Banaras to the States: The Story of Jay Chaudhry

“Indian-born cyber tycoon Jay Chaudhry climbs into world’s richest list”

– The Economic Times

This headline that hit the world news in March 2019 has a story that began 60 years ago in a quiet Indian village nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is a story about a village boy who — through a combination of luck, hard work, and measured risk-taking — has become an inspiring story for millions of Indians.

Jay Chaudhry was born in 1958, in a small village in Himachal Pradesh, India. His parents were farmers, with a modest plot of land that they used to grow wheat, corn, and sugarcane. Until he was in his late teens, the village had no electricity or running water. His high school headmaster picked up on his raw talent and started challenging him to excel in his studies. Jay didn’t realize it at the time, but education would become his springboard to a different life.

After completing pre-university as a gold medalist at Himachal University, Jay set his sights on joining an engineering college. He recalls his path as “more accidental than designed or chosen.” He was unfamiliar with the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at the time, but another teacher who saw his potential encouraged him to apply. He was soon admitted to IIT (BHU), Varanasi, and became the first in his village to go to an engineering college.

At IIT (BHU), Jay studied Electronics Engineering alongside some of the best and the brightest students across India. He made lifelong friendships, some of which would play a big role later in his career. It was popular at the time to go to an American university to earn a Master's degree, and Jay became part of that trend. He received a scholarship from the University of Cincinnati, which would cover his full tuition, as well as a grant from Tata Industries, which would cover the plane ticket to the United States. At the University of Cincinnati, Jay would go on to earn an MS in Computer Engineering, an MS in Industrial Engineering, and an MBA in Marketing.

In the late 1990s, the internet was beginning to take off in the US. Netscape, a pioneer internet startup had just debuted in public markets with a blockbuster IPO, inspiring a generation of young entrepreneurs. By this time, Jay had built up a decade of experience in technology across engineering, sales, marketing, and management roles in large companies like IBM, NCR, and Unisys. He was fascinated by the Internet and saw an opportunity to provide services to help companies navigate the new security challenges they would face with internet technologies. After pitching his ideas to venture capitalists and failing to raise funding, he made a joint decision with his wife, Jyoti, to put their own life savings into the startup. They called it SecureIT. Jay managed sales and marketing, and Jyoti quit her job to manage finances, human resources, and company operations. The bet paid off. In 1998, the company was acquired by VeriSign in a stock deal of about $70 million, and 70 of their 80 employees became millionaires.

The experience with SecureIT would be just the beginning. Money had never been the ultimate goal for Jay, but the sense of accomplishment that came with bringing an idea to life was energizing, and that drive would only continue.

In 1998, Jay founded his next startup, CoreHarbor. CoreHarbor partnered with Ariba, then a leader in eProcurement software, to offer their software as a managed service. We now know this model as software-as-a-service (SaaS), but the idea of hosting and managing software for customers was novel at the time. CoreHarbor was later acquired by AT&T.

In 2000, Jay founded CipherTrust next, turning his sights back to Internet security. The company pioneered an email security gateway appliance to protect corporate email systems from security threats like malware, spam, and phishing, as well as protecting the company from rogue employees leaking confidential information. In 2006, CipherTrust was acquired by Secure Computing.

Next, Jay founded AirDefense. In the early 2000s, WiFi was becoming popular in American homes. As businesses started adopting WiFi, they needed a way to monitor and protect their users from new security threats on wireless networks. In 2008, AirDefense was acquired by Motorola.

With a number of successful exits under his belt, Jay set his sights on a more ambitious idea. “I want to do something lasting. So, the mindset was very different this time,” he said. It was traditional at the time for businesses to install security appliances at their network gateways — like building a security wall around their internal network. But business applications were increasingly moving to the cloud, and business traffic was increasingly mobile; these two trends were creating major gaps in the traditional “walled” network security paradigm. In 2007, he teamed up with K. Kailash, his former classmate at IIT (BHU), and started Zscaler.

Jay Chaudhry and K. Kailash in front of Sir C.V. Raman Hostel

K. Kailash and Jay Chaudhry in front of C.V Raman Hostel with their Electronics '80 batch

Inspired by Salesforce, which disrupted the CRM market by moving CRM software to the cloud, Zscaler disrupted the network security market with a cloud-native security-as-a-service. Since then, thousands of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) have turned to Zscaler to transform their legacy networks and security, and this has lowered their business risk, improved their employees’ experience, and reduced their cost and complexity. Zscaler went public on NASDAQ in March 2018 and has since grown its market cap to over $28 billion. Today, about 5,000 enterprises trust Zscaler for their secure digital transformation. While it’s headquartered in Silicon Valley, about 40 percent of Zscaler’s 2,500 employees are in India at three key locations: Bangalore, Chandigarh, and Pune.

Throughout his careers, Jay has been honored by Ernst & Young as an “Entrepreneur of the Year” twice, an Information Week “Innovator & Influencer”, an SC Magazine “Market Entrepreneur”, an IIT (BHU) “Distinguished Alumnus” and a Goldman Sachs “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.”

Jay’s advice for young entrepreneurs: Don’t just do it for the money. “When entrepreneurs are primarily doing it for money, they’ll be often disappointed. If you really do it for your passion and drive and believe that money will follow you, you’ll end up being a lot happier.”


This article has been written by Sanskriti Mining (IDD) 2025, Content Team, SAIC, IIT (BHU), Varanasi