Ash Munshi | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ash Munshi

Background:  

Ash Munshi is CEO of Pepperdata, a Cupertino-based company offering products that allow its customers to manage and fine-tune their big-data production systems.

The Mistake

In 1995, I was an executive at Silicon Graphics and had taken the summer to do an executive program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

During that time, I had also begun working on a startup idea that involved taking a look at how companies process purchase orders for various types of maintenance, repair and operations.

Essentially, I had observed that to process purchase orders internally was costing companies [up to] to hundreds of dollars to buy something worth a lot less. [I wanted] to create an enterprise application to address this.

I had a prototype, wrote a business plan, went to some venture capitalists to raise money and got funded. So I was pretty excited about starting this company.

When I went to resign from Silicon Graphics to work on my startup, the company said, “No, no. We want you to stay on." To get me to stay, they put a bunch of money on the table and were talking about [a promotion for me within] the company.

At that time, my wife was eight months pregnant with our third child, and given that we come from a very conservative Indian background, we made the decision that I ought to stay.

So we decided not to do the startup — to walk away from it and let my partners continue with it.

That startup initially was called Commerce Engine and later became Ariba, which then went public. At one point, it had a market cap of [more than] $20 billion.

One day, someone called me who knew I had started Commerce Engine but had not [continued] with Ariba.

"You're now a billion dollars poorer," he said. He didn't pull any punches and basically called me an idiot.

I needed to believe in myself — that I could actually create an enterprise. 

The Lesson

The lesson was that I needed to believe in myself — that I could actually create an enterprise. Had I stayed with Ariba as a founder, I would have been worth well over $1 billion today. But instead, I went down the conservative path.

As I saw Ariba doing well, it was always in the back of my mind that I had made a big mistake. I should have taken my own bet.

So when another opportunity came up to start a company, my wife and I both decided we were going to bet on this one. We took pretty much all of our savings and sold our house, moving into a much smaller one, and we put that money into our own little startup [SpecialtyMD]. And in 2000, we sold it to a public company.

Since then, I've been doing all kinds of different things, and I've [experienced] a number of exits that have had pretty decent outcomes for me. They weren’t as big as Ariba, but they've all been self-generated.

Although I had missed on Ariba, I [took a risk] with a second startup. The fact that it was successful gave me the chance to say, “I can start companies. I can build an enterprise that has value. I should believe in myself.”

Follow Pepperdata on Twitter at @pepperdata.

Photo courtesy of Ash Munshi

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