This founder left his $4 billion company before the IPO because he had an even better idea

Cohesity Mohit AronCohesityCohesity Mohit Aron

Cohesity CEO Mohit Aron may be one of the most successful tech execs you’ve never heard of. These days, he’s running his up-and-coming storage startup Cohesity as CEO and sole founder.

Launched in 2013, Cohesity has already raised $US70 million in just two rounds, with a $US350 million valuation, backed by A-list VC firms Sequoia, Qualcomm Ventures, and others, according to PitchBook.

He made his stripes as an early Google employee, joining the search giant in 2003, the year before its IPO.

“When I started, there were 600 employee at Google. When I left, Google was 3,000 employees,” he tells Business Insider. It had become a “big” company, which he didn’t prefer, he says.

Still, like so many of those earlier Googlers, the stint left him financially secure for life. His stock options had a $US1.20 strike price, he says. Although he wasn’t clairvoyant enough to wait until 2017 to sell, when the stock would trade at over $US840 a share, he did wait until the stock had become so valuable that “I couldn’t sleep at night,” he recalls.

He became an early employee at Aster Data Systems, which was bought by Teradata in 2011 for $US263 million.

Then he did the thing which gave him an even bigger fortune and made him a true tech industry star: he co-founded Nutanix, the poster child of the unicorn startup era.

Successful and bored

At Nutanix, Aron helped invent a brand new storage data center hardware market dubbed “hyperconverged.” That’s a piece of hardware that stores data but also includes some computing power and networking bundled with the computer management software known as virtualization. It allows companies to affordably string these computer boxes together to grow their infrastructures really large, really fast — and more affordably than traditional storage.

Cohesity CEO Mohit Aron and employeesCohesityCohesity CEO Mohit Aron (in blue tie-dye), and some engineering employees plus a family member on a celebratory trip in Hawaii

Nutanix and the hyperconverged market became an existential threat to some of the largest IT players around including the now-gone EMC (swallowed by Dell) and VMware.

It threatens Cisco’s popular line of “converged” servers and, seeing the tea leaves, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise just bought Nutanix’s rival SimpliVity for $US650 million in cash.

Nutanix raised gobs of money: $US317 million by August, 2014, at a $US2 billion valuation. It was one of the first “unicorns” — the group of tech startups with private market valuations of $US1 billion or more.

It would be ten months before the IPO finally happened in September, at which point the stock soared. Nutanix is now worth $US4 billion.

But Aron was long gone from day-to-day operations by then, having left in 2013. He’s still one of the biggest shareholders in the company, with a 5%+ stake that’s worth about $US300 million, according to SEC documents, mostly in a trust for his kids.

To put this in perspective, it’s a bit like Packard leaving Hewlett when things were going pretty well and the payoff hadn’t yet hit.

Why? He was, basically, bored. And he didn’t need the money.

“I’m not going to sit at Nutanix only to make more money. I’m doing this for my passion,” he says. “After being there at Nutanix for more than three years, the tech was mature, the go-to-market solid. Me, being a technologist, I wanted to solve the problem for rest of the data center.”

Onto the next thing

While at Nutanix, Aron says customers were asking the company to build a product that did for their backup storage what Nutanix did for their main storage: make it easier and cheaper to grow and manage.

He couldn’t get the rest of the leadership team to agree to develop a the product the way he wanted to, he says, so he quit to do it himself.

Cohesity employeesCohesityCohesity employees

While he has a good relationship with his former co-founder Dheeraj Pandey (Nutanix CEO), he says, this was not a sanctioned split blessed with seed money.

It was a clean break.

“I have a civil relationship with everyone at Nutanix,” he says, but “I did not take money from any of the people associated [with Nutanix]. I did not become advisor. I was scared of IP issues.”

He fully admits that his past success has allowed him to take bigger and bigger risks, including leaving his own company right when it was starting to upend its part of the IT world.

His advice for others is the same, “Make yourself financially secure first, don’t shoot for millions. Once you have that success, take a bigger risk and a bigger risk,” he says.

Even at this stage of his career, running his own company, is a learning curve. He’s had to learn, for instance, how to properly hire non-technical people, like sales and ops people, making hard mistakes along the way, he says.

Cohesity Mohit AronCohesityCohesity founder Mohit Aron

But, he also says, he’s bounced back from those mistakes. The product is earning good reviews, revenue has been doubling each quarter, he says, and the customer base is growing.

Aron was so happy with the growth that he took the whole company, and their families, on a thank-you vacation to Hawaii over the holidays.

And he’s never been happier, he says.

“One thing I do now is listen to my gut. If my gut tells me that something is wrong, even if everything else looks right, I don’t go forward with it. In the times I didn’t trust my gut, I regretted it. When the thing inside raises that red flag, you’ve got ot respect it,” he says.

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