Originally aired on January 25 @ 1:00 PM - 1:30 PM EDT
In this CIO Week segment, join Nitin Rao, SVP, Global Infrastructure, Cloudflare for a fireside chat with Arvind Jain, CEO,
Arvind helped found Glean to make it easy for people to find the information they need to be more productive and happier at work. Prior to Glean, Arvind co-founded and led R&D at Rubrik, one the fastest growing companies in cloud data management, and worked at Google, where he spent over a decade leading various teams in Search, Maps, and YouTube.
CIO Week Hub for every announcement and CFTV episode — check back all week for more! Hello and welcome to Cloudflare TV. This week we're celebrating CIO Week. My name is Nitin Rao. I lead Cloudflare's global infrastructure and I'm incredibly excited during CIO Week to be joined by Arvind Jain, who's a friend and the CEO of Lean. Arvind has built multiple very interesting companies solving problems for the CIO and has also been a senior engineering leader at a number of companies. I'm really excited to chat about his time in both roles. First, on the engineering side, Arvind is a distinguished engineer at Google and was part of the early team at Riverbed and Akamai before starting Rubrik and now Lean. I figured it would be great to really step back and just talk, chat with Arvind both about the hard engineering problems he's seen over the years and what has surprised him and also just the experience of solving problems for and selling to the CIO. So really, really appreciate your joining us, Arvind. Thank you so much, Nitin. I'm excited to share my experiences and really excited to be on Cloudflare TV. Well, thanks again. So we'll kind of bounce around. You have a very unique perspective, which makes this really interesting. Maybe to start off, would you mind, for folks who are less familiar, helping us understand Lean and how you came to build Lean and the problems it's solving for CIOs? Yeah, absolutely. So Lean is our latest startup. We started this company in 2019 with the goal of making it easy for people to find information at their work. So if you think about all of us as workers, we are constantly in need for information to do our jobs. And like what has happened is that over the last decade, we have witnessed a massive transformation in how businesses use technology. There is an explosion of cloud-based SaaS applications that as a business, you started to use. And the number of applications that you use has been going up tremendously year over year. Like every year, 30% new applications are being added to your portfolio. So in this new workplace where you have so many different applications that your employees use on a day-to-day basis, one thing that becomes challenging is that your company information and knowledge is very fragmented across all of these applications. So as an engineer or as an employee in any function, for that matter, when I'm looking for information, I don't know where to start. I don't know whether it's something like I'm looking for some piece of information is going to be in my email or in a communication tool like Slack or in Drive or Jira or Confluence. There's just so many different places where information lies. And there are no set rules in general on what kind of information stays where. So our goal is to make it easy for people to deal with this fragmented information that they need at all the time. So you can think of us as we are the Google for your workplace. There's one place where you can actually go and ask any question and we'll bring the right answer back to you regardless of where that information was. So that's what this company is about. It's about two and a half years old and it's exciting. We recently launched in September and it's incredible like how people are using this product and the constant feedback we get is that people save a lot of time. Employees save up to two to three hours every week that they were spending trying to find information before and we make it easy for them. Yeah. Congratulations on the launch and I've used Lean and I'm a big fan and it's been terrific seeing the evolution of the product. And I think it's the kind of problem that people don't talk about, but every CIO out there is facing, every fast-growing company is facing. We see it ourselves as Cloudflare's sort of employee count and partners and contractors has grown and the number of SaaS applications all of our team members use has grown. It's become progressively more challenging to find the information you want and so really appreciate that the team at Lean is helping all of us with that. So as you speak with CIOs, IT leaders, engineering leaders sort of wrestling with this problem, for those of us who aren't directly in that role, can you just paint a picture for us? So if you're the head of IT and you have a bunch of employees kind of complaining to you that this needs to be better, what's a day in the life of a CIO like and how do you think about such problems? Yeah, that's a great question. See, one thing is that this is a problem that people have learned to live with in some ways. You won't talk to anybody, any person working in their job, they face this problem, but they also didn't have a product to really help them with it. As that fragmentation increased due to the number of applications increasing in your company, the problem just keeps getting harder and harder. But ultimately, what happens is that people will resort to, hey, if I'm looking for some piece of information, I'm just going to go and ask in Slack and I'll wish and I'll