As a young boy in India, Ameesh Divatia was intrigued by technology. He distinctly remembers gazing at National Geographic Magazine, with the photo of a microchip on the cover. And then there was TIME Magazine, which in 1982 chose the personal computer as Man of The Year.
He was amazed at what the computer could do even when he did not yet know what all the possibilities were. Because of this interest, he studied to become an engineer.
“I always want to know what the big picture is,” says Divatia, now co-founder and CEO of Baffle. “Even if I am looking at a small piece of the puzzle, like that microchip, I always try to figure out what that small part will be used for, eventually, and how something so tiny can make a difference.”
Divatia describes himself as a “decent student” (which he defines as within the top five percent of his class). He tempered his academic achievements with a keen interest in sports.
His father, a pharmacology expert who later on became a corporate executive, served as his role model.
“He ended up running a company, and early on I saw what that was all about.”
Divatia came to the United States for his Masters at age 22, fresh out of college and without a day of work experience. He was able to quickly adjust to life in a new country, even as “the weather and people’s work habits were very different.”
An internship showed the stark difference between learning at school and actual experience. He studied computer networking in graduate school focusing on performance modeling for his graduate project.
All these came handy when, seven years after graduation, he made the bold move to establish his own company. “I had seen other people and thought to myself: ‘Hey, I could do that, too!’”
The serial entrepreneur
At that time, Divatia had an idea for a product. “It was the Summer of 1996, and there was a lot of enthusiasm. There were things that were interesting for an engineer to investigate. So while I worked in data networking, I started my business with a slightly different angle – from the optical networking side,” he says.
This would eventually be an observable pattern in Divatia’s business ventures. “Doing something that has never been done before, always challenging the status quo. You always want to think differently from what everybody else is saying or doing.”
Divatia has a term for combining lessons learned from one business to one that has not been disrupted for a while: Cross-leverage. This was exactly how he transferred his knowledge from networking to optical, which he felt offered immense possibilities. “This is what creates opportunities,” he says.
He did the same leveraging for a storage networking business, and, like his first venture, went on to be acquired by a bigger company. The acquisitions always led to the creation of a new business in the large company. “It has always given me some satisfaction. I always really try to build a good business.”
Over the years, Divatia has learned precious lessons. For example, he concedes it is very easy to fall in love with technology, to build a product using that technology and then sit and wait for people to buy the product.
“It does not work that way,” he says. “Nobody cares about technology per se; it has to solve a problem.”
Another lesson is on value. “If my business is worth $1 to me, I have to make it worth $10 to the company I am partnering with,” he says. “They should be getting a multiplier from my product, and the way to do this is to always to have a good grasp of what the end-user is looking for.”
Leaving the door open
Baffle, Divatia’s fourth venture, is focused on securing data. He sat down with a friend to brainstorm and came up with possibilities. “What if there was a way that you could have a computer running a program, manipulating data, but nobody actually knew what it was doing?”
“That would be baffling the administrator of the underlying infrastructure, hence the name,” he says. “We started looking at where data would be stored, and then worked to protect the data from the administrator of that particular infrastructure. If you have end-to-end encryption, nobody can tap into your database.”
Divatia says this technique had been in academia for a long time but it had never been used in the market. “We picked up the technique and adapted it to the problem of database protection.”
The existence of the cloud has made the solution possible. In the past, most of the workload stayed in the premises of the customer. “But because of the cloud, we can now implement a technique that has been out there for a long time, but was previously only theoretical.”
“Traditional security looks at the danger out there, and who the hackers are. But with this you can leave your front door open, because the data itself is encrypted anyway — down to the record level!”
More and more, in-house infrastructure is ceasing to exist even for large companies, Divatia says. “The cloud is a game-changer.”
Consequently, the threat lies not in the cloud administrators stealing companies’ data, but rather in somebody pretending to be the cloud administrator.
Before, attackers came from the outside. “Now insider threats or compromised administrator credentials are becoming more prominent – and so it is very important to protect data at the record level.”
Leader and family man
As a leader, Divatia is the type who refuses to take sole credit for his achievements. “Success is always driven by teamwork. I have always worked with people who are better than I am.”
He also places a premium on communication and transparency. “I am open with my team. I don’t keep things to myself – I tell them the good, the bad and the ugly. It could be hard, but I always try to do it.”
He is also a champion of balance. “I tend to leave work at the office if I can help it. When I am at home, I try not to talk about work. I compartmentalize.”
He is a keen golfer and cricket player, but also a follower of any type of professional sports. He believes that sports is a microcosm of life. “In a game you experience all emotions like you do in life – except that everything happens in two or three hours.”
He also likes to travel, soaking up the history of the various places he visits. “I have been to every continent except Antarctica. Traveling gives you tremendous perspective,” he says. “You can see what people did at that time, when they did not even have the tools that we have now. It reminds you of how much more we can achieve.”
As for bringing his kids along, he does that, too – knowing that “the best way to spend time with them is to take them to a place where there is no Wi-Fi. It is becoming very hard.”
Divatia has tried to make his life all about making an impact. “This is the reason I keep doing startups,” he says. “There are good days and there are bad days, but when you go home, you know you accomplished something, and you were not dependent on somebody else to make it happen,” he says.