Founders on Fire: Adi Ruppin, CEO and Co-Founder, Ananda Networks

Today we’re catching up with Ananda Networks, our winner of the 2020 Networking Trailblazers Award. We get to chat with Adi Ruppin, the CEO and Co-Founder of the firm. Chief Trailblazer Rose Ross quizzes him to find out where the inspiration for Ananda Networks came from and how they’ve come to have a Chief Joy Officer on their team.

Adi explains how Ananda is not patching up current networking, but going back to basics to reinvent it. He also gives some advice for startups, extols the virtues of awards particularly for young companies, and explains how starting a company is like giving birth.

There’s also exciting news about Ananda Network’s participation in the Telecom Infrastructure Project where the firm will get to mix with the likes of Google and Facebook. Watch the full podcast here:

You can also listen to the podcast on Spotify or Anchor FM.

Interview transcript

Rose Ross: So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Founders on Fire podcast from the Tech Trailblazers. I’m Rose Ross and I’m the founder and Chief Tech Trailblazer, and I’m delighted to be joined here today by Adi Ruppin who is co-founder and CEO of Ananda Networks, who are one of our winners from last year, and they won in the Networking category. Hello Adi, thanks for joining us.

Adi Ruppin: Good morning Rose, thanks for having me.

Rose Ross: You’re very welcome, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. You’ve had a very long and illustrious career in the startup space, so I’m looking forward to finding out a little bit more about your adventures so far, and perhaps try and tease out of you just a little bit of what we can expect to see from Ananda over the coming months and years.

What I’d love to start off with is just to get a little bit of a sense of who you are, and obviously you have a co-founder Elad Rave who is your Chief Joy Officer, according to Crunchbase, which sounds very inviting, so we might have to get him on at some stage to find out what the joyfulness is all about. But in the meantime it would be great to get a little bit of an overview of Ananda itself as an organisation; what technology have you created, and what are the benefits to your customers and potential customers?

Adi Ruppin: So, joy plays a big part of it and maybe I’ll explain that, it would give you some of the context. The name Ananda is a Sanskrit word, and it stands for the ultimate state of bliss or joy, and as somebody who’s done several startups in cyber-security and networking you never felt joy using a VPN, or a firewall. It’s something that’s imposed on you and you have to use it. It just makes your life a little harder and slower, and so-on. We wanted to do something that would bring joy, basically re-invent the network so it brings joy rather than be in this situation we are in today, when we are forced to use tools that are making our lives kind of miserable. So, that’s why he’s the Chief Joy Officer because he’s kind of our evangelist working with customers and partners, and that’s the goal behind Ananda to reinvent the network.

It goes back to, like I said, between the founding team, we’ve had a double-digit number of startups as we started, and we felt that they were all kind of incremental like most startups are, so doing a small epsilon improvement over something that’s been done before and thinking of the Elon Musk route for a minute – he talks about first principles, like how do you go back and tear down the problem into its basic form, and then try to invent something new. So, we felt again that instead of creating a new patch or something that’s an incremental change, how about we go back to the basics and try to re-create the network, because we cannot trace most of the issues that we’re having with the network’s initial design.

Because when the internet was designed in the 60s nobody was thinking about security, nobody was thinking about the performance, or even connecting disparate networks together. Ever since what we’ve been doing is kind of patching it up, putting band aids on firewalls, VPN, SD-WAN, CASBs, and MPLS, there’s so many acronyms that came out of it. We can make another one, we can make one of them slightly better, or we can go back and try to rebuild it. So that’s what’s the genesis of Ananda.

Rose Ross: Fantastic. I was going to ask actually because I’ve been doing quite a lot of meditation over lockdown, and Deepak Chopra and I are like ‘that’ now, we’re really close, and I know that one of his one Zanada and it’s bliss as well. So, I’m glad that’s where it came from, I should imagine you’ll have a Chief Zen Officer at some stage soon then, or is that you?

Adi Ruppin: As we grow!

Rose Ross: Fantastic! Well, that’s what Ananda’s behind, so reinventing the network and obviously our judges liked it, and the public liked what you were saying, because otherwise you’d have not been successful. And you personally grew up in Israel and studied in Tel Aviv for a long time, and in fact I’ve noticed that if we going to delve a little bit deeper into Adi’s background you actually did a lot of your studying while you were doing your first startup, SofaWare.

Adi Ruppin: Yeah I have, somehow.

Rose Ross: Yeah, not bad going.

Adi Ruppin: Well, the secret is never to actually attend university, just show up for the tests is the secret.