pray and hopefully somebody will come and answer that question back to me. But the reality is that one-third of all working time is spent us just looking for information or recreating information that already existed. So that's a big time sink. And the problem actually became worse in the last two years as all companies shifted to a much more remote and distributed work model. So today, if you think about it, as an employee, you're working from home, in your time zone, and you don't have help available to you. If you have a question, you don't have somebody sitting next to you who you can just go in and formally ask the question. Those channels have disappeared. So this problem has become more acute. And this is what is actually, what we are hearing is that from a CIO perspective, it was a problem that they were aware of, but it would sort of be like one of those things, like, okay, say annoyance, but I got other things to work on and let me try to sort of live with status quo for some more time. But then as this work model changed and the workplace fundamentally changed, now everybody's on their own at their home. And this has become a much more important problem to solve. The CIOs have been looking at the annual surveys that companies perform, like looking at employee health and wellbeing. And this problem has this problem of enablement, like where as an employee, do I have all the information I need to do my job? Do I have help from other people in the company? This has become one of the largest problems. That definitely resonates and teams are certainly become, like as you were speaking, I was reflecting on how even our teams become progressively more distributed and more communication is asynchronous. So even if you send someone a message on Slack or a similar channel, the other person may not be ready to respond as easily. And at some level, it's also a matter of just like workplace equity so that a team member in Lisbon, a team member in Singapore, a team member in Austin has the same opportunity to be able to access information and do their jobs. And I think at some level, this is a building block for creating a more inclusive workplace. So it's really great that we're doing that. Yeah, that's a great point, Nitin. And actually, that's where the dilemma or the opportunity for the CIO comes into play. This is a problem that when you look at these surveys, people from all departments are complaining about this. So it's not clear. When it's a company-wide problem, it naturally falls under the purview of the CIO because they are the ones who ultimately can bring products which are company-wide, which actually bring utility to everybody in the company. This is a kind of product that is not a product that in a specific team like R&D or support or sales is going to drive because invariably, the product is going to be useful to everyone. So basically, that's what we have noticed from a CIO perspective is that they've really felt an acceleration in internal demand for a product like ours. It's an interesting thing. From their perspective, they have to figure out how do they solve this problem because they haven't bought a product like this before. There are no existing products in the marketplace that solve these problems. They haven't actually allocated budgets for it. So that's the challenge from a CIO perspective, which is what we often hear from is that, okay, I know this is a problem. It's impacting our workforce, but it's not like I don't have any line item in my 2021 budget or 2022 budget for it. So what do I do? It's a problem that is immediate, but I can't take immediate action. So that's one of the challenges that we have heard from the CIOs on it. But I think overall, we've felt like progressive CIOs, they recognize these kinds of large opportunities, opportunities where they can really bring a meaningful change to their employees, the employee health and well-being and happiness. So they are prioritizing and pushing this as a new effort, which is helping us, of course. So just building on what you mentioned, it sounds like there are some CIO initiatives that have a very tangible dollars and cents impact. We worked on this project, we automated this thing and we saved so much money. And then there are projects like this that just have a multiplier effect for everyone's productivity, but it sounds like it's harder to put dollars and cents to it. And so as you speak with different customers, how do you kind of balance the mix of those different projects? That's a great question. Our product is a productivity play, right? In some sense, what it does is it actually helps people become more productive in the company. And it's hard to quantify it. It's hard to quantify the benefit. Typically, some of the things that we do is we run surveys. In fact, our customers run surveys. Once they deploy the product, they will go and ask their employees, hey, how is this product helping you? How much time is it saving you? That's the key metric that we use. And typically, the users of the product are reporting back that they're saving two to three hours of time every week after the introduction of Glean in their workplace. And so you can take that as one key metric to then start to think about value assessment. If it saves two to three hours of time, there's obviously hundreds or thousands of dollars of saving per employee per week on it. So you could maybe take that as a CIO and say, okay, sure, let me go and roll this out. And I'm willing to allocate a lot of budget, but the reality is that the