My job is simple,” says Manish Kalia, co-founder and CEO of cloud cybersecurity firm Orkus. “I have to make sure that the organization is going in the right direction.”
The not-so-simple part of the job, however, is defining and refining that long-term vision in an industry that is dynamic and ever-changing. It’s the constant evolution of the cybersecurity landscape and threats that is what Kalia sees as the greatest challenge.
Security is not a one-time thing,” Kalia says. “It’s not just about initial setup and provisioning – that is the easy part. It’s putting in place a continuously evolving set of controls and ensuring that your environment is never open and permissive and exposing you to unauthorized access to inside or outside factors.”
Orkus, which provides a platform for connecting data, infrastructure and identities is Kalia’s first business venture. “I have always had the desire to build something,” he says. “When my co-founder and I saw the challenges posed by the pivot to the cloud, we became excited and felt we had a unique way to solve these problems. That’s what led us to take the leap.”
Kalia obtained his computer science degree in an engineering college in Delhi, and at that time he was already looking at several possibilities in his career. “The US was definitely a key option,” he says. “All the innovation was happening in Silicon Valley, and I was really eager to come over and be a part of it.”
And so in 1999, he did come to the US. The adjustment was smooth, and fun. “It was a different country and different culture, and I liked exploring new places, learning new things, meeting new people.”
What he enjoyed most was the opportunity to put what he learned in school to actual test. For many years he worked as a software developer, honing his expertise on writing applications and programs.
Over the years, Kalia expanded his expertise from technical work to knowing the market. “I became interested in understanding what customers needed and wanted, creating value, and wanting to build an organization offering products to customers to solve real problems.”
Following the market’s pulse led him to see a pivotal moment: Everyone was moving to the cloud. “Businesses are moving to the cloud in different ways, putting their resources there. There are new developments happening here, and this carries big, unique challenges.”
Security is emerging as a key challenge. “You have compliance, you have audit, but specifically, a key pain point for customers is access and authorization,” he says.
“These are effectively your layers of policy and control. Access and authorization tel you what the users can do, what information can be made available to them, what actions they can perform. If you think about it, everything is an object and you can secure that object only by having the proper access and authorization.”
All things right
At the end of the day, what the bad guys – or malicious insiders – are looking for is a way to get in where they are not authorized. They want to exploit what they can find here.
It’s indeed a constant fight. “The only was you can be secure is if you constantly learn what the access paths are, then monitoring any changes or abuses of access.”
Then again, access and authorization are not the be-all and end-all of security. “They are key to defense but there should also be authentication, and basic things like hygiene. It’s a multi-faceted approach and you have to get all things correct.”
Covering all fronts
Kalia has known his co-founder. Abhishek Saxena, for a long time. “We went to school together. It’s always fun working with him, he is a great technical architect and we get along pretty well.” They established the company in 2017.
Within the organization, Kalia wants to do everything to empower his team to do their jobs and be the most effective they can be. Together, they navigate the challenges: Accelerating trajectory, attaining greater efficiency, setting milestones and measuring successes, executing day-to-day goals.
Kalia is fully aware that the market is evolving, so his primary goal is to keep a close eye on the changes and ensuring they remain competitive.
How exactly? There’s no single answer, Kalia says. “It’s an amalgamation of a lot of different things.”
First, an organization has to have a good technical viewpoint so it is capable of understanding – and imagining – a better way of doing things.
Second, it has to be in touch with customers all the times so you have a firm grasp of their needs and the pain points you ant to address. It should always ask whether the solution it is offering is going to solve the problems or not.
Finally, a team also has to have a good sales viewpoint especially when you are creating something new. “You have to be a visionary and an evangelist to effectively sell your ideas,” he says.
Eyes on the goal
Ensuring that the organization stays on course is one thing, but how does a leader define that direction?
“Always look at your data, observe new trends, refine your vision and ideas as needed,” says Kalia. “You most be worried if there is no change; it means you are not learning.”
“I am still evolving as a leader, sales person, product person and entrepreneur.”
Kalia has learned to stay focused on the big picture and not get distracted by the occasional difficulties.
There are bound to be ups and downs. “In the short term it’s okay to go here and there every now and then,” he says. “But clarity of vision will ensure you are on track.”