Here Raj discusses making the jump from Foundation Capital to becoming a member of Silver Spring Networks. He concludes the interview by providing advice and insight of the EIR adventure to other entrepreneurs who may be considering such a move themselves.
SM: So how did you go from EIR to a member of the SSN team? RV: It all stems from the fact that I felt that this was a company I really wanted to help build. Additionally, I was confident I could recruit the best people into the company, some of whom I’d previously worked with. Everyone loves the idea of being socially responsible in addition to working on an interesting, and potentially lucrative, problem.
Ultimately Foundation proposed to the SSN team a “package deal”; Foundation would provide funding, I would join the company as VP of Engineering, and I’d begin recruiting to fill out the team with more networking expertise. The SSN team was amenable, and near the end of 2003 we completed the deal. Since then things have gone pretty much as planned; we recruited a great initial team and we are still hiring, we built the core platform we had envisioned, and have recently announced some important customer traction.
SM: What in your nature makes you a successful entrepreneur? RV: I think people normally assume that being an entrepreneur requires a certain tolerance for risk. I’m not sure it’s exactly “risk” per se, I think of it more like a tolerance for “ambiguity”, of being willing just to dive into something and see what happens; maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Maybe that is why I have lucked into so many good things.
SM: What knowledge and inspiration would you like to pass on to other entrepreneurs considering an EIR program? RV: I guess the moral of my story is that there are many ways to have a successful EIR tenure. There’s no necessity that you do it in one go. I did a stint in 2001, and another in 2003.
There is no requirement that the company be your idea; obviously the early idea for SSN wasn’t mine, nor must you start it from ground zero. In my case SSN already had some people and an early version of the product. Fundamentally being an EIR is about giving yourself the time to explore a variety of alternatives until you find the one that really inspires you to devote the next few years of your life to it. So I think you just want to be sure that the firm you choose will allow you that freedom. I can’t say whether Foundation was more flexible in these dimensions than other firms, all I can say is that they were as accommodating and committed to the process as I could ever have asked.
SM: I did 2 EIR stints earlier on in my career. One in the summer of 1999, which resulted in Uuma. The second, right after the crash, at NEA starting at the end of 2000. The latter did not result in anything, except some invaluable experience, because the market was downright sordid, and after digging around for 6 months or so, I just decided things were way too unstable to start anything. Jim Heeger was an EIR at NEA at the same time, and he took one of Stewart Alsop’s deals, cleaned it up, and sold it to Adobe.
Bottomline, EIR programs come in many shapes and forms. They can be paid or unpaid. Always, they develop through personal relationships in the venture business. Earlier in your careers, they could be quite useful to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship. Later in their careers, often executives use “CEO-in-Residence” programs to find their next gig. We thank Raj for sharing his EIR experience, which I hope will help some others shape theirs.