budget is still not there. And the way we think about it though, is that, see, this is a very fundamental utility. You should not have to really think about the ROI or the value add from it. Don't have to go so deep and so detailed on it. Think about, this is a fundamental tool that everybody needs to have. Think about email as an example. Today, businesses, they don't do a ROI calculation to decide whether they need an email product. Similarly, I think they will not make a decision on, do I need to buy Slack? I need a communication tool. I need a video, I need a video conferencing tool. So sometimes things are so fundamental, so basic. And so our goal is to make it easy for the CIOs to make a decision to buy a product like this. Keep it such that it's fundamental utility. And you're paying an obvious value for it. Obviously, for example, for that email, you pay $5 a user a month, but the utility of that email system is enormous. It's not even measurable. So nobody thinks about, should I be paying $5 a month or $10 a month? We think about search also as one of those fundamental problems where if you think about buying this product for the entire company and you're paying $20 a month, you feel like, yeah, this seems like a no -brainer for me. So that's what we have learned, that people do have that mindset that this is an important enough problem that it has to be solved and let me go pick the best product out there. As long as the pricing is not exorbitant, I can still go and deploy it. Sure. No, that makes a lot of sense. Maybe just switching gears for a brief moment, I know there are a bunch of engineers dialed into the call. Search is this funny space, of course, you've seen it at Google as well. They seem to be parts of search which seem very solid and they seem to be parts of search which seem very not solid. Why is it that consumer search feels much more solid and enterprise search feels unsolid? Is that the dividing line? What separates the two? Is it an engineering problem? Is it some coordination problem? What causes that difference? That's a great observation. I think Google may disagree on this, but consumer search, of course, is in a much, much better place than workplace search today. But I don't think anybody considers, if you would talk to the key engineers at Google, they all still feel like it's early in the journey. Because ultimately, the search product is like magic. You have a question and I need to produce the answer to that. It's like a magic oracle. It doesn't matter whether you ask that question properly. Did you actually give the search tool enough context? Did you even spell your words correctly? The system is expected to be smart enough to understand all of those things and still give you the best answer. So Google, of course, they've invested in R&D, probably thousands of engineers over two decades working on this product. And in the enterprise sector, what happened was that somehow it didn't take off because it became a very difficult product to monetize in the enterprises. One big challenge was that before the SaaS transformation took place, business environments were very custom. Every business had their own unique IT setup. They had their data centers, they had custom applications, packaged applications with different versions sitting on proprietary servers. And the first thing that you, as a search product, what you need to be able to build a search product, the first thing you need to do is you need to have access to all of that data that is there in a business. And when these environments were so customized as a search company, you had to spend one year of engineering time just trying to get hold of that data on a continuous basis so that you can make it searchable. And that would make it more like a professional services industry. And it never took off. There was no big successes in it. In fact, Google also did not succeed in building it, making it a big business. So that's why at some point the industry lost interest in venture capital. Capital sort of dried up in this space and the space died. I would say mostly died down. But then there have been some amazing advances that have happened in the last five years. So one of them is that businesses now have embraced SaaS in a big way. So every business environment now is sort of homogeneous in the sense that you would typically, they will have like, you know, take the top hundred cloud-based SaaS applications. If you are able to connect with those applications over standard APIs, then you can actually now for the very first time, build a product that a business can go and use in one hour, right? Because you don't have to go and do any specific integration for a specific customer of yours. So that has been a big enabler. And second is, of course, there's been in businesses, data used to be sparse. A good search product actually learns from people. So you have to understand what are people doing in a company? What documents are they using? What documents are popular? Which ones are recent? What documents are popular in marketing versus engineering? You have to sort of really understand all of this information about a company. You have to build a knowledge graph of your enterprise. And again, like, you know, with API standardization, having access to that data is finally becoming possible, which basically makes this a level playing field now, that even now in workplace search, you can actually go and build a high quality product. So that's what we are leveraging. Now, it's been interesting to see over the last several