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We don't own a piece of the founder: GV Ravishankar

The managing director of Sequoia Capital says they prefer to see treat their investments as partnerships rather than ownership, and his job is to govern not rule

Rajiv Singh
Published: Apr 15, 2021 02:17:57 PM IST
Updated: Apr 21, 2021 02:11:19 PM IST

We don't own a piece of the founder: GV RavishankarGV Ravishankar
Image: Mexy Xavier

Acknowledging that the infrastructure was not conducive for edtech a decade ago, managing director GV Ravishankar contends that Sequoia has been fortunate to be among the early ones to make the most of the edtech boom. The recent flurry of activity, he lets on, has deep roots of over 15 years of learning. “We didn’t do anything overnight. Fortune favours those who are persistent,” he tells Forbes India. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Everybody has aspirations, capital and access to quality of talent. So they will compete. The market is still large enough for many winners. It’s a long way to go for all these companies to be enduring businesses. That’s what we want to do at Sequoia. We want to back these daring founders building these enduring companies. Hopefully, the next stop for many of these companies is going public at some point. |

It’s always a sticky thing to tell a founder why don’t you consider joining hands with somebody else? When the WhiteHat Jr acquisition happened, we were actually evaluating the company. We liked it... we had done a lot of market work. When we heard that Karan Bajaj (founder of WhiteHat Jr) had an open mind to being a part of a larger platform, we suggested to Byju (Raveendran) that he should call him. We do this often... we go to the bigger companies and tell them they can benefit from a particular skill set. But if you’re on the side of the other company as well, we are careful. We are investors, so we can’t be in the middle of it.
Every company that grows fast has two choices. You can either say I want to do everything perfectly right, or I will jump out of the mountain, build a parachute on my way down and take a chance. We are living in a world where speed is a significant advantage... speed of execution is a significant advantage. If you wait till everything is perfect, the market will not wait for you. So, sometimes, you know some of the things that go wrong are derivatives of trying to do things fast. Companies don’t go out wanting to do things badly.
When you’re successful, you start believing that you know what you’re doing, and back yourself. That’s the way they got success in the first place. If somebody has to listen to everybody, and then take the average answer, they’ll never be successful. So, most good founders have a point of view, and this is usually different from what the consensus is. If they are right, they are rockstars, and if they are wrong, they fail. What made them successful is also what sometimes will get them in trouble. But the good founders will learn and evolve and adapt. 
We think of ourselves as partners. Just because we own a piece of the company, we don’t own a piece of the founder. People should be given the independence to run. And our job is to govern. We don’t want to be instructing founders on what to do and how to do it. Of course, we should ask the tough questions when we need to and encourage them when we have to. We take that role seriously.
The acquisition of Aakash by Byju is because he’s betting that life is going to come back, and for high stakes exams, people want offline touchpoints. So let’s not assume technology can replace the teacher. In the future, we will see a lot of blended models—you will have both physical and digital options. You will have a teacher playing a role, but you will 10x increase the capability by using tools and technology.  

(This story appears in the 23 April, 2021 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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