There is a certain calmness about Shripati Acharya, one of the three Managing Partners and Co-founder of Prime Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital firm. His down-to-earth persona is evident, but you soon realise that there is more to him than meets the eye.
A few minutes later, he speaks of his adventures, and love for trekking.
It is a rainy evening in Bengaluru and as he sips his coffee, he narrates how his love for trekking started during his graduate school days in Stanford. “The scenic California landscape helped,” he says. “In a place like California, the terrain is beautiful, and you take every opportunity to go on a trek.”
Shripati has trekked across most places in India and the US.
His fondest memory is trekking to the Grand Canyon, where he went before heading for business school at Harvard. He also trekked down the Yosemite and the Sierra in the US. In India, he has trekked to the Everest base camp, and covered the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.
So, why does this entrepreneur-turned-VC find these adventures fascinating?
“It is beautiful to see the mix of cultures and people in these places. But things can also get serious pretty fast if one gets injured or the weather suddenly changes. But the experience is priceless.”
There is always the possibility of tough times and disasters along on the way, he adds. “It’s like facing your own fears, and everyone fears the unknown. Trekking is a mental game which tests you in various ways under stressful conditions.”
And things did get serious several times with Shripati.
While trekking to the Everest camp Gokyo Ri, Shripati found himself caught in a snow storm.
“I felt like I was on the moon,” he says. “There was no connectivity, nor any means of communication. At such altitudes, even mules don’t travel and it is dangerous for helicopters to fly. It was such a remote place, and that day, I discovered that there was a thin line between beautiful and scary.”
Well, that explains his Zen-like aura today.
But, he adds, trekking at these high altitudes offers a plethora of learnings. First, the attention to detail.
“While climbing up a mountain, your body and nature are always communicating, and if one listens and takes precautions, the entire experience is beautiful.”
He also says the entire experience makes him more centred as an individual. “One cannot panic in such stressful situations, even if it’s the most obvious thing to do.”
The most important learning, he says, is the art of listening. And Shripati follows it to the hilt, especially when a founder pitches a project to him.
“An entrepreneur has the unenviable job to compress their entire startup journey in an hour. So, it’s really tough if we are interrupting that narrative, and doing a disservice to the work they have done,” says Shripati.
The mountains give a strong sense of humility to every human being, which seems to be one of the founding tenets of Prime Venture Partners.
“When you go to the mountains, you realise you are so little in the scheme of things. And that definitely helps keep your ego in check.”
Shripati explains that what got him to become a VC was his fascination with public markets. As an active investor, he put his second pay check into trading public stocks.
“When you become a VC, people start disagreeing with you a lot less. Entrepreneurs will never turn you down with an outright ‘No’. So that was quite surprising for me,” he says.
Also, you’ll never find Shripati giving any startup founder advice as he believes every journey is different. That, however, doesn’t mean he refrains from giving an honest feedback. His colleagues say that when he speaks, his feedback is the most sought-after.
“We will be doing a disservice to a founder if we don’t tell them when something goes wrong. I think that founders should find a support circle through investors because it’s a relationship which you will have to live with, even after the money hits the bank. So, it’s better to choose correctly and make sure board meetings don’t feel like a root canal procedure.”
Shripati, however, believes that one should have a high level of empathy and gratitude.
“We strongly stand by that. If we cannot invest in a startup, we will help the founder in whatever way it comes. We are not just in the business of investing in startups, but in the business of helping people build great companies.”
And while he does that, there is strong gratitude he feels for opportunities he has received.
“We invest in startups when they have employees in single digits. But as they grow I feel amazed at the households we and the founders are contributing to,” he says.
But behind this Zen, lies a very curious child. He often tunes in to the music which his young daughter is listening to, and is rekindling his love for sketching. “My daughter beats me at it. After a week, it is beautiful to see the artwork she has been working on,” he laughs.
As we finish the last of our coffee, Shripati leaves me with a strong perspective about life. Quoting his favourite film, Dead Poets Society, he says,
“…That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"
What I take back from my encounter with his philosophy is a lesson in humility and the realisation that we are really small in the scheme of things. So, live the best you can, and live on the edge.