Rose Ross: I don’t think we should say that too loudly – apologies to everyone who is a student right now, do not necessarily go 100 percent with Adi’s advice on being a student! But it obviously worked because you got an MSc and a PhD in computer science, so that’s quite some achievement even if you weren’t running a startup, which you then successfully sold to Check Point. Obviously, it all worked out fine.

Adi Ruppin: Yes, somehow I made it work!

Rose Ross: That’s quite blissful, that’s quite an Ananda moment I would have thought.

Adi Ruppin: You know, I feel nothing in the startup world is blissful. From the beginning, raising money is never fun, going begging VCs for funds is not a good position to be in, and operational stuff can be pretty stressful as well. All my three companies have been acquired so far, and that’s even more stressful than the other two stages. So there’s no zen anywhere in startups.

Rose Ross: Oh dear, oh dear! Well you must quite like it, you’re either a masochist because this is the fourth time round

Adi Ruppin: It’s like giving birth, you forget the pains.

Rose Ross: You forget the pain once the joy of the acquisition has gone through, so that sounds good. BeInSync was acquired by Phoenix in 2008, and then WatchDox was acquired by BlackBerry in 2017, and now obviously you’re in Ananda and I’m sure there are some interesting plans ahead with regards to what you plan to do over coming years there as well. Can you give us a little bit of an insight into what we might be expecting to see?

Adi Ruppin: Ananda’s honestly the most exciting project, like I said I think it’s the most out-of-the-box of all the things I’ve done, so I’m pretty excited about the concept and how it can fundamentally change everything. We launched just a few months ago, so it’s a fairly new product. So, the exciting thing now is that we’ve signed our first customers and partners, and we’re seeing usage, and we’re getting feedback. I’m most excited, frankly, about the feedback that we’re getting. I mean sales are important for the business, but gaining the validation that we’ve made people’s lives better, the network is secure, faster and more secure. But I think I take the most pride in somebody saying, “You’ve really done this in an elegant way, it’s so much easier, simpler, less costly”, because that’s the design that we put into it. So, I’m really proud of these moments that we’re having.

I think in the coming months you’ll see some kind of major… there’s some customers obviously, but some major partnership news that we’re working on. The market is really looking for some sort of a solution in these COVID days. There are a few interesting trends, one is COVID, we’re all doing this from home, so enterprises and businesses are looking for ways to expand their networks to where the users are, which is home, at least a few days a week.

The other interesting trend that we’re just now seeing is the chips shortage. You cannot get cars, you cannot get electronic devices. There’s a big shortage, and one of the principles behind it. And then there’s also creating something that’s basically a software-based solution. We don’t need to ship hardware appliances anywhere. So these two trends are really interesting for us because they create this perfect storm for all, if we could just connect everybody better and not need any additional hardware, that would be great.

So, these trends will show up in our upcoming partnerships. One of the partnership opportunities that we are just going to announce is in a couple of days. There’s a big launch of a new initiative called the TIP – Telecom Infrastructure Project. So that’s an initiative run via Facebook, Google, and Deutsche Telekom and some other giants. They’re essentially building a new Wi-Fi router for the home and for business, I think as well. So it’s a nice platform that brings this strong open-source platform to people working from home to connect better. We are going to be featured on it as providing this connectivity to the enterprise. So, basically we’re leveraging that platform and not only making the connection in the home better, but also getting a better connection to people working in a corporate environment.

So that’s a pretty exciting announcement, I think our session is with the people from Facebook and a few other partners, so it’s a pretty major one. It’s going to be very cool for us to be running on a bunch of different types of routers as well as the computers and other devices.

Rose Ross: We shall keep an eye out for that, for sure.

You’ve had a number of accolades, I noticed I think CRN gave you Coolest Edge Computing, you were in the top 10 for that. Crunchbase was ‘one of the startups to watch in 2020’, and obviously the accolade of all – the Tech Trailblazers Networking Trailblazer award! How important is that recognition, that involvement in the industry and getting a shout out from awards for you guys?

Adi Ruppin: I think it’s pretty important, definitely for younger companies, just you need to somehow get noticed, so definitely very helpful. As you grow, you start paying tens of thousands of dollars to Gartner, and Forrester, and these guys, but I think initially these are quite important and it was great to get them.

Rose Ross: Fantastic. And being a fourth-time-round founder, apart from ‘run away screaming’ because it’s a very painful process, but what advice would you give to people who are maybe starting out in their first enterprise tech startup?

