*APAC Heritage Month* Fireside Chat: Mohit Biljani
Mohit Bijlani, EMEA Sales Manager in Cloudflare, will share with us the story of his career, and the path he took to be where he is today.
All right everybody, we're live and welcome to Cloudflare TV. Today we're doing a section for fireside chat and my guest today is Mohit.
My name is Jessica and I'm on the customer success team.
So for Cloudflare for Asian Heritage Month, what we're doing is basically amplifying Asian voices and we're looking at our colleagues of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage and bringing their stories to the front lines.
So Mohit today with me is the head of sales in EMEA covering several different regions, so let me just try to get this right.
It's strategic expansion, Central Eastern Europe, Russia, Israel and Southern Europe.
Yeah, you got everything. So tell me a little bit about your journey and how you got here.
Sure, good afternoon everybody.
Thanks again Jessica for hosting the session. So you want to learn a bit about my journey with regards to how I got to this role with Cloudflare?
Yeah and also just how your life experience has been so far.
Yeah sure, so you know I started off in enterprise software right out of college.
Well I did my master's at Carnegie Mellon and then you know I got into enterprise software.
I worked for a company called Tipco.
This was in the Bay Area and in Pittsburgh and again it was you know a different kind of role that I had.
It was more so in professional services, so you know technical post sales and eventually you know I moved more so into technical pre-sales role, so what our SCs and our solutions architects do today.
And you know I took a break from enterprise software and tech in general for like after four years.
I moved back to India to work on a startup with a friend of mine and again it wasn't necessarily a startup per se.
You know he had worked on his idea right after college and you know I thought it was less of a risk and I always wanted to attempt you know starting a company, so I went and joined him.
This was not in tech, it was in retail back in India and you know it was a big bit of a struggle I must admit.
It was something that I didn't expect but I learned a lot and we ended up actually doing pretty well that the company got acquired by one of the Indian conglomerates as the Yash Birla group.
Not sure if folks you know heard about them and then I wanted to get back to tech, so I started another company.
This time in more B2C tech, so if folks are familiar with TaskRabbit, you know it's a platform to outsource your tasks and errands.
We started off with that idea and we wanted to target the US market.
Obviously you know my co-founders were based out of India as well.
One of them had gone to Carnegie Mellon like I had and you know that kind of had me shuttling between the US and India trying to launch that service in you know at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh which was not probably the best venue because we had a lot of students who wanted to you know obviously be service providers on the platform but not too many professionals you know wanting to take advantage of those services.
So in hindsight we would have done things differently but after that point again you know learned a lot through that experience you know decided to go to business school.
So I went to INSEAD which was kind of all around the world.
So I did the you know the world tour there, went to the French campus then to Singapore and then you know did an exchange at Wharton as well and after business school I kind of wanted to get back to enterprise software and in kind of my view of my career I had you know seen what it was like to work at a late stage tech company or an enterprise software company that was typical and then I had experienced the early stage as well with you know my startups and I wanted to kind of see that missing picture which was the middle the growth phase.
So I decided to you know look around at tech companies and in particular enterprise software companies.
I had some experience in the security space and there weren't too many security unicorns around at the time.
Cloudflare was one very different company you know five years ago and that's what led me to Cloudflare but in terms of you know the kind of my journey within Cloudflare maybe that's probably your next question.
Yeah I was going to ask you started off in San Francisco and now you're leading a lot of the sales teams in EMEA so how did that come about?
Yeah so I started off it's a funny story there right I didn't I was targeting a business development role which was more what our special projects team is doing today by crafting partnerships with the likes of you know Baidu and JD Cloud that's what I wanted to do but I think I misunderstood the role that was published at the time.
It wasn't quite that it was you know working on our partners team and they decided to move in a different direction anyways but I met a lot of our you know execs during that process.
I remember interviewing with Chris and among many others and I really really liked the culture.
Head of sales. Yeah our CRO Chris so yeah I really like the culture you know the the exec leadership the folks that I interviewed with Trey if I recall I mean this is a long long well five years it's quite a long time at Cloudflare so yeah a lot of the folks that are still around right in our leadership team and they said well we really like you but maybe you should you know try out sales.
It's like okay that that isn't exactly what I had in mind and you know I'm thankful that I did right and you know I performed quite well in my first six months.
I took like a programmatic approach with regards to going after you know some of our pay-as -you-go customer base and created some programs for the broader sales team and that naturally led to my you know progression to the sales ops team.
So I you know started working for Manish and and took charge of our you know global pipeline pipe gen for the global sales team so it was a really interesting progression there.
