From Idea to StartUp: Our Journey as EIRs at Mayfield
ASEEM CHANDRA | APRIL 12, 2021
How do ‘ideas on a napkin’ turn into iconic companies? Every business, big or small, local or global, came into being as a startup. While we have a long way to go before we achieve iconic status, we can certainly share with you a ringside view of how we moved from a concept to a well-funded startup, Immersa.
A Journey of a 1000 Miles Begins with The First Step
My co-founder Aman Singla and I have led complementary careers in the tech industry.
My formative experiences have been on the business side of technology – product management, marketing, corporate development and M&A. At Oracle, I led a team that launched B2B marketplaces, and later on another team that led the acquisitions of companies like Siebel and Peoplesoft. At Omniture, and after its $1.8B acquisition by Adobe, I led the go-to-market for Experience Cloud, a new market category, that scaled 10x over 10 years to $3B in recurring revenue.
Aman has led product and engineering teams that scaled from a handful of engineers to teams with thousands of employees. At Atheros, Aman and his team designed wifi chipsets for today’s mobile phones, merging that business with Qualcomm in a $3.1B transaction. Later, he co-founded Plume Design to enable the rapid delivery of connected services to smart homes. Plume recently raised a $270M round at a unicorn valuation.
After a career founding and scaling tech companies, we were both ready to take that first step to leave our previous roles and make our collective dent on the universe.
Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR): Why take the Scenic Route?
While we could have launched a startup soon after leaving our prior roles, one of the best pieces of advice we received from a mentor was to take the time to decide what to work on next before jumping into it. There were a couple of reasons why this made a lot of sense.
If you plan to commit a significant part of your life building something impactful, then spending 5-10% of that time to determine what to work on is a pretty high ROI investment. It allows you the time and space needed to sift through the possibilities and achieve clarity on the problem.
Entering the entrepreneurial journey as ‘Executives-in-Residence’ at a venture fund gave us a much wider aperture on industry challenges than our personal networks would have afforded. Getting feedback on a broad spectrum of ideas, continually assessing risk, and iterating to mitigate it, led to clarity and sharper focus. We can genuinely look back and feel that we cast a wide net before working on something that we are both passionate about.
Anchor Your Co-Founder Dynamic
There was another important reason why the EIR approach made sense. While Aman and I have known each other as friends for a long time, this was our first time working together. As we started to brainstorm ideas, it became evident that we shared similar values and aspirations. However, an important aspect of founding a company is that the founding team discovers its operating style, strengths and weaknesses and how to resolve differences and build trust. We spent hours every week, discussing, debating, and distilling from our collective experiences. Our advice to co-founders – don’t short change yourselves on this process.
Mayfield, The Idea Factory
We were honored to have joined Mayfield as EIRs, based on our long standing relationship with their leader Navin Chaddha and the firm’s focus on serving as founding investor to many notable B2B companies. We didn’t really know what to expect, other than that we were promised an adventure of a lifetime! It turned out to be that, and then some.
With strict work from home orders in place at the time of our joining Mayfield, our onboarding was completely virtual. We were greeted by a welcome package delivered to our homes, followed by warm introductions on zoom to every member of the Mayfield team.
Our first six weeks at Mayfield were filled with meetings with each member of the investment, portfolio services and operations teams, who generously shared their expertise, networks, strategic thinking and deeply considered point of view on the dynamics of their industry. ‘People-First’ is not simply a tagline at Mayfield, it is an operating philosophy that is reflected in every experience we had with the team.
Joining Mayfield gave us permission to ‘unlearn’ much of what we had learned from working at larger companies, and instead focus on what we needed to know to launch a startup.
Build a Circle of Trust with Your Sponsor
Throughout our journey, Navin Chaddha, Managing Director at Mayfield and our lead sponsor, guided us with a deft touch. Bringing the full scope of his operating and investing experience, ability to see around corners, providing access to the Mayfield network, and deep dive backyard brainstorming sessions, Navin covered the ground every step of the way with us. He has the uncanny ability to brainstorm along with us, and at the same time provoke us with thoughtful questions that speeded up our understanding and conviction around the idea.
