Kirthiga is President, Athena Technology II, the third in a series of all women-led SPACs bringing leading talent, access to capital and transaction experience to enable a market leader to access the equity capital markets. She is Founding Investment Partner of F7 seed fund. She serves on the Board of Directors for WeWork and Pear.
Previously, Kirthiga was the first female Investment Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers (SBIA), manager of the $100B+ SoftBank Vision Fund. She led a portfolio of $5B+ across 9 investments, two new unicorns, three companies publicly listed (IonQ, WE, PEAR).
Prior to SBIA, she was Managing Director, Facebook India and South Asia for over six years, starting as their first employee in India. She started one of the global operations offices that now serves over 3.5B people.
Listen to the podcast to learn about
03:00 - “making the most of the opportunities given to you”
08:30 - Joining & Scaling Facebook India
13:45 - BHAG(100,100,100)
20:00 - Facebook IPO and the Mobile Challenge
27:00 - Late stage investing at SoftBank
34:00 - AI & Data for Good
42:00 - Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Read the complete transcript below
Sanjay Swamy 00:45
Hi everybody. This is Sanjay Swamy here. Welcome again to a new episode of the Prime Venture Partners podcast. I have with me a very close friend and an amazing executive that many of you would’ve read and heard about, Kirthiga Reddy.
Who is probably best known to the startup ecosystem for her path breaking work that she did at Facebook when she was setting it up in India. But I’ve had the privilege of knowing her even pre that, and it’s really a pleasure to have you here on the show, Kirthiga. Welcome.
Kirthiga Reddy 01:00
Sanjay, a pleasure to be here. I remember talking about the Facebook decision with you about what I should do. And, oh my, the places we have been. From that decision to then joining SoftBank as their first female investment partner, to now launching a SPAC. It’s been quite a journey and it’s been great to see Prime Venture’s evolution during that time, and the amazing founders and companies that you work with.
Sanjay Swamy 01:30
Well, thank you, and it’s been great to sort of interact with you over the years. But let’s rewind the clock a little bit for our listeners here. It would be helpful for people to know a little bit about your background. Where you grew up and schooling and your early professional days. And then we can get to how you got to Facebook and all that.
Kirthiga Reddy 02:00
I grew up in a lot of different places in India. My family moved every three to four years. My father was not in the army, not in the military, as people usually ask me, and he actually worked for the same company, Lloyd Steel, for 30 years. As they opened new steel plants across the country, he traveled with them. My mom thinks he just had a travel bug. And as they say, that kind of upbringing makes for very adaptable adults.
Mostly in Maharashtra, Sanjay. So Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Tarapur, and Mumbai. A few years in Nanded, a few years in Chennai. Of course, my mom is now in Chennai. My mother-in-law is in Bangalore. So those are some of my coordinates. I did my engineering in Nanded. My computer science and engineering degree. And my family believed that if there was an engineering school in the neighborhood, that’s where their daughter would go to.
When I cried about not having the opportunity to go to different places, my father said, “You can go to an incredible institution and do nothing with that opportunity. Or make the most of the opportunity in front of you.” And sure enough, when I actually stood second rank in the university at the end, which by the way, no one was more surprised than I was. I think it was just a recognition of the advice he gave me. That life is about making the most of the opportunities given to you. And that’s something that I take with me in my life and my work.
Sanjay Swamy 03:15
It’s a wonderful message already for all the listeners here. So what did you end up doing after your undergrad?
Kirthiga Reddy 03:20
My family waited for the day I finished my undergrad education and then promptly moved to Nagpur. That was the longest we stayed in any one location, I think, for me to finish my education. I then worked for Yashavant Kanetkar, the engineering crew in this audience will recognize as the author of Let Us C. It was a textbook that was used in many institutions.
And I helped him with antivirus software. I often tell my kids my first job included writing new viruses so that we would test the antivirus software. And so be careful of what you do. From that journey, Sanjay, I wanted to then pursue further education, and wanted to come to the United States, to do my masters in computer engineering.
