Episode 3: Shruti Gandhi on Battle Scars and How To Leverage Them as a Venture Capitalist

with Shruti Gandhi and Kalin Kelly

January, 2020



Our third episode of Earnings features Shruti Gandhi, Founder and Managing Partner at Array Ventures. 

Shruti is a rare female engineer who became a founder turned investor with both a masters in computer science and an impressive MBA. Today, she's a solo female General Partner at Array Ventures, having raised $40M herself in capital under management. 
 

 

In this episode we cover 

1. How Shruti got into Venture Capital (skip to 1:33)

2. How to succeed in Venture Capital as a female or as a female founder (skip to 4:03)

3. Finding and sourcing new investments (skip to 5:09)

4. Competitive edge to being a women in Venture Capital (skip to 8:00)

5. Battle scars that make you successful (skip to 14:00)

6. Shruti’s most memorable investment (skip to 15:20) 

7. Challenges of raising your own fund (skip to 16:06) 

 

Highlights from the Episode

"There's quite a few things I live by but persist.  And I think on top of that is persistence for me. The biggest thing that kind of goes along with that is just do it with something nice."

"When you are deciding something to have that resilience and that persistence to be that woman in the room and to just decide that you're going to take on that challenge." 

"I have to say, scars are not just gender related. The scars are you know, it takes a lot to start a company and to make it successful. So it's more the scars of the journey. And you have to kind of take it as it comes." 

"Not only being strong and tough, but don't take it personally and don't internalize it and put as many feelers out there as possible because you never know where that investment cheque is going to come from. Don't be afraid to ask." 



Full Transcript 

Kalin: 

Welcome in. This is Earnings, a podcast exclusively highlighting the rare female voices in venture capital in Silicon Valley today. I'll be your host, Kaitlyn Kelly, CEO and founder of Art and Armor. Art in Armor is a new jewelry line, one of a kind. Investing its net proceeds into female founders. Every episode on earnings is dedicated to sharing the rare, resilient voices of women and venture, inspiring a new wave of female CEOs and leading by example as female g._p._s. Because we know that being strong is about wearing it and owning it. We're so grateful and thankful to Silicon Valley Bank for being our sponsor. Today we are joined by Shruti Gandi, founder and managing partner at Ouray Ventures. We begin every episode with earned highlights, praising accomplishments of each phenomenal woman we have here on the podcast, Shruti. You've been an early stage venture capital investor at five early stage funds. You were a rare female engineer who became a founder turned investor with both a master's in computer science and an impressive MBA from machine learning algorithms to your own company, pensive to a solo GP with 40 million now that you've raised under management. We're thrilled to have your voice here in the studio today. Welcome and thank you so much for having me. With such an accomplished background, we're so excited to learn more about your experience today. You're a rare engineer and a rare female ABC. How did you find yourself in venture capital today?

Shruti: 

Long journey, but it was more a path to reverse engineer how venture works. After I started a company and I said, let's figure out how venture hacked the venture out was I figured this out. The next company will have an easier time fundraising and that's what I did. I went on that path and now I'm a lifetime v.c right now.

Kalin:

I love that. So you reverse engineered your way into venture capital? Yeah. OK. I've never heard that before. I love that frame and that phrase. That's fantastic. So you taught yourself how to code as a young girl. Can you tell us more about that experience that kind of led you on the path of technology and then eventually to venture capital? That's a long path.

Shruti:

When I taught myself how to code, it was kind of accidental. We had these new computers in our lab back in and in India, Mumbai, and I was coding in basic and it was as simple as I had no idea I was coding. It was just kind of, you know, I created something and it created the output was music. And that as we're in the studio today. Exactly. So that with all this amazing instrument, you're right. So that idea of just output loving the output made me wanted to do it more so long, you know, Hopps after that, I studied computer science. I, you know, did engineering for about a decade before I switched and do starting things so and then investing. So that's yeah, I can go into this. But now it's been that moment was a few decades ago and I really recommend when people talk about teaching kids how to code. I think about not don't think about it as code. Think about it as a fun thing. You're going to try to, you know, deliver for them that they like already. Yeah, and it's possible.

