A few weeks ago, Viswa Colluru, a Senior Product Manager at Recursion, scheduled time with me to share that he would be leaving Recursion. I was ecstatic about his decision. Why?
Startups, especially in their early days, are an insane mix of learning and doing. Everything is a first, feedback comes rapidly, and when the team is in the tens of people, everyone is ‘in the flow’ together. Things are also, on average, not likely to work in those early days. And yet great people join companies that have a potential for greatness. These people love the idea that they are going to be doing things that they have no idea how to do — all the time.
Startups, especially in their early days, are an insane mix of learning and doing.
Viswa was one of these people. He joined us after finishing his scientific training with a world class research group in the field of Immuno-Oncology, one of the most exciting fields at the forefront of cancer research. He was considering roles at some of the most successful pharmaceutical companies in the industry. And yet, despite this, he chose to take a big bet to come and join us. Since that time, he has been promoted multiple times, seen the company grow almost tenfold, and he’s been a big part of many of our successes.
Employees who join a company early almost always have one trait in common: they are restless. This restlessness is what makes them so good in the early days. They are never satisfied, and are willing to iterate, often late into the night, around anything that needs doing, independent of whether they really know what they are doing. They feel much more like owners and shepherds of the company than employees who join very large companies or even later stage startups.
And so it wasn’t surprising when Viswa sat down with me to tell me he was leaving. He told me about everything he learned at Recursion, and then he told me he hoped to take all of that, plus his own ideas, to start a company of his own. His company will be in stealth for a while, so I won’t go into details about it here, but it has the potential to be incredibly impactful. I couldn’t imagine a better way to lose a great employee.
I couldn’t imagine a better way to lose a great employee.
Some of the most iconic companies might as well be known in the world of entrepreneurs as much for their ability to spawn an entire generation of innovative new companies as for their direct successes. A little piece of the parent company lives on in the child. For Viswa, the key pieces of Recursion that he told me he wanted to take with him came through in the letter he wrote to the company when we announced his departure. A few snippets of that letter are below:
While making my decision, I took careful stock of many things — my skills, my values, my mental models, and my appetite for risk, to name just a few. In doing so, I quickly realized one thing — I had become a product of the Recursion movement.
On being successful as an employee at a startup:
I read somewhere that in a rapidly growing startup there is always more work to do than the people to do them, and all you need to grow is to step up. This has certainly been the essence of my experience at Recursion, and I urge you to make it yours. All I needed to kickstart my “Recursion upgrade” was a healthy dose of passion, and that’s all you’ll need as well.
On questioning constantly:
Getting asked “Why?” has taught me to think rigorously, extensively study cognitive biases, and become so much more confident in my ability to make good decisions (and back them up with data). It’s a lesson I’ll take with me wherever I go.
Coming to terms with the deliberate audacity of our mission was both inspiring and infectious, and its pursuit gave me the courage to not just dream big, but to try to make my dreams a reality.
A core piece of our mission at Recursion is to ‘radically improve lives.’ We’ve taken a very broad perspective here, and feel incredibly grateful to our team and investors who have unambiguously supported this stance. It is why we’ve invested in turning our prior headquarters into an incubator with a focus on women and minority-led companies, despite no assurance that we will have a direct benefit from the success of any of the companies that start there.
With a similar perspective, I hope this is just the first of a repeating cycle of new companies that will come from Recursion. As in the case of Viswa’s company, Recursion will not typically have ownership interest or participate directly in the upside of such endeavors. In fact, behind this blog and our support for Viswa, we are scrambling a bit to augment the team to fill the gap that he will leave when he departs. And yet despite that cost, creating a culture that celebrates moments like this will pay dividends down the road as we seek to achieve our mission.
Rock on Viswa. We’ll be here watching and cheering for you.