A new home. A year at Sequoia.

August 24, 2021 • 10 mins read.

Hawker Center

Change is inevitable, It's about when it happens.

A new home

It’s almost a year since I joined Sequoia and stopped working with gojek. People always have reasons to quit, quitting is good, a change is always a better way to re-adjust yourself, or sometimes it’s just good to figure out your Ikigai. I was at the junction, where I had become a wreck and exhausted yet living for another day. The word oxymoron had become a synonym with my work life and personal life.

Today, reflecting on my last year’s journey, I was prompted to jot down my thoughts. What happened? What was important? Was it the right decision to stop working? Was it appropriate for me to quit and join a completely different environment? I have always said, “A decision is always a right decision at the time.” So given that, I think I have done something pretty crazy but very fulfilling.

I also believe that it’s up to us as what we made out of an opportunity. And I think I got something to do with my passion, I always believe, giving back to the community and building an ecosystem. Sequoia gave me two opportunities - one, to fix my health, second, to live for my passion, a purpose that might create an excellent ecosystem for the startup world. Let’s explore the journey and how it felt?

Work-life balance.

For me, work-life balance means toggling between the body and the brain. Being present and absent from the two worlds; TOGETHER. For example, if you get home and keep thinking about work, you will not do justice to your family. In other words, while you are physically present there, being on call, continuously thinking about issues, and not completely shutting down is just wrong. Work-life balance is a range, it’s like a shade of grey, mix of black and white, mix of work and family, if required, you can be 100% at work, and if required then you should be 100% with family. And not just as clear as black & white. Sometimes, you get super busy, and sometimes you need to be at home and have fun with family. We need to build elasticity in our work-life and not rigidity, and bring a balance. You really should not say that I will stop working at 6pm everyday, but bring some slack, prioritise, take breaks, make it count, you got one life. Work hard, party hard, and don’t forget to take a pit-stop. I did not take a pit stop.

The Body & Mind

At the time when I decided to quit, I had a body wrecked beyond functional levels. It was a concoction made of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol issues combined with four collapsed discs, two around the neck, two around the lower back, a numb leg. I was living with extreme caution on a diet, exercise, and strict medicine routine. Where do I go from there? Stopping this wasn’t a choice but a requirement. I worked through multiple options, but each one of them required me to slow down considerably. And gojek wasn’t ready to slow down with me; it was on fire, it was an exhilarating experience, it was something new every day, it was madness, that made it a heaven for product engineers, builders, and creators. It still is a fantastic playground - think about it, what startup finds product-market fit in as many areas as gojek did? Yes, there is always a time when you can’t stretch beyond your capabilities - whether it’s physical or mental, especially if you are doing it for the first time. Leadership is a lonely place. And I have seen many leaders miserably failing when they misplace their leverage and suddenly find themself out of depth. I was exhausted, and it was time to move to fix myself mentally and physically.

Sequoia helped me immensely with the work-life balance, not because it was easier. My job at Sequoia is much more challenging cognitively than gojek, but it is adequately flexible.

Fixing the body is something physical, fixing the mind is something more than that. BKS Iyengar famously said “A stable mind is like the hub of a wheel. The world may spin around you, but the mind is steady.” And no one can help fix this, apart from yourself. The world always spins around us, and it will not stop, should not stop, can not stop. What we can do is bring some serenity - and that was the next task. Everyone wants to find a purpose in life, funnily enough there is a very simple playbook around, yet, very difficult to do, is meditation. And in my view the mantra is super simple.

Appreciate what you have, talk to friends and family, spend time with good people talking about all good things happening in your life and people around you. And remind yourself about this everyday.

Practice makes hard tasks easy, practice makes it better, practice makes the routine, and brings discipline. But to practice, there has to be discipline to start with, they kind of depend on each othere.

What changed?

Predominantly two things, one is food, second is routine. The way I always talk about scaling software engineering is not possible without discipline and cadence; The same applies here. Fixing body and soul is not possible without adequate discipline. We need to bring this for diet and routine. On a diet, what and how much do you eat? And a daily clockwork routine, getting up in the morning, putting some time for exercise, starting work on time, and ending work on time - for most of the days, like eighty percent of the time. I moved to a vegan diet, mainly not putting any fat, sugars, or processed food. The old saying “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I don’t know about the last two, but I indeed became healthy. Thanks to doctors and my better half, I am almost 70% through that journey, and need to bring in another 30%. It’s not over yet; I still slip things sometimes, there happens to be a cheat day, there happens to be a crazy craving, and I slip. It’s okay to be not okay sometimes.

