal series. A. And a good series a but before getting clientpokens I probably hit all other 29 and got rejections so that is what you first learned as an entrepreneur right? is you’ve got to be able to pitch you’ve got to be able to sell you’ve got to you’ll get a lot of nose. And you got to keep going so at times it was depressing because I got so many knows but then I got klea pokins as an investor they were the most prestigious investor at the time so it was it was an incredible experience like I can say I’ve pounded.

Sandeep Johri: Pavement more than anyone and you know you learn you learn to be resilient you learn to not you know, not worry about rejection which helps you when you’re selling into the enterprise. It helps you in your next startup as well though it gets easier every time.

Alejandro Cremades: Now for you. It was the first company in the first exit. So quite an amazing outcome too. You guys ended up getting acquired by Oracle So how was that how was that experience like to of now being able to.

Sandeep Johri: Yeah, but.

Alejandro Cremades: Have full visibility into what is the full cycle of going through the journey of building scaling financing and exiting a business but then also make us insiders. How was it like to go through that acquisition process.

Sandeep Johri: Yeah, so I had stepped off the company by the time Oblix got acquired by oracle but. We were before being a year or so before being acquired by oracle we were looking at going public so I worked on the whole lightpo that was an interesting experience and stuff. Ah and then some of the other companies that I was involved in I was involved in a comparison shopping company called eboru that was acquired. Ah, by a company called bizra then which then became shoppzilla ah I was emored in many of those companies and you know being acquired but especially the first time you get into these deals. You have no idea you know how to talk just like when you’re fundraising you have no idea how to pitch to a Vc how to. Like how to take the quees their feedback. It’s the same thing from a deal process. It’s a very different thing where you have companies you have corp dev people approaching. You. How should you nurture them. How should you start talking about it. It’s not a one day process. So it was It’s a great learning experience. What. After all of this I went to hb and I actually did m and a on the buy side and um, you know you you realize? So ah I had an experience kind of doing it completely on the other side of things which was interesting.

Sandeep Johri: So yeah, it’s a very very different perspective and having it on both sides you know, learning to work with corporate you know large corporations and getting their interest is is a bit of an art. It doesn’t just happen randomly. So.

Alejandro Cremades: Because at Hp you led 14 deals with ah I think was say an aggregate amount of 7000000000 is that right? So so obviously that that gives you that gives you that that perspective that that that that insight into.

Sandeep Johri: Um, yes, yes, so we did um.

Alejandro Cremades: What happens from the cell side. What happens from the buy side especially now at Hb I guess especially for the founders that are listening. What would you say are the biggest things that you learned you know from that experience especially being on the buy side that. If you were to now be on the sell side now. You would absolutely implement that you would be on the lookout for.

Sandeep Johri: Um, yeah, so you know one of the things is that it it the the transaction doesn’t happen like someone calls you and says hey I want to buy you. That’s not how it happens you have to build. Ah, first of all, you have to have a good brand in the market so people are aware of you. You should know who could be potential acquirers even if you’re not and if you’re not ready to sell. You should always be aware of the market and who should. Who could be the potential acquires why because who would your technology or company be of interest to so that’s 1 thing as a founder from the very beginning. You should always be cognizant of number 2 even if you’re under 8 to 7 you know you should be doing this. Is figure out who these are make sure that you have good awareness in the market so they are aware of you so creating that buzz or at least making sure that they’re aware of you number 3 I would say try to. Um. Make sure that your products integrate with them and you have customers where the 2 companies together make sense. You know to a customer at the end of the day a company buys somebody because their customers find it valuable so instead of hitting the company directly.

Sandeep Johri: Work with customers where the 2 products are interacting and there is synergy you can show at the customer level if you do that? Guess what? the the acquirer the potential acquirer discovers it. Talks to because they’re talking to their customers when they hear their customers telling them that this is a valuable company or a valuable technology or here’s how this small company. Let’s assume it’s small. This small company really enhances my. Ah, my offering the bigger company’s offering. That’s when the interest ah comes up so as founders you you have to think about why would your product company technology. Whatever be of interest to the Acquirer. Don’t think about. Can have your perspective put yourself in their shoes. Why should they find you interesting how does it help their business right? You might have a billion dollar company um as a potential acquirer you could be a $5000000 company. You know a $5000000 business is not going to move the needle for a billion dollar company so don’t tell them I’m going to grow one ah hundred percent so it’s awesome. They’re like hey I’m a billion dollar company going from 5 to 10 is not that big a deal I do that in like a month you know what you need to think about is why will this $5000000 company.

Sandeep Johri: Help that billion dollar become much bigger. How does it help them retain customers. How does it help them expand their customer base and the like so put yourself in their shoes and think about it and that’s how you make them interested in what. You have to offer does that and make sense.

