Raj Vaswani is currently the Chief Technology Officer with Silver Spring Networks. Equally as important and interesting for my audience is that he also has completed an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program with Foundation Capital. While I did discuss his overall background, as well as his role in founding Silver Spring Networks, Raj also provided some good insights into the Entrepreneur-in-Residence programs, also know as EIR. I began my interview with Raj by doing an overview of his background to discover where his entrepreneurial roots come from.
SM: I would like to start by discussing your background. You can go as far back as you wish, perhaps including some childhood anecdotes that made you an entrepreneur. RV: My family’s philosophy was that what you did mattered somewhat less than how you did it. As long as you generally picked something that was interesting, and you believed was useful and honorable, then the important thing was really giving it your best possible effort. Living this way you couldn’t really “fail”, since the worst that would happen is that you’d learn some lessons to be applied to your next adventure in life, and along the way you’d run into something or someone which would clarify what the next adventure should be. For me, those things seem to have held up pretty well as being true.
SM: When did you come to the US? RV: I moved to the US from India when I was around 12 years old, I was in 7th grade. I don’t particularly remember much about the assimilation process except that there was a lot to figure out (“Let me get this straight, you use a round bat to hit the ball?”). The first few of what I consider to be “fortunate blunders” happened when I began applying for colleges.
The first was choosing a field of study. I’d always been more interested in the liberal arts, but had applied to colleges in Computer Science. This was largely based on a very carefully planned and chosen criterion. First, sometime in junior high, I’d been forced by my family to take a class in these newfangled “computers” since it seemed like they might go somewhere.
Second, it seemed like some kind of technical degree would be more realistic for me to earn a living than the Philosophy degree I had in mind (we were not financially secure as a family). Finally, if I really had to do something technical, a fairly new field seemed like more fun than all that pesky learning I would have had to do in more established fields.
The second bit of luck was actually getting admitted to UC Berkeley. In a stunning display of naiveté, I applied to all of two schools – Cal and Stanford. I wanted to go to Stanford, but figured worst case I’d get into Cal, it being a “state school” and all. Given that Stanford passed, I was incredibly fortunate that Cal didn’t. I probably couldn’t get in now.