Did that for like a couple of years watched the sales team grow from I think it was about 25 or 30 of us when when I started in sales this is around the world right today in EMEA alone we have about 200 or 250 people but yeah watched the team grow to about 300-400 in size and then I got an opportunity three years ago to move to the UK and help build out some of the sales team here and that's you know that's what I'm doing started with four or five people on the team and today the organization is about 30.
Last time I checked 30 to 35 folks across you know the teams that you mentioned so yeah it's been a fun and challenging and interesting journey.
That's a really really important journey and how that's gotten you to this stage.
I also remember you mentioning that you had a hybrid role when you were working with sales operations and also in sales so how was managing that role and kind of succeeding on both ends?
It's not easy right there's a big at least in that role you know when you're doing two but that's also the beauty of working for you know a growth stage company or an early stage company you get exposure to many different aspects and you know obviously you're actually expected to do more than just your role which is great and it really fuels your growth you know really accelerates your growth and prepares you right just as my startups did you know if I think back to it completely unprepared but again gives you exposure to being to many different aspects of the role the company and you know makes you more agile right and that's what you get at a company like Cloudflare so I think you know it worked out great in you know personally my development and you know if I had given a choice I would do it again.
That's really cool to hear also given that you kind of traveled around all over the world and worked both in the US and the UK but also a bit in India how has your identity really shaped this journey for you?
Well I think the Indian-ness is kind of getting diluted right over time I think when I was growing up I was actually lucky to you know travel quite a lot but really the experience of living in the US for I would say collectively maybe six, seven, eight years you know doing my MBA in Europe and other places I think also within the MBA program one thing I'd call out is you know in SEAD in particular they essentially have a big focus on diversity and you have you know folks from 90 or 100 different countries that you're in this intensive program with for a year right really fast-paced environment you begin to accept you know the diversity across many different cultures and yeah I mean that's you know one thing I really enjoy about Cloudflare as well it's kind of the same right it's an extension of what I saw in SEAD so today I obviously I'm not saying that I've completely shunned my Indian -ness like the cultural aspects but I consider myself more of a global citizen and my perspective is broader right in terms of you know accepting other cultures their perspectives so yeah that's I would say I think of myself as a global citizen right at this point.
You also mentioned that a lot of your family is also kind of living abroad and kind of spread out so that's supposedly contributed to this identity as well and the way that you've experienced life really.
Yeah my siblings you know they took the typical path I mean not typical path but you know there's a lot of folks obviously from India and that part of the world who you know get into tech and you know other streams of engineering and then choose to move abroad to some you know western country for further education and you know pursuing career objectives so yeah I mean currently my siblings are all kind of spread out mostly around North America.
I'm holding the fork here in UK. And you also mentioned you were the youngest out of your sibling lot so you actually got to experience a lot when you were younger with traveling and things like that when the rest were busy.
That isn't true. I think it was one trip but probably the best one to kind of Disneyland in Orlando but yeah I think managing so my siblings and I were kind of well spread out in terms of age bands.
I'm the youngest as you said.
They're kind of closer but as you know I feel for my parents right and in terms of managing you know summer holidays for like five kids and getting everybody to go especially when you know some of them had crucial kind of academic years coming up so that's kind of the reason why they would have you know not all their kids but also for their sanity I would imagine.
All five kids at the same time right that's not a holiday then for them.
Definitely and moving to you know how this year has been and the last year we've made a lot of changes in our organization and in our way of work so how have you been holding up this year and what kind of changes have you made personally and as a leader for your team?
Yeah I think this year is better.
I think last year was really challenging. I would say up until maybe up until the recent lockdown opened up here in the UK it was pretty challenging.
Look at you know there's when you don't have too many avenues and you're kind of you know I wouldn't say stuck right but for lack of a better word when you don't have the avenues to meet people as you do you know during you know pre-COVID times there's obviously a tendency for each of us to spend more time working because this is you know obviously there's not much else you can do outdoors but it's also an avenue to meet you know your colleagues and those are the only other people that you're seeing and I don't think this is anything specific to me in particular but you know everybody who kind of worked in this industry around the world probably went through the same thing.
So you tend to overdo it right you tend to work longer hours right.
It's also an outlet as I said for interacting with folks and yeah I think that probably you know you could kind of feel that the work hours were getting prolonged and you know it has some kind of an impact on everybody's you know mental health as well.
