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Part 1 - Interview of Prem Jain, CEO at Pensando Systems

Prem Jain is currently CEO at Pensando Systems. Previously at Cisco for +20 years, Prem developed and honed many key innovations that helped the company evolve, including Routing & Switching capabilities and Software Defined Networks

Most recently served as SVP / General Manager of Cisco INSBU.

Co-founder and part of the unprecedented spin-in team for Andiamo Systems, Nuova Systems (CFO) and Insieme Networks (CEO), which were acquired for an aggregate amount >$2bn

Prior to Cisco, worked at Crescendo Systems (acquired by Cisco) and David Systems

In Education, Prem Jain did B. Tech in EE from Birla Institute of Technology (BITS Pilani) one of the premium institutes of India & after that did M.S. in EECS from UC Davis

He is a great business leader, who has equally contributed to the local community and education institute.

In this interview we talked about:

  • Prem’s journey from handling his family business in India, aim to become a teacher to becoming founders of companies in Silicon Valley?

  • Prem shared about changing the philosophy, changing notion within the industry, catching the wave, journey of creating the most talked startup in Silicon Valley with John Chambers as chairman of the board.

  • Silicon Valley and startups are all about taking a new risk and favors young blood, how to be always motivated.

  • Key ingredient of Silicon Valley bootstrapping, cultural differences transition or pivot, learning experience of Prem.

  • Being a business leader, equally contributing to the local communities and education institutions, how did he strike this balance?

  • Word of wisdom to leaders and building entrepreneurs, how the decisions are made to implement things in the future & plan in the business.

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The transcript was generated using an Artificial Intelligence program and then scanned over; we would like to thank you in advance for understanding that there might be some inaccuracies. While reading, one might also notice that there are times were the sentences are not grammatically correct and due to changes in advertisements, the timestamps do not always align with the show. We are keeping the text as true to the interview as possible and hope that the transcript can be used for a reference in conjunction with the Podcast audio. Thank you and enjoy!

Shawn Flynn 01:34

Welcome to Silicon Valley Tech. Now today's show we have a special guest for you Prem Jain. Now, what's so special about this guy is I did not know this until a moment ago. Sunil S. Ranka my Co-host on this show actually refers to him as an uncle. So he slips up in this episode. Don't be too surprised. I mean, the connections, the bond they're there. But Prem, I just have to start off with one question for you. What was it like growing up within India and was there any experiences there that helped shape who you are today?

Prem Jain 02:03

Shawn this is a very good question. And I'll tell you there is a lot of things which have happened while I was growing up in India, which really I'm proud that I learned from those things and I'm using it even today. So, give you an example. I grew up in a business family in Delhi, in Old Delhi, in Chandi Chowk, which is the heart of Delhi. If somebody knows New Delhi is. My parents, they were in a business of selling turbans and you know, turbans is the one which is used to cover your head, but they used to sell in the kingdoms, you know, the kingdoms, you know, where the king used to buy the turban and they, they don't wear the same turban next day. It was a very lucrative business. And it was going on until India became independence and obviously they had to make a transformation. Selling to different segments of the market. It was a wholesale business, they were the only game in the town, so that was good because they can sell turbans can turbans used to use silver and gold as a part of it. Okay, but it Because of the transition, that's a thing, which is I realized the transitions they had to transfer into a different business. And that business, they didn't know anything about it. And my father basically made the transition to sell a sarees, which is the Indian ladies they wore right. And I realized I was you know, 13-14 years old. And I used to help quite a bit in the business and I realized that, that is not their cup of tea because they used to sell to the wholesale market and we are now going to a consumer market Okay, he had to, you know, decorate the shops and people come in the house and you know, and in our shop was in the house itself. So, which is entirely different experience, okay, that I learned that the transitions cannot be done very easily if you're not really understood what business you are getting in.

