I am excited to finally talk about Cyral, a company we incubated at A.Capital over 14 months ago. My relationship with the founders of Cyral, Manav Mital and Srinivas (Srini) Vadlamani, goes back a decade when we worked together at Aster Data.
Aster Data was an early pioneer in Big Data that is today perhaps better remembered for its alumni who have gone on to found many path breaking companies (Nutanix, Thoughtspot, Cohesity, ActionIQ and Instart Logic to name a few). At Aster Data, Manav managed a small team of talented engineers that along with Srini designed and developed the SQL planner, one of the most intricate and complex sub-systems in the Aster product. Working under intense time pressure they shipped production ready stable code that was so well put together that it required few modifications even years later.
After Aster Data, we all went our separate ways but stayed in touch. Srini continued his deep-dive into databases with a stint at Couchbase and then co-founded Imanis, a NoSQL data protection company. Manav co-founded and ran Instart Logic, an application delivery and security company backed by Andreessen Horowitz.
In 2018 when I first heard Manav and Srini had teamed up again and were working on a new startup, I was ready to get involved even before the idea was fully fleshed out. They worked out of the A.Capital offices for a couple of months, calling up over 50 prospective customers before the first line of code was written. Out of these conversations came a deep understanding of the market opportunity and a strong conviction that there was a big market for what they were building.
By this time they had narrowed their focus to cloud data security. Convinced the founders had uncommon insights and the right expertise to build a differentiated solution in a big market, we led the Seed round in Cyral in the fall of 2018.
Our evaluation came down to three things:
First, we knew the founders really well. Starting and growing a company requires grit, determination and courage. The founders had all those qualities and many other intangibles. They had experienced the roller coaster, all-consuming punishing nature of startup life and were miraculously ready and eager to do it again.
Second, their vision for Cyral aligned nicely with a thesis we’ve had in the security space that cloud-native design patterns are going to upend traditional approaches to cyber-security. We all know the conventional enterprise perimeter no longer exists in a multi-cloud world. But what is less obvious is the degree to which cloud-native architectures have also rendered conventional approaches to security centered around proxies, agents and code instrumentation ineffective and obsolete. Therefore in this new world, we have to rethink both where we defend and how we defend. This two-fold discontinuity in our view represents an impossible hurdle for incumbent vendors and a source of many opportunities for smart innovative startups.
Finally, it became apparent to us that tacking data security requires a skill-set that favors a background in databases and distributed systems far more than conventional cybersecurity. The founders in our view had a unique body of expertise in query languages, databases and designing low-latency, scalable distributed systems essential to building a cloud-native data security product.
Some of the most important cybersecurity categories have come from teams that had similar lateral domain expertise. RSA encryption, for instance, came from breakthroughs in applied math. Firewalls were invented by engineers who had deep expertise in networking protocols.
We see a similar pattern in data security. To protect data in its many forms (structured, semi-structured and unstructured) and sources (key-value, SQL, document etc.) across many clouds will require fresh thinking and an expertise in domains not found inside conventional cybersecurity. Not only do the product requirements demand it but it is also the only way to stand out from the pack in an increasingly crowded cybersecurity market.
There is much more I can talk about the Cyral solution but I won’t steal the thunder from upcoming product announcements! It’s been amazing partnering with the Cyral team and watching the great progress they made in the last 14 months.
We are honored and excited to now participate in their Series A financing led by Satish Dharmraj at Redpoint.