Kalin:

Well, thinking about the young listeners that we have here on the podcast of young girls that are learning to code that might find themselves one day in venture capital, I think your story is inspiring in itself that not only did you decide one day that you were going to learn how to code, but you taught yourself. And ever since then, reverse engineered yourself into becoming an investor for a more diverse population of investments. So thank you for doing that and for being such a self-starter and inspiring more young girls to be self-starters. As you know, everything is possible. Everything is possible. Yes. You know, great leaders often have their own quotes and their own mottos. Do you share any kind of quotes or mottos with your portfolio companies or perhaps an inspirational message that you've received in your past that you like to spread out to the world?

Shruti:

There's quite a few things I live by but persist. There's not a motto more more like, you know, way of live life. And I think on top of that is persistence for me. The biggest thing that kind of goes along with that is just do it with something nice.

Kalin:

We're not trademarking, haha!

Shruti:

But it is important to in life to just kind of not overthink things and go make it happen. So I live by that a lot.

Kalin: 

We have a quote with Art and Armor of  Wear It Own It. And I think it's a lot like just do it in the sense that when you are deciding something to have that resilience and that persistence to be that woman in the room and to just decide that you're going to take on that challenge. So I think that's a very important message to be relaying to our audience today. So thank you.

Shruti:

You're welcome.

Kalin:

Five funds. Those are a lot of funds. And you have gained that experience to start your own fund. With that experience, of course, you've had this opportunity to learn so much. Have you somehow found the secret sauce, if you will, to finding and sourcing new investments with that experience? Or is there a gut strength that you go off of when you're meeting new teams?

Shruti:

It's a very good question. And everyone's a different style than investing, right? The five fund things, a lot of those funds were initially were as an intern and I learned. Yeah, well. So I was in business school and I basically went to some funds and said, you know, I'll do internship collapse, whatever you want to call it. But I worked throughout our existence. Yeah. Yeah. And I think if you offer help to people for free and in return, you're offering them some knowledge, wisdom, research, whatever they need. Benwood also, you know, people want to take a chance on you. So that's what happened. But then once I graduated, I worked at a couple other funds after that. Right? Samsun true. And then I started Ouray about four years ago. So that's the journey. But what I learned. All these funds was different perspective. There's a fund that did distress investments. There is a fund that basically is a corporate venture, right, that Samsung there is a fund that was very early stage is a fund that in Chicago like bank, which. Has a very different approach to law, oftentimes they invest in what they call themselves founding investors. So what I learned through all this was there is no one way to, you know, to be in this business. And so when when I started Array Ventures, a lot of the things I learned from these funds I implemented and what I wanted to be like the best practices of making that happen. Well, you know, it's funny.

Kalin:

And you were sitting next to me, said, I'm right here. I just absolutely loved that whole frame where you declared. Hey, by the way, I'm the venture capitalist that you're looking for. I think in our current status quo of venture capital in Silicon Valley, we're really missing that mark of women being able to establish themselves as venture capitalists. And also being able to speak up in venture capital. We hear a lot of stories about women that aren't heard. NBC, which is why we have this podcast series in the first place. But I'm also curious if you found that there is maybe a competitive edge to being a woman in venture capital.

So maybe we can flip the script a little bit and. Yeah. Have you found some competitive edge to being you?

Shruti:

Yes, actually, woman is one piece of it. But the biggest piece is understanding how hard deep tech companies work without a lot of data. Right. So it's it's a very hard thing to do to find a company in enterprise data without the data that they have today. Right. You can evaluate the company better ones here at a series a/b stage once they have a little bit more information that they've built up in the years since launch. So the trend that that is there is around evaluating those companies proceed first check based on very little let you know. So that's the first part of it. But now being a woman really adds onto that because how many people do you know doing that first precede enterprise kind of investing on its own. But then on top of that, women engineers who are starting funds at this stage, I have to say, we've in the last few years since I've started, though, we've had some amazing movement in the industry and we've had some amazing investors come in. Women investors actually come in and build funds in the last few years. So I'm pretty excited to see how the space goes. But when I started the fund, that was kind of the premise of like, I know how where you're starting your company in the Enterprise and the big data machine learning space. And I also know that you probably don't have a woman investor on every table. And I also know how to get you a talent of women engineers. Since I also sometimes teach at Columbia in the comp sci department or. Right. Like it's a series of offerings that kind of differentiate you from everyone else that's on the on the kept you. Well, that's interesting.