years, there's a, you know, both for regulatory reasons and otherwise a greater appreciation of, you know, data localization, privacy, you know, as companies have become larger, they're going through different kind of compliance certificates like SOC or PCI or FedRAMP, which ultimately determines, you know, kind of the data that's available. Does that make your job easier? Does that make your job harder in kind of accessing information from employees around the world? How are you responding to that? Yeah. So I think that is the, like, instead of like thinking about whether it's making it easier or harder for us, the reality is that you have to, like, when you build a product like ours, where the product is going to connect with, you know, all of your enterprise data, you have to build it with, you know, with the security mindset, you know, which is really ingrained deeply into your engineering practice. Because the, regardless of requirements, like you don't want like any kind of, you know, security leak or you know, to happen at your customers. Right. So, we have done like from day one, we've been very aware of the fact that, you know, we're building a very useful product for employees, but it actually has sensitive information in it. So design it properly. And so we do a bunch of things. Of course, we have, like, we also, like as a company, you know, we have SOC 2 type 2 compliance. We offer our customers, you know, different, you know, deployment models depending on their comfort level, but overall, like you have to design it in a way where your customers feel very comfortable that yes, you know, this is a very tight, you know, tightly controlled system, you know, it's, you know, fully firewall. And, and in fact, you know, they can, you know, have the option to have the system run, you know, entirely within their own, you know, behind their own cloud firewall. And that sort of is what makes them feel comfortable, you know, with our product and our design. Now, before this, you built, you built Rubrik, and it's pretty incredible how Rubrik went from an idea to, you know, being used by customers around the world, worth billions of dollars, really changing, kind of the backup space and more. Can you just compare and contrast the companies are at different stages, but what's similar and what's different versus building Rubrik and selling to customers? Yeah. I mean, that's a, that's, that's, that's, that's interesting question. The, like these journeys have been like, as you know, as far apart from each other for me, like, as, as I, as one could imagine, like fundamentally that these two companies, you know so I guess there are some similarities for us. So, you know, in both of these companies, we, we try to solve like a very basic problem. Like we were not talking about something complicated. At Rubrik, our goal was as a business, you need to keep your data safe. Let's make that job easy for you. Right. Similarly at Glean, our job is you're, you know, everybody in your company, they need quick access to your company information and, you know, get quick answers to the questions they have. And so like, you know, let's build a, let's build a good search and, you know, discovery product for them. So these are like, you know, basic fundamental problems that you can see every business in the world faces. And, and, and for some reason, like, you know, you know, they have, haven't had like, you know, the attention and love from the industry as, as, as, as some other areas. So, so those were like the similarities between these two companies, like, you know, in this, in the sense that we're both solving fundamental, you know, fundamental problems that, that, you know, impact all businesses. So these are large markets. The difference, you know, but from there on, like, you know, you start to see all the differences. So Rubrik was a product that is, that is actually sold to the IT administrator of a company. And so a very small number of people in the company that actually use that product, because it's, you know, it's meant for only that one function, like that one, you know, target persona and versus our product is something that everybody in the company uses. So it's, it's in, in many ways, you know, it has a look and feel of a more consumer product and that completely changes your, like how you build your business in the former, like, in the case of Rubrik, you could actually, you know, really start to build aggressive, you know, partnerships and, and actually start to work with your customers and build the product with them because, you know, you know, them, you know, your customers and they help you build the product and evolve the technology over time. But at Glean, we don't get that choice because here, once you deploy the product, it's actually being used by everybody in the company, not just that one person, like, you know, who you sold the product to, right. So you don't have a relationship with the users as such, you know, directly. So the bar for, you have to build the product, you have to spend a lot more time building this product, making it, you know, really awesome. So that once it goes to, to a customer and all the employees within that company, that they love it. Cause you, you're not going to get a second chance if it doesn't work. So, so for that reason, like what we've done at Glean is we've taken a longer time. And like, think about our version one product, like, you know, it's, it's a, it's a lot more advanced than like, you know, what we were able to launch, you know, as version