If you asked Erkang Zheng what he wanted to be as a kid, tech founder didn’t top the list. Growing up in China and then immigrating to the United States during high school, Zheng always wanted to be a doctor.
His choice to enter computer science was initially based on his impatience—he decided that becoming a doctor took too long. But in a way, Zheng—who is now the CEO and Founder of Morrisville-based JupiterOne—sees himself as a doctor of cyberspace.
Just last month, the cyber asset management startup reached “unicorn” status after closing a $70 million Series C funding round at a valuation above $1 billion. This brought its total raised to more than $119 million. In just two years, JupiterOne reached this lofty valuation while growing to 150 employees. [Editor’s Note: We first profiled JupiterOne in October, 2020, and named the company to our inaugural Startups To Watch list in 2021.]
Before JupiterOne, Zheng had spent years as an engineer and managing global teams on the security side. JupiterOne was his own answer to the challenges he faced in his work life, unable to find a platform that already existed.
So he built one himself and quickly found he was not the only one experiencing his particular pain point. To date, JupiterOne bills itself as a cloud-native software platform to deliver knowledge, transparency and confidence to every digital operation in every organization, large or small.
The unicorn valuation is tremendous validation in today’s market, Zheng said, and not something he was necessarily expecting to reach yet.
“This is something that I always hoped that we would achieve someday, and it happened sooner than I could imagine,” Zheng said. “It is an amazing milestone.”
He added, “Our focus is really more about how much more value can we create for the community and for our customers, and less so on the valuation itself, which is just a number at this point. It certainly doesn’t hurt. It helps us to have sufficient funding to have the runway to get to the next level.”
And that next level? To be 20 times as big as they are today, Zheng said, and continue to provide revolutionary approaches to cybersecurity, including being able to serve all organizations, whether big or small.
By next year, Zheng expects the startup to reach 300 employees and expand into international markets.
“It’s not just the idea but the implementation of it, the execution of going to market and the timing of the market readiness for a solution like that,” Zheng said. “All of those happen to line up, and that’s allowed us to become who we are and able to accelerate so quickly in the last couple of years.”
Zheng, two years into his rapid startup growth, advises other founders to focus on a few things early on: team culture, product-market fit and execution.
“Finding the product-market fit is very critical,” Zheng said. “I think execution many times is a lot more meaningful but a lot more difficult than just the initial idea. Many people have great ideas, but is the idea for the right time? And can you actually execute on the idea to bring it into people’s hands in a meaningful way?”
Zheng said his greatest accomplishment so far has been building JupiterOne, but in order to get here, he had to make decisions that at the time were not the easiest to make, like leaving established companies IBM and Fidelity.
“You’re faced with certain decisions, and you really have to think about, is that the right decision for the long run,” Zheng said. “What is the long-term potential of that? And it may be really uncomfortable at the time of making the move. It could be perceived as even a step backwards.”
But in Zheng’s case, his moves into smaller roles were advantageous because they led him to where he is now, where he sees his work as delivering security as a basic foundation.
“When I started to build JupiterOne two years ago, one thing that we said is, security is a basic right,” Zheng said. “I think in the digital space, having access to the right solutions, to be safe, to be secure for an organization, to me, almost feels like having access to food and clean water as a human being.”
The JupiterOne vision since Day One has not changed, and while there’s still much work ahead, Zheng is confident they are on the right track.
“We’re still on the same path to achieve that vision,” Zheng said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot closer today than we were two years ago.”