Cloudflare TV

💡 Founder Spotlight: Mandar Shinde

Presented by Mandar Shinde, Jason Kincaid
Originally aired on 

This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!

This session features Mandar Shinde, the founder and CEO of Blotout. He previously held senior roles at companies like Brave, Yahoo!, and Microsoft across a 25 year career spanning engineering, product, and sales.

Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!

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Founder Spotlight

Transcript (Beta)

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another session of Founder Spotlight here on Cloudflare TV.

My name is Jason Kincaid. I'm on Cloudflare's Strategic Programs team, and I'm excited to introduce Mandar Shinde, who is the founder and CEO of BlotOut.

Mandar, thanks so much for joining us. Would you mind starting by just telling us a little bit about yourself?

Yeah. Jason, first, thank you. And I'm very privileged to be here.

About myself, yeah. So I'm born and raised, I'm an immigrant, like most folks are in the Valley.

Came in 96, 97, started my PhD, never finished it.

Like they say, the Valley finds a way to push you in. And once you're in, it's like Hotel California, you never leave.

But anyway, 25-year career, spanning engineering, spanning product management, most of it, and then sales.

And basically preparing myself or each startups to kind of get that blot out so that once I'm here, I can look at the various stages of what it takes to become a startup and build a startup and grow a startup and so on and so forth.

Awesome. Awesome. So is this the first company you founded? That is correct.

So this is my eighth startup, but the first one I founded, and I think some of it was sort of part of the plan and some of it was just fate.

I waited for the wife to kind of be ready and waited for the kids to just grow up enough to do it.

Like I say, I'm a product manager and a marketing guy.

The numbers suggest that mid-40s is about a good time to start a company as the early 20s are.

So here you go.

Awesome. Well, I look forward to hearing more about that. Before we get much further, I'd love to hear a little bit more about the company.

What is BlotOut working on?

Yeah. So I think first let's understand the name BlotOut. I know it's an odd one.

It's catchy, so people do remember it, which is the good part. But yeah, the name BlotOut came from the fact that I think in the early days when we were trying to think about where the industry was headed, you look at the last 10 years, it's the era of the cloud, it's of the now the edge and so on and so forth.

And data just moves freely. And after being at Brave, which was my last employer, I was already seeing the world change.

And Brave was obviously a big part of the thought process.

But me, my wife, my child, who is a big Brave fan, we were all kind of seeing education that data was moving too freely for our liking.

And GDPR had already come into existence.

But GDPR is almost like lipstick on a pig where it's self-regulated.

And that means that there is no enforcement. And so we saw this decade, starting 2021, as the decade of privacy headwinds and the decade of trust, where customers will trust brands who actually take care of their privacy and their data.

And hence the name BlotOut and hence the entry of BlotOut into the enterprise space.

Mind you, we are not the consumer end. We saw the consumers asking the enterprises to take care of their data and hence BlotOut.

Awesome. And so what exactly does BlotOut do if I were a customer of BlotOut?

Perfect. So what BlotOut does is if you look at the last 10 years of cloud, SaaS companies have adopted the cloud probably faster than most enterprises have.

So for example, you go to any website, xyz.com, I'm not going to call one, but most of those websites essentially send data to anywhere between 20 to 40 SaaS companies, right?

Because products get built incrementally, right?

Nobody's sitting one day saying, I'm going to go build servers because here's how I see my next 10 years spanning up.

And so as cloud has advented, if you looked at the last three years, so have warehouses and folks are now saying, hey, I need to start managing my own customers' data.

We decided that, hey, as we see consent becoming a big part, right?

So Jason's going to a website.

It's important for Jason to know, where is my data going? Am I okay with that data going elsewhere?

It's just very layman language. So we realized that, and if you look at California's law, just as a statement, it's the do not sell, do not share law, which means it may be easier for those enterprises to go build their own SaaS apps in their own sort of cloud or edge.

We support both.

We started enabling that infrastructure. So we started building infrastructure that allows companies to say, well, I want a SaaS, but I want that in my VPC.

I want in my DevSecOps so that my customers' data is solely utilized by me.

And I don't have to keep asking Jason that, is it okay if I send it to Google or is it okay if I send it to Facebook and so on and so forth.