My father beamed and said, “Matter of pride for the family. First person in the family to go abroad.” He took a four lakh loan to help enable that. My mother beamed and said, “Get married and do whatever you want.” And so that’s when started the search for the perfect groom. And then I met Dev, and here I am. Now in the United States, two wonderful girls, 19 and 16, and a wonderfully supportive husband.
Sanjay Swamy 04:40
That’s awesome. So you moved to the US, and did you go to school? Did you start working?
Kirthiga Reddy 04:50
Yeah, so I did my engineering in Syracuse University, upstate New York. Actually I’m back there this year to give their convocation address, which I think is one of the most meaningful events for this year, including of course this podcast, Sanjay.
And then we promptly moved to the Bay Area, the place to be for technology roles. My first decade of my career was in engineering. So I worked with Silicon Graphics in the high performance computing space. When I joined, they were a 9000 people, two billion dollar company. And, Sanjay, that’s when I learned an early business lesson.
About 10 years after its high, which was much after I was there, the company actually went bankrupt. And it was a very early lesson for me, that phenomenal technology and phenomenal engineers alone, does not make for a high growth, sustainable business. Because when I was there, truly our customers would come tell us that no one would solve their problem like we did. And I remember the first, all hands where the CFO said, “We have so much money. We don’t know what to do with it.” Whenever you have a CFO say that, know that that’s your sign of decline.
Because honestly, from how I see it, we got complacent, did not see the competition coming. So that was an early lesson and something that has been instrumental in terms of how I think about building high growth sustainable business from that point on. So did that.
And fast forward then I then went, got my MBA at Stanford because I really wanted to dig deeper on the business side. I transitioned to product management. Saw the mobile ship with good technology that was acquired by Motorola. And it was that acquisition, and Motorola that brought me back to India.
With I thought we were coming for a year and a half assignment. And I came with my wonderfully supportive husband, Dev, and my two girls, who were then three and five, which then led to the foundation for the Facebook role.
Sanjay Swamy 07:00
Right. I guess the point you made about Silicon Graphics and we see that also with startups is where they keep raising round after round, but at the same time still have a lot to prove. And sometimes success gets to your head.
And I remember working in the Bay Area as well at the same time. And Silicon Graphics was really the most aspirational company to get into. And they did some of the most amazing things. And most people of this generation have not heard of that company, except probably a Wikipedia page.
Kirthiga Reddy 07:30
And, Sanjay, what’s even more ironic, the office that I used to use at Silicon Graphics is now the Google office. But they used to compete with Sun Microsystems. And Sun Microsystems campus is now the Facebook office.
So it’s just a tale of what every one of us as entrepreneurs, founders, need to be very cognizant of. If you go to Facebook headquarters even today, you will see, or at least there was a like sign. I don’t know. I think now there’s a Meta logo, but behind that, it’s still the original Sun Microsystems logo.
Because it’s a reminder from Mark where he wants us to always remember that if we are not on top of what our users want, where the technology trends are going, any company could be the sign behind another fast growing company.
Sanjay Swamy 08:30
I mean, it’s really amazing to hear because I think we wonder that one needs to remain grounded. And all these companies are sort of work in progress at any point in time.
So let’s talk about you. You talked a little about Facebook. Let’s talk about how you got there. And certainly the first part was here in India. And then the second part of your career was in Facebook headquarters. So tell us about that, those exciting times.
Kirthiga Reddy 08:55
Sure. So we were in India thinking we were here for a year and a half. Really enjoyed our time in India. Could see the pace of growth. New infrastructure, new airports being built. When I was there, my husband actually landed in the first flight that landed in the new Hyderabad International Airport. And it was a matter of national pride.
It was just incredible. To us then it was that growth that we were seeing in the country. And wanting to be part of that nation building that led us to think about wanting to be in India longer.
I then got an introduction to Cheryl Sandberg through a business school classmate. Came to the United States, met with her, told her about how much Facebook has been so key in my life. As I moved to India, that was my mechanism of staying connected with my near and dear in India and in the US, as well as reconnecting with people in India who I had lost touch with for a while.