Second thing which was interesting also, during when I was growing up in India, was, you know, our family is very religious. So, you know, we follow very thoroughly, you know, practice and stuff like that. And one of the things which is, you know, I learned out of this is that you have to have whatever value you have, you have to practice in it. And I notice even in my family business, sometimes they cross the line. And I always used to question I said, Why are we doing this because we use to, Muslims, communities should come and sell us stuff. And they used to have a separate plate, separate water separate thing, like discrimination, if you want to think about it. And I have never really I had a friend who is a Muslim and used to come to my house. I never told even my parents that he's a Muslim, just to make sure it does not get that discrimination. So that's another thing, which was a big thing for me. And third thing, which is really very interesting was I went for a Hitchhiking. And you know, during those days, this is I'm talking about 68-69 timeframe. I went to Europe, from India, and India won't allow you to go to Pakistan. And so that was a big risk people said, you're going crazy. You're nuts. You don't understand what Hitchhiking means is. So I took that risk, and I said, Look, I'm a vegetarian. It's very difficult because you don't know what you're going to see there is a language trouble, which is going to have you faces all different kinds of people. I was only 17 years old at that particular time, and hitchhiking was in not that famous fold in India, people don't know what I really meant. So they thought that I'm gonna, I want dessert. And I need some help from the other people. Good thing is I learned quite a bit after getting out of the country, talking to different people in different countries. And I did this all my four years of college, which I went in BITS Pilani. In planning campus, it's a it's one of the kind of IITs of India. And I learned quite a bit out of this Hitchhiking experience. And I tell you, in majority of the cases, I spent zero from my pocket. I went and worked in Europe, I earned the money and I got it back. So a lot of learning that you can survive, you know, in this particular hostile environment, because you don't know anybody. And there was no phone calls, there was no cell phone, there was only way you communicate to the families to the left.

Sunil Ranka 05:55

So sounds like the key ingredient of Silicon Valley bootstrapping, cultural differences transition or pivot, you learnt at very early on, so Prem can you just tell a little bit more about your journey in Silicon Valley?