And just to talk a little bit more about that.

So can you help make the distinction between third-party and first-party data?

I know that's a big deal these days. And I know that's sort of at the core of what you're doing.

Can you speak a little bit more about that? Yeah. So, and again, I'm going to go with the industry terminology.

I think I have a slightly different point of view, but essentially let's take a baseline use case.

Jason goes to engadget.com. At that point, if Jason chooses to share some data with engadget.com, and remember there is data that is just naturally shared, IP address, without that you can't use the Internet, right?

Or whatever else that requires for you to be able to consume Engadget's content.

We call that zero -party data.

I want to establish that because that's required for you to go to engadget.com.

Now, if you shared other data, like setting a cookie for Engadget to remember, or sharing your email address, that's called first-party.

Now, if engadget.com comes and says, well, great, you're sharing it, but are you okay if I use, let's say I'm using Amplitude, one of the most popular analytic sites to collect that data.

Now, they are a third -party because in technicality, Jason didn't know Amplitude was involved.

You are essentially going to engadget.com. And so that's the zero-party, first-party, and third-party connotation at a very high level, but it's essentially utilizing a secondary data processor that is not you being the controller.

That's your first -party and third-party. Hopefully that made some sense.

It did. It did. It made some sense. And it's interesting to me. It's like, even you mentioned like the IP address, the website naturally needs that, but there's even been sort of movement away from even that being identifiable by your IP, right?

Because Firefox has a VPN and there's private relay and all that sort of thing.

Yeah, that's right. That's right. And so I think the world's all trying to understand, because like I said, everything in the last 10 years moved so freely that there's this big debate on, okay, am I just hacking my infrastructure to look like it's Engadget?

Is that all you require? Or am I truly trying to make sure Jason's comfortable?

That's why we call it the era of trust. The next 10 years, if Jason understands more than Apple's doing a pretty good job making sure everybody does, I think Jason's going to learn more, get educated more.

And as we say, consumer education is what's going to drive it.

And so if consumers realize that IP addresses are retargetable or are used for being tracking, then Apple wins that battle, right?

Or VPNs win that battle. So I think we're going to see that, but I think IP address is required for you to be able to go reach Engadget and get something back.

I think those will be debatable territories, but they still could be first party, right?

Only Engadget sees it. And then they go to amplitude, maybe they remove the IP address because they're still looking to just do analytics.

So I think there are ways by which this works. I mean, we work on this area, so we're biased, but yeah, I mean, all of that is up for debate in the next, I would say, decade on how all of that gets handled.

Got it. Well, I want to come back to that a little bit later.

Before we do, love to hear a little bit more about your journey as a founder, right?

So again, so the company you started, it's been around about a year.

Is that correct? Yeah, that's right. Awesome. Awesome. So you touched on this a little earlier.

Looking back, I think you said you'd worked with eight or nine startups before this.

Was there an inflection point? Was there something that happened where you're like, you know, because I bet you've thought about this at various times, right?

And was there an inflection point where you're like, you know what, I think this is the sign or this, I read this and it really resonated with me.

Was there something you look back on and go like, I think that was sort of a turning point where I said, I'm ready for this?

Yeah, I mean, so I've been a startup person.

Like I think in the valley, what you're going to find is this fang, you know what I mean by that?

And then there is the guy who just says, I want to go build something.

And I think, you know, it started as a testament to, I just want to go build something I like to learn.

Luckily, both husband and wife work.

So feeding the kids was never the, you know, modus operandi. And that's that's a good thing, I guess.

But I think like, you know, like we planned our kids, I think we had actually planned that we give them the time required to grow to a certain point and do this.

So I think all of the various roles that I've had a lot of my friends say, man, you keep like, keep changing jobs every three, four years.

And I'm like, hey, man, it's all a plan in the game that we're all playing, saying if you had a game theory, and I knew where I ended up, which is where I am now.

And I think I've enjoyed the last year so much. I already told my wife, no more corporate jobs or startups.

This is all I'm doing for the rest of my life.

So I think it all sort of came together that way. But I think it is a planned sort of orientation where you've been an engineer, you understand technology, been a product manager, you know how to build product.

And then I've done a billion dollars in quota sales.

