Skyflow shoots for stars with plan to fix Web privacy

A Silicon Valley startup wants to use the API economy to simplify security.


In the penultimate series of TV sitcom Silicon Valley, chastened startup geek Richard Hendricks pivots his troubled company Pied Piper to focus on inventing a new, decentralised internet. The fictional company even dedicates a section of its website explaining its mission to rid the Web of “a slew of unwanted side effects – fake news, data collection, and constant surveillance to name a few”.     

I thought of Hendricks’ audacious plan when talking recently to Anshu Sharma, CEO of Skyflow, a Silicon Valley startup about his plan to fix a similar area for the internet and Web in the shape of privacy.

Sharma has an interesting CV. Educated in the Bengali city of Kharagpur, India, he came to the US to take a Masters in Computer Science before joining Oracle for nine years, initially hacking code and rising to group product manager for SaaS before leaving for Salesforce in 2008 to become VP of product management. In 2014, he learned new tricks as a partner at Storm Ventures funding enterprise SaaS newcomers.

Sharma says over the years he met plenty of companies trying to apply to the Salesforce model to challenges but “the problem I kept bumping into was security. I thought: if it’s hard for me at the largest cloud company in the world, then it must be hard for a company building a banking app.”

In an echo of Scott McNealy’s notorious 1999 statement (“You have zero privacy anyway … get over it!”) he adds that the prevailing attitude was “you can either have privacy or great apps and you need to give up all your expectations of privacy”. But he demurs: “You can respect someone’s privacy and the way to do it is to stop thinking about the ways you did things in the past.”

API and you know it

Effectively, the route that Skyflow is pursuing in is via the API Economy or, as its clever marketing tag has it, it is asking the question “What if privacy had an API?”

Business customers can run their workflows on fully encrypted data in a virtual private cloud and store ultra-sensitive data via an API, with Skyflow arguing that even in the event of a breach that data could not be surfaced. Customers and pilots say the model is fast and works, acting as a sort of enterprise vault enabled via an API in the same way that a Stripe works for payments or Twilio for communications.

But building that out in the real world involves a million obstacles, not least of which is hiring some of the world’s best engineers. But here Sharma argues that the attraction offered by Skyflow lies in the sheer scale of the problem, making it a magnet for the most ambitious talent. The first 40 engineers were hired before a single sales or marketing person. If you can’t always offer “huge financial rewards then do something that’s never been done before”, he says.

Sharma has some good mentors and experience to call on. At Oracle he learned the very Larry Ellison philosophy that “every individual has a way of failing they need to become aware of”.

At Oracle, he worked with Dheeraj Pandey, who went on to build hybrid cloud datacentre break-out success story, Nutanix. “What I learned from Dheeraj was that vision is really important. Get that wrong and a pivot won’t help.”

And later there was Salesforce: “When I met Marc [Benioff] he told me, ‘You might think you’re thinking big, but you need to think bigger’.” Suitably encouraged to aim high, Sharma asked himself “How would a company like Apple think about privacy?” and he cites Netflix’s data architecture another inspiration.


Today, with product commercially available, Sharma is at the early stage of an effort that build on that vision, but signs of progress abound. Founded in January 2019, the company raised a May 2020 seed investment of $7.5m from investors who included former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, followed by an additional $17.5m round in December last year. A crop of fellow former Salesforce executives including Skyflow’s chief product officer and another Salesforce alumnus, ex-Heroku CMO Paul Kopacki. Early adopters appear to lean to healthcare, B2C companies and fintech. Revenues aren’t disclosed but they have climbed 8x in two quarters.

Sharma says he shares the dream of most of his peers: an IPO and the chance to build a Valley company for the long-term.