Prem Jain 06:09

Yes. So after I graduated from India, I came here to do my masters at UC Davis. And that was a I came here actually to not to do my Masters but also do my PhD. Okay. I thought I will go in teaching. That was my objective. When I came down here. When I went to UC Davis, I was my Professor Loomis was my advisor and I was sitting in his office and he gets a phone call from a company called BNR. And he said, You know, he was looking at me and talking to this person and he says, You know, I have somebody sitting next to me you might be interested in talking to him. And that happened to be the job interview with a company called Bell Northern Research. And I was not interested in doing I was actually just applied for PhD program and I did my masters I graduated from of my degree and I was going and applying for PhD programs and suddenly this call comes to my professors and I go and I talked to them I had no resuming I had nothing I told them that look, I didn't prepare anything. They said don't worry about it. They interview me what happened is my thesis was written on microprocessor, the use of microprocessor and Intel was just coming out. This is now we are talking about in 1976-77 times than 1977 times when exactly Syntel just came for a low-end microprocessor and I wrote my thesis basically how can use it to build a system, multiple different dimensions. So this company really liked what I was doing. And I passed the interview, they call me the factory interview. And here's my first job. I had to drop my PhD program. My professor told me go and work for one year. Don't worry about it, you know, you can come back, it will be a good experience for you. Well, guess what? It never went back. Just like a classic Silicon Valley. I worked for this company. And and that's where I started the journey in Silicon Valley. And just to give you a little bit more, I worked there for BNR for seven years, learned a lot. It was a part of Northern Telecom. It was BNR stands for Bell Northern Research, which was Bell, Canada, Northern telecom and their arm. And I really enjoyed it because they used to call us the farmhouse because we were very close to Stanford farm in Paul Alto. Okay, so it was very interesting experience there, I learned quite a bit because, again in my life, I was always looking for transition. That transition going into BNR was from analog voice to digital voice. And that was a great experience because they were in the forefront of it at that particular moment. And I learned quite a bit. And then right after that, we started a startup company, which is called David Systems. David is a acronym which is distributed a system of voice image and data. Okay, that's David stands for David was nobody's name a lot of people used to ask. And then there was a David versus Goliath became because we were doing a PBX and you know, the who was the top company of doing the PBX at that time was AT&T Or, or then they diverged into a bunch of bells, Illinois Bell and, you know, Pacific Bell and all those. So now it's back to the AT&T know you know, the life is, I call it deal of reincarnation, you know, what that really means is that you started at one particular point and you come back again, and you're reborn, but at a different point, it's not exactly the same point. And the reason I'm telling you this, this is very important for anybody to understand that we go always in the system design, centralized, distributed, centralized, distributed. somewhere down the road, every time we come back from centralized or distributed, it's entirely different place. It's not the same point. Okay. So for example, you know, centralized computing mainframes and stuff like that, we went to a distributed computing, which went into, you know, like Dec or, you know, Sun Microsystems and stuff like that. Then, again, went to totally distributed, which is became the scale out model, where now you're using the Intel x86 and stuff like that. So the cycle continues centralized management, distributed management. So I learned quite in depth while, you know, working on this particular environment and started the company, David Systems, which was really very interesting because we were fighting against, you know, big companies like Siemens at that particular time or Room Systems, which is doing this and, and others. And that was a great experience for me. Even though David didn't succeed. We got the best venture capitalist people to fund us. And that's where I met Mario and Luca, who is now part of the MPLS team, which is Mario, Paint, Luca, and Soni. So Mario, Luca and myself, we are working together since 1983. As a part of the David Systems. David it was funded by the top venture companies in the valley, which is Sequoia Capital. Okay. Mayfield users name and they were very, very hot top, the poor so much money. He felt so bad that because it didn't succeed, but I learned quite a bit lessons. I want to tell the audience are two things which I learned. Technology is not sufficient to sell the product, you need to really understand the market and the need in the market. We were just carried away with our technologies that we want to integrate voice video data into one single platforms. Guess what we found out there is no the organizations are not structured to buy any product. For this kind of usage, voice group or separate data group or separate, you know, video group was totally separate. They don't even talk to each other except at the CIO level. And the product was not cost effective to sell into one particular segment of the market. Otherwise, we'll be very successful. It was it. It was very cost effective for us all together.

So that was another thing that you learn that it was a little bit too early for his time. You know, and that is something I think people have to realize you have to be just in time that’s a big lesson spending lots of money of the venture capitalists, but you know, good parties, venture capitalists really like this. They funded again, okay. The company they funded was called Crescendo and Crescendo was the one where the decided to look at it, what can we do in this switching area, and we build a switch, which is then Cisco acquired us. That was the first company Cisco acquired. And by the way, that became $15-16 billion business per year for Cisco. That was a amazing journey we had after what we did in Crescendo, okay, and even though Cisco paid us, you know, 100 million, less than hundred million, but we really enjoyed it what we were doing and the next 10 years, you know, we really enjoyed part of this and the growth which we saw and the biggest satisfaction obviously any entrepreneur and anybody will get is not just making money or you know, or fame or whatever it is, is to see the impact in the industry. And that was the biggest impact we saw we created. And you know, you can count in 10 years if you if you're selling that day, you know, that's a lot of billions of dollars 10s of billions of dollars and put Cisco into the map after they were doing routing and now we start doing this switching. So that is the that's where we got into Cisco. Then we got another turn in the Silicon Valley is Cisco wanted to do some get into the adjacent technologies. Okay, so he said fine, we'll work into it. So we started a company called Andiamo. Now you will see all these words are Italian words, you know, Crescendo and Andiamo next one, which we did with Cisco was Noah, which means new is again Italian word. Next one we did is call in CMA, which is mean altogether. Okay. And all day we're looking at the HSM technologies. The first one was taking 6.2 the sand storage network. Second one is taking the Cisco into the server business, which a lot of people told us you guys are crazy. What are you trying to do? There are server companies you don't even know how to spell server compared to the server companies like HP like IBM, like, you know, Compaq Microsystems and stuff like that. And reality wise they were correct. We didn't even we had no experience with server we didn't even know what the bios is at that point. So there was a Noah which became gayness spin and spin out the Cisco. And very successful that businesses right now has about $4 billion. The business of Andiamo when we left, is was about half a billion dollar that was a storage area network. Then we started another company called Insieme. Insieme was basically supposed to do the STM. Now again, all these are the freedom regard out of working in and out of Cisco to create a new environment and INSIEME allowed us to delivered SDN capabilities, which is the Software Defined Networking capabilities. And that was a great experience, which we had. And that business is today is almost three to three and a half billion dollar. So we had a really tremendous run. You know, and I don't think when we started this particular thing in Silicon Valley that we will be doing these kind of things. And like I was telling you before, I want you to be a teacher. And then you look at somebody who wants to be a teacher and now running into this business is, and the other interesting thing came out of it is that right after we're done with the Insieme, we thought we're going to retire. But you know that that doesn't stop there. We 4 of us got together, he says, we still have a few more years left. Let's look at another transition. And that transition is really was Pensando which is we'll talk about some more. But one thing I want to tell you which is very interesting, all these names which I mentioned to you If you combine together and put it in a particular order, it will tell you, let's go all together to a new high and now with the new thinking, so it's really very interesting. It's just a coincidence. I don't think it was planned.