And I said, “Would love to be part of building your operations in India.” So we explored a few different roles. I met with Chamath, with Javier who ran growth. Met with Chris Cox, the chief product officer. We explored a few different roles. Cheryl said, “One day we’ll open an office in India and let’s keep in touch.”
It was almost a year after that initial meeting, Sanjay. And I then joined Phoenix Technology, which was a turnaround company. I worked with Gaurav Banga, who I’d known from my technology days. And it almost seemed meant to be in hindsight because it was in April of 2010 that we, as part of the turnaround, sold the businesses that we were working on. And it was that March that Facebook announced its intention to open an office in India.
So there was then a grueling interview process where it felt like everyone and their brother and their sister were applying for the role, naturally. And I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to join as employee number one and be their managing director of Facebook, India, and eventually South Asia. So that was my journey.
And I also, at that time, had the option of joining another internet giant, as their head of India operations. And it wasn’t an easy decision. I knew I wouldn’t go wrong in either part, but the pull of building and doing something from the very beginning, the mission that Facebook had. Of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected. And truly the people there just stand out. And it was something that I knew I wanted to put my heart, soul, mind into, Sanjay.
Sanjay Swamy 11:55
So how long did you spend with Facebook, India? And what were some key things you focused on doing at the time? And how was that phase of your Facebook stay?
Kirthiga Reddy 12:05
So Facebook, India had three different charters. One, there was a global charter. One of four of Facebook’s global operations centers that serves their now 3.5 billion users, and their developers and their advertisers, is in India. So we first built that, and that was a global charter.
Second Asia Pacific SMB business started, the focus started from India. And eventually as it grew to a few 100 million, we moved that center of gravity to Singapore, but that was very much a regional charter as well. And then three, of course there was a market charter. And what is it that we wanted to do in India? Which is probably most relevant for the audience today.
And there, the initial focus was, of course, the user side. How is it that we grow the user base on Facebook, on the platform? And then there are teams that were focused on, okay, once they come on the platform, how is it that we make sure that every moment there is the most valuable moment for them? And that’s where our partnerships with Bollywood, and sports, and language localization, and a number of other features or capabilities or initiatives came into play. And then there was the monetization team.
And, Sanjay, what we did early on in that market side, and it was a very cross-functional team. Facebook, like most other global corporations, is organized functionally, which meant that at any one point of time, what I was directly managing reported directly to me. Everything else was a direct line to regional and to headquarters.
So HR reported in regionally and user growth reported in regionally and globally. But having that joint mission of the market really brought us together. And our initial mission BHAG that we put out was for the India market, was 100, 100, 100. And if this was live, I would ask the audience to guess what that 100, 100, 100 BHAG was. And maybe I’ll ask you to guess what that 100, 100, 100 BHAG is.
Sanjay Swamy 14:05
I’m guessing 100 million users.100 million of revenue, perhaps. Although that would probably be very small for Facebook, but at the time it might have been material. And I don’t know, an NPS of 100.
Kirthiga Reddy 14:25
So all right. Very, very close. And yes. So remember this is a time where there were not even a 100 million people on the internet. And by the way, this was not too long before.
Sanjay Swamy 14:30
Kirthiga Reddy 14:30
This was 2010. In India. And so the first one was indeed, and we had eight million people on the platform at Facebook in India. So 100 million was the number of users in four years. The next 100 million is also a check. It is revenue.
And by the way, at that time, we didn’t even have a revenue focus. We didn’t even have plans for hiring a sales team. The user base at eight million did not justify hiring a sales team. We had a very strong partnership with Komli at that time as a reseller partner. But the second 100 was 100 million in revenue.
And the third 100 was a 100 million people that we wanted to touch with our community efforts. Whether it was our work with releasing safety check that helps you mark yourself safe in the case of a disaster, which we saw, I think the first time we released it was when there was the Nepal earthquake in that region.
So those were our three goals and these were true BHAGs. But the power of a big, bold vision, it was something that every early Facebooker will remember. 100, 100, 100. And it was something that brought the teams together. And give or take a few quarters, we hit each one of those goals within that four year timeframe.