So you've done the sales. And I think it was all sort of a story in the making towards this time.

So whether it was blot out, or it was something else, and actually was playing with three or four ideas along the way.

I think the timing was probably what got it done more than just the idea. So it was almost planned in my case, for it was just whether it was last year, this year, next year, it was just the range of time.

But it was almost, we were sure that when our kids got to an age where they can manage themselves, we don't do this.

Interesting.

I think that's, you know, being that deliberate. And also, I appreciate sort of the way you figured out what your priorities were and sort of worked from there.

You didn't really stumble into it. That's really interesting.

And I think there's a lot of wisdom there. I'd ask, looking back, you know, way rewind the tape.

Were there any inklings when you were a kid or teenager of entrepreneurship that you look back on and go like, you know, I did have that sort of early on where I could see this going on, you know?

I don't know. But I think it's like, you know, as a, you know, middle class citizen in Mumbai growing up, I don't think you think about those things, you know, you think about, hey, can I go play soccer, you know, can I go win that next game?

So I think that's been ingrained from, you know, I'm a cricket fan, I'm a soccer guy, played cricket till I was 37, my second child was born.

So I think those things were ingrained from the word go, right?

Like, and for anybody who's played with me, most of the guys are kind of frightened because I'm a very loud person on the ground, like, you know, let's go, let's go.

And so I think that was sort of built in. And some guys do extremely well with that sort of psychology of leadership, and some guys don't.

And so I don't know if it was ingrained, all I knew when I started my job was, someday, I want to go build.

That's somebody I want to put the seed in the ground and see the tree show up, right?

And so here I am. So that's all I can tell you is been building towards it rather than saying, I know it'll happen.

I'm just blessed to be in the valley.

It's easy now, lots of folks who came together, thank you to them to make it happen, you know, so on and so forth.

But otherwise, I think it's been coming, let's say that.

But it's definitely not planned as a childhood thing.

It's just, I don't think I was ever thinking about any of this. Understood, understood.

And, you know, I think it's fairly common where even if you didn't necessarily have a vision of founding a company per se, I bet there were moments when you're younger, where you took the initiative to like, learn this thing that, you know, was a little off the beaten path, that kind of thing.

Yeah.

Very cool. Well, so now you've started this company. Let me ask, how big is the company?

How many employees do you have? Yeah, I think we're about 30 now, which is kind of big for a year in, but you know, about half of our employees are consulting an internship.

So we have a very, very different way of looking at internships.

We don't do just summer internships, we do year-long internships, especially because, you know, the fourth years are what we call as the wasted years, people are just looking for employment.

And so we go into most of our interns are from India, but you know, we basically have ingrained this saying, you want to stay?

We'll pay you the same, just stay. Whenever you want to work, you work, right?

And what we found out is there are folks who are more focused towards, hey, am I joining Blara or am I going to do something else?

And then there are those who are like, I love this enough, I'm just going to come all in.

And so half the company is that, and then the other half, I'm blessed to work with Matt, who's our CEO, who's been our architects, guys who have been fiddling around with this for a long period of time for us to get here, right?

Because the idea has been in making for a while, but once we knew we had something, we turned the key.

But yeah, it's about 15 of them full-time, some consultants and a lot of interns.

And I think the intern program has been an amazing boon to us with COVID.

And I think we are only going to grow from here on, on that side of the game, because I think we also realized we were paying some parents EMIs for their homes by allowing them to earn outside of summers.

So we found benefits that we just hadn't thought about.

And so that's why the number looks larger than most of startups at our stage. Got it.

And did you start with co -founders? Well, I think the company sort of happened because, you know, I've been sort of a general manager, CEO of a PE owned company prior called Personagraph.

So some of us were working on this, you know, the whole notion of founders, and it just didn't occur, we were just kind of cracking at it every weekend talking about, hey, man, we see the world of privacy headwinds now coming harder.

So we played with ideas. So there's a whole team behind it, not like a one founder, two founder.

So I do get to keep the credit, but it's technically a whole bunch of folks, you know, I'm happy to kind of call them out if you want me to, but it's a pretty large list.

But then what we did is we wanted, like, into our yank, we are a very technical mindset company.

