At YourStory, we love self-made people and we love telling their stories. In our second series of "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained", we bring you the story of a rather special venture capitalist, Shruti Gandhi.
Shruti left India in 1999 to study computer science in the US and was soon living the American dream as a hotshot engineer at IBM when she decided to set up her own firm. She joined a VC firm and then decided to venture out and start her own early-stage fund, Array Ventures, in March 2015.
In six short years, Shruti has run the career-equivalent of a marathon where most would have been happy to complete a sprint. And it shows. A chat with her lifts your spirits. She is refreshingly candid and genuinely wants to help entrepreneurs fulfil their dreams. But more than that, she wants to continue learning and build lasting relationships within the startup ecosystem. I enjoyed talking with Shruti – her enthusiasm is infectious – and here’s her story, in her own words.
From mega metropolis Mumbai to a little town in the US to scale greater heights
I grew up in Mumbai and in 1999, moved to a small town in New York State called Poughkeepsie to study computer science. After that, as an engineer working at IBM, I was like a sponge, absorbing everything around me, learning about soon-to-be big-bang areas like big data, security, location-based services and instant messaging. I also ran an incubator and then worked on a think tank in the office of IBM’s then CEO and Chairman, Sam Palmisano. By 2009, I felt I had learned quite a bit about tech and business and left to start Penseev, my first venture, in big data. I was also doing an MBA at The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business at the same time. After that, I worked at Samsung's early-stage investment arm and watched it being built up close. That was followed by a stint at True Ventures, a top-tier VC firm. Then it was time to go it alone and I started Array Ventures in March 2015. It’s a journey that’s been filled to the brim with learning and I’ve enjoyed every single moment.
Motivation, up close at home
I’ve followed in my father's footsteps. He’s on his fourth venture now. As a child, I had this innate drive to do things that girls weren’t supposed to be good at doing (including this secret dream of taking over my dad's company in a male-dominated industry). As an adult, I’m driven by the opportunity to inspire other women. I believe in never giving up and that there is always a solution to a problem – you just have to change your viewpoint about the problem and approach it differently.
Array Ventures (array.vc) – a dream come true
Array Ventures is focussed on solving big problems in the world by leveraging deep, cutting-edge technology. The fund is structured to empower these smart entrepreneurs with value-added resources. The biggest value I want to add is to bring these companies the customer connections they need because that's the hardest thing to get as a founder – contacts with the right people at the right companies. I work as the portfolio companies’ business development person in the early days, tapping the 200+ experts in my network from top companies worldwide to help entrepreneurs succeed.
I invest across the world but to be most helpful, I have invested in teams that have two offices – one in Silicon Valley and another elsewhere. So far, it's been India and Israel. I invest in companies where the entrepreneur is highly responsive regardless of whatever part of the world he or she operates from. I like an entrepreneur who-
- Leverages her investors’ expertise/network proactively
- Is transparent about good and bad progress
- Isn't afraid to jump on a plane to conduct business
- Is aware of her competitors and their moves and has a plan to stay ahead of the game.
I’m going to look at India, a key focus area, very proactively in the coming months.
In the (im)balance – being a woman in tech and venture capital
In both fields, it's hard to ignore that there is a large gender imbalance. It would be great if there were more people like you at the top trying to pull you up the ladder. But I tend not to focus on that anymore. I step back and think about what I need to accomplish in whatever I am doing and prioritize those activities – that's it. I try to stay focused on the outcome. That said, I think it's important to find a good support system of both men and women whom you respect and feel comfortable around at every level in your organization.
My profession (VC/engineering) is sometimes difficult for women to thrive in, but the challenge inspires the problem-solver in me to prove that anything is possible. It doesn’t hurt that I get to
work with some of the smartest people and help them realize their dreams – I just have to enable them with resources and capital. It's like an opportunity to make many of my own dreams come true through this career as a venture capital investor.An exciting journey in the most exciting of times
Some say that we are living through the biggest revolution after the industrial revolution. We are finally at a point where we have the technology to take on some very challenging problems. Technologies in many industry verticals, such as healthcare, education, our work environment, etc., need an overhaul. Everything can be better looking, data-driven and mobile-friendly – as someone in technology, that excites me, that I’m a part of it.
To me, a successful life is one that’s well-balanced and simple, where you have good relationships with family and friends. Life becomes richer when we live each day with child-like curiosity and a desire to help the world. In 10 years, I want to look back and feel the same way – if I don’t, I’ll know it’s time to change . Luckily for me, my profession allows me to do exactly all of these things.
Advice to startups
- Don't raise money without knowing what the market needs and talking to a wide array of customers.
- Surround yourself with good people - advisors, mentors, and like minded investors. In times of crisis you need these people to be on your side.
- Don't forget to be nimble with your execution and constantly iterate. This gets you to put your product in front of your customers faster and ensures you are building something of value to them.
- Get lots of advice but remember no rules apply 100% - not even these. Stick with your gut.
And we couldn't conclude the conversation without asking Shruti how start-ups can get in touch with her. The answer: @atShruti on twitter.