Top 10 takeaways from Sequoia Capital's Shailendra Singh at TechSparks 2020

At TechSparks 2020, Sequoia Capital’s Shailendra Singh spoke about building enduring companies in emerging markets, and how founders can stay ahead of the curve.
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Shailendra Singh, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital, is often credited for the VC’s continued success in India. In the last 15-odd years, he’s not only given shape and direction to Sequoia’s operations here, but also launched new funds, expanded the team, and led investments in several future unicorns. 

In a rare public appearance at TechSparks 2020his first since 2016 — Singh spoke to YourStory Media Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma in a virtual fireside chat. 

He shed light on how “building enduring companies in emerging markets is fraught with challenges” but can ultimately be a rewarding experience.

Highlights from the session can be found here and here.  

We have distilled 10 key takeaways from his talk.

Sequoia Capital MD Shailendra Singh in conversation with Shradha Sharma at TechSparks 2020

VCs should think like startups

Like founders, VCs need to go all in, think of moats — from talent to product design to technology — be hungry, and work hard “to have a chance of making a dent”. Sequoia sees itself as a “tech startup that happens to be in the VC business”.

Don’t be taken in by market noise

Startups need to have a very good calibration of when to accelerate, when to slow down, when to go to market, etc. Raising money and burning capital are transient things; the end goal is to build a “scalable economic engine”.

Think first principles to build enduring businesses

Sequoia’s Surge Accelerator Programme proposes ‘7 steps of building a startup’ — Vision > Product Design > Figuring out a business in the product > Product Market Fit > Early Monetisation > Strong unit economics > Cash flows

Show restraint in the face of big money

The hardest thing to do is to have restraint when you have the resources,” he says. Sequoia tells its founders to not make “knee-jerk changes” when they have the resources. Moving from one curve of acceleration to another is tough.

Every startup doesn’t need blitzscaling

Not all markets are winner-takes-all like consumer tech; not all companies have to blitzscale to become synonymous with their categories. Some startups are built more steadily, sometimes in stealth, and scaled through profits.

One of Shailendra Singh's first appearances — TechSparks 2013

Successful companies have an ecosystem responsibility

Young companies should be laser focused on serving customers, and building a great product and user experience. But as soon as they get successful, they have an ecosystem responsibility on them. Shailendra says, “When you’re category-defining, you’ve to see if you’re helping shape an ecosystem.”

Bring moonshot talent that helps you raise the game

Sequoia tells its founders to hire “exceptional operating talent” that will deeply inspire them. And, founders’ leadership burden will keep coming down if more people step up.

Eliminate the fear of rejection

The best founders don’t have any fear of rejection. They take things in their stride. They have the grit and tenacity to walk through walls. “It’s a mental hack. Gaurav Munjal [of Unacademy] has some crazy stories about how he chased people for years. Some founders just wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” says the investor.

Reach the top and stay there

“It’s much easier to get to the top, much harder to stay there,” he adds. But tough times are character-building phases. Startups have to embrace change and constantly evolve to stay relevant.

Be like Dhoni

MS Dhoni personified calm under pressure, grit, and resilience, and backed himself against odds. He took singles before accelerating, and stayed put to finish the job. “Dhoni was never the most stylish batsman for me," Shailendra says, adding, "But he had a special power to bring out his 120 percent. His mental make-up allowed him to do that. I tell our founders to be like Dhoni.”


TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta