Culture

Unstoppable: How Belief Helped Fuel the AppDynamics Journey from Start-Up to Market Leader

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Summary
Yesterday marked AppDynamics' 10-year anniversary, and as we reflect back on this journey and the milestones we’ve achieved - there's always been one constant: belief. Belief is without a doubt one of the most significant factors that has contributed to our success.

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

― Gail Devers

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the founding of AppDynamics on April 1, 2008. Coincidentally, it was also the five-year anniversary of my first day as a full-time employee at the company. And a couple weeks back, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of AppDynamics’ acquisition by Cisco.

Looking back on the past 10 years, I’m amazed by how far we’ve come and the milestones we’ve achieved. From the early years when our Founder Jyoti Bansal, Founding Team Member & CTO Bhaskar Sunkara, and a handful of other engineers were busy writing code while AppDynamics was in “stealth mode,” to closing our first deal in October 2009 with Yap (who purchased just 10 agents), to opening our Dallas and Bracknell offices in 2012 & 2013 respectively, to our first acquisition in 2013 – our first five years were full of fight, hope, and passion. And the last 5 years…well, there’s been a lot of excitement. We entered new markets in EMEA in 2013 and India in 2014, closed our $158 million Series F Preferred Stock financing and opened our India R&D center in 2015, launched a game-changing product with Business iQ in 2016, hopped on the road to IPO, and then, in perhaps the biggest surprise, were acquired by Cisco in 2017. There hasn’t been a dull moment.

Today, we have nearly 2,000 employees globally. Our valuation at the time of the acquisition was $3.7 billion, representing one of the largest VC-backed M&A outcomes in history, and we have continued to experience incredible growth since the closing. It’s been a remarkable journey, and I’m so thankful to all AppDynamics employees – past and present – for their dedication and constant drive for excellence, and to our customers, investors, and Cisco for their partnership.

Like any epic voyage, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. At our Sales Kickoff a few weeks back, Jeremy Duggan, AppDynamics’ General Manager of EMEA and my longtime colleague, reminded us of one of these lessons: Belief is without a doubt one of the most significant factors that has contributed to our success. And it’s not unique to us – belief is vital to success in any field or journey. Here are a few examples to show what I mean:

Sir Roger Bannister

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During his presentation to our employees, Jeremy told the story of the recently-deceased Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run the mile in less than four minutes in 1954. At the time, many believed that it was physically impossible to break the four-minute barrier, and that it was foolish to even try. But Bannister believed, trained, and studied relentlessly to become the first to do it. Amazingly, once Bannister broke the mark, others started to break it within weeks, and more and more people would break it within the next few years. The impossible had become possible based on one thing – belief.

Gail Devers

Another great example is Gail Devers, who was training for the Summer Olympics in 1988 when she began suffering from severe health issues. She was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100 meter hurdles that year as her condition continued to deteriorate. Two years later in 1990, Devers was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. The radiation treatment that followed caused her feet to swell and blister to the point that she could barely walk, and a doctor even considered amputating them. Through it all, Devers clung to her dream, going on to become a three-time Olympic gold medalist – the second woman ever to successfully defend an Olympic 100-meter title, and a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. On the relationship between belief and achievement, Devers said, “Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

Sandy Lerner

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These stories go far beyond the world of sports. In fact, you can look at any field and find that belief is often the foundational element for achieving success. The tech industry, for instance, is filled with case studies. One of my favorites involves Sandy Lerner, who co-founded Cisco 33 years ago with her then-husband, Len Bosack, and was able to reinvent herself and repeatedly find success in the years that followed. In fact, she went on to found and later sell a cosmetics company, write a book called “Second Impressions” (a historically accurate sequel to “Pride and Prejudice”), and found the Women in Mathematical Sciences Initiative at Shenandoah University. Today, she owns an organic farm and helps run a foundation. Through a wide variety of ventures, her recipe for success has remained the same – find a vision, believe, create a plan, execute against that plan, rinse and repeat.

As for AppDynamics, there are countless examples where belief has fueled our journey. In many ways, the company was founded on belief, and it was belief that carried us successfully through every challenge and milestone along the way. Jyoti started the company as a 20-something engineer-turned-entrepreneur. He pitched AppDynamics (then called Singularity) to about 20 VCs and was rejected at every turn until our friends at Greylock Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners finally signed on to invest. Bhaskar, our early sales leaders Jeremy, Dali Rajic, and Joe Sexton, our President & CEO, David Wadhwani, Elise Leung, Amy Hansen, Danny Winokur, and countless other engineers, product managers, sales reps, sales engineers, customer success managers, marketers, accountants, lawyers, and others across the company left more secure jobs, took on major risk, and made substantial sacrifices in order to join. Why? Ask any of us, and the answer is sure to center on belief – the belief that we could build the AppDynamics vision together, shape a new market, and create something that will hopefully continue to inspire others to believe and chase their dreams for years to come.

There’s a funny thing about belief – it gets easier the more you do it. Decades of research in the field of psychology on self-efficacy (one’s confidence in executing courses of action in a wide variety of situations) has shown that belief, combined with subsequent success, creates a feedback loop that increases self-efficacy and makes it more likely that a person will attempt and achieve something in the future [1],[2]. As the novelist David Storey put it, “Self-confidence is the memory of success.”

Even better, belief isn’t purely innate. It’s a skill in the sense that it can be learned and refined through practice. Muhammad Ali famously said, “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” He was right.  Through affirmation, visualization [3], meditation [4], goal-setting [5], and other habits, you can build belief over time.

So dream. Believe. Create a plan, and act on it in order to make your dream a reality. Then do it again, and you’ll be truly unstoppable. Best wishes as you build your dreams. I, for one, will be rooting for you.

And to all of the AppDynamos out there, congratulations on an incredible 10 years. From the time Jyoti founded the company, you’ve changed the market and had a massive impact. Just last week, Gartner named AppDynamics a Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for the sixth consecutive year and placed it highest on the Ability to Execute Axis. With Business iQ, we are providing our customers with correlated visibility into application performance, user experience, and business outcomes, and bringing IT and the business together like never before.

For most startups, acquisition marks the end of their story, but for AppDynamics, it has been a new beginning. Now, with the backing of Cisco, we are in the unique position to redefine how our customers operate, giving them even greater visibility into their full IT stack, allowing them to optimize their digital businesses faster and more intelligently than ever before, and creating what we call the “Central Nervous System for the Enterprise.” That is our goal as we start our next 10-year journey. And as we do this, we have the opportunity to help Cisco make one of the most significant transformations in history as it continues to move more of its business to software and recurring revenue.

In other words, the dream is still out there, and it’s bigger than ever. Let’s go after it in our next decade. It all starts with belief.

Sources:

  • [1] Scherer, M., Maddux, J. E., Mercandante, B., Prentice-Dunn, S., Jacobs, B., & Rogers, R.W. (1982).  The self-efficacy scale: Construction and validation. Psychological Reports, 51, 670.
  • [2] Chen, G., Gully, S. M., & Eden, D. (2001).  Validation of a new general self-efficacy scale. Organizational Research Methods, 4(1), 77–79. 
  • [3] Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “Self-affirmations may calm jitters, boost performance.” ScienceDaily, 17 April 2015. 
  • [4] Walton, Alice G. “7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain”. Forbes.  Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  • [5] Bandura, Albert (1993).  Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning.  Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.