So from there then, Sanjay, again, continued to grow the business. The business now, India crossed a billion in revenue, kudos to the team there. But beyond all of those numbers, Sanjay, just being part of a country that was going digital, going mobile. And seeing the impact that it had on people, businesses, societies, economies, was truly transformational and satisfying.
And that’s the spirit of transformation that I bring to each of my founder conversations in my current avtar. As I hear their visions and get so excited about what they’re doing. And visualize the impact that what they’re doing is going to have on how they are going to transform how we live and work.
Sanjay Swamy 16:25
Spectacular. So a little more on Facebook before we get to the next phase of your amazing journey. Some insights in terms of org building, company building, handling crises. Obviously it’s a company that especially now, but even earlier on, has always had to sort of balance introducing services in this, from time to time question marks around privacy policies and this and that. And at the end of the day, you still have to keep building and moving forward. So some insights, anecdotes that you can share.
Kirthiga Reddy 17:10
Certainly. Some things that come to mind as you ask those questions. One was an early lesson when the first time the executive team from Facebook Global was visiting after we started the India office. Of course, the team was very excited about their visit.
And I started the presentation with talking about the business impact that the team was having. And the executive team actually stopped me. And he said, “Kirthiga, I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. I want you to first tell me, how are you building the right culture? How are you hiring the right people? Because if you build the right culture, hire the right people, business results will come.”
Nowhere in my 20 plus year career, had I ever, of course I’ve been asked about people and culture, but not in that priority, or not in that order with that emphasis. And as my good friend, Rajesh Swahney says, “Business models can change dime a dozen, but culture is very difficult to change.”
And while this might seem like, ah, I’m a founder, I’m an entrepreneur. Do I really have the time to think about culture? Everything that you do in the company, how you work, how you interact, how you make decisions, how you handle conflict, is culture. So you might as well be deliberate about it from the very beginning.
That was an a-ha moment for me. And I really spent a lot of time understanding what it means for culture building. And that paid off in spades in terms of how we built our business, Sanjay. For example, be open. So for us at that time in Facebook India, culture building was around values. Be open was one of our key values. And it was not there’s one set of way that you do that. And you say, yes it is important to us, but it’s really the depth of how much you focus on it that makes the difference.
So in this case, we train people on constructive criticism. How do you give feedback? We used to have feed forward sessions. It’s like speed dating. You come in and you say one thing you do well, three things that you could do better? Just to build the muscle of being able to give constructive feedback. Why wait for a six month review period to tell people about what you can do better, where you can be making those changes every single day? So that’s one.
Two, an early advice from Cheryl, as I said, Cheryl, your advice on how do I make the largest impact? Where she said, “You are going to be leading many functions that you have not grown up in.” So I didn’t grow up for example, in the operations world, I grew up in the engineering and the product world. I didn’t grow up in the sales world.
She said, “Make sure you understand what the nitty gritty of that function is because that is what will give you the power to operate at the 20,000, 30,000 foot level.” So every week I used to have shadow sessions with my operations team and really understand what’s going on. What’s coming in?
I still vividly remember, we had teams that made sure that the content on the site is safe and does not violate our policies. And of course there was a lot of machine learning, AI used to weed out a lot of that, but there was some that could not be caught. And so it needed human review.
And I still remember images that still traumatized me. And those are the kind of things that we had to do. So the empathy that I had and the understanding of the problem was very different for me. Because I really knew what was going on at the grassroots level that could then let me drive policies, strategies at the high level. So those are some thoughts.
And then fast forward Sanjay, I’ll say when the IPO happened, it was a moment of deep pride for the company because it’s a milestone in the company’s journey. But then of course, if you remember, the stock price dropped significantly. And the company was under huge stress about not having a mobile monetization strategy. And two lessons there. One that focus that Mark and the executive team drove, and where they said, “We have to stay focused on our mission. And really, of course, listen to the message.”
