Due South: the draw of Silicon Valley

Due South Compass

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, there are some 350,000 Canadians that call Silicon Valley their home. It is, at some level, a number that reflects poorly on this country’s startup ecosystem. After all, how great can Canada’s tech community be when so many of its best minds move south?

However, it’s a number that fails to provide much in the way of context. It offers no insight into the reasons these people left home, or their true thoughts on the ecosystem here in Canada. It gives no voice to the fascinating stories those expatriates have to tell.

Welcome to Due South, a new series that profiles Canadian entrepreneurs who have founded companies outside of the motherland.
 


 
Sanjay Beri comes off as an affable individual as we talk over the phone. Almost every twist and turn of our conversation brings with it a light hearted joke or amusing anecdote.

“It shocks people when I tell them that the average company uses more than 500 cloud apps,” says Beri, as he starts talking about his company, Netskope, which he founded in 2012.

Sanjay Beri

Netskope is a Los Altos-based startup that helps large companies keep their data secure while taking advantage of cloud apps. The company’s platform includes an advance set of analytics that allows IT professionals to quickly answer questions like, ‘who’s using our company’s Dropbox account to share files with the outside world?’ and then act upon that information. Last year, Netskope raised a $35-million Series C round that was led by Accel Partners. It has partnerships with some of the leading cloud-based software providers, including Dropbox, OneLogin and Bitium.

And with cloud apps like Slack experiencing tremendous growth, Netskope is a company that finds itself perfectly in sync with the current needs of the market. It’s also a company several years in the making.
 


 

Beri was born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. He studied Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. After completing his undergraduate degree, he moved to California to pursue a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and later a MBA from UC Berkeley.

It might seem, based on his education, that Beri moved to California to attend two of its most prestigious schools — and while that’s true to a certain extent — he mostly moved to the Golden State because he wanted to be at the heart of the tech world. In the late 90s, as it does today, that meant coming to Silicon Valley. “I knew what I wanted to do, which was be in the thick of things,” he says. “At that time, that meant coming here.”

“I knew what I wanted to do, which was be in the thick of things.”

“The dynamic and pace of the Valley is something that I think is really unique.” says Beri. “Whether it’s being able to grasp onto talent as it’s entering the area, having easy access to the venture world or being a couple of miles from other great companies, you’re always in the thick of things.”

“That’s why I love it here.”

It’s that dynamism that has kept Beri in the Valley for the better part of almost two decades, though he’s also quick to point to more practical reasons as well. “My wife and daughter don’t like living in the cold,” he says, as the hint of a laugh works its way into his voice.

After completing school and starting a company called Ingrain Networks, which he and his co-founders later sold to SafeNet Inc, Beri spent seven years at Juniper Networks. Although he eventually followed his urge to start another entrepreneurial venture and leave Juniper, Beri says he can’t stress enough the importance of the time he spent there. “You can never have enough connectivity,” he says. “You need to know people on all sides of the industry. I spent seven plus years at Juniper and learned so much on the channel, marketing and sales side.”

Stanford Campus

The years spent cultivating a network paid off immensely almost immediately; many of Netskope’s early employees were architects and designers who had spent significant time working for companies like Palo Alto Networks, McAfee and Cisco. In fact, when an investor or guest visits the Netskope office, Beri often hears from them how much older the men and women working for him are compared to those that work in typical Valley startup.

In a community that is — perhaps to its detriment — obsessed with youth, Netskope is a rare exception, and it doesn’t seem like Beri minds. “Trying to find people that have 20 plus years of experience and that are humble is difficult task, but that’s the type of person I want at this company,” he says.

“The last thing you need is people that like to draw on a whiteboard but never implement anything.”
 


 
Our conversation eventually turns to things back in Canada.

Netskope recently opened a satellite office in Toronto. “Canada is where I was born,” says Beri. “I spent a lot of my life there, and I’ll continue to have strong roots there. I hope that whatever I do has a strong presence in Canada, and whatever we build is extremely successful there as well.”

When I ask Beri whether in hindsight he could built his company, he says, “Absolutely, I think you could do this in Canada.”

“I always cringe when people tell me that the Valley is where entrepreneurship lives,” he says.

“I see a lot of communities where people are entrepreneurial, and just because Canada did not have that environment ten years ago doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it now.”

Igor Bonifacic

Igor Bonifacic

Igor Bonifacic is a Toronto-based writer interested in exploring the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and life.