So we then got Matt to come in and Matt's, you know, a mighty inch, but a Harvard lawyer.

So that kind of helped us bridge that gap.

Because, you know, with privacy, like you said, it's very confusing.

Where do you draw the line? What is actually kosher? And what's not kosher?

So, you know, technically, he's the co founder there, and I'm the founder, but for what it's worth, my wife was involved, my child was involved, who gave us the first idea saying, why is Roblox using Google?

Why can't Roblox do this?

They're a very big company. And so there's a whole bunch of people, and so I don't want to take the founding credit, there's a team behind it, and so on and so forth.

Understood. It sounds like very organic process that the company came about.

That's right. Very interesting. Could you speak a little bit about, you know, you're growing this company, obviously, with the pandemic and everything.

It's different than it used to be, right? And certainly different from I'm sure what you experienced in the startups you're at earlier.

So how do you think about sort of establishing the culture, maintaining the culture, making sure that everyone feels like the communication channels are open, that sort of thing?

Yeah, I think it's probably one of the hardest things. So we, the founding team, per se, on average is a very senior team, like the average senior in our company, 17 years, it's like unheard of for the first 15 guys.

So they're all mature guys, they have kids like me, they've all been wanting to do this.

So that helped, because they knew from day one.

So even before the pre COVID days, we knew we wanted to be a work from home company.

So when COVID happened, it just naturally just it was like a glove, just put another one on top of what the current thinking.

But because of COVID, one of the things we had established was we're going to meet every six months.

Yeah, like, you know, let's go to Goa and make sure we catch up on a beer or a whiskey or whatever shakes the bait.

And so that hasn't happened.

And I think we do see the cracks at times where you're like, Okay, man, everybody's working like crazy.

Some of them have been working at it for two years, like crazy, every day, 20 hours a day.

And then you know, there's no break time, there's no time to kind of go hang out.

So I would say if you're seeing the balance and the balance of it all, team's amazing.

So no problems, they're very talented, no problems there.

But I think the not being able to meet you just planning a February meet now, and here comes Omicron.

And because we all have kids, there is this risk anchor that we all carry to say, okay, we want to meet, but we carry something back home.

And so that's been the balance over the last two years.

But culture wise, I think the team's very solid and very mature, no problem.

But we can see the cracks every now and then, you know, somebody's in Slovenia, and somebody's in Germany, and somebody's in India.

They haven't seen they've been working at it for, you know, 12 straight months, but have never met.

You know, it reminds me a little bit, the importance of sort of these, these casual interactions.

I remember, I'm going to butcher the quote. But it was basically something along the advice I heard is, you don't want the first time you interact with someone to be something where you're asking for their, their help with exactly, please do this work for me.

You like, ideally, it's something where you've gotten to know them a little bit, you've, you've established that rapport, and then and then you might say, like, hey, we could use some assistance, and hopefully, they're happy to help.

And it's, it's hard, you know, I can feel that certainly with zoom, where you tend to see the same handful of folks, but the new person, like, you don't necessarily have a conversation with them.

So I totally understand why you'd want to have those in person gatherings, which unfortunately, are so hard to come by these days.

Very, very interesting stuff. So looking out ahead, in say, three years or so, like, where do you where do you see the company?

What do you see that looking a little ways out?

Yeah, yeah. So I think we didn't talk about what product does.

So let me say that. And then we'll talk about why and why we feel, you know, we're going to be forced to reckon with in a good way.

Yeah. So we've all watched matrix, right?

Like where we are all sort of pods in a matrix. And the way we see the data ecosystem moving is, you know, Jason trusts 20 brands on a daily basis, maybe 100 in a year, Jason's data should be trusted with those 100 brands.

Back today, that's not the case 100 brands who are the big tech, where they live, essentially control all the data, and we are reliant on them to power our ecosystem.

So we see the world a little bit different, like the matrix, I don't know if it's a good way to say it, because I know, it looks like some alien came in and, you know, put us in eggs.

But long story short, we see, you know, Jason's data have been in 20 pods of brands that Jason trusts.

And what we do want to do is, you know, not every brand is like Google or Uber, or who can afford to have a $250,000 DevOps engineer and a $2 million, you know, data engineering team.

