We met the folks at Sequoia and the Surge team early December 2018 to pitch Bulbul, which was then really just me, my two co-founders and our thesis around the video commerce space for India. Mohit and the Sequoia team moved fast and inducted us straight in as part of the first Surge cohort.
To me it was quid-pro-quo. They, trusting a three member team with nothing but 10 slides on a deck, and us, trusting the Sequoia team to deliver on their own little start-up, which is Surge. They believed in our thesis and execution capabilities, and we trusted them to deliver on their promise of the value the program would add.
And what a program it has been — and still has a week to go! Four cities, five months, five days a month. We’ve already covered Singapore, Bangalore, Beijing, SF and will finish back in Singapore.
Singapore was an amazing start with a lot of great introduction sessions by Shailendra, Mohit and the rest of the Sequoia team. Inspirational stories from the likes of Chatri of One Championship (“Obsession has no office hours. Maximise pain tolerance.”) and art of the long view by William of Tokopedia (“We cope with changes with humility and curiosity. The key word is to be grateful.”). Basically a crash course on 0 to 1 and founding principles of starting up. Bangalore had more amazing sessions by the likes of Amit Jain ex-Uber and product tenets by Gaurav of UnAcademy. A crash-course on product and tech. Beijing was all about growth and scale by folks from Xiaomi, Relx and an ‘off the record’ session by Shailendra on stories from the trenches. SF, which just concluded, was by far the best, with sessions by key Sequoia folks like Carl Eschenbach (probably the best session in all of Surge and his Skill. Knowledge. Qualities formula for hiring exceptional sales folks), Doug Leone himself (“Vision is black magic. It’s genius. It’s you”)and even Patrick Collison of Stripe. Lots of stuff on category creation, branding, communication and marketing. And we got to visit the hallowed Sand Hill Road. And who can forget Tai-Chi on the Great Wall and cycling across the Golden Gate bridge, to balance things out.
As a third-time founder, I have taken away something useful from each trip, got reminded of a bunch of things, got to see things in perspective and got real actionable pointers. During Week One in Singapore, for example, Shailendra talked about why it’s important to hire a chief of Unit Economics, and that really resonated with me. We immediately detailed out the role and hired someone quickly to work across the team to help optimise costs and processes.
But most useful has been the opportunity to interact with other founders here. Much younger, brighter and just the kind of inspiration I need to starting up again. And what a group this is; extremely diverse across geographies, age, gender and verticals. EdTech, D2C, FinTech, eCommerce, Social Commerce, SAAS and a few creating completely new categories.
As is with anything disruptive, the program has its detractors, especially among other investors. Every top Indian VC I have met is a sceptic about the intent, process, allocation, ‘signalling’, need, time allocated etc etc etc. Is Surge perfect…heck no!. Is my start-up perfect…..not at all. And this is what makes it perfect. Two very ambitious teams, building something big, disrupting their respective verticals, learning from each other and having fun along the way. With Rajan Anandan coming on board soon the program will get a huge boost and all the start-ups (especially those in future cohorts), will get to benefit from his knowledge, experience and connects, making Surge among the best start-up programs in the world.
For me Surge is like a manned space flight. We are astronauts who travel great distances, land at distant destinations, learn something extraordinary each time and go back with that knowledge and experience. Each ‘mission’ helps achieve more than the sum of these learnings.
All the best, to all of us!