Sunil Ranka 15:46

This is this is just beautiful. But Shawn, for the other listeners, just so you guys know, the University of California Davis has received 1.5 million gift towards Prem Jain family for the President Chair of Innovation, so he never talks about it very openly. But I just wanted to, you know, put this out here, because knowing him for many years, is one of the most humble person I've met and you will you'll and listen to you will get to know him a little bit more better. So yeah, Shawn, it's all yours.

Shawn Flynn: 16:16

Well, first of all you're also the greatest storyteller ever. I'm looking at this going. I have 20 questions for you from right there. For the first ones that come to mind, you mentioned centralized decentralized. Where do you see us right now in that cycle? And where do you see us in the future with that? And then also, how crazy is it that all the companies you've created one, the Italian phrase, they're almost like it was faith that you're going to build all these companies and to have that much impact on the world and Cisco, I know there's a lot of questions there. But uh, first off, where are we in the cycle?

Prem Jain 16:52

In this cycle, if you look at it, we are in a distributed world now, distributed and parallel processing, those are the two things which we are doing, okay, we used to do centralized processing and then cluster of processing and now we are doing parallel processing, which is happening for artificial intelligence machine learning. So, this cycle will continue. I think this, you know, some centralized or distributed I think that will continue. I don't think that journey ever finishes as far as I see it, because you look at this way Better to do the work in a distributed fashion, but much easier to manage if I manage Central. So, this is a new paradigm which is going to come much more and more is how do I manage all these millions of devices, IoT devices, say for example, how do I manage all those devices in a in a very, you know, cohesive manner, so they can coordinate with each other. The other new paradigm is offering also it will look at about the drones, or the auto automatic car, which is going to happen, right, they can need to talk to the other car so I can protect the other car. So, it's not only going to be a distributed management also for those devices, they need to understand how far I am from the other one, so I don't hit each other. So there is a lot of opportunities is coming in front of us from this learning, I think which is we are talking about now in terms of the success I don't think we ever thought about when we started any of these ventures. We want you to make it successful because you would like to see the impact in the industry but never thought that this will prove that. First one was switching. I mean, people used to say it's okay, it's only $2 billion market. But you know, the beauty of that is, is that you keep on adding stuff to it. It's not like you stop. So we brought a lot of stuff into the switching technologies. And there are a lot of other technologies which were competing as switching technologies, we make sure that you know, we can all bring them together. And one of the example I'll give you is ATM, ATM was very popular, you know, the mode of competing against Ethernet. There was a technologies which was getting a lot of momentum, you know, adaptive cards was coming in and instead of Ethernet, you put ATM cards and stuff like that. We brought all those capabilities into Ethernet. So what is in it was invented by Xerox and Intel and Dell. And this fact came out in 1978 is not the same Ethernet only world remains the same. It's just called Ethernet. Underneath, everything is changed. It's not collision detection, CSMA, CD, what is that? What is it what it was at that particular time? So it's really amazing, I think is the main thing is that for people for the audience, I think is important to understand what is going on in the industries and really catch the wave and don't leave yourself behind. Because if you left yourself behind, you will be totally out.

