This story starts with Gautam Mago, 39, former managing director and partner of Sequoia India.
Mago didn’t see it coming.
The murmurs started sometime in late 2016. At Sequoia’s headquarters in the US. Their grouse was that for the longest time, six years, to be exact, the Sequoia partnership structure in India had remained pretty much the same. It is a well-known fact in the business of venture capital investing that Sequoia likes to churn its partners. Often. Just so nobody takes their job for granted. In India, the story of the partnership dates back to early 2011, when Sequoia broke up with WestBridge Capital Partners. As part of the split, four partners moved out. Namely, Sumir Chadha, K P Balaraj, Sandeep Singhal and S K Jain.
The ones who remained formed the partnership called Sequoia Capital Partners. Five of them. Namely, V T Bharadwaj, Mohit Bhatnagar, Abhay Pandey, G V Ravishankar and Shailendra Singh. All partners and managing directors. Not all of them equal.
As the firm grew, the partnership added two new members. Gautam Mago and Shailesh Lakhani in late 2014.
But just two years in, in the latter half of 2016, chatter started; the fund’s performance in India isn’t looking good. Someone from the partnership needs to be held accountable and must be asked to go.
The question was, who?
The latter half of 2016 was a period of disquiet. Of sobriety. That’s because 2014 and 2015 were the aggressive, high on opportunity and deal-making, big bet years. The gross merchandise value (GMV) years. Back in those days, a startup was getting funded almost every day. Most venture capital firms had spread their bets across all sorts of companies, a million dollars here, a couple of million there. Investing in the seed stage. Growth capital. Call it spray and pray, if you like. It will be fair to say that Sequoia was the talk of the town. Under specific instruction from headquarters to do more tech deals, the firm had been on a rampage investing in a whole host of companies. Here’s a quick snapshot: Oyo. Ola. Go-Jek. Tokopedia. MobiKwik. Porter. Urban Ladder. Belong. Capital Float. Zoomcar. Helpchat. TinyOwl. Runnr. Freecharge. Healthkart. Grofers. Faasos. And at least 20 more.
But when the enthusiasm died down and quiet reflection set in, quite a few of those weren’t sitting pretty. Especially the ones in India, and specifically, the tech investments. Headquarters was fine with the non-tech investments. Here, let’s take a very quick diversion.
Thanks to Sequoia’s history with WestBridge, the fund has always comprised of two parts. Technology and non-tech investments. Non-tech comprises consumer and healthcare verticals. Ever since 2011, the investment teams have been separate. So, Bharadwaj, Pandey and Ravishankar were the partners leading non-tech. And Singh and Bhatnagar were in charge of tech.