I saw one of the most swift transformations I’ve seen a company take to focus on that mobile challenge, where we changed organizational structure. There was no more a mobile department, or a mobile version, or a desktop version. They were all combined to one.
The amount of training that the engineers went to, to gain mobile skills. Because we couldn’t hire that many people that quickly. Mark used to, if people came in with a product idea, if you didn’t start with a mobile version, he would literally stop the meeting. So those were the kind of changes that were very systematic and we drove the change pretty fast.
Sanjay Swamy 21:55
And this is in a post IPO company.
Kirthiga Reddy 21:56
This is in a post IPO company. And then we also put posters. We actually, there’s a big sense of what’s seen visually permeates your psyche, either consciously or not. But we had posters that says stay focused and keep shipping. And just staying focused and keep shipping was an important part of the ethos of the company, Sanjay. And I can go on, but-
Sanjay Swamy 22:30
I’m sure you can. I would love for you to, but I think people sort of, not everybody gets to experience what you did at Facebook. And I think some of those lessons apply to companies, even at the seed stage when it’s two founders and one engineer. And of course you have to carry on.
And I think a couple of things that obviously we worked a lot with Chamath, so there would be as few things he would say is that there are these, I think there are only 1% done, or something like was also a slogan at any stage of the company. It was always that you don’t get complacent.
And the other thing I read somewhere was also about Mark making the point that people had to think about any hire onto their team as if in an alternative universe, if you were reporting to this person would you want to work for them? And think about that when you bring anybody into the company.
And I think some of these thinking, which is sort of doing these things at scale, is I think what makes some of these companies go from good to great and iconic really.
Kirthiga Reddy 23:30
Yeah. And some other quick anecdotes. One, Mark did, and still does, every Friday, Q and A. And as the company grew and scaled, as we did surveys of the company of what was the most important source of quote/unquote truth of keeping people together? It was that Q and A that Mark used to do.
Of course, it used to be at an ungodly hour for India. So it used to be taped and we used to all watch it again together as a team on Monday. And I used to have the opportunity to answer questions. So just that power of communication in keeping a global team together and that consistency with which he did it. And the encouragement that he gave to ask the tough questions.
This was truly not a, “I’m doing this to keep everyone happy. I truly want to hear about the hardest questions in your mind.” It was a very powerful mechanism.
So that’s one too, as Facebook went through its many PR crises. And the focus on learning very quickly, but as Mark would say, “When the press is all negative about you, things internally might not be as bad as they seem.” And conversely, when things are … People are writing about you as the next best thing to slice bread, things internally are not as rosy as they may be. So you, again, just have to stay focused on what you’re doing, who you’re serving, and continue to move forward.
And the quick anecdote is when the Russian interference happened, I remember the message that certainly Facebook as a company, but we as an industry need to do a lot more in thinking about what happens if the platform is being used for just sheer evil. People don’t, of course, think about test cases, what can go wrong? But the intensity of how you think about what happens if this goes into the hands of someone with a purely destructive purpose? Is something that Facebook needs to do more about and the industry needs to do more about.
So as everyone here is building systems with AI, data, all of the questions of ethics. Just tackle that head on and think about that consciously. Because things are just, again, very difficult to change later. So think about it from the very beginning.
Sanjay Swamy 26:00
Yeah. And I think that applies also, especially, I mean, we do a lot in FinTech and almost all the companies are anyways data companies these days. So there’s also a lot of balancing between even for employees, to ensure that data doesn’t get out of their test systems, for example. And things like that.
I think we’ve seen companies that are going through M and A. And the buyer looks at the users and says, “Hey, your QA system has real customer data. And how do you know that wasn’t exposed to a hacker or something like that?” So I think companies also, as these problems, as the opportunity and the scale expands, and I think putting in those checks and balances very early becomes critical as well.
Terrific. I’m sure, and I know you’ve shared several anecdotes over the years as we have met. And the logical thing on what I thought after Facebook is, hey, you would probably take a break. Perhaps even retire, travel the world, or become another entrepreneur and get started.
But you surprised everyone by getting into, investing that too late stage investing with your stint at SoftBank. So how did that come about? And what were some of your experiences from that phase?
