When Businesses Succeed, Livelihoods Flourish
Kirthiga Reddy
Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers                                                                   
INTERVIEW • 5 min read
This is the first of a two-part feature feature on our conversation with Kirthiga Reddy. To read the second part, click here.
From a small town in Maharashtra to leading Facebook India and becoming the first female investment partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, Kirthiga Reddy has had an incredible journey. Read on to get inspired.
Q1. Please tell us a bit about your background / career path. What prompted you to move into investing?
A: My career path spans several technology transformations. I grew up in India and came to the United States to do my M.S. in Computer Engineering. As an engineer in Silicon Valley, I saw firsthand the high-performance computing shift with Silicon Graphics. I then got my MBA from Stanford Business School and graduated as an Arjay Miller Scholar. After Stanford, as a product leader, I saw the mobile transformation with Good Technology, which was acquired by Motorola. I then went back to India with Motorola. A year and half later, I joined Facebook as employee #1 and was Managing Director, Facebook India and South Asia.
It was life-changing to be part of a country going through a digital and mobile transformation, and to see the impact on individuals, society and businesses. After six incredible years at Facebook India, I returned to Silicon Valley and spent two years at Facebook HQ in a High Growth and Emerging Markets role working with markets like Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Middle East.
I enjoyed every minute of my time at Facebook but towards the latter part, I started missing the start-up ecosystem. I left Facebook and co-founded a seed fund, F7 Ventures, with six other women executives who I met during my tenure at Facebook to invest in bold founders with bold ideas – with at least 50% of investments in diverse founders.
During that journey, I met Deep Nishar, Senior Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers (SBIA). We started exploring a full-time investing role at SBIA, the Manager of SoftBank Vision Fund. I met with leadership across the globe. When offered the role to join the investing team as a Venture Partner, it was yet another once in a lifetime opportunity -- to be part of one of the largest tech funds in the world; work with inspirational founders who are redefining the future across industries; and to work with colleagues who I learn from every day.
Q2. Please tell us a bit about your current role.
A: My focus at SBIA is Frontier Tech, Health Tech and Enterprise investments. Over the last year and half, I have spent time working on sectors like Quantum Computing, Additive Manufacturing, Gaming, Semiconductors and Chronic Disease Management. I am on the Board of Collective Health, an enterprise and health-tech company that is aiming to transform the way health benefits work in the United States. Designed with guidance from epidemiologists, they are also leading the way on safer workforce re-entry in light of COVID, with their recently announced product, Collective Go. I recently joined the WeWork Board of Directors as part of the WeWork business turnaround. WeWork is playing an important and critical role as enterprise customers look for professional distancing and geographic distribution closer to where employees live.
I vividly recall Deep sharing his experience moving from an operational executive role to an investing role. He shared that in an operating career, you get to see transformations sequentially one at a time. In an investing career, you can see transformations across multiple sectors, all at the same time. Sure enough, that’s exactly how it has played out!
Q3. You have had an incredible journey, breaking many glass ceilings. What is your mantra for success?
A: One of the best pieces of advice I received early on in my career was from my manager at Silicon Graphics (SGI) Betsy Zeller, who said, ‘Kirthiga, focus on the success of your clients, your organization and your team. Your success is but a by-product.’ This has become a core philosophy throughout my career. My job description became largely irrelevant - it really became about doing whatever it took to make our clients, organization and team successful. One often wonders how much to push a certain cause and this framework gives me the conviction to be persistent about things that matter because the goal is clear. This philosophy was key to my success. At SGI, I soon became one of the youngest Director of Engineering in my organization, then a 9000+ people, $2B+ revenue company.
Another mantra I learned at SGI: “when businesses succeed, livelihoods flourish.” Silicon Graphics went bankrupt ~10-years after its high-point. It taught me that groundbreaking technology innovation and some of the smartest people on the planet alone are not sufficient to build a high-growth, sustainable business. That experience and my Stanford Business School education sharpened my focus on business fundamentals. I saw the mantra “when businesses succeed, livelihoods flourish” play out in deeply meaningful ways both at Good Technology and Facebook.
