C-suite career advice: Kumar K. Goswami, Komprise

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? “If they don’t have any questions at the end of the interview, that’s a red flag.”


Name: Kumar K. Goswami

Company: Komprise

Job Title: Co-founder and CEO

Location: Campbell, California

Kumar K. Goswami is co-founder and CEO of Komprise, the industry’s only multi-cloud data management-as-a-service that allows enterprise IT organisations to easily analyse, mobilise, and access the right file and object data across on-premises and cloud storage. Based in Silicon Valley, Komprise has won numerous industry awards and recognition including Gartner Cool Vendor in Storage Technologies, GigaOm Outperformer and CRN Tech Innovator finalist in 2020. Prior to Komprise, Goswami held executive roles at both large companies and startups for over 25 years including co-founder and CEO of Kaviza (acquired by Citrix), VP Products at Citrix, Sr Director HP Labs, and President & COO of Kovair.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? It’s okay to fail. Entrepreneurship is hard and the stakes are high because your early employees, customers and investors are basically betting on you. As a result, entrepreneurs worry a lot about getting it right and about making the right call, which is very hard to do because you are doing something new and unchartered. I learned early on that it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to fail, as long as you learn from those mistakes and failures.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? VCs certainly have a lot of advice, but you have to be careful not to blindly follow it as a founder and early-stage CEO. At our first company in the dot-com era, the VCs were telling us to hire ahead of need. There was pressure, but we didn’t follow it completely and when the dot-com era, became the dot-bomb era we were in better shape than many. We’ve always tried to grow as our business grows.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? The most important first step is to get into a really good school. The people around you, the friends that you will meet, will stretch you. You can surround yourself with wonderful teachers and an excellent curriculum. You’ll learn how to learn. This foundation will get you far in your career, from both the connections you’ll make and the knowledge you will acquire.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? A career in IT and tech always made sense to me. If we go back to my early days, I earned a PhD in fault tolerant and distributed computing. When I was finishing up in the early 90’s, I knew I always wanted to do a startup. I didn’t just focus on the job, but also the location. This led me to choose a job in Silicon Valley. Once I got here, this desire to do a startup kept gnawing at me. I still remember reading an interview with the founder of Hotmail. His answer to the question of, “Why did you do it?” really hit home. He said, “I never wanted to look back and say dang it I never tried.” I couldn’t agree more and realised I had to give it a shot. That’s how this whole startup journey began for me.

What was your first job in IT/tech? My first job in tech was as a senior member of technical staff at Tandem (HP). I performed analysis of large-scale, distributed, fault tolerant systems and development of clustered networking systems. It was a good entry into the tech industry right after my PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? Working in IT is a slog and it’s easy to burn yourself out. Unfortunately, that’s not a misconception. If you want work-life balance, it’s not just a matter of saying, “I’m going to work less hours.” The problem is that IT is a 24-hour industry. You might easily find yourself working all night on a demo for the next day. In other industries, like construction, people can turn it off. Nobody is going to call you at 3 AM to complete that roof job. You can really be done for the day. Therefore, seeking balance takes time and maturity. You need to become more efficient in your work and that’s an individual journey.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? First, you need to be able to do the job of the person above you. Don’t just look at your area of focus but get involved more broadly. For example, if you are in product management, act like a CEO and get curious about other aspects of the business related to the product you are developing. You’ll see that senior managers will automatically start involving you more if they find you to be a valuable resource. They’ll ask you to fill in for someone who can’t make it to an important event, and this is how you will naturally grow inside your company. What’s important is to be engaged without being a threat or doing it in an overly competitive manner.  

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? Well, the journey never ends. When we first started there were three of us with some ideas and slides. Now we have 150 employees, great customers and we’re managing petabytes of data. From that perspective, Komprise is already a huge success, but it’s not over yet. I remember in the early days of the pandemic we wanted to ensure we came out of it stronger, and I feel we are doing that. We have the right team. We have a huge market. Now we just need to continue to execute and ensure our customers are wildly successful.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? In my first startup, I had no balance. There was no such thing as a weekend or vacation. I burned out. Nowadays I do turn off. You can’t let work become your life. You have to maintain certain boundaries, and this requires that you hire great leaders whom you can trust. But that’s a process. You can’t just hire someone and let go. Similarly, the new leader has to understand that they’re coming in and taking on something you’ve always done and there needs to be a transition period.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I spent time thinking about this question and I don’t think I’d change anything. While looking for a job after graduating, I asked myself what I really wanted to do and made sure that the job I selected would take me towards my goal. I wanted to do a startup and though I had a great position in an Austin company, I took a job that was not as good of a fit, but which would bring me to Silicon Valley where I felt I’d have a better chance of eventually doing a startup. I think I made the right choice.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? It all depends on what you want to do. Do you want to be a technician or an engineer? Coding bootcamps are fine if you strictly want to be a programmer. They will teach you how to code in a specific language. It’s a good start, but a computer science degree will provide you the fundamentals so you can learn any language and design sophisticated software systems. Ultimately, it depends on what you want to do and what makes you happy.

How important are specific certifications? In the world of IT administration, they are useful. But if you are a computer scientist building product, I don’t think certifications are necessary.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The first one is “head room.” When I interview someone, I am trying to understand if they are sharp and can learn on the job and extend themselves. Do they have the fundamentals, do they think well, and can they build on what they learn? Next, I look for passion and intensity.  This can take someone a long way. Are they looking for a job or a place to build and create something amazing? And finally, is the individual someone who will be able to work with me and others. Will they be a team player?   

What would put you off a candidate? This one is really hard, because we want to always hire the best, but we found early on that the best employee is a team player. Someone who is really smart but does not get along with others can be toxic to a startup. It’s important to share our core values and our culture with every new employee when they join; a star team outweighs star athletes.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? If they don’t have any questions at the end of the interview, that’s a red flag. That means they haven’t thought things through or maybe they didn’t prepare. It makes me think they’re not mature enough. I may excuse the fresh out of school types but if you’ve been around the block and this job is important to you, you should have some questions. Secondly, be honest and straight up about who you are and what you want in your next role. Ultimately, you want to be in a position which fits your needs and those of the company. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  It’s better to have technical skills, because I feel you can develop the business skills. In the process of living life, we are all doing a business. We have to make money and pay bills and manage a household and develop relationships. It is much harder to develop the technical skills on the job. It’s also a lot easier to get an MBA part-time if needed.