So we're building infrastructure, we had an infrastructure company like Cloudflare that enables folks to be able to do this.

So we call ourselves the build your data infrastructure, in less than it takes time to get a pizza anywhere in the world.

So that's our new tagline. I know, I kind of gave it away for a marketing team, who's not going to be happy, but that's what we're trying to do.

Less than it takes time to get pizza, get your entire DevOps data engineering and your, you know, sort of expertise in a box.

But deliver faster than DoorDash or Uber or any of those guys, right, in any of your data centers.

So what we are saying is that's our governing philosophy.

And as headwinds come to, hey, do not share, do not sell, or ask Jason for consent to send it to, you know, xyz.com, this is like, who's xyz.com?

Right? Why do I want my data to go there? We see more companies trying to build that trust with Jason saying, let us manage your data.

If you come, ask us what it's doing, we actually have an idea, or, you know, we'll tell you what we're doing with it.

And we can delete it at any time you want us to delete.

So let me say this back to you to make sure I understand it. So let's say I'm going to blot out.com.

And rather than me as a visitor, consumer, rather than having to think about all these third parties that you potentially might be using third parties to sort of analyze the data, or whatever it might be, you're doing all of it in house, essentially.

And likewise, so like it, or if I went to, you know, company x.com, and they were using blot out, they would use blot out to manage the customer data in house.

That's correct. And, and what we allow them to do is do exactly that and get all the apps that they require to kind of get their business going.

So even if you're a small guy, you know, who's like, I can't put a team together, it takes me years to do that, we enable all those guys, right.

So we're democratizing big data infrastructure to anybody who wants it, you know, and it starts at 600 bucks a month.

Right. So I'm sorry, the thing that makes me think is, you know, as a consumer, I feel more comfortable not having my data being exchanged and sold and blah, blah, blah.

And I know that's sort of what the status quo is these days.

That's right. On the other hand, as much as I feel more comfortable, you know, I trust, you know, this widget site, you know, I trust them.

But I don't know if I have high confidence, while I might trust them to like sell me the widget, I don't know if they have expertise on this data storage and analysis.

And the concern I would have if they weren't getting any help at all is like they're building it in house, and maybe they'll do something wrong.

Yeah. And so it sounds like what you're offering is, hey, you know, widget company that sells the great widgets, you can still do it yourself, but we'll make it, we'll do it in a way, we'll help you do it in such a way that you can have confidence that it's been done well.

That is correct. And so our goal is to get you to the 80%, so that you don't have to kind of make the investments.

And you're right, like you can come and ask us the same question, but what guarantees that you don't have access to the data?

I think it's the same topic going on and on and about, right?

Like, but you know, as we grow, our big goal is to open source everything.

But again, somebody could come and say, but what makes me comfortable that that open source is what company?

So I think these are the debates that will pan out in the next three to five years.

But essentially our goal is to say, hey, companyx.com, the code sits in your VPC and the data sits in your VPC, which means unless you give me access to your VPC, I have no way to access either of those.

And let me ask this semi-technical question that I may trip up on.

Let's say I'm, you know, I'm the widget company and I'm using blot out, is blot out considered a third party or am I still dealing with first party?

So because blot out doesn't see the code or the data, we are actually no party to any of those.

So it's like AWS, right? If you're using AWS cloud, is AWS first party or is it just hardware?

So I think these are the hard questions I'm talking about that will get resolved in the next three to five years.

But the way we call ourselves is if you're using, let's say, Redshift for your warehouse, right?

It's just, you know, or let's say R2 in Cloudflare in your own account.

Is Cloudflare considered a third party or is it considering infrastructure as zero party?

So I think those are the topics I think we're going to have to, but we essentially call ourselves AWS Subprocessing.

We only support AWS today. We plan to support Google and Azure because we feel that's where infrastructure is headed, cloud prem.

And essentially our customers look at us as an AWS Subprocessor, which means if I'm using AWS and I'm using their software, it's actually AWS.

Blot out doesn't play any party to any of the data.

Again, legally and technically the same answer, but hopefully you understand why.

I would say I understand. And I'm sure Cloudflare's policy team has thoughts on all of this that I am not at all representative of.

I'm pretty sure they do.

