In the global hotbed of startups that is Silicon Valley in the good old US of A, it is the gen-next children of the Indian diaspora who are today foraying into the startup ecosystem of the valley. This bunch of young, tech-savvy second-generation Indian immigrants is building some of the hottest tech companies over there. While the first generation immigrants out of India had tended to focus on enterprise tech, this new set of founders, given their longer and closer connect with the market, is creating myriad consumer-facing ventures. A report.
Over the years, India born executives have succeeded in bagging some of the topmost tech jobs in the US, with Sundar Pichai of Google being the latest, following in the footsteps of several others who have made it big in north American and european corporate annals. Chennai-born Pichai and Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella are among at least a score or more of such talented Indians, who left their home shores as aspiring students during the 80s and the 90s, helming some of tech’s most powerful companies today. While media attention is oft on these trial-blazers, there is this newly emerging influential group of youngsters in the Silicon Valley today, all of them apropos with strong India connections – the new breed of young second generation Indian-American entrepreneurs.
Among many such new consumer facing tech startups like data analytics firm Mixpanel, food delivery startup Sprig and express delivery venture Instacart to mention a few, have one thread running through them – all of these off-the-chart ventures are being set-up and steered by a handful of mostly under 30, well-networked, second-generation Indian immigrants – a cohort rapidly establishing its impact in the Valley. While some of these founders were born in the US, others moved to the country at an early age with parents, typically academicians, doctors or engineers.
Anand Rajaraman, who co-founded Junglee, says the key difference is that the new set of founders is more confident and connected with mainstream culture. They are also much younger. “This is why you see more consumer-facing startups than before. There has been a steady migration of Indian entrepreneurs up the stack – starting from chips to infrastructure to enterprise software to internet to consumer facing companies. As you move up the stack, there is higher risk, but also higher reward,” avers Rajaraman, who is these days on his own, running an early-stage fund called Cambrian Ventures.
Gagan Biyani, 28, and Neeraj Berry, 27, co-founders of Sprig – an on-demand fresh-food delivery service based out of San Francisco, are both second-generation Indian Americans. Backed by venture funds like Greylock Partners and Social+Capital Partnership among others, Sprig has raised almost US$ 60 million since it started up early in 2013. Biyani, who had earlier co-founded Udemy, says his risk-taking appetite comes from his parents: “My parents came to America with almost no money in their pockets and no social network here. That was a bigger risk than I’ve ever been faced with.”
While most first-generation Indians were professionals, Ankit Jain, 29, founder of mobile analytics venture Quettra, saw his father build three startups, which instilled in him an entrepreneurial streak. “The reason we moved to Silicon Valley was because my dad wanted to live the startup dream. So I grew up in a house where my mom was the stable breadwinner while my dad helped found three startups. The first and third exited successfully while the second one flamed out. Growing up in such a household played a huge role in my own entrepreneurial journey,” he says. Jain who had a plum job at Google where he was part of the Android team, decided to quit the search giant and expectedly found support from his enterprising parents.
Having gone to some of the finest US universities, these youngsters have great academic track records and are well-networked among peers and investors. Gokul Rajaram, product engineering lead at payments startup Square, says this new breed combines the discipline and focus instilled in them from a young age by their families. “They come with a rigorous analytical and technical education; numerous role models they can look up to; and a social circle of peers that’s equally steeped in technology and entrepreneurship from a young age,” he says. Rajaram, who’s dubbed the father of Google Adsense, sold his venture Chai Labs to Facebook in 2010 and joined the social networking site where he stayed for three years. The new generation of tech founders has benefited immensely under the tutelage of the likes of Rajaram, one of the most sought-after mentors and angel investors in Silicon Valley and now in Indian startups as well.
Amitt Mahajan, 30, who has already successfully nurtured and exited two startups – selling one to Zynga and another to Google – says he is now focusing only on angel investing across US and Indian ventures. While the earlier generation started investing much later in their careers, the new bunch is turning investor, mentor and advisor all at the same time, even as they run their own startups. “I always knew I wanted to start a company. I received my first computer when I was five and started to program at nine. From when I was young, my mother was an entrepreneur, and I helped her with the accounting work, learning from her how to be self-sufficient,” Mahajan says.
Kanishk Parashar, 35, CEO & founder of Coin, says this generation is great at taking calculated risks. “The Valley startup scene doesn’t treat failure as taboo, it’s used as a tool to help you eventually get to a successful outcome,” he says. “The background with which I was raised actually veered me away from committing fully to something as risky as a startup. It was only when I was able to fully commit to Coin that there was significant progress,” says Parashar, who moved to New York with his mother when she was pursuing a post-doctoral degree back in 1989.

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