After working for the World Wildlife Fund at 14, Gayatri Sarkar was inspired to pursue a life of values and positive change. As an immigrant in the US, Sarkar has gone on to work across the spectrum of the technology industry as an employee, founder, consultant, and most recently, an active investor. These endeavors include time at the Federal Reserve Bank, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard, IBM, a hedge fund and TMT fund, as well as a founder of a consulting tech startup.
Gayatri has been awarded global leader under 40 (2020) to highlight DEI asset allocators through her storytelling platform, She-VC and is an active enthusiast and investor in the Boston Startup community with Advaita Capital.
We had the privilege to speak to Gayatri regarding her educational background, how it influenced her career trajectory, and what continues to inspire her work with both She-VC and Advaita Capital in Boston.
Startup Boston (SB): Before really jumping in, could you briefly discuss your area of educational study and early career trajectory after school?
Gayatri Sarkar (GS): Born and raised in India, I studied physics and math, but am a physics major dropout. I didn't have a notion that I wanted to get into venture back then and I needed a job during the .com bubble.
There was lots of uncertainty so getting some job was the priority. I didn't think about it too much but was interested in tech and computers etc so that led me down the path with Hewlett Packard and then brought me to IBM. I learned the data architect side of things and then brought that with me to Goldman Sachs.
From there I started my own company, didn't really think through the use case but had an opportunity to work with the treasury department which was exciting at the time. While the first venture was a success, the next one failed; point being, there is no real formula.
After that I went back to school and studied Economics at Harvard. Worked at the Federal Reserve, and became general partner at a TMT fund. I had been thinking about starting my own fund, and with She VC already off the ground, I thought it made sense to push forward.
SB: So early days were an interesting storyline, can you touch on some of the skills and interests that translated to venture investing?
GS: I like tech. I'm not a big fan of modeling and finance because, to me, there is a lack of strategic decision making. I also wanted to be a part of innovation, to be a part of opportunities, and also be involved in the STEM areas. We’re focused on the future of the economy and the future of growth so definitely like to be a part of that.
I think the most important thing that's not talked about, is creating your own network and getting people excited about what you're doing. It could be said that a lot of that is sales related, but the reality is that you’re putting yourself out there with little resources trying to get people excited about your passion and the movement you’re looking to create. Of course, credibility plays a role but you have to get people excited! And it's a long term commitment, there is high risk, hence where integrity and credibility comes into play. People will want to be a part of your journey.
SB: So looking at Advaita & She VC, two fantastic platforms, how did they come to be and who did you surround yourself with to develop the current thesis and structure?
GS: I started She VC to highlight women GPs and minority LPs. I wanted to hear from people that looked like me and sounded like me- I wasn't seeing it from other platforms.
As for Advaita, there are a lot of climate/planet funds, but I wanted to build one around data integrity. We had to figure out our NorthStar and what the story we are aligned to everyday. When I was 14, I worked for WWF as a young environmentalist to discuss the importance of carbon footprint and how projects can impact and it stuck with me! The idea of creating an environmental impact on a global scale has been there since.
SB: Going off of that, what do you think the differentiation is for you and your team compared to other funds in addition to your thesis of course?
GS: Probably what I described above, providing opportunity to those that may otherwise not have that kind of growth opportunity.
SB: With that in mind, what do you think makes a good match with a founder? What do you look for and are there any founders or companies that you’ve had a great experience with thus far?
GS: We invest mostly in the growth stage, with great returns and ARR, so the data is already there from a return standpoint.
On a personal level, founder integrity and credibility are big as they chart a clear path to success. So from there, I'm really looking for positive movements or initiatives tied to their products. With that, I’m open to any sort of products in that regard, we are looking through the founder's eye and understanding if that is the expert's eye for us to make a positive change in the world and what that future looks like. Of course it has to align with our investment strategy, but most at the growth/late stage are good fits and good examples so I don't have much to complain about!
Looking at that stage, considering how they treat their employees, there are no HR issues, and if they fit the mold of “graduating” or making it to IPO are other considerations. The mental health of a founder I want to highlight as well. It is very very lonely and there are few people to speak to about their journey so checking in there is important.
SB: Cliché but have to ask, what excites you about your work right now and about the Boston market?
GS: Boston needs to improve a lot and be more inclusive and align more to a market like New York. We’re good from a tech standpoint but not from a DEI standpoint. Known for Biotech & Pharmaceuticals, but would like to see more diversity than that. I went to Harvard, my husband went to MIT, the talent is here, it's about keeping it here with the right innovation. The quality of life here is more or less really suitable and provides a great ecosystem for innovation.
That being said, we could have more DEI funds here. At Advaita, we are women & minority owned/run, so we are hyper focused on bridging the wealth gap between those groups and creating a suffrage movement in the asset allocation space. If we’re not investing in everybody, we’re losing. We need to change the prior narrative toward inclusivity, and closing that gap. It's a fact that most of the women and minorities receive investment on performance versus many other startups that receive funding on potential. This is called a multi trillion dollar blind spot as identified by Morgan Stanley.
SB: Last question and more of an open ended one, if you could take a year off to work on something that probably wouldn't be important but would be really interesting, what would it be?
GS: I think I'd be doing what I'm doing right now. I haven't taken a vacation in a long time and if I did take one, I think I'd be doing this! Follow me on twitter if you don’t believe me! @gs_vcactivist on Twitter, feel free to reach out if you think it makes sense to connect.
Come mingle with the startup community!
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to network with the startup community. Grab your free ticket for Startup Boston Week 2022 today!