Kalin:

We often speak about women as innate connectors being able to add value to where they see value. And that's come up a lot in our conversations about women being connectors, but not necessarily being rewarded by being a connector. Our earnings in a lot of ways, the earnings that we have is our network is much of our connections and our ability to know who is going to be able to help whom. So I wonder with women and venture specifically that add value that we're talking about being able to convey that to your portfolio companies, that women are in essence, this is your superpower, right?

And a lot of ways it can be one of your superpowers, amongst many others. But I wonder also what are the challenges that being a connector you may face? Are you overwhelmed by how many connections you need to make? How do you manage your time most effectively when you're trying to add value for your portfolio companies?

Shruti:

Wonderful question. I actually am struggling with that at all moment of my time because as you said, women as women, we like to show that we belong here. Yes. Right. We're good enough for you, founder. And end of the day, that creates this sense of why you should do more. I should do more. Right. But the thing that we end up doing more as women is not just the obvious things that you can tell. For example, oh, v.c should help you with hiring. v.c should help you with recruiting. The v.c should help you with interviewing candidates, whatever it is a tangible things. What women often end up doing is that they can plus plus, which is emotional support therapy being available at any hour the day talking through dynamics politics. But the thing is, you don't get rewarded for that and you kind of get taken for granted for that. Mm hmm. Which is very frustrating because, you know, when that decision is being made on who's important and you get told, oh, this person was still valuable, they connected me with this best hire. Mm hmm. And you're sitting there saying, give it a help. You think about the framework and you ride it. Kind of like founders almost think that they're geniuses on their own. Sometimes you just kind of come up with it on their own. So it's it's a very interesting journey. Know how after being in venture for almost a decade now? Close enough, like eight plus years. That's always like a, you know, given take kind of you think about like what's enough, what's good enough? And I've had so many thoughts with myself, but with my advisors, other investors on what's the right approach. And I've had, like people say, oh, you know, so-and-so. And Metzer said once the investor just asked me for one thing and I would deliver that one thing for you, and that's good enough. But I don't think that's enough. And, you know, as women, we just want to keep doing more. So it's a it's a battle. I love it.

Kalin:

Use the word battle, because obviously our entire life keeping keeping armor of our time, keeping armor of our presence, of using that wisely, of being able to see where we may feel a little bit overextended or taken advantage of in the boardroom or, you know, in in these situations with our portfolio companies, we do often want to just be the connector and solve all the problems. Titanium armor. Yeah

And I just I love the fact that you have a jewelry background. I don't think many people know that that you at one point in your career decided to create jewelry, not on our set list of questions that has come up, which is very rare that you had that experience and then also became an investor later on in life.

Shruti:

It was more like a business to meet ends more than anything. But as a founder, you have the same path you start something in, something you have never done before, which is always appealing. The grass is greener, right? Like I've been in Enterprise all my life on a sort of consumer company. But then, yeah, I think the process to start a company is very complicated, as you say that with a sigh.

Kalin:

I mean, you believe founder and you've already been there. You understand it.

You shared very honestly and very vulnerably your own experience with failure. But then from failure, you became triumphant and you went into metric capital from that failure.

I think, you know, as we evolve and definitely and win more numbers of women, venture capital, we need the women with the quote unquote, not Scar's, but for the lack of better words, the experience that put them in the arena.

Shruti:

I have to say, scars are not just gender related. The scars are you know, it takes a lot to start a company and to make it successful. So it's more the scars of the journey. And you have to kind of take it as it comes.

Kalin:

Absolutely. I think that reminds me of Brené Brown's style of being in the arena. Right. Who doesn't? I know. I love Britney run generally. I was listening to her earlier today. Yeah, it's amazing. It's applicable. She's amazing, right?

Being in the arena, especially for women and muncher being so rare. I think there's just a handful of us in the arena having each other's backs, making sure that, you know, we're giving each other a deal flow, you know, along those lines. What has been the most memorable investment for you? And did you actually receive it from a female investor counterpart?

Shruti:

There are quite actually, it's a good question. Venture business, just to step back, is about just working with lot of other people. And it's always given take rate like there is for people you like. You always try to make room on the cap table. So the memorable investment in one of my first investments at Ouray was through a founder named Shauna Tillerman. She was at Google Ventures at the time and now she's the founder of Mansi. So that was it. You know, when you write that first check from the own hard earned, hard earned funds you raised. You know, it's always something special. It's absolutely.