Kirthiga Reddy 27:20
Sure. So after Facebook in India, we relocated to Facebook headquarters. And frankly, that was more a personal decision. My girls were starting high school and middle school. So we said as much fun as we were having building Facebook in India, if we ever had to come back, that was the right time to come back.
By the way, they both told us, as you know, that we are ruining their lives by bringing them from India to the United States because again, India was what they had known. That’s where they had their friends and that’s where they wanted to stay.
And fast forward five years, they’re just so beautifully settled. And I think the gift of being able to call two countries home is just, I personally believe the best gift that I as a parent could have given them. And so came back to Facebook at headquarters. I worked in an emerging markets role. So I worked with South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Middle East. And I really had a blast every single day.
But then I started missing the startup ecosystem. I started missing the building. It was a very hard decision for me to leave Facebook. And the last six months after I told them that I wanted to leave, and we were working out the right transition. I cried every single day saying, “Oh my God, am I really going to leave a company that I love so much? And people that I love so much? And products that I love working on?”
But I went through all of that emotion over the six months, but I knew it was the right time for me to figure out my next challenge. After Facebook, I first started a seed fund with six other female Facebook executives called F7 Ventures. We were investing off our own pooled capital, which I would actually, as a woman, think about angel investing and I would encourage it as a mechanism for doing more and more of that.
It’s one thing to write your own angel checks. But what this allowed us to do is one, be able to do more with those pooled dollars. And two, have a set of like minded people that we could bounce ideas off of and get sharper with what we were investing in. So I did that.
And some of those conversations actually led me to SoftBank. I actually thought I would go be a CEO of an early stage startup after I left Facebook. But then as I was talking to a few venture firms about their portfolio companies, the question came up about whether I would consider investing full time? The opportunity with SoftBank was one that was just one of those, yet another once in a lifetime opportunities.
One there was Deep Nishar, who was the former chief product officer at LinkedIn. And I know a common friend, someone I’ve known for 10 years. And people just are such an important equation in how I make a decision. And I remember Deep saying in an operating career, you get to seed transformation sequentially. But in an investing career, you get to see such transformations at the same time across the globe. And that whole framework was very appealing.
If you know Deep, he’s very persuasive. And of course what SoftBank was doing, the scale, the might, and how they were shaping industries and the whole pieces of AI and data changing the world. So I joined SoftBank. And now look back on three incredible years with SoftBank. Managed a portfolio of over five billion and investments.
My focus was enterprise, health tech, frontier tech, and gaming. My last investment was actually a crypto NFT investment that is yet to be announced. But the gamut of that and scale of those technology transformations that I got to see, the founders that I got to work with, the transformations that each one of them were driving. It was just, again, lived up and more to that once in a lifetime experience, Sanjay.
Two new unicorns, three companies publicly listed, including joining the board of WeWork as part of their business turnaround. And seeing that phenomenal journey led by Sandeep, the CEO, and Marcelo as chairman leading up to the IPO last year. So if there was one takeaway, actually I’d also highlight, and you said, how did that happen?
Cheryl’s advice of make sure that you understand the nitty gritty was actually a key thing that I thought about even as I moved into investing. And so for some of my few initial deals, I did all of the modeling myself. Got cap IQ, did everything from the beginning to the end. And I’m sure like the associates, they were horrified about why am I doing this? And why are they not doing it? And I asked them more questions and took more time of them than they could have done themselves. But it was just super important for me to understand all of the nitty gritty of how late stage investing works. So that I could then spend the time needed on the investment pieces and the right terms with the founder. And so that was, again, an important theme that continued to play out through my different roles.
Sanjay Swamy 32:30
That’s wonderful. And any anecdotes from your interactions with founders that you could share? Most of these companies are well known around the world, so I’m sure listeners would love to hear.
Kirthiga Reddy 32:50
I have learned so much from each one of the entrepreneurs and founders that I work with. With Sandeep, it was his ability to make really bold changes. When I joined the board, Marcelo had a five year strategic turnaround plan. And when Sandeep came on board, he actually said, “Why are we taking these many years to drive the cost down? Let’s just rip the bandaid.”
