Top Gun 51 Profile: Privafy’s Pai Out to ‘Disrupt a Really Stagnant Market’

In this Q&A, Guru Pai talks how his company aims to change how businesses do cybersecurity — through the channel.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

December 14, 2020

7 Min Read
Top Gun 51 CP CF 2020 Main Colors

Newcomer Privafy wants to change how businesses approach cybersecurity. Founded in 2019, the company has developed a cloud-native platform that protects data in motion against a variety of threats: DoS/DDoS, viruses, ransomware and more. At the same time, the technology adheres to various regulatory requirements such as GDPR and HIPAA. Privafy’s products work across different domains, including cloud, applications, routers, internet of things devices and the network edge.

Guru Pai started Privafy last year. And when he did so, he made the indirect channel an integral part of the company’s sales structure. Pai has worked with partners for years at companies including Verizon, Sonus Networks and AT&T. As a result, he sees managed service providers, managed security service providers, system integrators, distributors and other channel players as vital to Privafy’s success.

“Since Day 1 of the company, I had the channel as an inherently key part of our strategy,” Pai tells Channel Partners.

Earlier this year, Channel Partners named Pai a Top Gun 51 award winner. Launched in 2018, the Top Gun 51 recognizes premier leaders in the indirect IT and telecom channel. Three criteria went into selecting this year’s group:

  • advocacy for the channel

  • commitment to partners’ business success

  • dedication to earning the channel’s trust

Pai stood out for his channel advocacy. In this Q&A, he talks with Channel Partners about his history with the channel, his intent for Privafy partners, the effects of COVID-19 on sales, operations and communication, diversity issues, and plans for partners going into 2021. This Q&A has been edited for clarity.

Channel Partners: How did you first become involved in the channel? Was it part of your overall career plan?

Guru Pai: I think it actually was more circumstantial. I started my career at Bell Labs in product design and architecture. Over many, many years of deregulation and the evolution of the wireless industry, the number of points of sale started increasingly rapidly. The implications of what we had to do on the build side for channel started to change, and enabling the channel started to change, economics started to change … The evolution of the channel has been synonymous with evolution of telecom and networking. What used to be boxes is more and more in software and services. … Channel isn’t just a sales or marketing skillset – it also becomes a critical part of product and services because it all has to work together.

CP: What three main channel goals have you accomplished during your Privafy tenure so far?

GP: The first one is awareness. [We’re] a new company with new technology, trying to disrupt the existing setup. We have to increase product awareness and market need. The second is to make sure that we’ve been very clear and articulate about the value to the channel of working with Privafy. This is both an economic question as well as an ease-of-doing-business question. And then the third thing is really on the product side – to make sure the technology itself works with the infrastructure that the channel has set up for itself. Most of the channel companies involved in distribution now also have made investments in their own go-to-market and operations infrastructure.

CP: What makes a channel program successful, and why?

GP: Win-win is an often-used, very rarely implemented term, but I think in this case there are actually three wins here: from the economic, strategic and supply perspectives, companies have to win. [Privafy is] economically straightforward. We want to make sure we give partners sufficient margins and profits so they’re enthusiastic. On the technology side, it has to be sticky and persistent, so that they don’t have to go out every day and keep selling to get revenue. You’re annuitizing what used to be a physical good. That becomes pretty significant and the channel, when partners win in that sense, their operating economics get materially better.

CP: One of the reasons you earned a Top Gun 51 award is due to the way you value the channel. Talk more about why that is and what motivates you to meet channel partners’ needs.

GP: One of the things we believed in on day zero … was that we wanted to disrupt a really stagnant market. Typically when you think about cybersecurity, it’s very tech-heavy. … And the challenge is that these people are not cheap and there’s not a lot of them. … Cybersecurity is such a big piece of the IT and networking investment that the channel needs to participate in that market. And today they struggle…

….in participating – almost like a retail store front for large equipment providers. So their value, and the stickiness of the relationship of their customers, will decline. What we wanted to do was make sure that relationship stays with them, that the transaction happens through them and that, both financially and strategically, partners are important. … That’s what we set out to do and we will continue doing that.

CP: What is your philosophy on leadership?

GP: To hire people who are a lot smarter than me who can do all the work a lot more effectively than I can. To make sure teams work as a homogenous organization focused on the right problems, and have enough resources to do the right thing. … In a small company, everybody’s interests are aligned. When extending that philosophy to partners, we can’t succeed by ourselves. Shared success is critical. … We can build the best products in the world but if we can’t get the channel to distribute profitably then it doesn’t matter that we innovated like crazy.

CP: COVID-19 has changed so much of how we all work. What have been the biggest impacts so far when it comes to you and your interactions with the channel?

GP: How people sell. A lot of what we do, we have to evangelize … The value proposition to communicate that historically is done a lot better face-to-face or on a white board. Interpersonal communication, that’s effectively gone away with COVID-19. So the challenge for the channel and us supporting the channel is that everything has to be scheduled on Zoom. That’s actually problematic because getting everything calendared is a challenge. Whereas before, we could swing by and talk to people informally, accelerate transactions. The sales side has been biggest issue.

On the product development side, little has changed because we were already globally dispersed. … When it comes to internal operations, no big disruptions, But a lot of the creative process isn’t structured. It’s not like people come up with ideas between 2 and 4 p.m. because we set up a Zoom for ideas. The challenge is doing those things in a non-time-constrained environment. So far we’ve been able to mitigate because most people in this company know how to work with each other but as we get bigger, everybody won’t know everybody.

On the supply side, we’ve had some work with folks in Taiwan, Asia, and it’s been challenging in the sense that global supply chains have had issues.

But with channel … I think in some strange way we’ve actually benefited. Some large channel partners that would have normally put us in tiers because we’re a startup [have embraced us more readily] because we’re software and they don’t need truck rolls. We’ve been able to get a lot more mind share in that sense.

CP: Diversity and the fight against racism have become critical topics for business and the nation. What actions do you see the channel taking to improve the situation?

GP: We all feel strongly about this issue both personally and professionally. One of the things we’re focused on is SMB and these are a very big reflection of the demographics of the country. … We strongly believe in meritocracies. We can give people the tools anywhere for low or no investment. … In democratizing what has historically been the realm of wealthy firms and individuals … we’re trying to blow the lid off that market. … Regardless of race or capitalization, SMBs go out and build business for themselves.

CP: What plans do you have in store for the Privafy channel for the rest of 2020 and into 2021?

GP: We just need to throw the switch down. We’re trying to sign up people right now. We’re in a getting-started phase within the channel where we’re being very clear on the value we’re creating for them. … A lot of that is happening now through the early part of next year. Then we want to expand and learn. One of the things I’ve found out is all these companies and markets are different; they become our eyes and ears. We want to learn from and partner with them. … We need to understand their needs. So part of what we want to implement is us educating them on what we do and then next year, getting some feedback the other way.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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