SM: Please describe your personal background : Family, upbringing, early career, etc. leading up to this venture.
SS: I grew up in New Delhi, India and my dad was a senior military officer. We had a lot of change every two years as we moved from place to place. This taught me how to make new friends and how to adapt to survive in a way.
I got my BS in electrical engineering and had an opportunity in 1984 to go to the best management school in India or go to the US for graduate studies in computer science. I decided to go to the US, where I got my Masters degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech.
After graduate school – around 1986, I started at Online Computer Systems, a software start-up focused on CD-ROM based systems. This was when the beginning of the information revolution and Online Computer Systems was a leading player. Reed Elsevier eventually acquired the company.
I then joined AT&T Labs at the height of the organization’s prominence, focusing on telecommunications and wireless for five years. I was originally part of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories and then became product manager for AT&T’s International Switching Business before I moved to business development at AT&T Wireless Systems. While working at AT&T, I earned my MBA from the University of Chicago in 1989.
I then joined Hearst New Media after Alfred Sikes, former FCC Chairman, joined as President. This was around 1993-1994. At the time, Hearst New Media was forging “interactive media” before what most people would eventually associate as interactive media.
I was able to advance quickly to group vice president of Hearst New Media Group during my time with the organization. I helped build some of the largest new media businesses, including Hearst Home Arts (now iVillage/NBC); Houston Chronicle Interactive; and Hearst New Media Center.
I was also responsible for the investment that Hearst made in Netscape and was an early advisory board member to the company.
By 1996, I was driven to start or join a start-up company. As a senior level executive with a large company, I was interested in building out a company from the early stages. I decided to relocate to Silicon Valley and become involved with ON24 as a co-founder in 1998.