And we went through a pretty deep restructuring process and that started before COVID. If we hadn’t done that, I think we would have just had a much harder time with COVID than we did. So just the ability to be bold and be transformative and just stay very, very ruthlessly focused on the business. And the economic side of things was just phenomenal.
From Ashutosh Garg, who is the founder of Eightfold.AI, which is a talent intelligence platform. We spoke earlier, Sanjay, in this podcast about the perils of AI and data being misused. But this is a beautiful example of AI and data for good. So they have an AI first platform that helps with talent matching.
It puts people in the center and you can upload your resume. And the system looks at the 1000s of jobs that are so chaotically organized and surfaces the five that are the best match for you. What that does is there’s all this research about men, if they see 60% match in the job description, they think that they’re the next best thing to slice bread for that role. This is just research. This is not me saying it. And women need to see a 100% match.
So what’s happening with this tool is it’s surfacing jobs to diverse candidates. And the candidates are saying, “Really, I am a good match for this role? I would have not even thought.”
So some of the companies are reporting an over 50% increase in their diversity hiring because of the use of this. So I love, love, love to think about that. The use of AI, data for good. And there are so many examples like that, where they came from. So it’s just very inspiring to see all the visions and to play a small part in helping make those visions come true, and how they’re transforming how we live and work.
Sanjay Swamy 35:15
Super. And I think AI, just from our experiences here with certainly healthcare in particular, where we are seeing companies like mfine and dozee in our Portfolio, that really are helping with better diagnosis. And making access to high quality, reliable healthcare in corners where you might not have the right level of medical support, physically in actual doctors. And with diagnostics.
In one of our companies Dozee, as well, that we’ve talked about, really being able to surface potential problems with patients earlier, much, much earlier. So I think we’re just getting started. So I think so much is going to be ahead of us. And I think the quality of care possible is definitely going to be a lot better. And of course, education is another area where we see again, a lot of this coming about.
Kirthiga Reddy 36:15
Totally. Yeah. And as you speak about healthcare, Sanjay, one of the other companies that I invested in FAIR Therapeutics, they are creating a new category of medicine, software as medicine. And their targets are serious psychiatric diseases is the first starting point. Substance use disorder, opioid use disorder.
The challenges of tomorrow are going to require very multidisciplinary approaches. And in this company, truly, I see that pharma plus technology, plus medical devices, and so many different disciplines come together. That’s another just investment thesis of the world’s challenges tomorrow are going to require a number of disciplines to come together to solve.
These are immense challenges and it could not happen faster. And we need all entrepreneurs, founders to be bold. Think bold, take bold strides to see all the changes that we need to see.
Sanjay Swamy 37:10
So I’ll ask you the classic VC question. You know all of us have a long list of companies that we had opportunities to invest in and didn’t. So what would you say is your anti portfolio? We see at the seed stage, we have several companies that we just can’t always see what the founder is seeing. And sometimes we have doubts on timing, on the team, on the TAM.
And so these things just play out. But at the SoftBank stage, much much later a lot of things are kind of obvious that it’s still going through. But obviously you still don’t end up backing all companies and some of them they’ll still do exceptionally well. So any famous ones you can talk about that in hindsight where the plan played out much better than you imagined?
Kirthiga Reddy 38:00
So I will not take names per se, but I will tell you general themes where we passed on a gaming company. And we had the opportunity to invest at a few billion dollar valuation. But, Sanjay, I think one thing that we do well is that we then don’t shy away from saying, “Oh we should have done this then.”
And we came in, in the next round at a much higher valuation, but that was a miss in that we did not see it early. Part of it is of course, with SoftBank, given that we have the ability to write large checks, we do have the ability to let things play out. And if that means that we have to come up with a higher valuation, then we will. So I would probably call that one out and maybe we’ll leave it at that.
