After selling his startup for a life-changing $3.7 billion, Jyoti Bansal launched a VC firm and two high-value startups. Why?


By Allie Garfinkle May 14, 2024 at 12:50 PM GMT+1

Sometime in 2017, Jyoti Bansal was on his couch watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi. 

In the first three minutes of the documentary, a masterpiece about excellence and obsession, sushi chef Jiro Ono speaks right into the camera: 

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Ono was a steely 85 at the time of the movie, and his philosophy struck Bansal, then at his own crossroads. Bansal had recently sold AppDynamics for $3.7 billion in a dramatic pre-IPO deal. The day before the company went public, Cisco had upped the ante enough to get to a yes. It was a triumph, and a kind of loss.

“I remember being at the party after, celebrating, we’d sold the company for a pretty good price, and that was a high point,” said Bansal. “Then I came home, and I was depressed, thinking ‘this is the end.’”

After working through his bucket list (Himalayas hiking and Norwegian fjords, for example), he was back on his couch, and not actually sure what he was supposed to be doing. As in, with his life. 

“I was really doing some soul-searching at the time, after selling AppDynamics,” Bansal told me. “And if you look at the movie, it really isn’t just about the outcome, it’s about the process of getting better and better.”

He tells me the sale of AppDynamics was both a high and low point of his career. On one hand, the sale helped mint 400 millionaires out of AppDynamics employees and delivered killer returns for investors. On the other hand, he felt like he hadn’t finished the job. 

And, for many entrepreneurs, this is about where the story would end. But not for Bansal. He went on to co-found software delivery company Harness in 2017. And, for many entrepreneurs, it would stop there. But in 2018 Bansal went on to cofound Unusual Ventures, and then, in 2019, he cofounded API security startup Traceable AI. 

As if on cue, Harness and Traceable (Bansal is the CEO of both) have each reached new milestones in recent weeks. Fortune has exclusively learned that Harness has raised $150 million in financing from First Citizens-owned Silicon Valley Bank and Hercules Capital. Harness, which has more than $100 million in ARR, is valued at $3.7 billion, and Traceable (last valued at $500 million) this month announced that it had raised a $30 million funding round.

And, lest you forget, this guy does have three jobs—as cofounder and entrepreneur partner of a VC firm, Bansal is also advising founders and the firm has done a few deals this year, including Traceable, Theia Insights, Navro, and Qdrant. 

The ‘Elon Musk of enterprise software’ (sort of)

This sounds atypical, sure. But how anomalous is Bansal? Very, said Menlo Ventures partner Matt Murphy, an investor in both Harness and AppDynamics. 

“You could count the entrepreneurs on two hands that have been able to do something like this, maybe one,” Murphy told Fortune. “Jack Dorsey is the best example. I know Jobs started multiple companies, but it was Apple that was successful… You have a guy like Andy Bechtolsheim who’s founded multiple successful companies, but he’s done that over a very long period of time, and Jyoti’s done it in a relatively short period of time.”

Bechtolsheim recently settled an insider trading case, without admitting or denying the allegations, so he’s not necessarily an ideal role model. Another famous (and controversial) name comes up, twice. 

“I look at him as the Elon Musk for B2B businesses,” said Sanjay Nagaraj, Traceable cofounder and Harness investor. “A lot more integrity and humility, that’s the biggest difference.”

I tell Bansal this, starting only with “the Elon Musk for B2B businesses,” and he shudders humorously: “I hope Sanjay said something nice after that!” It’s a comparison that came up again.

“I tease Jyoti that he’s the Elon Musk of enterprise software,” said Unusual Ventures cofounder John Vrionis, who’s known Bansal for 17 years and was the first check into AppDynamics back when he was at Lightspeed. “But I’d finish that with the reality that he’s not super weird, or extreme,” Vrionis added. “The part of him that’s Musk is that Traceable will also be a multi-billion company. I have zero doubt. And how many people have done that?”

Rinse and repeat

Because so few founders have minted back-to-back unicorns, it’s not easy to choose something or someone to compare Bansal to. And that leads to a natural question: What exactly is Bansal’s superpower (if we must use such language)? Everyone kind of has a different answer.

“He’s the best entrepreneur I’ve ever worked with in terms of finding product-market fit, and that’s the hardest thing in venture capital,” said Murphy. “There are all kinds of great ideas and good products that, for whatever reason, don’t land.. Jyoti has started these three companies that had traction right out-of-the-gate.”

To Steve Harrick, IVP general partner, Bansal’s ability to systematically break down his own success makes him remarkable—and allows him to repeatedly attract exceptional people.

“What he’s done is he’s accumulated all the components that it takes to build a really good high-growth company,” said Harrick, who’s known Bansal for more than ten years and–fun fact–once roomed with him on a fly fishing trip. “He knows the right lawyers, the right venture capitalists, the right software engineers… People want to work for Jyoti Bansal companies, so he gets this incredible technical talent. He has all these components in place. It’s almost like an artist who’s worked all their life, and has the oil, and the canvas, and everything else. And he just wants to paint another painting.”

IVP has the distinction of being the only investor to have backed all three of Bansal’s companies. And Harrick wants me to understand that backing a founder running multiple companies at once is exceedingly abnormal for IVP—and incredibly specific to Bansal. That’s high conviction, I say. 

“It is high conviction,” said Harrick. “I do have to confess it’s the first time I’ve ever backed anybody to run two companies… I think we’ve only done that once before in the 22 years I’ve been here, and only with entrepreneurs we know. Because at that stage, you’re betting on the people more than anything. And he is that good.”

