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Ashish Agrawal
Ashish Agrawal

I began my professional life by starting a company. We tried a few things - VAS applications built in partnership with telecom operators; Yatayat, an Uber for autorickshaws in Kanpur and Delhi. I loved my time as an entrepreneur. It is extremely satisfying to turn an idea into a product which people use, almost feels magical.

We only managed to get a small revenue share with telcos for our VAS applications - and the idea of a minimum guarantee to lock supply for Yatayat seemed absurd to me back then. The startup eventually closed, but I walked away with an appreciation of how hard building a company is and much respect for anyone starting one. I am humbled, every day, by the people I meet and work with.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring the intersection of science and dreams.

Growing up, I was fascinated by stars. The Summer Triangle (Altair, Deneb, Vega), Orion and Ursa Major are my go-to formations in the night sky. At 15, I had the opportunity to represent India at the International Astronomy Olympiad, held in Ukraine and was thrilled to bring home a gold medal for the country.

Over time I found astronomy too distant from actual applications and moved towards computer science in university, at IIT Kanpur. I did research in machine learning and computer vision. A graduate course I recollect was on randomised algorithms where I learnt that often shaking things up yield better outcomes. I see this play out today with the startups I work with.

There is no one right path to building a business. And often, attempting a new approach - be it a different customer positioning, a modified product or a different GTM strategy -- helps achieve better outcomes. At Sequoia, there are valuable learnings we collect from each journey which refine future attempts.

In my early years at Sequoia, I was fortunate to be involved in our partnerships with companies like Zomato, Ola Cabs, Oyo Rooms, Go-Jek, Rebel Foods and Clevertap. Each of these have become sizeable businesses. I’ve learned so much watching the founders scale these companies.

As a young boy, it was my job to stand in the infamous bank queues to update the family’s passbook. I remember a teller once scolding me because I hadn’t updated it in ages and the long, manual print job was holding up the queue. We’ve come so far since then and the pace of change is ever-faster, still. I believe financial services in India will undergo a complete transformation in this decade driving massive societal benefit.

Across sectors, innovation is driving societal change and solving important problems for millions of people who want to improve their lives. This is the most exciting aspect of what we do, especially in an emerging market like India. It’s rewarding to have both a front row seat, and a role to play, in driving that change.