100%, 100%, yes. But I find it super interesting. Sort of on a related note, I believe you folks just launched a feature and are you using Cloudflare Workers on it?

I don't know if you've heard about that. We are, we are. So we launched technically a multi-CDN product, but it's one of the first tags.

And I know you guys just launched your own as well, but it's one of the first tags that is fully JavaScript, uses Cloudflare Edge Workers.

And what we have enabled is the first opt-in tag.

Like I said, we are allowing customers to say, Jason has opted to share data to Facebook.

And what we are now doing is instead of pushing it to your AWS or your Google accounts to share it back to Facebook, we intercept it on Cloudflare itself and make a real-time call, a consented call to Facebook saying, Jason's okay sending their signals back to Facebook.

Here you go. And so we have created the first lossless consented pixel on Cloudflare is our first partner to kind of launch with, to be able to enable that feature.

And what is the benefit to the consumer in terms of privacy from that?

So from a consumer perspective, Jason absolutely has to have consented for X.com to be able to send that signal to Facebook.

Understood. So that's what we call an opt-in. So unlike the current world, which is opt-out, Jason has to come and say, I don't want to be part of it.

We are saying, no, no, no.

You absolutely have to make sure Jason said yes, before you send that signal outward.

Cool. Well, I'm glad the pendulum is heading in that way.

I've always been a big fan of informed consent. And for the last decade or so, as you say, it seems like the consent was often not there.

And certainly the informed part was just not even...

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So it's tricky businesses, I know.

Shifting gears a little bit, I want to talk a little bit more about being a founder.

When you look back, obviously you didn't start the company that long ago, but let's imagine you've got a time machine and you're able to go back to just as you're starting a company.

Is there a piece of advice you would give yourself as a founder?

Oh, this is so, I think it's loaded up on that. But I think, you know, one of the mistakes we all make as a founding team is I think, as the company starts to build gravitas, right?

I think, because I think some of it is related to COVID, mind you, even though we made a choice to work from home.

I think we don't communicate enough with the folks who kind of got you here and misunderstandings sort of build up.

And I think my own advice to self was, hey man, maybe you should have talked about it every week, because you thought everybody knew.

And at times as the company grows in stature and in position and folks have expectations and you just didn't set them.

So as a founder, I would say, especially kudos to the team who has just stuck around and gotten it done.

My advice to myself would have been talk to them often and enough, because in the world of COVID, maybe you don't see each other much at all.

You know, it's important to keep clear communication and not have assumptions built in.

Interesting. So how do you do that?

You have like a weekly all hands meeting, that sort of thing, or what are you doing?

Yeah, we do. But I wasn't addressing about that, right? I think that part of the business is working extremely well.

I was talking about the expectation setting and role setting, right?

Because it just doesn't happen. You know, I mean, we're a startup and I think we need to acknowledge it's a startup and we need to acknowledge that as the startups take shape and everybody's seeing the $100 million company, which is very hard for a year old company.

Like there are these notions built in and by not being able to go out for a dinner or having a whiskey or a beer or a coffee, whatever, like I said, we're not able to have these hard conversations that are just good to have.

And by not having a proactive approach, you probably build gaps in your bridges that should have been built from day one.

So I think that's something I would go back to myself and say, maybe you should have done that a little bit more.

Got it. That's very insightful. So we've only got one minute left.

So let me ask is, are there any parting thoughts you want to share with the audience?

I mean, no, this was great, Jason. Really appreciate it. I think for the audience, you know, I would love for you guys to come and give us feedback, right?

Because I think all of the questions you asked are so technically complicated and I think engineers are required now to become lawyers.

And so I think I would love, if anybody's listening to this, I would love a direct outreach and give us feedback on how you guys see the world, because our goal is not to call out a Google or an Amplitude or an AWS.

It's to say, hey man, let's all work together to figure out what's the right word for Jason and for Mundar and more importantly for our kids, because they are about to become barcodes in our future.

Awesome.

Well, I think those are some great parting thoughts. And Mundar, thank you again for joining us here for the Founders Spotlight.

It's been a pleasure to have you and we hope you'll come back again soon.

Thank you so much, Jason. Really appreciate it.

And thank you to Cloudflare for having us.

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