How to go From Underdog to Top Dog

With Dheeraj Pandey, Co-Founder & CEO of Nutanix

By Ashu Garg


Dheeraj Pandey is founder, chairman, and CEO of Nutanix, one of the fastest growing enterprise companies of the past decade. Nutanix went from idea to public company in less than seven years. Dheeraj spoke with Ashu about his journey from India to Silicon Valley and from engineer to CEO.

I. Episode Recap

In 2006, Dheeraj Pandey applied to MBA programs at the top schools in the country and was rejected by them all. He now sees this as one of the best things that happened to him. Instead of graduating in the middle of a recession, he went on to lead engineering at Aster Data. Believing the company was not adjusting its business model to keep up with the changing tech world, he left Aster Data with two of his co-workers to found Nutanix in 2009. The gamble paid off: Nutanix became a unicorn company in 2014 and went public in 2016 with a valuation of $2.18 billion. Dheeraj tells me how his underdog mentality, “less is more” philosophy, and focus on reliable products — and the ability to change them when necessary — made Nutanix so successful.

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Less is More

From the beginning of Nutanix, Dheeraj’s philosophy was “less is more.”

  • Nutanix’s first product was designed to be simple and reliable rather than packed with features that didn’t perform consistently.
  • It’s better to fulfill lower expectations than fail to fulfill higher ones.
  • Dheeraj also set realistic revenue goals. His 2012 goal of $4 million was met and exceeded with $17 million.

The Underdog

At every step, Dheeraj and Nutanix had to prove themselves.

  • People said creating an enterprise cloud for Windows virtual machines was “dead on arrival” and “stillborn.”
  • Investors also doubted Nutanix’s scalability.
  • Dheeraj contrarily embraced the idea of making a product for the broad, large market of Windows users.
  • Dheeraj also believes that many people doubted than someone from an engineering background could effectively manage people or create a large company.

Design Mind

As CEO, Dheeraj sees himself as an “intense product manager,” and he brings a “design mind” to the role.

  • It’s all about designing systems that run as smoothly and friction-free as possible, from your products to your employees.
  • Dheeraj also thinks it’s important to inject non-tech ideas into his company, like mindfulness and authenticity.
  • To be a good CEO, you’ll learn more from people than books because business is, ultimately, all about people.


Nutanix is in a “red ocean”: an existing market full of competition that has become a bloodbath.

  • You must be an “agile shark” in a red ocean: willing and able to adjust to a rapidly changing tech world if you want to survive.

Focus, Listen, Respect

Dheeraj always tells his son “focus, listen, respect.” He also applies this mantra to Nutanix.competition that has become a bloodbath.

  • Focus on what matters
  • Listen to customers and employees.
  • Respect even the smallest customer.

Published on 07.27.2018
Written by Ashu Garg

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