How a UX advantage earned this cybersecurity startup an acquisition deal with Microsoft

Discover how a cybersecurity startup partnered with UXReactor to prototype an innovative product concept. Learn how the startup’s UX advantage paid off.

Executive Summary

In 2016, Balaji Parimi partnered with UXReactor on venture design for his cybersecurity startup. The engagement goal was to prototype an innovative product concept, then validate it with advisors and customers before using the proven prototype to raise venture funds.

Over eight weeks, UXReactor worked intensively to ideate, create workflows, wireframes, visual design, and branding. 

Balaji used the tangible, testable prototype to raise substantial seed funding in an oversubscribed round.

UXReactor continued to lead product design as Balaji publicly launched a groundbreaking Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) platform while raising additional funds. Even as the startup grew, UXReactor’s initial venture design stood the test of time: the system and brand remained essentially unchanged.

Within just five years, Balaji’s CIEM was acquired by Microsoft. The CloudKnox case study is a testament to the power of user experience design (paired with strong engineering) to create highly-profitable innovation.

The Challenge

When Balaji Parimi decided to build his startup, he knew he needed to differentiate his product based on user experience (UX).

Balaji was previously head of engineering at CloudPhysics (now part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise), a market-leading California SaaS firm and one of UXReactor’s past clients. During his time at CloudPhysics, we introduced Balaji to UXReactor’s process and focus.

After leaving CloudPhysics, Balaji recognized an opportunity in the cybersecurity market.

The shift to cloud computing has provided many upsides for organizations. One issue that has emerged from this shift, however, is a large increase in excessive permissions; these are a major cause of misconfigurations, and make businesses extra vulnerable to damaging cyber-attacks.
James Coker,
InfoSecurity Magazine

The security problem stems from a lack of visibility and control of employee access to software on the cloud. According to Balaji, 90% of access privileges are either unneeded or unused in most companies, and employers are wide open to accidental or malicious privilege misuse.

Balaji knew that software could solve the cybersecurity problem. He had a new kind of cloud security management platform in mind — one previously unconceived and untested.

To raise investments, Balaji knew he would need to prove the concept by creating a prototype. He approached UXReactor to collaborate on the venture design.

The Solution

Venture design takes a business idea from a back-of-the-napkin concept to a testable prototype. It’s rooted in a human-centered, agile, Lean UX approach and deeply research-driven.

Too many products are designed based on limited data about what customers, users, and the market demands. When UXReactor leads venture design, we use customer data to test and prove product-market fit before our clients invest heavily in innovation.

Satyam Kantamneni,
Managing Partner and Chief Experience Officer at UXReactor

In 2016, cybersecurity was a new domain for UXReactor — and a complex one. However, across enterprise-grade products (our specialty), there are commonalities. We leaned into our discovery process and rapidly unraveled the issues unique to cloud cybersecurity.

Balaji spent six weeks working intensively with the UXReactor team on venture design. To accelerate the process, Balaji was co-located with our team. Together, we rapidly ideated, created the workflows, wireframes, visual design, and prototyped Balaji’s Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM).

The experiences we designed included signup, login, sentry, configuration, user management, dashboard, audit trail, and the control center experience. These thoughtfully designed, research-based experiences added value to product engineering by making the tool easier and more desirable to use.

We also designed brand visual assets by the end of eight weeks, including a logo and style guide. Branding the CIEM was a departure from UXReactor’s usual line of work. However, we knew that the design layer would bring the experience to life for investors.

Then and today, our philosophy is to do whatever it takes to achieve the outcome.

When Balaji approached venture capitalists, he showcased a tangible and branded prototype with a proven product-market fit. Investors could see that the software was not only innovative but that it was testable, minimizing the risks to their investments.

As a result, Balaji’s seed round was oversubscribed. He had more offers than he could accept and was well-positioned to take the venture to the next level.

In 2018, Balaji publicly launched the CloudKnox platform and raised an additional $10.75M round.

The Results

A few short years after approaching UXReactor with a back-of-the-napkin idea, Balaji established CloudKnox as a CIEM leader. Within five years, Microsoft acquired Balaji’s startup for an undisclosed purchase price.

Today, Microsoft is taking a significant step toward this goal with the acquisition of CloudKnox Security, a leader in Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM)... This strengthens our comprehensive approach to cloud security.
Joy Chik,
Microsoft Identity Corporate Vice President

In acquiring CloudKnox, Microsoft is adding to its portfolio a groundbreaking platform that is markedly different and better than alternatives.

Specifically, it’s the only multi-cloud, hybrid cloud permissions management platform that provides complete visibility into privileged access, automated remediation, and continuous monitoring.

CloudKnox enables companies to confidently manage work on the cloud (embracing the benefits of remote work) while mitigating the risk of catastrophic security breaches.

The CloudKnox system (including the brand) is the same one we helped to build initially, which is a testament to the venture design process.

From concept to an impressive exit in three years, Balaji’s achievement is a prime example of how user-centered venture design can accelerate and de-risk innovation for startup founders and internal innovators alike.

In closing, we’ll leave you with Balaji’s words on the day the acquisition news went public:

Thank you, Satyam Kantamneni and the UXReactor team. You played a huge part in getting us off the ground.
Balaji Parimi,
Founder & CEO
CloudKnox Security

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