When people say don’t be hard on yourself, I think that’s wrong, and we need to be self-critical and hard about ourselves; we should never be happy with what we can do better.

So today, in a new home, with a new “hope.” I am way better in terms of health, now on to what happened at work frontier.

The work

I couldn’t be more excited when I heard about my new job. This was something unusual. First, I was puzzled; what would I do in the Venture Capital world? And what Shailendra explained - was just amazing - Help companies, Sequoia partners, Investment teams. Sequoia has the most amazing people, with excellence in their field.

It was an unambiguous message - Work closely with Sequoia India and SEA’s portfolio CTOs and CPOs. To provide insight and expertise in building and scaling engineering, data science, product and design functions. It also helps them build and mentor high-performing teams across SEA.

It’s a big mandate. In this journey, I don’t see myself writing software, actively driving decisions, or even being in the driver’s seat in my new role. But I am trying to build something very different; I have never done this, I have been a builder, operator or hands-on maker. Now I am building an ecosystem to help, learn to collate and publish, and take learnings from some of the fantastic work being done at our portfolio. But as an individual, it isn’t scalable. To make anything scalable, It needs to have an institution that endures irrespective of individuals.

From individual to institution

There was a lot of work done earlier; The team is already doing an enormous amount of fantastic work for supporting founders. What can we do more? At Sequoia, there is an act of benevolence and a noble intent behind every effort. We want our portfolio companies to succeed, each one of them. Partnering with our companies at Sequoia is a journey and not a one-time action. We have had a lot of experiments, and I was puzzled; how can I help? Because I suddenly found myself among a few of the most thoughtful, innovative, and brilliant people. The high-performance team, right here.

I was hit by “an intelligence cloud with clout” :-) So, the work began, And two things came on top, we already had every ingredient in place, ecosystem, community, effort, events, and intent. To help the ecosystem and community, we need to supplement the existing ecosystem and community with more content, action and consistently bring it together. Given the mandate, If I kept helping our portfolio companies individually, I could help a few companies, maybe 10, even spending 10 hours per month with them. The need is real, but how do we scale it to bring 100s of our portfolio companies together and make an impactful ecosystem-wide collaborative, learning, creative journey for everyone.

Today, I am working on a few challenges that will help us move towards these goals, and I am putting together a few below.

  • How do we tap talent? and tell them available opportunities throughout our portfolio. How do we create an intelligent marketplace available to our portfolio companies and aspiring candidates to match them and tell them about companies and candidates in the most insightful ways?

  • How do we help accelerate MVP? And figure out a way to do things that make something go faster? How do we create a framework, which prescriptively enables you to not only decide on building a few things, buying few things, and outsourcing few things? Everyone goes through these decisions, but there isn’t some kind of ready reckoner available for us to not reinvent the wheel every time. The most important experience that everyone has to go through is to decide - What to build?

  • How do we curate, collaborate on the knowledge available throughout our companies? There are common questions, like the previous point, on how to build? Once you decide on what to make? Then it comes to the next stage in the startup’s journey, how do we build it? And how do we build it efficiently? We have many manuals, integration docs, readmes, but there aren’t many pre-fabricated building blocks that you can use?

  • How do we make a difference to a founder’s “Startup journey” when they partner with us? What else would make it better than helping them build the company by providing them with many prefabricated components, design choices, and learnings. They come to us for the ecosystem and community.

And that’s the path I am taking now in Sequoia. We are going on this journey by tapping into our existing startup’s leadership, documenting their experiences, meeting them every month, and hopefully making it better, listening, distilling, and then publishing for everyone. So that not everyone needs to reinvent the wheel in many areas.

At my workplace, giving back to the community, helping each other, and benevolence are encouraged and treated as first principles.

So that’s for now; I have been enjoying, feeling humbled, feeling privileged to be able to work with so many fantastic colleagues and startups. I am looking forward to my journey. A new hope home! Btw, it’s not the Episode 6 of my life.