Kalin:

What are the challenges that you face when you actually did raise your own fund for all of the other women out there looking to raise their own funds?

Shruti:

Everyone goes through something different. It does expose you through all you to all your Wellner vulnerabilities, because when you get that know, everyone processed it differently. You know, it's hard for people to say it's not me, it's, you know, it's the process or it's a numbers game. It's rationally, all of that makes sense. But when you're going through this, it's exhausting, physically exhausting. Your calendar is not in your control. You're out there just hearing no's one after the other. Especially for things. One, you will never know why they say no, because most people want to never declare and be honest about it or two things that you find out that you could never change, which is actually why they're sharing with you. Because that's a hard no. Sometimes it's like you're a solove GP. So, OK, it's a why'd you take the meeting? Right. It's one of those things where it's just an easy way for them to say no. And walking out of that process, you kind of have to just become I don't want to say tough, but I want every female fund founder out there to say that's OK.

Shruti:

Next one.

Kalin:

Resilient.

Shruti:

I don't even know if it's resilience to more just like not internalizing the pain and not taking it personally. If you have a pad, they're going to go for just kind of not don't make it an emotional path. Right. So that's a that's a good learning. I had to go through on my own. Hard not to, you know, take it personally when people, you know, you think should invest in you don't invest in you. And then there are people who do and you never thought they would. So it's a very it's a very amazing journey if you just don't take it personally.

Kalin:

That's one of the best pieces of advice I think I've ever heard. Not only being strong and tough, but don't take it personally and don't internalize it and put as many feelers out there as possible because you never know where that investment cheque is going to come from. Don't be afraid to ask.

Don't be afraid to ask. We absolutely believe in. Don't be afraid of the nose. Right. Yeah. Nose and ask. Yeah. When you ask, people may not help. I'm always going to be a no until you ask. Absolutely. That's a good. Yeah that's a good that's a very good way to put it.

I think that's all applicable to being a woman in venture. And also as we're looking at expanding this table for women, not just the cap table. Right. But expanding the table for inviting more women to be a part of the conversation. How would you ideally, in an ideal world, see us expanding that conversation? Where do you believe it starts for more women to be invited to the table?

Shruti:

That's a tough one. I know, but including as many women as we can. I think the thing this is the thing I have kind of I don't know if I've an answer. Right. But what I do know is there are some people and women are part of this category that do not have a straight path to to what you know, to being a fund manager, to be a founder. And I think not discounting that is very important. I think there are very few set of people kind of historic. I'm going to go to this school and I'm going to go into this business school. And after this business go, I'm going to do this private equity shop and. Right. Very few people have the luxury of being able to do that. People who can do that, that's amazing. I mean, sure, I want to be that person, I guess. But the other side, which is a lot of women end up being in that bucket, is, you know, you figure it out as it comes and it's OK to kind of entertain time and mentor or sponsor or be friends with women who are just open to kind of sharing that with you and asking questions back and forth, I think. We miss out on that oftentimes by just kind of expecting that people should have had figured out. So give serendipity a little bit more of a chance. I would say this is a thing I kind of often keep myself, you know, said to myself, when I'm looking at founders who I don't think have had a straight shot at that pad where we're at today, where they're at today. Serendipity.

Kalin:

Yeah, serendipity.  And it sounds like adaptability.

Shruti:

So my favorite movie was My Long Time John Cusack.

Kalin:

Praises serendipity at all sorts of walks of life and including where you might find the next deal and maybe even the next business partner. Absolutely. Absolutely. So I hear you're in a documentary called Bias. Tell us more. 

Shruti:

Biases is about the biases we live with in our daily life. And even the most forward understanding, open minded people end up having tons of biases that they live it. The director goes and do those biases herself and record them on camera, which I think is very exciting to kind of discover what you might have blinders around. So really recommend you watching that documentary. It really opens your eyes around, you know, things we may be accommodating around, but then closed around as well.

Kalin:

So we're adding a movie star to your credentials very soon.

Shruti:

Thank you. I'll be signing autographs. 

Kalin:

Wonderful.Thank you so much for being on the podcast. It has been such a fantastic interview. Thank you for being here.

Shruti:

I should have you on my podcast. Thanks. You're awesome. Thanks for having me.

Kalin:

I think so, too. We'll see you soon.

Shruti:

Great.