AppDynamics Founding CTO Bhaskar Sunkara Joins Decibel as Venture Partner

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We are excited to announce that Bhaskar Sunkara has joined Decibel as a Venture Partner. Bhaskar was the founding CTO of AppDynamics and served as the head of product and engineering since the founding of the company in 2008. For 10 years Bhaskar drove product strategy for the company and ultimately established AppDynamics as the category leader in Application Performance Monitoring (APM). Cisco acquired his company for $3.7 billion in 2017.  

He recently shared a personal Q&A on his transition from Cisco to Decibel:  

You are starting a new chapter in your career. Why now?

Entrepreneurship requires an incredible amount of perseverance and persistence. AppDynamics was founded over ten years ago, before the financial crisis, and we experienced many rough patches and pivots amid one of the worst economies in the past few decades. Nevertheless, we pushed the company forward and doubled down on the belief that all companies would need our software to manage their digital transformations as they embraced the cloud. 

When we were acquired by Cisco, we wanted to make sure that our employees found a real home and our business could successfully integrate into a much larger company. Two and a half years later, our product has become a pivotal part of Cisco’s long term strategy and our team has been put in a position to make a difference for customers. Though no job is ever done and I will miss working every day with our team, it is a great time for me to step back and reflect on all that we’ve done.  

I never thought AppDynamics would be where it is today. We have 2,500 customers, including many of the Fortune 100, thousands of employees, and offices across the world. As all entrepreneurs know, this wasn’t easy and there were significant personal and professional sacrifices made along the way. It takes enormous amounts of hard work and every employee at AppDynamics contributed to the success of the company and where it is now. 

What are you doing next? 

Though I’m leaving Cisco, I’m not going far. I’m joining Decibel as a venture partner. As some of you may know, Decibel is a new venture capital firm that hopes to be an innovator in the industry by combining the best of traditional independent venture capital with the entrepreneurial resources and scale of Cisco. When I joined Cisco two years ago, I was one of a handful of entrepreneurs privileged to play a role in helping the leadership team reimagine how Cisco could reach enterprise entrepreneurs and startups at their earliest stages. 

It was fun to imagine what a B2B entrepreneur today could do if they had help from one of the largest enterprise tech companies in the world from day one. It has been an incredible experience advising the team at Decibel for the past year, and as a venture partner I am looking forward to helping start-ups and entrepreneurs as a part of the broader Cisco family. We have already invested in four companies and it has been really fulfilling to help them in this new role.     

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There are many VC firms, early and late stage, to join in Silicon Valley. Why did you choose Decibel as your partner?

What excites me about Decibel is that has started with a clean sheet of paper and the potential to create an unfair advantage. The team is taking a huge bet on creating an independent VC firm that also has strong ties to an established technology company that can provide extensive resources to entrepreneurs at an early stage. B2B founders need a lot of help, and one thing they need the most is customers. 

I still remember how hard it was to get our first 20 customers, and I see every entrepreneur today trying to climb the same steep hill. Decibel works with Cisco to bring customers to start-ups with unprecedented scale, and if done right, can give the firm’s portfolio an incredible advantage. We have made dozens of introductions already for our small portfolio, and are just getting started.  

What areas of the tech world are most interesting to you?  

I’m a software geek and have spent my entire life in the software industry. Over the past 10 years I had a front row seat in watching software find its way into mainstream businesses, where now every major Fortune 1000 company has its own internal “software team.” Financial services, healthcare, retail, and even car companies are now software companies, and everyone needs to innovate faster while still keeping their core businesses running. 

We recently invested in a company called Blameless, which makes it easier for large distributed software teams to ship features rapidly without compromising on quality, reliability, and performance. This type of innovation is now called Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), and Blameless is an early leader that is creating the category. I’m very excited to help them grow! 

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Do you have any advice for founders who are going through the acquisition process? 

Unfortunately, most acquirers don’t know how to nurture and grow a company after they buy it. More often than not, acquirers won’t invest the right resources into an acquiree and its employees. My advice would be to make sure that the acquirer really feels invested in the long term growth of your startup, and understand how an acquirer will take care of your employees. 

We’ve been very fortunate at Cisco and we could see even before the acquisition that the company has a strong track record of keeping talent and letting large acquisitions grow and scale. After our acquisition, AppDynamics added 1,000 more employees, and doubled the size of its business, which is rare. I am also grateful that our employees have become a meaningful part of Cisco. 

How do you think your experience as a founder will help other founders?

Building AppDynamics was the hardest thing I have ever done. You are constantly second guessing your decisions, thinking of ways to reinvent your business, and just plain struggling. We needed to pivot early in our business and we were always iterating to stay alive. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and I’ve been through some of the same challenges that all founders face. Founding and building a startup is about the journey. At Decibel, I hope I can help founders navigate their own journeys through the lessons I have learned. There is true power in founders helping founders and Decibel embodies this.

Natasha Vianna