Shruti Gandhi truly embodies what it means to have “hustle fuel”.
And not just because of all that she has accomplished at a young age. She is the general partner and founding engineer of Array Ventures, an early stage enterprise SaaS venture capital fund in the Bay Area that focuses on solving pressing problems in large industries using data, AI, and machine learning. She has led investments in over 60 early stage companies with 6 exits to companies such as Apple, Paypal, ServiceNow, and The We Company. She has invested millions of dollars and backed many women and diverse founder-led startups. And she is an adjunct computer science professor at Columbia University.
What truly embodies her “hustle fuel” is how she built this career, in her very own words, from “nothing”. She has publicly said, “My life is my message.” She said, “I tried to put it out there, so someone, a little Shruti somewhere in the world, looks at that and says, ‘Wow, she just did it and she didn't have that background. I can do it too. I don't have to go to all the top networks and universities and so forth to make that happen.’”
I thoroughly enjoyed diving deeper into her unconventional journey and learning more about:
- The power of people and relationships in shaping her journey as an engineer turned founder turned investor
- The hustle it takes as a female founder (of a company, or more specifically, a fund in Shruti’s case)
- How to be a constant learner
What gives Shruti Gandhi her “hustle fuel”?
Highlights from the conversation
Keep people in the loop, so they can be better prepared to help you better.
“Venture is all about knowing the right people, and who you know… That’s what I’ve done best in my life so far—keeping the right people (whether it’s a deal or anything else) abreast so they’re not caught by surprise. Because when someone is prepared, they have something better to offer—even for you.”
Shruti speaks about how she was trying to break into venture capital during her MBA at Chicago Booth. At the time, she believed that she should simply leverage herself and her skillset (and not her network) to make that happen.
When she returned to business school after her summer internship, her entrepreneurial finance professor, Professor Steven Kaplan, came up to her in class one day and asked her why he was caught left-footed when folks at the Kauffman Fellows program reached out to him for a reference on Shruti. His words, “that’s not how you conduct business today”, stuck with Shruti and she believes she learnt a big lesson—keep the right people abreast so that they are forearmed to help you to the best of their ability.
People around you can sometimes see what you don’t.
“Luckily, I had a lot of people along the way who helped me get there… I think what they saw in me was before even I saw in myself… My founders and investors in the early days saw my hustle and expertise.”
As a self-taught coder who then spent a decade as an engineer at IBM, Shruti had the relevant enterprise tech expertise (that is still highly specialized). As a founder, she went into venture capital to “reverse engineer” what VCs look for in founders when they’re investing in companies. As an investor, she had a promising track record of investing in B2B data-driven companies. This engineer-turned-founder-turned-investor acumen, coupled with the fact that Array specializes in a niche of the enterprise market that few other funds do, resulted in people around Shruti realizing her potential even before she did.
For female (and other underrepresented) founders, trying to be “thoughtful about everything” might actually result in the “world punishing them” for it.
“In the end, one that can be overconfident about what they do wins the game and can raise more capital. That’s just the unfortunate market that we’re in.”
Shruti spoke about how she actually admires founders who are not overconfident. Unfortunately, her experience in the venture capital and startup world has highlighted how people are used to a particular set of traits and patterns—which unfortunately don’t work well for women and other underrepresented founders. To highlight this, Shruti speaks about how being thoughtful, measured and nuanced when she walks into a room of limited partners (LPs, i.e. institutional or individual investors that have invested capital in the funds of the VC firm that they are investing off of) to talk about her metrics has worked against her personally.
While the odds are stacked against underrepresented founders, Shruti tries to pay it forward by working with diverse founders (and not just “the Stanford dropout”) at Array—whose struggles she can also relate to through her own lived experiences. As an example, she responds to cold outreach on social media from founders who are not plugged into the typical networks that feed venture capitalist pipelines because as she says, “Me, ten years ago, I didn’t have those networks.”
As a founder, go with the momentum to learn and grow. As an investor, diversify your sources of learning.
“Founders often go in circles, and they’re always optimizing for their best outcome… The ability to listen to your gut, go with that data, and not just trying to optimize for the ten best investors out there is the right founder for Array.”
From a founder’s perspective, Shruti believes that the ones she has found to be able to grow and learn the fastest were those that make quick decisions based on the available data and their instinctive gut reaction.
From an investor’s perspective, Shruti diversifies her learning with what she gleans from everyone ranging from C-level operators who shed light on on-the-ground pain points that they are facing to her students at Columbia who keep her abreast of the latest sectoral trends.
Take risks early on if you can.
“It’s okay to fail fast… but take the risk.”
Shruti thinks time is our most valuable commodity—that diminishes rapidly over time, as you get married and have kids. While her parting thoughts are to dream big and take risks early on when you have more time at your disposal, I smiled at how the venture capitalist in Shruti nudged towards the need for “an exit strategy” here as well—to know for how long you’re taking those risks.
(Hustle Fuel represents my own personal views. I am speaking for myself and not on behalf of my employer, Microsoft Corporation.)
About the Hustle Fuel series: Hustle Fuel, a Founding Fuel series, looks at the world of work and entrepreneurship from a woman’s lens. Building a company or a meaningful career is brutal, and role models for a path less trodden are always invaluable. The Hustle Fuel series is relevant especially for women—but not just for women.
Thriving in the evolving workforce demands ‘hustle fuel’. It demands having to punch above one’s weight to earn a seat at the table—not because you are a woman but because you are the right person for the job. Interestingly, it just so happens that this hustle fuel is precisely the attitude any entrepreneur needs to survive. Whether a man, woman, or from an ethnic minority community.