“Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I knew I would be starting companies,” said Shruti Gandhi, ’12. And in 2015, Gandhi founded a San Francisco–based venture capital firm, Array Ventures. While completing her undergraduate degree in computer science at Marist College, Gandhi worked full time at IBM as a software engineer, and she earned an MS in computer science from Columbia University. At Booth, Gandhi discovered a passion for venture capital, landing in venture capital roles after graduation, including at Silicon Valley–based True Ventures and Samsung’s Early Stage Fund in the Bay Area. Chicago Booth Magazine connected with Gandhi to discuss her passion for startups and the edge her Booth experience gives her in the high-stress world of venture capital.
Chicago Booth Magazine: Why did Booth seem like a good fit for you?
Gandhi: I’m very independent and the flexible curriculum at Booth really resonated with me. Two of my mentors at IBM are both Booth alumni: Timothy Keogh, ’97 (XP-66), and Verna Grayce Chao, ’05. At IBM, I admired their style and their analytical way of thinking, and they attributed a lot of that to Booth. I read about Booth and I found that the philosophy gels with my thinking. Booth allowed me to pursue a career in venture capital and entrepreneurship, both at the same time.
CBM: What experiences at Booth do you find most helpful in your career?
Gandhi: When I was at Booth, I focused my last two quarters on soft skills. I wanted the ability to make decisions faster, so I took Managerial Decision-Making and Negotiations and Advanced Negotiations with George Wu. Professor Wu taught me the tools to make decisions under pressure with limited knowledge. As an early-stage investor, you don’t have complete information about the company—and definitely not financials—since the companies are prerevenue. You have to invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars without much information. Professor Wu’s class helped me sharpen my decision-making skills and my ability to bring science to my intuition.
CBM: Were there other courses at Booth that impact your career day to day?
Gandhi: Professor Harry L. Davis’s class, Business Policy, helped me think differently about myself, my personal brand, and my role in an organization. I often revisit some of the things professor Nicholas Epley taught. Pattern recognition, biases, and human behavior are at the core of early-stage investing, and learning about those things helps you spot them.
The simulations we did in professor Linda E. Ginzel’s class really helped us develop our leadership skills. I got an opportunity to interview great leaders such as Bryan Johnson, ’07 (XP-76), the Braintree founder, and Geek Squad’s Robert Stephens. Bryan is now an investor in Array Ventures’ fund.
Of course, professor Steve Kaplan’s Entrepreneurial Finance and professor Ellen A. Rudnick’s classes gave me the foundations of venture capital, which I use even to this day.
CBM: What do you invest in at Array Ventures?
Gandhi: We invest in companies that help different industry verticals such as health, manufacturing, logistics, and others get efficient by leveraging big data and machine intelligence. Larger enterprises sometimes fall behind in their innovation, so they end up buying products or partnering with other companies. Array Ventures likes to take advantage of that trend. Array Ventures invests in companies that sell solutions to these larger enterprises, and helps them stay current with trends by working with some early-stage companies.
CBM: What gave you the confidence to take the risk of starting your own firm?
Gandhi: Spending more than 11 years in engineering, founding a company, and seeing early success in venture capital gave me the right background to explore starting my own fund. Further, founders really wanted capital from a female VC with a technical background, and they started asking me to be their investor. They wanted to build diversified boards and to bring in different networks. These signals and some early exits to companies such as Apple and Samsung gave me the confidence to start my own fund based on my thesis around data-focused investing.
CBM: Can you talk about your passion for supporting women in the fields of engineering and finance?
Gandhi: I like to support anyone who doesn’t have a fair opportunity to put themselves in the right environment and network. I obviously have been a minority, not just with my Indian descent but also as an engineer, a woman in a room of men. The same is true for venture capital. So I like to support underrepresented groups in general.
CBM: Can you talk more about how the Booth community supports you?
Gandhi: The Booth community has been my most supportive and giving community. Our business school network is one of the best in the world. As you go higher in the ranks, having people who watch out for you is very important. Getting through is all about your network. I have had early investment for Array from Professors Kaplan, Rudnick, and Mark Tebbe; Bryan Johnson; and Mehul Nariyawala, ’05. The larger Booth community, especially in the Bay Area, has also been very supportive and empowering. I have some alumni help me through fund-raising, sourcing good deals, helping with funding, and inviting me to speak at events. I am really thankful to have these friends and mentors to learn from and lean on.