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“Building a great company – so much more than technology” – Introducing Rohini Chakravarthy, NGP Capital’s new Partner

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Rohini Chakravarthy started at NGP Capital as a Partner on September 4th. With an impressive investment and technology background, including as an investing partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Cisco and Intel Capital, and as an entrepreneur at Inksedge, Rohini’s focus at NGP Capital will be on the Intelligent Enterprise. Here she shares her views on investing, and some things that drive her as an investor.

We are very excited to have you onboard! Tell us about yourself. What kind of investor are you?

RC: Sector-wise, I have been broad-based investor. Many of my investments have been in the Intelligent Enterprise space, in areas such as security, storage, and networking infrastructure and applications. I’ve worked on investments in companies around the world, so I’m planning to apply that global lens right from the start.

What attracted you to NGP Capital?

RC: First, the partners here are experienced investors, strategic about opportunities in growth investing, and focused on thematic areas. And culturally, we are like-minded on being true partners – intellectually honest, respectful and invested in each other’s success.

Secondly, NGP's global focus was a real differentiator for me. NGP Capital is working closely with companies that are expanding in many dynamic markets and applying lessons across geographies.

Finally, NGP Capital has a track record of investing in very interesting companies. One example is Xiaomi, which has grown from a Chinese smartphone provider into a huge IoT ecosystem player. The opportunity to help build the next Xiaomi is super interesting to me.

What are you really passionate about in terms of your investment strategy?

RC: Currently, I am very interested in how Cloud technologies are enabling enterprises to transform themselves in fundamental ways. This disruption has created – and is still creating – multi-billion dollar companies in a variety of sectors..

A second area of interest is the consumerization of the enterprise. It used to be that technology started within companies to meet company needs, and then moved out to individual users. Thanks to mobile, what we have seen is a complete flip in that model. New technologies still need to address the needs of the enterprise, but end-user expectations are now set by our experiences as consumers. 

A third area is how machine learning and artificial intelligence are affecting both the way we create technology and what we expect that technology to do. Enterprises are using machine learning to evaluate who does the work and how they do it, enabling them to radically improve business processes.

Stage wise, we work with companies that are either just starting to grow or are looking for new growth vectors. Enabling growth at this stage is about much more than technology, it is also about building a work culture that supports growth without getting in the way. I’m interested in companies that last, and I want to build a portfolio of companies who can do that.

Do you remember when you knew you wanted to be venture capitalist?

RC: One of my formative experiences involved building an ecosystem around a corporate strategy, and using venture investment to create a leveraged impact on the corporation as a whole. I found that I was good at that; I could be a champion for my companies both within the corporation and throughout the broader network ecosystem.

I have also learned a lot from the partners I’ve worked with over the years, who are some of the best investors in the world – about building companies that last, having the back of the entrepreneur, and being patient capital. 

Being an entrepreneur is a lonely job; I’ve been on that side of the table as well, and I know how difficult it can be. Having venture partners you can rely on, and who stay with you when things get difficult, can often make the difference between success and failure.

What common expectations do founders have about the VC relationship that are often wrong?

RC: Many times founders start with the expectation that, because the VCs have “been through these cycles” before, they can provide the map to get “there”. We can work with entrepreneurs to help them figure it out – as sounding boards, with advice when things aren’t working as expected, providing feedback on strategies and plans, helping them to move forward – but we can’t show them their destination. Each company and each journey is different. 

Another misconception I often see among founders is the idea that raising a lot of capital is always good. Fact is, raising too much capital at once can sometimes hurt a promising company. They can end up trying to do too many things at once, and lose the discipline needed to succeed. A company’s capital strategy needs to correlate with the broader company strategy. It’s a balance: too little and you can miss opportunities, too much and you can get in your own way.

What is one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

RC: Some practical advice I give to my entrepreneurs is to proactively manage their time with their investors and board members. In early growth companies, board meetings should be 20% about reporting and 80% about getting real help from board members. 

Too often, it is the other way around; founders will build a good board, and then spend most of their time with the board on reporting results. What I wish is that founders would focus the board’s inputs on the most important issue that the entrepreneur needs help with.

What are you reading at the moment?

RC: One book I’m reading right now is Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, which has been recommended by Bill Gates, among others. It’s an optimistic book that looks at various global trends and shows why our perceptions are so much more negative than the reality on the ground.

I’m also re-reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It’s about intuition vs. analysis, and how the way we think affects how we react to different situations, communicate, make decisions and solve problems. It’s a great book.

Thanks for the interview and welcome to NGP Capital!

Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here!