Answer the Why, Before the What and the How
One of the first lessons we learnt was to answer the question ‘Why.’ Why did we want to found a start-up? We both agreed that we wanted to work on a problem that we can absolutely fall in love with so we can stay focused on it for a decade or more if necessary. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day! We want to create a lasting company, and a culture, that has a positive impact on everyone that joins us on this journey. We want to build a culture where feedback is considered a gift, where we assume positive intent, where ideas are challenged while respecting the person, and where we move with speed and agility in the near term while innovating for the long game. Answering why you want to do something is more important than the what or how.
Leverage the Firm’s Network
At Mayfield, we were like kids in an ideas candy store (or in my case, Charlie at the Willy Wonka Chocolate factory) exploring tech trends at a rapid pace. We dove in deep with the Mayfield enterprise team on a broad spectrum of opportunities.
We quickly learnt how to leverage Mayfield’s network. Their engineering biology practice leader Ursheet had us convinced that we could build a healthcare company (we couldn’t). Their SaaS practice leader Rajeev gave us a masterclass in CRM and pushed us to think bigger. Their newest partner Patrick, who had led a portfolio company in the identity management space, shared his insights on the sector. And their business development leader Gamiel had built a deep and engaged network, which was always one phone call or email away.
Insights that would have taken us weeks and months to uncover, surfaced in a matter of days and hours as we dug in deep with the team. When we were ready to test an idea with the market, we leveraged Mayfield’s network of industry experts and customers. We even spun up a good, ole’ fashioned, outbound email campaign, including cold calling, to test our ideas with prospects.
Before Product-Market Fit, there is Founder-Market Fit
Founding a startup is as much a journey into exploring the challenges the world faces, as it is about the inner journey of becoming hyper-aware of your own shortcomings. There is no standard roadmap to build a startup. Anything as intense as this will be fraught with mistakes and mis-steps along the way. As EIRs, we were inspired as much by the people-first culture at Mayfield and their approach to problem solving, as we were by which problems to focus on.
Of the many ideas we explored at Mayfield, there were some that we passed on because we couldn’t see ourselves falling in love with the problem. There were others where we went deep, and reluctantly realized that the market was too crowded. Or, worse, we could not come up with a unique disruptive insight to attack the problem.
We learnt soon enough to not get emotionally attached to an idea, and instead to reason out objectively whether it was the right idea for us to pursue as a team. We needed to be intellectually curious, and at the same time, be brutally honest about our own ability to solve the problem.
When You Are Ready, You Are Ready
Ideas can change the world. However, for something so ephemeral, the process of coming up with one is a curious one. The more we share our ideas, the more we seek feedback, the stronger our conviction becomes. We worked furiously on our business plan, iterating nearly every day. We reached out to customers and industry experts through our own and Mayfield’s network, and remain grateful that so many people generously and freely shared their feedback with us. Through every interaction, every review, every dry run, we strengthened our story.
Finally, on the morning of Feb 1st, we were where we dreamt to be – pitching to the Mayfield partnership for an investment. After a week of further deliberations and fine tuning aspects of the business plan, we received a funding commitment from Mayfield.
It is rare to see investors moving with such transparency, trust and speed, and we are indeed fortunate to have partnered with Navin and the Mayfield team. We will fondly reflect back on our time here as one of incredible learning and growth in a short period of time.
While we close one chapter, Aman and I are already writing the next chapter as Immersa, Inc. The data engineering landscape has seen incredible advancements in recent years. We came to the realization that while data is everywhere, data intelligence is rarely available to anyone but the privileged few. Immersa is on a mission to change that. To unleash data intelligence to everyone, and to democratize the use of data in the enterprise.
We could not be more excited to continue our partnership with Mayfield as our investor, and Navin as our board member, as we build the next iconic tech company.
Meet Vivek Saraswat, Founding VP of Product at Immersa
Early in our interactions at Mayfield, Navin introduced us to Vivek Saraswat on their investment team. We leveraged Vivek as a sounding board for Immersa’s product strategy, and tapped his expertise on product-led GTM.
At Mayfield, Vivek invested in early stage infrastructure startups, served on boards, and advised companies on product strategy. Prior to Mayfield, Vivek was an enterprise product leader at Docker, VMware, and AWS. Vivek not only brings strong empathy for users and a community led approach to scaling product adoption, but also resonates deeply with our values. So when Vivek expressed an interest in returning to an operating role to Mayfield, we jumped on the opportunity to get him on board as the Founding VP of Product at Immersa.
We are currently in stealth mode as we build our first product. If you have a passion for building products and communities, we want to talk to you. We are hiring!