Why Indian startups are celebrating the resignation of Google’s India chief

He gets startups.
He gets startups.
Image: EPA/Rajat Gupta
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The face of Google India for the past eight years is moving on.

On April 02, Rajan Anadan said he is quitting the internet search major to join venture capital firm Sequoia India as an investment advisor and mentor.

“I’ve always believed that to grow as an individual and a business leader, one needs to challenge themselves in new ways. There are two things that excite me more than anything else: the power of technology, and the power of ambitious entrepreneurs, to solve for humanity’s big problems,” the Google India managing director said in a letter to employees. “In this next phase of my life, I want to focus full-time on the latter—investing in promising early-stage technology startups across India and southeast Asia.”

The Surge programme that Anandan is set to head will focus on early-stage startups across India and southeast Asia.

Vikas Agnihotri, country director for sales, will take on Anandan’s role at Google while the company looks for a permanent replacement.

Even as he was headlining Google’s India business, Anandan was deeply involved with young entrepreneurs, having invested in over 80 startups over the years, according to data from startup tracker Tracxn. So for those who know him, this move is no surprise.

“Knowing Rajan’s deep commitment to supporting young tech startups, this seems like a perfect union. Sequoia and entrepreneurs in their network will find immense value,” said Geetika Dayal, executive director at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Delhi National Capital Region.

The time at Google

Anandan came to Google in 2010 after having worked as managing director of Microsoft India for two years. In his earlier roles, he had worked as a vice-president at Dell India and McKinsey & Co in Chicago.

Under his leadership, the internet search giant went from strength to strength, scaling up India operations to over $1 billion (over Rs6,800 crore) in revenues.

The California-based company also entered new and lucrative segments where it has dug its heels deep by now. For instance, launched by Anandan in August 2017, digital wallet Google Payments comprised over half of all unified payment interface (UPI) transactions within months of its launch.

A Sri Lankan Tamil, Anandan’s understanding of the region helped Google launch several India-focused initiatives that have not only helped the company financially but also boosted its goodwill. For example, last June, Google completed one of the world’s largest railway wifi projects in the world, offering high speed wifi at 400 stations across India.

Anandan also spearheaded initiatives to tap the next billion internet users in India through initiatives like Internet Saathi, which creates a chain effect of women teaching women digital literacy in rural areas, and a pared-down version of its video streaming platform YouTube to overcome the slow internet speeds.

However, the move to become a full-time investor was a long time coming, say those who have observed Anandan over the years.

The angel

A prolific angel investor, Anandan has bet his money on a multitude of technologies, including big data, cloud computing, digital media, online healthcare, mobile commerce, and social games. Some of his portfolio firms are personal concierge app Dunzo—also Google’s first direct investment in India—co-working spaces company Innov8, and an online women’s community platform SHEROES.

“Rajan’s deep understanding of technology, significant operating expertise, and track record of growing tech businesses across the region will help Surge founders scale and build the transformational businesses of tomorrow,” Shailendra J Singh, managing director at Sequoia Capital, said in a statement.

In his personal capacity, the most funded company Anandan has invested in is cloud platform Druva, which received $200 million over various rounds.

For Anandan, these are not mere monetary investments. He’s actively trying to build up a robust ecosystem.

“It’s not all just a party conversation for him. He follows up,” Zishaan Hayath, an angel investor and serial entrepreneur, told Quartz referring to meetings with Anandan. “He doesn’t have to go out of the way to make introductions to other investors and entrepreneurs but he genuinely does it.”

Santosh Panda, who met Anandan at one of his famed “pub meet-ups” in Bengaluru back in 2012, holds a similar opinion. An investor in Panda’s events and activities marketplace today, Anandan connected him to, besides other investors, Ravi Gururaj and Raj Chinai, the co-founders of Harvard Business School (HBS) Angels.

Besides, constant mentoring is a big plus of having him onboard. “People put money in and forget about it, but every now and then, Anandan checked in without me reaching out. The eagerness to work with entrepreneurs and hear our stories is something you don’t find in an angel ecosystem,” Panda said. “And he knows your numbers, your partnership. He has such beautiful insights that you won’t get otherwise.”

Unlike Silicon Valley, India doesn’t have many startup founders who have led by example, nor does it have a plethora of seasoned, risk-taking, well-versed investors. Anandan’s full-time move to the investment side could boost the confidence of this sector, experts say.

His passion towards Indian startups is not just encouraging for founders but a signal for other angels to take a bigger plunge as well. “It tells angels we can be part of company building and take on various roles,” said Panda. “There are enough smart people that Google could hire but we needed Rajan on this side.”