Lastly a mantra that has been important through career transitions is a phrase that you will see in Facebook offices across the world: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I had never run global operations before my role at Facebook building one of the four global operations centers that now serves over 2B people across the globe. I also had never led a sales organization before. But with this mantra in mind, I went on to build multi-hundred-million-dollar businesses leading Facebook’s APAC SMB business and later Facebook India revenue. Today, I get to be part of one of the largest tech funds in the world and focus on “when businesses succeed, livelihoods flourish” across the portfolio.
Q4: Tell us about your leadership philosophy.
A: There are five key leadership principles that are very important to me:
Big visions and aspirational goals attract energy, make the energy contagious and inspire action. A critical part of leadership is defining a bold vision for the company, organization and team; articulating the vision; fostering an environment where people make the vision their own; and keeping it at the forefront in all that we do.
Once the vision is in place, it’s all about people. When business goals are aligned to getting the right people in the right positions -- that’s when magic happens. Understand what forces drive people; their career goals and personal aspirations.
Execution Discipline. ‘Say what you are going to do. Do what you say. Close the loop.’ I am constantly astounded by how something that sounds so simple can be so hard. As leaders, it is essential that we help build execution skills in the organization. We also need to build a capacity for taking risks and encouraging failures. If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t trying hard enough.
Give people the power of voice. Stephen Covey talks about voice as the eighth habit of highly effective people. Jack Welch talks about the importance of candor in his book, Winning. If I had to pick one attribute that has particularly driven my growth as a leader, it’s about having the confidence to use my voice, creating a culture of empowering others to use theirs and listening carefully -- especially when I disagree.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Gone are the days of one-way, top-down communication. A leader today is increasingly accessible. Conciseness, clarity and conviction are key aspects of communication. I work with mentors and coaches—both formal and informal, external and internal—on continually raising the bar on my communication skills.
Being a leader is a privilege. A responsibility. Cherish it. Enjoy it. Deliver on the promise of being a leader to ‘Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.’— Stanford Business School’s mission is deeply ingrained in me.
Q5. What would you advise young women who want to establish themselves in the US Tech investing ecosystem?
A: Traditionally, I have seen three career tracks. First, women in finance who rise up the ranks in the global tech investing ecosystem. My colleague, Lydia Jett, Partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, followed this career path. She’s a Board Member of Tokopedia and Coupang. She sat on the Board of Flipkart before the Walmart acquisition. Second, product leaders who are entrepreneurs / intraprenuers, who make the transition to investing. Jocelyn Goldfein, engineering leader at VMWare and Facebook, is now Managing Director, Zetta Ventures. Third, women who come from Corporate Development / BD / M&A / Operations. Sakshi Chhabra, Investment Director, SoftBank Investment Advisers, started her career in Pfizer and ran Operations for Babylon, UK’s leading digital healthcare service before joining SoftBank. Lydia, Jocelyn and Sakshi are world-class investors, each with different paths to the global tech investing ecosystem.
Recently, there is also a boom in opportunities for women to do more angel investing. Platforms like AngelList enable this. According to Forbes, the women angels represented 29.5% of the angel market in the US in 2020, an increase from 19.5% in 2017. Programs like the Kauffman Fellows Program help accelerate success.
Overall, there is a stark recognition that having different voices around the table leads to better business outcomes and decisions. I would encourage young women who want to establish themselves in the US Tech investing ecosystem to embrace the spirit of learning, recognize that there is no substitute for hard work and chart your unique path that maximizes your unique strengths.
Q6. What is your life motto/ favorite quote?
A: When businesses succeed, livelihoods flourish.
Q7. Favorite fun thing to do?
A: Time with the family – eating dinner together, watching a movie, hiking and playing Scrabble!
Q8. Recent watches or favorite movies / TV series?
A: Sherlock, BBC, on Netflix
Q9. Hobbies outside work?
A: Running. Goal of 52 10K runs each year. Hiked Everest Base Camp twice.
Q10. Recent or favorite reads?
A: Winning by Jack Welch
Q11. Favorite places to eat?
A: In Hyderabad, Urban Asia. Thank you, Karan Mor!
This is the first of a two-part feature on our conversation with Kirthiga Reddy. To read the second part, click here.