Sanjay Swamy 39:10
That’s fine. Maybe one example is fine. Sure. Just looking at the time, I know it has already hit the top of the hour. Maybe a couple of closing questions and you can answer them together. What are you up to next? And looking back, Steve Jobs always talks about connecting the dots . If you were to look back at and have an opportunity to advise the Kirthiga of 20 years ago, would you have wanted to do anything differently? And what would that advice be for youngsters today?
Kirthiga Reddy 39:45
So what’s next? What’s next? One, I launched my SPAC, Sanjay. So SPAC, as the audience may know, is an alternate way for companies to go public, it was a 250 million IPO. And we are looking for the right transformative company in the enterprise health tech, deep tech, FinTech space, to take public.
So if there are people in this audience who want to refer, or are companies that are rightly valued, call it the 1.5 to 4 billion valuation range, strong management team, proven traction, and ready to go public, we are one of the handful high quality SPACs out there that you must talk to.
It is a third in a series of all female-led SPACs. And we created history. This is Women’s History Month. So when we were the first all female, all immigrant team ringing the New York Stock Exchange bell earlier this year.
Sanjay Swamy 41:00
Kirthiga Reddy 41:00
Actually, Sanjay, Mom dialed in over Zoom. And my girls were there with me on stage. Dev dialed in over Zoom. So it was truly emotional too, in terms of what that moment represented. And all the vision and mission behind that is far greater than just the financial returns. That of course, that we are indexed on for our investors.
So that’s what I am up to? I’m also spending a lot of time in the creator, crypto, and NFT space. And this is the creation of the new internet, if you may. So lots of plans are shaping up around that space. So that’s what’s next. And I promise, Sanjay, I will get my book done. Chapter three is due to my agent this month. So working on that, and I’m excited about that.
I’ll talk more about my journey at Facebook. You’ll see some of the stories that I shared here in the book, and bring in my perspectives from other parts of my career. It’s the journey of a woman in tech and it’s a celebration of all the people who helped build Facebook India. So I’m very, very excited about that book. And if I get hit by a bus, that’s the one thing that I will regret not doing. So it’s important that I get that done.
My advice for my 20 year old self is, and I’ve learned to do this over time, and I would just state it more explicitly to my 20 year old self, is to lean in, into the unknown, to lean in into fears, to lean in into uncertainty. I remember being offered the opportunity for doing entrepreneurship when I was in my undergrad, but I come from a service background with my father having worked with the same company for 30 years.
So the whole idea of entrepreneurship at that time was very foreign to me. And I almost did not pay any attention to that. It is a regret of mine. And of course, I’m trying to make up for it in spades with what I do in my later years. So I just say lean in into your fears.
And it could be in any dimension, if you’re worried about competition, go figure it out. You probably need to just embrace that and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Or a new strategy that’s coming, or a new direction, or a new career opportunity. So just lean in into the uncertain, and lean in into your fears. And live a life with no regrets. Live in-line with your values.
Sanjay Swamy 43:30
Superb. I think on that very high note, thank you so much, Kirthiga, for spending such a considerable amount of time with our podcast. I’m sure our listeners will really enjoy it. And I look forward to staying in touch.
Kirthiga Reddy 43:45
What is one thing you will remember? Having the two of us having known each other for so long, what’s one thing that you will remember?
Sanjay Swamy 43:49
Kirthiga Reddy 43:50
From this discussion.
Sanjay Swamy 43:55
I think the closing comment that you made. Don’t be shy to lean in when you have an opportunity. Take chances. I think that’s true even much later in life as well. I think you never know what’s behind that door unless you open it. And I think that’s the advice I would give everybody as well. So totally resonated with that.
Kirthiga Reddy 44:14
Sanjay Swamy 44:15
Everything else you said for the first 45 minutes was also awesome.
Kirthiga Reddy 44:20
Well, wonderful. Well, congratulations to you and the heart, soul, mind, spirit that you and your partners put into each of the founders that you back. It’s just been such a joy to see that evolution, Sanjay. So wishing you and all the founders the very best.
Sanjay Swamy 44:37
Kirthiga Reddy 44:38
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