So what I kind of started taking note of the impact it had on me personally towards the latter part of last year and you know I communicated with the team and I encourage each of them to schedule some time off right even though you don't have anywhere you can go or travel to I still encourage them to do that just take some time off and switch off right and since then I've basically reiterated you know that focus with the team we do things like you know virtual social events for the team there's game time there's one you know one hour today schedule so where there's a big focus right and we've set up a social committee within the team ones you know folks that represent various age groups genders you know ethnicities so that we can come up with ideas that are fun and inclusive for everybody to participate in and now as things open up obviously we look to get back and see each other in person so looking forward to that.
That's really great I think work-life balance is something that we have really been struggling with as a collective working for enterprise software companies so it's really good you're encouraging your team to schedule some time off and really kind of recharge and rejuvenate for the coming projects and getting a little bit into your life journey I was curious to know if you've ever really had a mentor or a person who's had a tremendous impact and has that shaped your journey at all?
Yeah there's no one person really I mean obviously there's and you know there's some people that I look up to or you know see as visionaries obviously there's you know folks like Steve Jobs you know probably sounds like a cliche but some things that you know he I think back to the Stanford commencement speech that he gave right stay hungry stay foolish kind of thing that's I think the foolish bit is just innate in me right I like I have that curiosity I think there was another person recently right that we added to our board this is somebody I think he's a chief growth officer at Anaplan I forget his name I think I forget his last name but his first name is Mark he said something about just being curious right just having curiosity intellectual curiosity in you know whatever you're doing and I think that's something that's really stuck with me and what you know what I observe is if you have curiosity that's an indicator of you know you actually caring about what you do and being passionate about your role and that's like a precursor to being successful right outside of that at Cloudflare I would say there's a few people obviously have you know had the pleasure of kind of working under you know Chris, our CRO Manish and Andy are folks that I look up to some of my peers as well right folks like Stefan and Boris there's a lot to learn you know from from their experiences they've been in you know in enterprise software sales a lot longer than I have and you know I love every opportunity I get you know getting their insights on things and the team has also grown quite a bit since we've you know started remote working so is that also one of the principles that you look at when you're hiring is this curiosity?
Yeah that's a big indicator right especially in sales but just generally I think somebody who is you know curious is also typically somebody who you know doesn't just sit back on the sidelines and you know talks about things not working or things not being perfect at any company at any stage what I've observed is you know there's always room for improvement right in terms of you know you having all the resources you need to be successful but typically I've noticed that folks who are curious and like to take charge you know and find solutions rather than talking about things that are not necessarily in place those folks tend to you know do better and succeed.
And one of the questions we've actually gotten in from our audience asks how has the transition been from where you started in the solutions engineering role in your early stages and now that you're into management what's changed about your frame of mind and this is a question from Alina so thank you for asking Alina.
Sure yeah I think the functionally obviously that's a very different role I think probably she's referring to the role I had at Tipco.
Functionally very different role but that company again they were focused on the large enterprise so I did you know have a lot of exposure to selling because there was obviously as you know post sales but also pre-sales element to it and engaging with large enterprise customers and that's kind of you know valuable to us at least to me as Cloudflare you know we're looking to move upstream into the very large enterprises.
With regards to being an you know individual contributor versus a leader I think and I think again there's different aspects to the role right obviously you know if you're in the management function for any stream whether it's sales or engineering or any other function you should have exposure and experience to you know the skill sets that needed right and it always serves well when you have done that role for a bit.
I wouldn't necessarily say that you need to do something for 10 or 15 years right I'm not I don't have that view but once you're skilled and adept at some kind of a function you know I think the thing about leadership is it's also a different role it's a more of a supporting function the way I see it right I am measured on the performance of my team which means I need to enable them to succeed right and that's a pretty broad definition there's a lot that goes beyond like behind you know enabling somebody and putting somebody in the place to kind of succeed.
So yeah, I would say that you should want to enjoy those elements you know taking responsibility for others loving you know helping people supporting them you know coaching them but also you know earning their trust you cannot like you know there's multiple styles of leadership my I wouldn't say my style but what I have seen work for me and what I enjoy is actually you know as I said supporting them and earning their trust right which means I need to add value to what they do right and if I can do that then you see that your team opens up to you and comes proactively and asks you for help as opposed to you having to ask them to do something right.
Yeah that is an extremely important point that you brought up there. I also wanted to ask you so a lot of your team you know from where it started out to where it is now has grown tremendously and a lot of the early members of your team are now in leadership positions themselves so how did that transition work and how was the enablement on that end as well?
