Meet the investor: Rashmi Gopinath
May 15, 2020
What investing areas do you focus on?
I focus primarily on deep tech companies in the enterprise sector. This includes cloud infrastructure, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, devops, opensource and, broadly, B2B SaaS. I look for companies that have a strong tech offering or an IP moat around product or platform offerings.
What attracted you to the venture investing?
My journey into venture investing has been kind of interesting, with a number of detours along the way. The first half of my career was in product and engineering roles at Oracle and GE Healthcare, where I built and took products to market. At Oracle, I built database, analytics and devops products that touched millions of developers worldwide. At GE Healthcare, I built data analytics and ML products for healthcare use cases and took them to market while also getting my MBA at Northwestern.
It was at Northwestern that I was exposed to venture and the investment side of the house through internships with a growth equity fund and a private equity fund. The venture investing experience got me really excited about entrepreneurship and how investors can work with founders to build companies that could truly change the world and create lasting impact. My prior operating, product, and engineering experiences gave me a vantage point to help identify which companies and technologies could succeed in the long-term. I also saw places I could add value for founders by helping them effectively build and scale companies and ultimately achieve outsized exit outcomes.
Why are they building this product and this company? What was the pain point did they see? These insights help investors assess how committed the founder is to the long and arduous journey of taking this company through all the ups and downs to ultimately succeed.
What do you look for in a founder or an executive team?
The founder(s) and the executive team are the most important aspect of an investment. There are a number of criteria that investors typically look for, but if I must boil that down into three core specific areas, I would say the first one is founders really communicating their passion and backstory. All founders and entrepreneurs have the option to stay in what are probably high-paying jobs and avoid the risk and pay cut they take to go start a company. But they are all driven by an underlying passion to do something that is intrinsically very different and not available today in the market and it is always very helpful to understand why they went down this path. Why are they building this product and this company? What was the pain point did they see? These insights help investors assess how committed the founder is to the long and arduous journey of taking this company through all the ups and downs to ultimately succeed.
The second key aspect is experience in a relevant sector, field or subject matter. For example, when I look at investing in a startup in the AI space I look for founders with prior experience in building AI products or running AI-enabled businesses, who have the ability to attract and retain technical and business talent in that sector and who understand customer pain points, buying cycles and the competitive landscape.
The third is a combination of being extremely curious, willing to learn and experiment, and open to feedback. These are important because investor value-add goes way beyond capital in most cases. Investors bring substantial sector expertise, apply pattern-matching across all their other investments to provide valuable market and execution insights and help in a variety of ways from recruiting, to fund-raising, to creating exit options. It is important for founders and investors to build a trusted relationship in order to create the best possible outcomes for the company. As an investor, I look for the founding/management teams that are open and receptive to inputs from the board and that are decisive when making the calls that are in the best interest of the company.
What did you do before you were an investor?
There were two key roles that I had before I was an investor. First (as previously mentioned) I was in both product and engineering roles at larger companies. I also spent about four years on the operating side with two startups working directly with founding teams and CEOs in a variety of go-to-market roles. My first operating role was at one of my own portfolio companies, a seed-stage cloud infrastructure startup, out of Intel Capital. There, I ran most of the go-to-market functions including product marketing, sales and business development. I then ran business development for a growth stage startup in the valley called Couchbase, where my role was primarily to drive top-line growth through channel partnerships, OEMs, re-seller relationships and tech partnerships.
I think the journey that founders and entrepreneurs go through is extremely rewarding, albeit very risky, but when done right, gives the ability to have an outsized impact that is tremendous.
If you were not in this career, what would you be doing?
If I were not in this career, I would probably continue to be in an operating role. I think the journey that founders and entrepreneurs go through is extremely rewarding, albeit very risky, but when done right, gives the ability to have an outsized impact that is tremendous. It is a truly rewarding and gratifying experience when you see that end vision play out.
What is something many people may not know about you?
Not many people know that I am trained in an Indian classical dance form called Bharatnatyam. I love dancing and I continue to take Bollywood dance lessons (even more fun when my 8-year old daughter and I take them together).