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From an idea to a million-dollar business: the story of NetFoundry

November 30, 2019

NetFoundry founder and CEO Galeal Zino talks us through his lightbulb moment when he first came up with the idea behind NetFoundry many years ago, and how he finally got the opportunity to build that idea into a real business as part of Tata Communications’ Shape the Future programme.  

Sometimes light bulb moments occur well ahead of their time. Solar cells, contact lenses and even vending machines were all dreamt up long before they were practically workable – but technology eventually caught up with the concepts and they all came good in the end.

The idea to deliver business applications over the Internet first entered my head back in the 2005 type timeframe. My first startup, ITXC, went from zero to the largest VoIP network in the world by moving phone calls from dedicated PSTN circuits to Internet overlays, so a natural extension was to consider architecture for moving business apps from dedicated MPLS circuits to Internet overlays.

Unfortunately it wasn’t viable until very recently from a technical perspective, but fortunately Shape the Future – Tata Communications’ employee entrepreneurship competition – provided an opportunity to incubate it as a start-up. And fast-forward to today: this project is now a fully-fledged business, NetFoundry.

“We passed the $1 million USD annual recurring revenue (ARR) milestone in less than one year of selling our GA product.”

Only 6% of SaaS start-ups make that mark, so we are proud of that. To help accelerate this growth further, NetFoundry was recently spun off as an independent subsidiary of Tata Communications.

But let’s look back for a moment.

There’s much more to getting a company like NetFoundry off the ground than providing capital. Being part of Shape the Future was key for the development of our technology offering and our overall business strategy. The financial backing of a large business is a huge help, enabling us to focus on customers, rather than constantly being on the road raising new rounds of funding. Meanwhile, the kind of coaching and support that Tata Communications offered us was just as crucial to turning

the idea of NetFoundry into a successful business.

That mentoring can take many forms. Based on my Shape the Future experience, I feel it’s most beneficial when the start-up has the freedom to work independently, with encouragement to pivot and take risks – even if it means failing (as long as there’s something that you learn from it).

Many large companies have their own innovation and entrepreneurship programmes, but there are big differences between them. Often, the programmes seek ideas that are additive or complementary to a company’s existing products or are forced to try to “leverage” large company processes, systems or shared services that would choke a start-up. I think that actually stifles real customer-focused, fail-fast innovation.

“As part of Shape the Future, we were encouraged to venture into the unknown, immediately prove value to customers, and build on truly disruptive ideas with the potential to grow into multi-million-dollar businesses in the future.”

An approach like this is more likely to lead to real breakthroughs, and result in a true start-up culture that can attract and retain the type of talent which start-ups need to succeed. It also helps build systems, processes and structures which are optimised solely according to what is best for customers and partners.

While we were empowered to innovate, make our own decision

s, build our own culture and supporting systems, and run NetFoundry as an independent business, being part of a large listed company did mean that there were certain legal and financial processes that we had to follow too. I admit that at times it felt like unnecessary red tape, but actually thanks to this crash course into corporate governance, NetFoundry is now a much more mature business. I see it as a real advantage over other companies of a similar age that started off without it.

Fast-forward to today: NetFoundry is disrupting the industry by reinventing networking. Our customers and partners use the NetFoundry platform to spin up networking in the same way that they use IaaS platforms like AWS and Azure to spin up compute.  They use the NetFoundry platform to transform networking from a cost center to an innovation hub.

We don’t believe there is another platform that enables customers to spin up anything from an individual, embedded, private app connection (via our SDKs) to a full SDN or SD-WAN type network. And, all with nothing more than Internet access and cloud orchestrated software. Because we enable application providers, cloud and system integrators, managed service providers and leading-edge businesses to programmatically embed private networking into their applications and solutions, they can deliver those applications across any set of edges and clouds, with zero trust security and optimised performance, and without relying on configuration, dedicated circuits or custom hardware.

“What I am particularly proud of is that we have enabled our customers to innovate in ways we never imagined.”

I am also proud of the range of partners we have – from blockchain startups you haven’t heard of (yet!) to companies like Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft just named NetFoundry as the first connectivity-as-code company in the world to optimise Office 365 networking.

I’m certain that NetFoundry wouldn’t have enjoyed such success since its inception without being empowered to operate like an independent start-up, but with the backing of a big global business. By rewarding disruptive thinking and fostering innovation, there are sure to be other success stories like ours.

To learn more about NetFoundry, read the company’s blog .