Adi Ruppin: That’s a tough one. Do some investing, it’s always difficult to give good advice, I mean advice is easy but…! The one thing, and there is no one thing, but one thing I would say is to pick a good team, good partners, whether it’s the investors, or your co-founders, or your team, I think that’s one of the most important things, especially when you’re a younger company, or it’s your first time, it’s hard to tell what constitutes a good team, what constitutes a good investor. So, this time around, for example, we’ve been trying to be very picky with who we work with, because not everybody who wants to give you money is necessarily the right partner for you to hitch your future to. And it’s hard to know, I think you need to ask around, it’s never as obvious as it seems. So I would definitely spend a lot of time vetting your investors, partners, employees, and so-on.

Rose Ross: Well I do notice, unless I’m incorrect, or should I say Crunchbase is incorrect, you haven’t actually taken any VC funding as yet, although you have taken

Adi Ruppin: No, we have.

Rose Ross: You have? We have it down as seed funding from a couple of venture companies, but I wasn’t sure how that kind of panned out.

Adi Ruppin: No, we raised about $6 million from VCs and a few individual investor, so we’re kind of well funded and we have several VCs onboard.

Rose Ross: Fabulous. One of the things that obviously we’ve talked about a little bit, and it seems to be driving this partnership that you talked about, with Facebook and others that are involved with that around this new Wi-Fi router approach. But there’ve been lots of challenges over the last 12 months in particular, and obviously that’s driving this type of thing; how have the Ananda team dealt with that? Because you’re based in California, are you all on the West Coast, or are you spread around a bit anyway?

Adi Ruppin: We’ve headquartered in the West Coast, so all the business functions are here, and we have developers in Israel and India, so, pretty distributed ourselves. For us, we are trying to spin it in our favour, because these trends are actually what’s supporting our product, not that that we anticipated that, but there’s some positive things about it because people need this better connectivity, more secure connectivity, so this is in some ways a positive. Being able to help these companies deal with COVID and these trends, it’s we’re fortunate to be able to do that.

The challenges? A couple; one is on the business side you need to adjust your marketing when people are not working in the office. And the other is the internal and how you work with your own team that you cannot visit, because I haven’t been able to visit them for a year. So there’s some Zoom fatigue and you need to get used to doing that. But I think we’ve been able to do that. Most companies that I talk to say that initially there was even a boost in productivity, just because people don’t need to commute and spend so much time in things that are not necessary.

Having said that, I think people are yearning to go back to the office and meet people, you can see from my background there are a lot of fake people in the virtual background! So I can feel like I’m in an office. I think there’s definitely a big need to interact with people.

Rose Ross: So, you’re very much of the view that for you guys it will be the hybrid approach of perhaps more remote working, but also spending time together face-to-face?

Adi Ruppin: My team, at least, is really eager to go back to working in person, I’m not saying it’s going to be five days a week, but definitely a considerable amount of time. I know there’s companies built in different ways. But I think our product is pretty technologically complex and we’re doing things that are new, so it’s hard to go through the design and iteration when you’re remote, there’s some ‘being close together in the same room’ makes a difference.

Rose Ross: Communication and just being able to stick your head up over a monitor and go, ‘Oh, I’m just working on this – what’s going on with this thing?’ rather than scheduling a meeting, or trying to catch somebody on the phone, or whatever – there is that instantaneous communication.

Adi Ruppin: Yeah, with Zoom you cannot really see everything around that box, you can only sense what people are feeling, or just casually go and reach out, so there’s advantages, especially in these types of product in being together.

Rose Ross: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. So, we’ve talked a little bit about what’s happening for you guys in the immediate future. Obviously talked about what Ananda is, a little bit about your journey; is there anything else that you feel that you’d like to share with listeners?

Adi Ruppin: Entrepreneurs with good advice, or…?

Rose Ross: Yeah, any other thoughts on that. Or, maybe as an investor, as a potential investor that insight might be useful.

Adi Ruppin: I would just go back to the Elon Musk first principles, try to do something new. Like we said, it’s kind of difficult times but I think it also brings opportunity, because everybody has to change how they work, whether it’s the IT side, or the project management, the social side of it. So it’s tough and people are struggling, but it also opens up all these opportunities to do major changes in the interaction, the technology, the communications. So, I will try to spin it positively and try to re-leverage the promise here.

Rose Ross: Well it’s certainly an exciting time. I’m sure, as you say, there’s very rarely a dull moment in ‘Startup Land’. So that’s great, thank you so much for joining us, it’s been a pleasure to meet you, and wishing you continued success on your Ananda journey.

That was the Tech Trailblazers Founders on Fire, with Ani Ruppin who is the co-founder and CEO of Ananda Networks. Thank you all for listening, and if you’d like to engage with us on social media you can find us on Twitter @techtrailblaze, and also on LinkedIn as the Tech Trailblazers. So yes, we’ll hopefully speak with you soon, thank you very much.

Adi Ruppin: Thank you so much.