one for our previous company. No, that's, it's a, yeah, that's a fascinating, that's a fascinating difference. And, and I'd imagine makes, makes, makes the design even more both even more challenging, but, but it's, but it's so much more impactful because of the number of people, people you can touch. Now you've in both capacities, you have advised CIOs at different companies, like what, what, what really distinguishes, you know, some of the, some of the best CIOs you've, you've worked with or were there, were there certain traits you observed that, that made one especially effective in the job? Yeah, I think the, so like, you know, everybody has different perspective. Like, you know, when we go and talk to the CIOs, some of them are going to be more conservative, like, you know, like, you know, they, and rightly so, like, you know, they don't want, you know, to, to actually, they don't have that time resources or, you know, risk appetite to, to actually work with a, with a startup, you know, whose product is, you know, still sort of in development versus there are others who are more progressive and they want to be on the bleeding edge. Right. So, so of course from, from a startup perspective, like it's great to, you know, like you have to initially, when you're in the early stages, you have to actually, you know, go and work with the progressive CIOs who are actually, you know, who see the vision for what, you know, what we're building. They can see how it's going to impact their company, the employees in the company, what kind of value is going to bring to them over, over a long time. And they're willing to sort of, you know, do that investment in us and help us build the product. And, and so that, that's the profile that of course is critical for like, you know, for us or for, for that, you know, for that matter, for any startup, you know, as the first task for you is to, you know, you know, find out those 10 CIOs, like, you know, who are going to be our partner in crime, so to speak, you know, going to help you, you know, build the product and the company. That's great. I mean, like, and, and, and you know, it's, it's, it's incredible how, how, how, how loyal early customers, early customers can be and really, really believers believers in a product. What is, what is what is, what has surprised you the most over the years, like to, to, to this journey? Yeah. So one of the things, which is actually like completely changed, like, like how we were thinking about you know, how we would build lean, you know, we knew going in that we were solving a very basic very fundamental problem. It's an important problem and everybody in the company, you know, faces it and they can benefit hugely from it. Right. You know, we're talking about one third of the time that we're trying to save, but we also knew that despite it being such a fundamental and basic problem, companies were not solved. You know, companies were not doing anything in this space, right. They were not buying products. They had fatigue from poor quality products from the past. And so we felt that, you know, we had a tough job out of, you know, ahead of us, you know, that we would actually go and of course, you know, first try to build a great product, but then we'll have a lot of convincing to do a lot of, you know you know, both in terms of like telling people that we built a good product, but also like, you know, educating them that this is an area in which they should invest. And so we were ready for that. We were ready to like, you know, make all of that investment. But then, you know, then we had a, like this dramatic shift, you know, in people's attitudes and minds, you know, and this was sort of triggered by the pandemic and, and how it forced like, you know, like really like overnight, like, you know, that's like a, when people shift from coming to the office, working there to like a fully distributed, fully remote operation, that's the kind of shift, you know, that's not even like a, like a trend of a decade. That's like, you know, a century worth of like, you know like, you know, change that happened in like, you know, in one year where we fundamentally changed the, the design of a workplace. And, and that trend was actually very, like it was empowering for us because it really, you know, first of all got all the leaders, the CEOs, the CIOs of the company to really think about, Hey, what do I need to do to cope up with this big change? How do, how do I make sure that we are designing the company and we're ready for this changing workplace, a different workplace. So instead of like sort of thinking about, Hey, here's my yearly priorities, you know, I need to make things more secure. I need to, all of these projects that are already prioritized, a new, you know, a new sort of, you know, mindset emerged, which is, I need to think from scratch. I need to think about how am I going to make the workplace, you know, better. And, and as I started to think about that, that sort of helped us because the priority for making investment in a product like Towers sort of, you know, became like much higher. And, and so, so, so that really like helped us, you know, and like, you know, grow our business in a much faster fashion than we thought. Well, this has been a really fun conversation. Arvind, really appreciate your sharing your perspective. Congratulations on, on all the success. And we're really, really excited to see Clean continue to grow. Appreciate your spending time with us. Thank you so much, Nitin. I really enjoyed the conversation.