Harness chief people officer Luan Lam, who previously was at AppDynamics, says that while Bansal is an intense manager, he also offers a lot of freedom.

“He identifies experts in the field and basically gives them the keys to the kingdom, their own books of business, and they go run it,” said Lam.

To Nagaraj, it comes down to Bansal’s “clarity of thinking—that was there from day one: ‘here’s the way I want to do it, this is how you build a product and a company.’”

Since everyone has a theory, I may as well offer up my own: That Bansal is an astonishing goal-setter. At dinner, each of us with a glass of Brunello, I watched him work backwards and meticulously break down precisely how Harness is going to get to $1 billion in revenue, in the casual way that most people describe their commute. 

“His ability to set vision far exceeds anyone I’ve worked with,” said Sid Choudhury, Harness SVP and general manager, who also worked at AppDynamics. “I’ve worked with tens of founders by now and I haven’t seen anybody like him, who not only can do the day-to-day work… but can continue to execute a grand vision every day for ten years—that’s where he’s an outlier in my opinion.”

Software, lab-grown meat, or sushi?

The fact that Bansal was able to develop these skills was not a given. He grew up in a small town in India (he’s careful to distinguish that a small town in the U.S. is very different from a small town in India). 

“I had my first computer access when I was in grade 11 or something,” he said. “My dad ran what you would call a small mom-and-pop shop… Growing up in India, we had a lot of power outages where the electricity just went off, and my dad had this rule that any time there was a power outage, we had to do multiplication tables. ‘Kids, become good, because that’s what you have to do.’”

(A wrinkle I noticed, as I talked to eight of Bansal’s employees, colleagues, and investors: Many of them also come from places people rarely leave.)

Bansal’s career has also been shaped by downturns. After graduating IIT Delhi, he came to Silicon Valley, found a crowded place to live and a job—then the dotcom crash happened just a few months thereafter. Later, looking to launch AppDynamics, he struggled to fundraise and initially was rejected by 30 VCs. Bansal would launch AppDynamics in April 2008, and, by September, the Great Financial Crisis would materialized.

From there, through the AppDynamics exit, coupled with the combined $4.2 billion valuation of Harness and Traceable, it’s a pretty sterling American Dream story—Murphy recalls that, by the time he was fundraising for AppDynamics the second time, Bansal’s hair was “spiked up” and he had a different aura about him.

“AppDynamics was more like the training phase of Jyoti, and Harness is more like Jyoti as the highly-trained model that knows exactly what to do,” said Murphy. “And like any good model, he’s constantly learning and evaluating.”

There’s a work-in-progress air about Bansal—for all his success, his life still has outstanding questions and ambitions. Will he ever step outside enterprise software into, I don’t know, lab-grown meat, he muses aloud in one of our conversations? Bansal also doesn’t necessarily like being a VC in the traditional sense. He enjoys working with founders but is happy to leave fund management to Vrionis. Still, that leaves Bansal as the CEO of two high-value startups and the cofounder of a VC firm that’s deploying a $522 million third fund. 

And that gets to the essential enigma of this 46-year-old entrepreneur. Okay, one startup after selling another, sure. But two, and a VC firm? Where is this all going? And why?

In a roundabout way, I felt like I found my best answer to that question in Chris Bleidorn, executive chef and owner at Birdsong, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in which Bansal is an investor. 

“At the restaurant, we employ 30 people, we cook a ten to 15 course menu using the best ingredients, the best stemware, and we’re not trying to be our best,” said Bleidorn. “I often think Jyoti thinks like this as well, but he’ll never say it: We don’t try to be our best because that sets a limit. That means there’s a ceiling. We try to be the best, and that’s infinite. There’s no end goal. Yes, that’s exhausting and that’s tiring, but also it never stops.”

At another San Francisco restaurant, I confess to Bansal: That as I try to find meaning “in the day-to-day trenches of adult life,” as David Foster Wallace has called it, the pursuit of excellence gives me purpose. He tells me it resonates, and it brings us back to Jiro Dreams of Sushi.   

“I love this whole concept of the pursuit of excellence,” Bansal said. “[Jiro’s] just running a small restaurant in a train station, and all he cares about is getting better, and he enjoys doing it… I’m really inspired by the clarity of that, and the realization that my craft is building products, and the business around the product.”

I press the metaphor: So, to be clear, your sushi is enterprise software?

“Not the most exciting product, I know–lucky me!… But it’s half the tech world, right?”

So it is. But in the end Bansal’s why isn’t about the what, so much as the process, bringing us right back to Jiro, who told his documentarians, eyes boring into the camera:

“I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

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Allie Garfinkle (Author)

Allie Garfinkle is a senior finance reporter at Fortune, covering venture capital, private equity, startups, and M&A. She writes Fortune’s daily deals newsletter Term Sheet. Previously, Allie covered Big Tech at Yahoo Finance for print and broadcast, and started her career at Financial Times Specialist, The Deal, and Forbes. Additionally, Allie has helped produce a number of PBS Frontline’s business documentaries, including Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover and The Power of the Fed. She’s also moderated at conferences such as SXSW, Collision, and Shoptalk. She received her master’s in business and economic reporting from New York University, and her bachelor’s from the University of Chicago. Follow all of Allie’s stories here. To leave Allie a tip, find her on encrypted messaging app Signal at 786-683-1146, or at

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