Learnings from IIT Bay Area Leadership Conference

Last weekend, the alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) gathered in the Bay Area for the IIT Bay Area Leadership Conference. For background, IITs are the premier engineering institutes in India that are known for producing high quality technical talent and having a crazy low admission rate (0.92% in 2017). IIT Alumni (also referred to as IITians) have not only made a huge mark in India, but have also been incredibly successful in the Bay Area tech ecosystem. Some of the most notable IIT alumni include Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Vinod Khosla (founder of Sun Microsystems), Nikesh Arora (CEO Palo Alto Networks) and many, many others.

IIT founders are technically very strong and have built successful deeply technical companies. IITs are ranked fourth amongst the universities where the most number of unicorn founders attend, after Stanford, Harvard, and University of California. It’s also ranked 4th amongst the list of top universities producing VC-backed entrepreneurs, with IIT alumni starting 205 companies between 2009–2014.

Lightspeed has been fortunate enough to have backed a number of successful IIT startups including Nutanix, Appdynamics, Rubrik, Zscaler, Thoughtspot and others, and we are always looking to partner with more.

Bay Area is home for 15,000+ IIT alumni and the IIT Bay Area Leadership conference is the flagship annual conference for IIT alumni in the US. The most recent conference attracted more than 1,000 alumni and an excellent roster of speakers including: Umang Gupta (Founder of Gupta Technologies), Ravi Mhatre (Lightspeed founding Partner), Greg Schott (CEO of Mulesoft), Parag Agarwal (CTO of Twitter) and others.

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s conference, as well as talk about the opportunities in AI on a panel, and wanted to share some key highlights and takeaways from the event:

  • The main keynote was a fireside chat between Lightspeed’s Ravi Mhatre and Mulesoft CEO Greg Schott. Greg talked about Mulesoft’s journey of going public and then later getting acquired by Salesforce. He emphasized the importance of building a great culture and said that the most important job for a leader was to hire smart people, which is exactly why the head of recruiting at Mulesoft reports directly to him.
  • Umang Gupta shared his experience in a keynote about creative disruption and said that “if you’re a disruptor today, be ready to be disrupted tomorrow” and emphasized the importance of continuous innovation. “Technology is only a ticket to the game,” said Gupta. “What you need to take the technology forward is a unique and successful business model accompanied by a professional sales force. That’s what IBM had.”
  • In a panel on blockchain, Lightspeed’s Nakul Mandan pointed out that blockchain will have a lot of real world applications. In particular, he mentioned that ICOs will become an alternate source of capital for some specific type of startups, think Kickstarter. In addition, a lot of network effect driven businesses will benefit from tokens to solve the cold start problem.
  • On the panel about opportunities in AI, we discussed the potential areas for entrepreneurs to start AI companies, as well as the importance of how data is the core of any AI company. We also talked about the areas where AI can make a huge difference, including: AI in robotics and autonomous vehicles, industry 4.0, existing workflow softwares where a new data source can be leveraged to enhance the workflow, and finally, tools to enable large enterprises to adopt AI. Debu Chatterjee shared his experience in leading AI initiatives at ServiceNow and Rakesh Mathur shared his perspectives from Whiterabbit and Percipient.

IIT has played a huge role in my career and I’m grateful for the meaningful connections I’ve made through its community. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start the next big enterprise company or looking to work at one, I’d love to hear from you. The best way to reach me is on email: raviraj@lsvp.com.