From a tiny village in Himachal Pradesh that had no school to founding the US-based $2-billion (Annual recurring revenue) company, company Zscaler, 66-year-old Jay Chaudhry has come a long way.

The Indian-American entrepreneur recalls walking 4 km every day from his village, Panoh, in Una district to study at the nearest government school. After topping the pre-university exams at the state level, he studied for his BTech degree at the erstwhile Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU today) and, with help from the Tata Group, travelled to the US for a master’s at the University of Cincinnati.

Today, his company works to protect global majors like Tata Steel, Tata Power, Godrej, Fedex, Siemens, General Electric, United Airlines, Goldman Sachs and CVS Pharmacy from cyberattacks and cybercriminals.

Founded in 2007, Zscaler has a 7,000-strong global workforce (including about 40 per cent in India), 8,000 customers (30 per cent of the Forbes Global 2000), and performs over 400 billion transactions a day. It analyses and harnesses knowledge from over 500 trillion data points daily across users, devices, networks, and applications, he told businessline recently in Las Vegas, on the sidelines of ZenithLive2024, the company’s annual event.

Early struggles

“My parents were small-scale farmers. My father never got a chance to study because the nearest school was 10 km away. When I was young, there was a school about 4 km away and I could walk to it. My parents encouraged me to study well because they couldn’t,” he reminisced.

At IT-BHU everybody talked about going to the US, he said. He was drawn to the idea too.

“I had to choose a school that gave me tuition scholarships. I got into University of Cincinnati but almost missed it because I couldn’t arrange a loan for the air tickets. I kept researching for help and stumbled upon Tata loan scholarships for students to study abroad,” he said. “That was a major turning point in my career,” he added.

Chaudhry was one among 30 students offered the Tata scholarship that year. JRD Tata, who was in his late 70s then, interviewed all the final candidates individually. It was a four-minute interaction with three questions about his background. Tata then wished him good luck. They were looking for students who could succeed and return the loan, which would then be offered to some other student, Chaudhry explained.

“After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in the US, I worked in IBM in sales and marketing. However, I was always curious to do things on my own. America is a wonderful country to do anything. That’s how I ended up starting multiple successful companies,” he said.

Great Start

Chaudhry started SecureIT as a pure-play Internet security service in 1996, and there was no looking back. It was eventually acquired by VeriSign in 1998. He next founded and led CoreHarbor, a managed e-commerce solution, until it was acquired by USi/AT&T. From 2000 to 2006, he founded and led CipherTrust, an email security gateway that later merged with Secure Computing. In 2002, he founded and led AirDefense, a wireless security pioneer, and it was later acquired by Motorola.

Bigger dream

“In 2007-08, I no longer had interest in launching a startup and selling it, and instead I looked at building a long-lasting business. With our personal investment of around $50 million, Zscaler was born. The dream was to build the Salesforce of cloud security and as a public company. Today we are growing rapidly; we are cash flow positive,” he said.

The Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange platform protects customers from cyberattacks and data loss by connecting users, devices, and applications in any location. Distributed across 150-plus data centres globally, it is the world’s largest in-line cloud security platform.

India presence

“We have a big presence in India. The biggest of the big names in India are our customers. This includes most of the system integrators, Godrej, Tata Steel, Tata Power, Aditya Birla and also the governments,” he said.

“We opened the Bengaluru office of Zscaler before opening the office in Silicon Valley. We expanded rapidly to other places, including Chandigarh, Pune and Hyderabad,” he recalled.

The company has a large security research team in India focusing on newer cyber threats and to pre-empt hackers from carrying out any serious attacks against clients.

India is one of the most vulnerable countries for cyberattacks, he said, but not much was being spent on cybersecurity measures in the past. That is changing, he observed. “In the past five years, clients are spending as they started working with Western companies. Today, some of the largest banks in India are our customers,” he said. For Zscaler, the India business ranks sixth after the US, Japan, the UK, Germany, Australia.

Eye on $5-billion mark

It took 15 years for Zscaler to achieve an annual recurring revenue of $1 billion but just seven quarters to double it. “We haven’t talked about the timing of reaching $5 billion because, as a public company, we cannot give a forward looking statement. But the market is big. Our platform is very good. And we have a good go-to-market team and we are further upgrading it. There is an addressable market of around $100 billion. Now it is a lasting company and a generational company. There is no plan to sell,” he said, rounding off the conversation.

(The writer was recently in Las Vegas at the company’s invitation)