Sunil Ranka 19:30

Is an industry goes standard for an innovation and success, and for the listeners MPLS stands for Mario, Prem, Lucas and Soni. How did this partnership begin?

Prem Jain 19:42

It's a very interesting question. And I'll tell you, I think Mario, Luca and myself, we met first time in 1983. Okay as a part of the David Systems. So David System was a startup which is Mario was the VP of Engineering Luca and myself we were directors and working together. And like I said, that company didn't succeed. But we learned a quite a bit out of it and generated a lot of respect for each other. And the next one, we wanted to start it all together again, even though that particular company didn't succeed. So that's where Mario Luca, myself we met. Just to give you a little bit historical background Mario Luca used to work for like Olivetti, I used to work for BNR Okay, and there was a partnership between the Olivetti and BNR to develop a joint PBX for an Italian market. Olivetti. Olivetti, you remember very popular for typing business typewriters, they were making a transition from typewriters to the PCs, and then PCs to the PBX. They already have a partnership with the Northern Telecom to sell their cell phones which is in Rome, in Italy. Okay. So that's where we met in the beginning. When I was in BNR and Mario and Luca, they were in Olivetti. And then we decided to start this company called David Systems. And that's when three of us we met. And then after that Pensando, Mario, Luca and myself, we were all three onwards of that particular company. When we started this in 1989. Okay, Soni came to us as a part when Cisco acquired Crescendo in Cisco. Soni joined us from I think she was working for the name is not coming to my head, but one of the startups in the valley. She was there and then she joined us that particular time. Since then, we were working together as you know very well when you create a small business, and the business is growing like from, you know, hundred million to billions and billions and billions people start looking at on start recognizing you and stuff like that. The term MPLS came from is basically was a technologies which is we were developing is called Multi-Protocol Label Switching MPLS. Okay. And that was the contribution we made to make sure that that particular protocols is being used for the service or the space for building very, very large networks with the service providers, okay. And I was actually part of working with the team to driving it. I was a Manager and Cisco Director, actually, to drive that particular part of the technologies. So the MPLS was associated with us in that particular sense. And then when we started Andiamo and made the Andiamo very successful. Soni was part of it. Mario, Luca, Myself and Soni were part of it. And then it became even more popular when we started the Nova Systems. Nova was the server company, which is the we started in 2005 and became very successful. And we left Nuova in 2013 sorry 2011 or when we started the Insieme, so our relationship started with this startups, you know, and it's very successful, we compliment each other. Okay, you can think about it, a person has a heart, brain, you know, eyes and hands, you know, look that way. So we represent that particular part of the MPLS in that particular sense. You know, Mario is very sharp, very sharp in terms of coming up with ideas and the thing, Luca is very good in execution also, they consider me as a heart. You know, I want to bring it everything together two things running and Soni is our hands to help it out to sell it.

Shawn Flynn: 23:15

And that concludes Part 1 of our two parts episode series with Prem Jain. Now stay tuned for next because we talk about what is Jainism and how can one strike the balance of work and personal life. What is Pensando? Highly talked about the start in Silicon Valley and much more and don’t forget to like, share and subscribe with your network and that encourages us to create a great content like this. Aright we will see you next week!


Thank you for listening to Silicon Valley Tech behind the scenes. To find out more contact the team or to be a guest on the show, visit our website at We look forward to hearing from you and remember to support the show by leaving a review to encourage us to keep creating great content like this.

To be continued...

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