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One of the biggest challenges that B2B startups targeting enterprise customers face is market adoption. This is doubly so for a startup working in security and IT: how do you stand out from the companies like McAfee and Symantec that have grown to become household names?

Pawaa’s founder and CEO Prakash Baskaran knew that he’d be up to tackling these challenges from the beginning. After almost two decades as an entrepreneur, he found himself in a position to bring a game-changing solution to the market.

“My past startups grew well and were profitable,” says Baskaran. “but they didn’t materialize into anything significant like Yahoo or Google. So in 2007, I decided to use my experiences to start something that would be much longer lasting.”

So how did Pawaa come to realize its full potential as a company? Here are the steps they took before, during and after Cisco’s EIR program.

They Found a Differentiator and Path Forward

Baskaran and his team decided to tackle an industry pain point that has affected both B2B and B2C worlds for more than 20 years: data leaks, prevention and file security.

“When I share a file, it’s so easy to lose track of that document,” says Baskaran. “I lose control over it, and there’s no way for me to tell who you’re sharing it with or if someone is hacking into your computer and getting all the data. The problem gets even more complex because we’ve moved beyond email to tools like Dropbox, Box and even Skype to transfer files. There are too many scenarios in which files are unprotected.”

The technology that was available in the market was cumbersome to use and required a lot of technical resources. So the Pawaa team decided to create something less complicated: a solution that simplified file security down to the click of a button.

They Achieved Product Market Fit Before Kickstarting Growth

After three years of research and development, the Pawaa team was able to bring its vision to life in the form of a product called Securely Share. Using this tool, users can securely share files through Box, Dropbox, Outlook or any other email server and rest assured that only those authorized are accessing their documents.

After six years, the company grew its customer base to more than 150. And although Pawaa was generating revenue, Baskaran knew that his team had barely scratched the surface of the full market opportunity that they were exploring.

“We proved that our technology worked, but we were dealing with an uphill battle in our industry,” says Baskaran. “Because we’re located in Bangalore rather than a security hub like the United States or Israel, we were met with skepticism.”

They Joined Cisco’s EIR Program for an Extra Boost

It’s unusual for a 6-year-old company to participate in an accelerator once they’re already generated revenue with an established customer base. But Baskaran and the Pawaa team decided that the Cisco EIR corporate venturing program was the best next step in their company’s evolution.

“Unlike other programs, Cisco EIR is unique in that it provides entrepreneurs with direct access to executives within the business units and at partner companies,” says Baskaran. “That open-door approach allowed our company to understand how our product fit into Cisco’s overall product portfolio and to better evaluate potential gaps in the enterprise security market.”

Throughout the course of the EIR program, Cisco and Pawaa mutually realized that there was a strong need for file security.

“Cisco was strong in email and web security but not file security,” says Baskaran. “Suddenly, we had a brand name backing us – and potential customers were more confident in us, as a result.”

That credibility boost turned out to make all the difference in the world. “We no longer had to explain that we were a tiny startup from India,” explained Baskaran. “Thanks to the program, we were able to build upon our full value as a company. In addition to providing us financial assistance and some office space in California, Cisco opened up doors for us to engage with many different executives, across channels – including public-facing interviews on Cisco TV and YouTube. Without the program, it would have been a very difficult task to approach so many executives in a large company like Cisco and bring their attention to our technology.”

Taking the strategic synergy with Cisco to the next level

As Pawaa’s time in Cisco’s EIR program approached its end, the two companies had mutually identified 10 opportunities to pursue. It was clear to all involved that there was compelling strategic synergy between Pawaa’s technology and Cisco’s portfolio and that a closer relationship made good sense for both sides.

“Cisco acquired Pawaa last year,” said Baskaran, “I’m proud to say that we were Cisco’s first acquisition of a company from India.”

A year after completing the EIR program and less than six months following the acquisition, Baskaran and his team are now focused on integrating Pawaa’s technologies into Cisco’s core business units.

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About the Author

Ritika Puri is a corporate intrapreneur turned entrepreneur. She currently runs Storyhackers with her technologist co-founder and specializes in content development for emerging and rapidly changing sectors such as IoT, Security, AI & Machine Learning, Analytics,and VR.
About Cisco EIR
Cisco Entrepreneurs in Residence is a 6 month startup incubator focused on growth and distribution in the Cisco ecosystem.
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