Firstly, I mean it gives me like immense you know pleasure to see those I mean it started with their ambition so you know it gives me pleasure to see that you know we kind of all agreed on you know those folks they stated that you know this was their career ambition and I you know shared my perspective on what you know where they kind of needed to hone some of their skills and obviously that needed to be that alignment as I said in terms of you know them being ready to get into this kind of a role right and shared a bit about my approach leadership and and it's you know great to see some of those ambitions realized and also that you know a lot of them I don't know if they've been influenced by me but they have taken that approach right in leading their teams and I think they've that's helped them in their trust not saying I you know I've come up with something proprietary to leadership here I just think it's you know the way to go so yeah I mean in terms of those those kind of conversations you know like how that happened I would say you know those folks expressed their interest to go down this path and I you know obviously shared my experience the pros the good bad the ugly right and and some of them you know they they after thinking about it they said look I think I'm you know happy where I'm at and I'd like like to progress in in you know and and become more experienced in kind of the role that I'm at but some of them wanted to take this on board and you know most of those folks have become leaders today.
It's really impressive to see that transition and for you to be able to support them throughout their journey and also pulling resources internally I know that can be a little bit harder at some points to to have a capacity for a head count and you know the logistics of things so kudos to you really to have shaped your team in a way that makes space for all of that and I'm sure some of the team members have kind of taken you as an inspiration and led by example so to say and I mean it was it was all they're doing I just showed them the way right so it was the effort that they put in and and yeah we have five minutes left so I wanted to ask you a last couple of things so so one of the questions that that's come up is what's what what are some of the principles that you stick by to constantly drive your career and improve every day and not kind of become stagnant after a certain point?
I think on on that aspect it's it's about ambition right everybody has a destination in mind but also it's human nature as as you you know hit those milestones you want to achieve more there's always you know inspiration inspirational folks to look look up at today I've set my sights on x but once I get there I'm sure I'll be looking at somebody else who's you know accomplished more and and you know that'll that'll inspire me to do more so I think it's a journey at the end of the day right and and I think at the end of it all it's it's kind of that desire and that curiosity that drives all of it right as long as that exists and and you know that kind of drives motivation you'll probably you know follow that along and and as you know you you keep struggling as as long as that motivation is is around.
And for you kind of what are the next steps for you where do you want to go from here?
I think you've achieved a tremendous amount in such a short time and really impressive your career journey at Cloudflare and even before with all the schools that you've attended but what's what's next for you?
I think again that's a little bit relative right what you've achieved and what you want to achieve and what you could achieve right that so I think what's what's next for me is is you know just keep keep growing in in kind of you know sales leadership positions and and that can mean many different things so I don't want to necessarily label or narrow it down to one or two aspects but you know eventually you know if you if you stick at stick out or stick at this for for a while then then you end up you know leading a sales team or an entire region or you know more so yeah I told Chris when I was coming here eventually I want to be you right right but yeah I mean that that's kind of what I'm looking forward to but but not necessarily narrowing myself down to one or two positions.
Definitely exciting times for you ahead.
Some of the questions that kind of came up to me because we've been doing different segments for APAC Heritage Month are you know what's been what's been your go-to go-to food growing up or and what's kind of reminded you of that in the pandemic?
Well it's in the pandemic it's more of you you want to eat you know a variety of different things or or eventually like during the week you you come up with a weekly menu if you will but what what what are my favorite foods I would say I think my favorite favorite cuisine is most likely Middle Eastern yeah I think I'm a big fan of hummus.
Of course do you do you cook much at all? No I used to I used to when I was in you know college and and grad school but I don't I don't think I cooked well at any stage and and yeah it was more of a necessity thing.
Cooking for survival.
Cooking for survival right now now it's it's not as much right I well occasionally depends if I'm you know if I'm cooking for somebody then it's then it's a motivation to do it.
And do you have any guilty pleasures? Yeah many yeah I I mean nothing surprising here I mean I I have a bit of a sweet tooth right I love chocolate and all forms of it but but I mean obviously I've you know tried to try to stay in stay in shape you know doing my best at least during the pandemic right it's easy to kind of snack on things but but yeah and and yeah I like I like watching movies.
Awesome well thank you for your time today Mohith and it's really been a pleasure talking to you and getting to know you better.
I'm sure the journey that you've talked about today is is really inspiring for a lot of people and a lot of people are trying to understand how to get in these positions where where you are and the journey to get there so it's it's been it's been really exciting for you to be talking about all this today.
Yeah thanks for thanks for hosting me again Jessica yeah enjoyed our chat as well thanks again.