Pandemic-era startups flourish in Los Gatos | Los Gatan

You can’t control what you can’t identify. Four years ago, Los Gatos entrepreneur Tarun Thakur used this insight to build Veza, a cybersecurity company that maps access to a company’s knowledge and tools, so businesses can keep track of who’s allowed to do what.

The pandemic obscured the future. Thakur decided to go ahead and start his company anyway at his house near Blossom Hill Park. That’s still the company’s head office.

“We didn’t know whether offices would exist anymore, and so for us, we just started with a brand-new playbook, which was, We’re just going to build a remote-first company,” said Thakur, the founder and CEO. “We made my home the company headquarters.”

Veza is part of a wider cycle of creative business destruction that began as the novel coronavirus arrived. The enduring explosion of entrepreneurial activity has been documented by the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor Statistics. It’s swept across the country and outlasted the swell of pop-ups hawking pandemic supplies, according to an analysis from the Federal Reserve. In 2023, applications to form new businesses reached a record of 5.5 million. Nearly 1.8 million of these are considered highly likely to hire employees. Many of these pandemic-era start-ups are not operating out of office parks or big cities, but are distributed and global. And it’s all enabled by cloud computing.

Los Gatos residents like Thakur drove part of this. They founded at least 33 companies between 2019 and 2021, according to data compiled by the Los Gatan, and the database service Crunchbase. Just under a third have received either seed, private equity or venture financing.

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AT DUSK – Rapid Silicon works out of this office building along Los Gatos Boulevard. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Other funded Los Gatos companies birthed during the era of lockdowns include: Full Speed Automation, aka Vitesse, (in 2020); (2021); Rapid Silicon (2021); ServiceUp (2021); and Reprosent (2020), to name a few. Only time will tell if they become long-term business concerns.  

Veza has raised a total of $125 million from several well-known firms, including Accel, Capital One Ventures, Google Ventures and ServiceNow Ventures. These days, it operates as a hybrid in-person and remote company, with 140 staff—and co-founders Dr. Mahout Lu and Rob Whitcher—spread across the world. In June 2020, after a mutual friend introduced them, Thakur hired the company’s founding engineer, Arjan Topolovec, who was more than 6,000 miles away in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Last year, the company opened an office in Redwood City, where Bay Area staff meet several times a week. It’s also conveniently near the region’s largest airport.    

Veza went to market in the summer of 2021. Established brands like Barracuda Networks, Blackstone and Mattel are now among Veza’s 150 customers, Thakur says.

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BOOTCAMP – Veza employees at a recent sales engineering event.
(Courtesy of Veza)

Another local company, PURE Property Management, also operates under a similar arrangement. Established during the pandemic at its founders’ homes, its main location is a pair of second-story units in Old Town on University Avenue. But it has distributed property management offices across 22 states, resulting from a binge of acquisitions that brought their headcount to 600 people.

Co-founders, friends and long-time entrepreneurs Joseph Polverari and Michael Catalano started discussing the business idea late in 2019. They began rounding-up financing and prior colleagues to join them, just as the economy ground to a halt a few months later.

“I started reaching out to more of the engineering team. The lady I wanted to build the platform was actually working somewhere else,” recalls Polverari. “In fact, she was living on a river boat on the Nile. I said, actually, ‘We’re building a platform, and we’ve got the money. So, whenever you’re ready to get off the boat, you should come back, because it will be your masterpiece.’”

Catalano grew up in Saratoga and has remained in the area for 40 years. He now lives in Los Gatos. Polverari is a longtime financial technology entrepreneur from Portola Valley with a background as a mergers and acquisitions attorney. He was the chief strategy and development officer of financial data integration company Yodlee for more than 15 years. The median age of the leadership team is about 55, according to PURE Property Management Vice President of Marketing David LaPlante.

Polverari had just sold a company at the end of 2019 and had left to go skiing in Idaho. But Catalano managed to convince his friend that the property management business was ripe for disruption. He also needed Polverari’s legal and management expertise. Since they officially founded the business in 2020, they’ve acquired 75 companies, says Polverari.  

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AT THE COUCH – PURE Property Management team. (Jonathan Natividad / Los Gatan)

“We build technology that we think will dramatically revolutionize the way property management happens for the better,” he said. “It will be better for the residents, better for the owners, and better for the property managers.”

The duo worked through most of that first year building the company’s infrastructure, before cashing in their $25 million seed round.

“Everyone was in a period of great uncertainty, and we felt awkward saying, ‘OK, you’ve all signed up. You’ve got to invest. Give us your money,’ when people didn’t know whether they were going to live or die,” Polverari recalled.

The company raised another $50 million, in February 2022.

Both Catalano and Polverari plan on keeping their headquarters in Los Gatos, as the business grows.

“We’re living in the best part of the world, the best part of the planet—literally—for stuff like this,” Polverari said. “If you’re already here, you stay here, because it’s exciting and fun. And you have access to the tools you need to build innovations that could change industries, change the world—and improve people’s lives. And that’s a cool thing to do. There’s only one Silicon Valley. If I were leaving college right now, I would come straight here and start my career.”

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