"Life's too short doing something you hate, but you still have to be realistic about it."
Venture capitalist Gaurav Jain was among the first generations of Indian-Canadians arriving in Toronto in pursuit of a better future.
His father left behind his entrepreneur business in India and relocated the family in 2000.
Through many chilling winters, Gaurav’s passion for technology and supportive family kept his dreams warm and alive.
He learned basic computer language by Grade 6 and was writing code by Grade 10.
He built his first start-up, Entrepreneurship Group, as an undergraduate in 2004.
He swiftly moved on to set up his second start-up in 2007, Polar Mobile, to optimise mobile content.
Google was his next destination, where he received a Founders Award for his exemplary work on Nexus One and Android, which is now the dominating mobile OS.
After graduating from Harvard Business School in 2013, he dedicated his time to venture capital fund, Founder Collective.
In our exclusive Gupshup with Gaurav, the Forbes 30 Under 30 honouree tells us more about his career ups and downs, and the many perks of working at Google.
What was your biggest learning working on your first start-up?
“That was the first time I saw something grow from an idea to a full-fledged organisation.
“When we were a small team, things would get done quickly. As organisations get larger, we became more inefficient.
“It’s something I would certainly apply as I grow another organisation – to maintain that culture of moving fast and taking risks in a multi-level hierarchical organisation.
“The other one is how to pass on the leadership. You make sure the organisation is sustainable beyond your involvement, so that when you step off the pedal, it continues to grow.”
What is Google like as a workplace?
“Google is the coolest company to work for! They have that culture of innovating and making mistakes, so you feel empowered to work on interesting products and make a difference at scale.
“There’s tons of perks. The most interesting thing to me was the gourmet free breakfast, lunch and dinner, and different kinds of food – from Indian to American.
“I didn’t own a car so if I need to run some errand, I can use a Google car that you just swipe in and out. It just makes your life easier.
“There’s also other cool stuff like a nap pod, 24/7 gyms and infinity swimming pool.”
How was the academic and social life at Harvard Business School?
“There was an amazing array of very diverse people – consultants from top firms, entrepreneurs for multi-generational family businesses.
“Everybody hits the ground running. There is no sense of, ‘I’m too good for you’.
“Being part of that community gives me the opportunity to take a step back and figure out what I want to do in life, and learn what people have done and use that to help inform my vision.”
Can you describe your typical day as the principal of Founder Collective?
“One is finding really interesting companies to invest in. Second is running a diligence process to analyse those companies to figure out if that’s an opportunity for us.
“Three is help those companies that we have invested in helping them build the business and solve challenges and make more money.”
What kind of attributes do you look for in start-ups?
“The team is number one. Because we invest so early, a lot of the times the idea is not fully baked. So we look at the team to see if they have the perseverance to make things happen.
“Then we look at what they have done so far and the market. And finally, if they are a fit for us.”
How do you turn them down?
“More than 97 per cent of the deals we look at have been filtered by our network, but we still have to say no to.
“You have to be transparent and explain why it’s not a fit for us, but happy to give feedback.
“It’s a big decision on our part because you can’t un-invest in a company once you invest.
“If it doesn’t do well, we end up spending more time on it, then the business is upside down.”
Who is your biggest motivation?
“My wife has been incredible. She doesn’t come from the industry but she can look outside in and share my ambition in life, and she is very strong at EQ.
“My parents – the sacrifice they make, resetting their lives, seeing my dad starting a business from the ground up.”
What is your personal ambition?
“My passion is venture – seeing companies grow from two folks and an idea to thousands of employees is exciting. Seeing that across multiple companies is even more exciting.
“I want to help entrepreneurs realise their dreams. It’s humbling to see them come in with their lifelong dreams and work hard to build their businesses.
“Being part of that journey is a privilege and I want to build a career doing this.”
What do you wish you were better at?
“I wish I was a better dancer!
“Growing up, I was very focused on academics, maths and sciences. I never dabbled into anything art related, so I wish I was a little bit more art capable.”
Any valuable advice you want to share with our readers?
“It’s important to follow your passion. Especially in the Indian community, we often end up compromising on what our dreams are and end up doing something that makes sense.
“Life’s too short doing something you hate day in day out just to make money or please people.
“Don’t take what I say as a passport to do whatever you want. You still have to be very thoughtful and realistic about it.
“Keep good people around you and learn from them. I am fortunate that my parents encourage me to do something in computers, because they can see it being really big.
“You need that guiding light because when you’re young, you haven’t seen the world as much and you only know what your friends are telling you, which may not be reflective of the practicalities of the world.”
The upbeat and easy-going Gaurav has such an infectious energy that there is hardly any stopping to what he sets his sights on.
But at the end of the day, nothing is more valuable to him than striking a fine balance between his professional and personal life.