Alejandro Cremades: In talking about expanding a hundred percent and and and and as you’re talking about expansion there I think about scaling up and when thinking about scaling up after Hp you joined a company and Ceo out of the out of out of a europe in in in Austria. Called transcend this and in this company when you joined they were about 5000000 in annual recurring revenue and you were literally there when you joined from 5000000 you went all the way up to 300000000 plus in arr. So as we’re thinking about. That impact as we’re thinking about expansion like you were saying and scaling what were some of the things you know that that that you looked out for or that you were keeping in mind or that you learned from going from that validation stage which is that 5000000 to then. Growth you know scale stage going to 300000000 plus.

Sandeep Johri: Yeah, so ah, you know maybe I’ll back up and say when I was at oblix we were started from zero you know and what you do and how you behave and how you operate is very different when you go from 0 to Let’s say 10 and then you have to redefine everything you do when you go from 10 to 50 and then at 50 or something like that again, you have to redefine the company so you have to rethink your mode of operation. Your. How you manage people how you work on different functions. Everything has to be redefined and sometimes people have to be replaced at each of these stages because not everyone is appropriate for each of these stages. Some people have all some don’t when I went to hv. Were like 3000 people completely different I had to restart and rewire myself on how to operate at scale. So it’s it’s a very different kind of experience then I went back to Tricentis which was again a smaller company. So. I had to kind of remind myself what size we are how to make impact today so that we have the next six months you know in the beginning as a small company. You have to focus on very tactical things to make sure that you survive and you can get to the next phase right.

Sandeep Johri: When you’re at 5000000 you need to think about how you’ll get to 300 but your prime objective should be to go from 5 to 10 and how can I do that so that I then have the license to go from 10 to 50 right? So so it’s 1 of those things which you have to keep the long term in mind but get very tactical on making sure that you can be efficient and effective in getting to the next level I always think about what is the next tier. What is the next ah quantum level I need to get to right? So think big. But operate very very tactically at okay I’m at 1000000 now I need to get to fight William right? Just focusing on that.

Alejandro Cremades: And then also us you are ah thinking about this too and and growth and scale. How do you change that mindset from being like in this case, it was a European company to really transforming it into a global company.

Sandeep Johri: Yeah, so it was a european company. Not only european it was selling primarily only in the german speakinging areas. So Austria Austria Germany and Switzerland so. You know when I came in there. There was a lot of cultural change that we do we to go through. We do one set an ambition to become a global company and become a global leader and I started kenap you know. Embiding that imbibing that into everybody’s kind of setting a strategy. What is our long-term strategy a long-term strategy is to be a global leader. We don’t want to be just a dark region leader to be a global leader who are the competitors you start looking at different competitors. You start looking at different markets. 1 of the first things we had to do was make sure that we have a legitimate ah critical mass of business in the us you know most software companies especially for the enterprise unless you crack the us you’re not a legitimate company. So 1 of the first tasks. Was to make sure that we have a presence in the us we have customers in the us we talk to analysts and industry experts in the us so setting up the Us entity was one of the first and usually for a company that is not big.

Sandeep Johri: Founded in the us one of the biggest challenges but changing the culture is a gradual process I did everything from ah holding ah you know defining the strategy holding all hands doing 1 on one with small teams to to get them to change. More of a Silicon Valley type behavior I had my team from there. Some key people come here to Silicon Valley I actually had them visit a number of people a number of companies I remember taking them to Google taking them to Twitter saying hey look at the environment look at how people operate here. So it’s a gradual process. But it’s something that you have to drive kind of culturally.

Alejandro Cremades: So So the next step you know in or your next chapter you know is Checkmarks You know Checkmarks basically a company that was founded that ended up getting a you know big minority state by ah, a private equity. And in this case, you’re recruited. You know to really lead the operation. So I Guess for the people that are listening. What’s the business model of Checkmarks. What What do you guys? Do? How do you guys make money.

Sandeep Johri: Um, checkbox is a what’s known as application security company we if you think of any software at an enterprise or at a tech company any any application that is written. We check. We check the application for security challenges. So there’s a number of different checks we do but basically check for security before you put things into production. That’s what we do. We are a we were a Vc funded company. The 2 founders started the company in Israel in Tel Aviv about fifteen years ago and raised local Vc money then came to the us and raised money with insight capital which is a large fee firm based out of New York they were doing about 10000000 in ar at that point and insight. Invested as ah as a ship as a major majority shareholder at that point and over the next would say for 5 years they grew from 10000000 to about one hundred million in a R and at that point insight sold and a new pee for boughtin the the current majority owner is Helman Friedman which is a pee from based out of San Francisco been in business for twenty plus years insight

Sandeep Johri: Is a minority shareholder tpg is a minority shareholder and h and f is the majority sharehold the founders were looking to transition and the founding cego was looking to transition. So Helman Friedman asked me or you know was. Went out recruiting found me and and you know decided to hire me a Ceo so I joined about a year ago and.

