Jyoti Bansal’s third startup goes after code security

Jyoti Bansal founded AppDynamics, a company that Cisco bought in 2017 for $3.7 billion. He might have been content to rest on that big win, but instead he went on to launch Harness and a venture capital arm, Unusual Ventures. Today, he announced his newest company called Traceable, which attacks security at the code level.

Bansal says that security has traditionally looked at protecting the network and hardware, but today the attack surface is more at the software level, and that’s why he decided to start another company. “The software is becoming the primary attack vector for a lot of things. If you look at most of the sophisticated data breaches […], they are happening in the code, not in the network or the infrastructure anymore,” he explained.

Traceable uses software agents to monitor the code for anomalous behavior like someone moving data via an API in an unusual way. The solution leverages machine learning to learn over time what normal behavior looks like. As it builds that understanding, it can identify abnormal activity and flag it or shut it down.

It integrates in other tools like Slack and sends out automated warnings that something could be amiss. This could involve an action like letting the team know it’s shutting down API access for five or 10 minutes to allow someone to explore the problem. If it’s a mistake, the software learns something, but if there’s something wrong the team can continue to block access and fix it.

The company also announced $20 million in Series A funding from Unusual Ventures and Big Labs. It’s worth noting that Bansal runs both of these firms. He admits he’s a busy guy, but says running companies is what he loves to do. Even though he could have retired after selling AppDynamics, it’s simply not how he is wired.

“Some people work in some role and once they retire they’re going to do what they enjoy. What I realized is that building companies is what I enjoy,” he said.

As someone who has built three startups, Bansal sees diversity and inclusion as a key success factor, something you have to really work at. “You have to be proactive about this from your recruitment practices to how you try to bring different kinds of diversity in your team,” he said. One of the mistakes he says is that people tend to hire people like themselves, and he learned early on that looking for a “cultural fit” would encourage more homogenized teams. He eliminated that as a hiring filter early on at AppDynamics.

“What I realized is the culture fit idea is a bad thing because it becomes about things like ‘Am I going to grab a beer with this person’ and are they similar to me or someone who I can relate to? But that’s not a good thing really like because that reduces the diversity in your hiring and interview process,” he said.

He is not intimidated about launching a third company in the middle of the pandemic and a weakening economy. In fact, he launched AppDynamics in 2008 just two months before the crash. “In hindsight I felt like that was one of the best things that happened to me because it shaped who we were as a company — very customer obsessed, heavily focused on building the best product in the market and having a very strong culture inside the company. And that made us very successful,” he said.

He says he is trying to build a similar mindset at Harness and Traceable. To him, a recession tends to force a company to focus and weeds out companies that can’t do that. Traceable is his latest effort to solve a big problem, and pandemic or not, he’s moving forward.