The top 25: Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Ventures

Nagraj Kashyap, head of Microsoft Ventures, has had a flying start to his tenure at the US-listed software provider.

He said: “In general I am proudest of the incredibly diverse team I built in short order – less than seven months after joining Microsoft – and the incredible momentum we have established with VCs and entrepreneurs.

“We closed 22 investments last year from a standing start, 19 publicly announced, and another eight in the last three months, not all announced, and that included investments in the US, Israel and Europe. We led four deals and we also announced an atrificial intelligence fund last December and made our first investment out of the fund in Montreal-based ElementAI.

“In 2017, we will officially have a team on the ground to cover Europe [having hired Itxaso del Palacio this month] and India, and I expect a similar pace of investment as last year – maybe slightly higher. We are already seeing up-rounds in our portfolio, but exits will take a little longer given that we started in 2016.

“We are already seeing tremendous cooperation between portfolio companies and Microsoft, and I expect to increase the dedicated portfolio development team to make an even stronger mutual impact for Microsoft and our portfolio.”

Recently, Microsoft Ventures co-led the $7.6m second tranche for US-based artificial intelligence technology developer Bonsai and led cybersecurity technology developer Synack’s $21.3m C round.

In an interview with Andrew Gaule for Global Corporate Venturing, Kashyap said: “Microsoft has a history of working with startups. We have also invested in the later stages, coupled with a strategic business agreement. What I came in to do was to extend that relationship in working with startups, but more on the early side. So a specific focus of the fund is to work with startups very early, starting in a series A and beyond, without the requirement for any kind of strategic relationship with Microsoft at the time of the investment.

Microsoft offers portfolio companies three services:

• Technical integration with one of Microsoft’s products, such as Azure or Office 365.

• Go-to-market help, using Microsoft’s enterprise sales team.

• Promotional services, such as featuring a portfolio company at a Microsoft-held conference.

Kashyap told Gaule: “The experience of the team members ranges from somebody like Leo de Luna, who has worked 15 years in the VC industry, in VC firms, secondary firms. It is really a vast amount of knowledge that he brings to the team. He has a track record of many successful exits as well.

“Matt Goldstein came from Trinity Ventures. He has a lot of experience in areas like containers, devops [development and operations], security, fintech. He covers what we call the middle of the stack. Leo would cover the top.

“Rashmi Gopinath, [a GCV Rising Star 2017] comes from experience at Intel Capital, but also, on the operating side, she was in a couple of startups in senior business development roles, including Couchbase. So she covers both the investing side and the operating side, and she has significant experience on the cloud infrastructure side.

“We have Mony Hassid in Israel, who is a veteran of CVC. He has been with many CVCs including Motorola, Qualcomm and now Microsoft. We have Lisa Nelson in Seattle, and she knows Microsoft in and out, and has been working in Microsoft many years.

“The team is a balance, some from the financial VC industry, some who have worked in the corporate venture capital industry and some that have worked in Microsoft. That combination provides the key ingredients for us to be successful, both on the investment side, and then, post-investment, getting the right connections back to Microsoft.”

Kashyap built a global corporate venturing platform at Qualcomm Ventures, netting multiple $1bn exits, including Waze, NetQin and InvenSense during his tenure, and with plenty of others in the portfolio, such as China-based phone maker Xiaomi, that have exited or could do since his departure.

For the Powerlist 2016, Kashyap said: “At Qualcomm, I was lucky enough to be part of a company that led the charge in the smartphone revolution, enabling creation of many of big companies of the past few years, including Waze, Xiaomi and Uber. I believe that the transition to the cloud will result in another wave of new large companies and I joined Microsoft to be part of this next big platform change.”

Kashyap joined Qualcomm Ventures in 2003 and oversaw the North America ventures team until 2007 when he was appointed head of global venturing before starting at Microsoft in January last year. He grew the Qualcomm Ventures portfolio to more than 150 investments in 2015 from 10 in 2003 and established a well-regarded early-stage competition, QPrize, which rewards entrepreneurs around the world with prize money.

He began his career as a software engineer at Nortel, Motorola and 3Com/US Robotics before moving to management consulting firm PRTM, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Interviewed by Andrew Gaule, he said: “I started my career as a software engineer, and I am still a sort of recovering software engineer at this point, but I have moved on to a business role at previous companies.”

The business world has benefited from the shift.