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Propelo: Operational Excellence for Modern Software Teams

Today, we’re excited to announce our investment in Propelo, a rapidly growing engineering excellence platform which helps modern engineering teams accelerate their software delivery. As most industries transform to become software-driven, engineering organizations are leading the charge to make digital transformation a reality. However, the proliferation of DevOps tools and hybrid work has made it more challenging for engineering leaders to run their teams effectively. Propelo’s mission is to empower software teams to reach data-backed decisions faster while providing intelligent automation playbooks to reduce the task burden on developers.

Propelo was founded by serial entrepreneur Nishant Doshi who previously founded CirroSecure. In 2015, Palo Alto Networks acquired CirroSecure where he eventually served as the company’s VP of Engineering, managing a team of over 100 software developers.

We asked Nishant to share his vision for how Propelo can empower modern engineering teams to supercharge their software development in our founder Q&A:

What was your upbringing like?

My parents moved from Mumbai, India to New York in the 1970s only to move back to India when my father decided to open up his own business. He was a true entrepreneur challenging massive, multinational chemical corporations in India by building products that were more in-line with customer’s needs.

Many of his customers were textile mills who had to buy all sorts of different products from the major manufacturers just to clean or dye their fabric. My father’s product solved all those needs with one elegant solution, saving the textile mills a ton of time and energy.

I remember driving around with my dad to meet with customers, collect payments, and see how he ran his business. By high school, I knew all my dad’s customers on a first-name basis and was helping out my mom operate the admin side of the business.

Seeing the highs and lows of building your own company from the ground up taught me a lot about entrepreneurship at an early age. When I was 8 years old, the chemical plant burned down. Thankfully, no one was injured, but my dad’s business was gone. He had to choose between moving back to the U.S. and working for someone, or starting his business from scratch again. He chose the latter and rebuilt the company into a successful venture. Decades later, he’s recently handed the reins of the company to someone else so he can finally enjoy retirement.

Pictures from Nishant’s father’s chemical factory after the unfortunate fire.

How did you first get involved in engineering?

I think I always knew I’d be an entrepreneur. But, I wasn’t always sure what avenue of entrepreneurship I’d pursue. Solving technical problems and finding ways to make things faster, more streamlined, and delight customers always excited me when working in my father’s business. Engineering ticked all those boxes I was looking for.

I graduated with an electronics engineering degree and went on to pursue a Master’s in engineering with the hope of being a wireless network or telecom engineer. Those plans changed when I audited a software and security course.

It was late 90s/early 2000s, so the internet was still relatively new for the average consumer. There was a whole world of threats, vulnerabilities, patches, and protocols that I could dive into. Chasing that high of discovering a vulnerability and fixing it was intoxicating, more so than electrical or chemical engineering.

After an internship at a boutique cybersecurity firm in Los Angeles, I was hooked and joined the world of software.

Nishant at Boxwork 2015. CirroSecure (founded by Nishant) was eventually acquired by Palo Alto Networks.

What led you to focusing on the productivity of engineers and the organizations they work for?

My experience working at large security institutions like Symantec and Palo Alto Networks pushed me towards engineering operations. Working at Symantec was like being in a digital Emergency Room, diagnosing problems and solving them as quickly as possible to reduce the surface area of a possible security threat. When my previous startup, CirroSecure, was acquired by Palo Alto Networks in 2015, I became the VP of Engineering, managing a team of over 100 engineers. My focus quickly moved from coding to how we could empower the people writing code to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently.  

There’s a familiar pattern that happens in most tech companies. When a large or high profile customer has an issue, a salesperson might escalate that problem to engineering and ask for a senior-level engineer to triage the issue and meet with the customer. In the end, it might turn out that it was a configuration issue on the customer’s side that caused the problem. But, that senior-level engineer was still pulled away from their work and sacrificed valuable time that they could have used to work on new products or solutions for the business.

Seeing those scenarios play out, I knew that I wanted to find a way to use data to help engineering teams tackle those challenges. That’s where the idea for Propelo first started.

What problem is Propelo trying to solve?

For engineering leaders, it can be incredibly difficult to answer a question like, “What should my team focus on?” without relying on your intuition. Assembling the data you need to answer that question with substantive metrics means building a pipeline of data between Salesforce, JIRA, GitHub and a litany of other systems your business relies on. Even after you spend time building that pipeline, you have to make sure you’re looking at the right data.

I thought that this should be much, much easier. There was clearly a need for a ready-made solution and there was nothing in the market at the time. So, I took my learnings from managing and scaling large engineering teams in fast-moving environments and made a product that helps engineering organizations make data-driven decisions. This allows them to run faster and unlock productivity by bringing together two important elements - the ability to identify bottlenecks quickly and solve for these bottlenecks using automated action.

Nishant with the Decibel Team, 2021.

What are AI, automation, and data’s roles in allowing engineering teams to work more efficiently?

In the past decade, our industry focused on adopting new DevOps workflows like CI / CD or new systems to help us scale faster. In the next decade, hyper-productivity will be the new metric of success for engineering teams. How can we make DevOps faster and engineering more data-driven to achieve an organization's goals? That’s going to be the new competitive advantage for companies.

Propelo uses AI, automation, and the right data to help teams find bottlenecks they might not have been aware of, or spotlight new areas they should be focusing on. I feel like I’m taking a bit of wisdom from my dad’s business and trying to deliver a product that comes ready made for customers and solves a litany of problems customers face, all at once. I believe that’ll be the key engineering organizations need to achieve hyper-productivity for the increasingly demanding world of software.

The Team at a recent team outing.