Alejandro Cremades: So now leading leading the operation here for checks for Checkmarks Now if you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision for Checkmarks is fully realized what does that world look like.

Sandeep Johri: Our vision is to be the leader in appse today. There’s many companies in appsa we are one of the bigger companies. One of the recognized as one of the leaders I want to be the clear leader. So be the largest in the appseq. Sector right? have the most comprehensive solution. That’s what our our mission is to drive to leadership every every company I’ve been and always focused on driving to leadership in the category as you define it tricentis is a leader in the testing space checkmarks. Is one of many companies in the application security space I want to be recognized as a very clear leader. You know when you think of Crm you think of salesforce the same way when people think of I want our name to be the first one that comes to their mind. Um, you know. As a security company I want to you know our vision is to allow all software applications to be secure, you know and the world runs on applications and our job is to make sure that there are no embarrassing security flaws. It costs a lot of money it hurts to come. It hurts companies. It costs a lot of money. There’s all kinds of bad things that happen when your applications are not well secured. So.

Alejandro Cremades: So So I mean in your in your extensive career and and and you being on different side of different sides of the table you’ve seen leadership in all shapes and forms. So What does it look like. When leadership you know in in at its best What does leadership leadership at its best. What does that look like.

Sandeep Johri: Um, so first of all, you’re right I’ve seen leadership of all different kinds and there are different styles and different leaders that succeed with very dramatically different styles right? So there’s not like 1 model that works. It’s all about. You know, different leaders have different styles and many different styles can be effective so there’s not in my mind. There isn’t one one formula having said that your question is about what does good leadership look like good leadership. Looks like you know when when you can inspire your people. And and drive that motivation in them and pride and inspiration. That’s when people do impossible things so one of my managers said a good leader. You know, takes amazing people and lets them loose to let them reach their full potential and takes kind of. People that are you know basically gets people to operate at a higher potential than they’ve ever operated and inspiring people to a bigger goal inspiring them and motivating is the most rewarding but also the most important thing of leadership. You can figure out strategy and whether to go this way or whether to pivot and whether you’ll have a billion dollar exit or a $3000000000 exit. All those are things that all happen because of circumstances and luck and environment and stuff but people remember.

Sandeep Johri: High functioning teams and high functioning teams have a mission and a and a mission and ah a strife for excellence you know and and people are usually inspired. They’re motivated to go succeed. So.

Alejandro Cremades: So let’s say I was to put you into a time machine now. Sunday and I take you back in time you know I take you back in time to perhaps you know that moment in I would say you know about 96 you know, right around 96 where you are thinking at silicon graphics maybe you know I I do something you know of my own. Maybe I take control of my own destiny and let’s say you know, ah, you’re right there you know it’s a June 9096 you know, right around the time where you were thinking about giving your notice. And let’s say you just give your notice and you’re coming out of the building and you’re thinking oh wow you know, let’s see what the future holds and let’s say you’re able to stop that younger so that younger self that younger some deep and give 1 piece of advice to your younger self and that will be. 1 piece of advice about launching a business. What will that be and why given what you know now.

Sandeep Johri: Has a great question I’ve thought about that you know and and a I swing on 2 and spectrums of it when I look back I find it amazing that we survived and succeeded. Given the lack of experience so on the one side I would say my advice to the younger self would be be patient. get some more experience learn a little more learn you know learn the business a little more learn the industry a little more before you get started that’s on one side right. Because it was tough. Everything was new. You’re doing it for the aid and then on the other side I think about it no matter when you do, but no matter when you start a company. It is nothing like working at another company when you start the company as the founder. So I go between. Both ends of that. But if I were to redo I mean it turned out well ah but it was a lot easier a second and third time because I think I had more experience so you have to go through the experience you can do it at another company or you can dive in like I did. Started the company. Thank god we survived and succeeded with the first shot. But even if we hadn’t we would have learned a lot so you know um I would I would tell myself to be a little patient but you know entrepreneurs are not patient.

Sandeep Johri: So if I was too patient I would have never been an entrepreneur So it’s a bit ironic I would advise an entrepreneur to be patient. But if patient people don’t become entrepreneurs. You know? So yeah.

Alejandro Cremades: I Hear you I hear you I hear you gonna balance that Well, that’s very profound so need for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi what if the best way for them to do so.

Sandeep Johri: Linkedin? um, you know, just search for me or Twitter I have a Twitter much super active but you can dm be there or send me an email. Ah you know my email is in my Linkedin. In my Linkedin profile my personally meant so happy to happy to take I work with entrepreneurs I love helping entrepreneurs where I can so happy to do that. So.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing well sand deep. Thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

Sandeep Johri: Um, well thanks for the privilege. This is great.


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