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Welcoming Sudip Chakrabarti as Decibel's Newest Partner

We’re thrilled to welcome Sudip Chakrabarti to the Decibel team as our newest Partner. Sudip started two companies and got his PhD in computer engineering at Georgia Tech before becoming a VC investor at Andreesson Horowitz, Lightspeed, and Madrona. Sudip has been on both sides of the table, and in his new role at Decibel he will work closely with technical founders at the earliest stage. We asked him to share some of his observations as a founder turned VC in our Q&A:

Where did you grow up? When did you know you wanted to be a founder?

I was born in India and lived throughout the Middle East as a child. Many of the areas I grew up in were very poor and there were not many ways to escape poverty if you were born underprivileged. I remember looking up to my uncle who had a very entrepreneurial career in India and created wealth and opportunity not only for himself, but for many thousands of people around him. So many people in our community started out with barely the means to provide food or shelter for their family, but over time found professional success and life changing opportunities after working in one of his companies. I wanted to have a similarly outsized impact in my work, and have always wanted to help others in the same way.

You started two companies - one was bootstrapped (and was successful) and the other raised venture capital (and did not work out). What were your takeaways as a founder?

My first startup journey was highly typical for a technical entrepreneur. I was getting my PhD from Georgia Tech and started a company that was using machine learning to optimize semiconductor manufacturing processes. We took in VC money but never really found product-market fit. In my second company, I started a company with my high school classmates that was using data analytics for pricing optimization for retailers. We were bootstrapped from day one and never really needed VC money before exiting. I learned a lot from both experiences that still apply to this day!

Having now seen both sides, my advice to founders now is to only take VC money if you believe you can get very specific help from your investors. In our first company, we had backing from a VC that was well-intentioned but unfortunately didn’t have expertise in the semiconductor market which we really needed in our early years. I also think as founders we should maintain a small degree of skepticism about whether money can solve all of our problems. Many startups grow rapidly because they learn how to do a lot with very little, and that comes from learning to grow with scarce resources.

My first startup desk at ATDC, the Georgia Tech incubator. I can still remember the countless late nights sleeping in this office and the importance of persistence in every startup journey.

As a technical founder turned VC, what do technical founders want and need from their venture capital firm? What is an ideal relationship in the early years?

I remember making a lot of mistakes as a technical founder, and I think investor partners can be critical in helping entrepreneurs uncover blind spots which might be outside a founder’s core competence. For example, technical founders are almost always incredibly gifted in hiring world class engineers and building great products. But they often might not have the same level of experience when it comes to making non-engineering hires, or building out critical functions like sales, marketing, customer success, and finance. Helping technical founders figure out the when, who and how to turn a great product into a great company is a critical part of being an early-stage investor.

I also think VCs have to keep an open mind and learn from the product instincts of great founders. I remember early on at Databricks, the founders were very focused on building a cloud product well before it was obvious that customers would move their analytic workloads from on-premise to the cloud. I admired their conviction early on to do something ambitious and controversial at the time, and that decision has been key to their success as a company.

You have been a part of great multi-stage platforms such as Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed, and Madrona. What did you learn from those firms?

Venture is a fast moving business, and I think the firms that have established themselves as enduring franchises realize that the bets you make take patience and an incredibly long term perspective. You can’t build a lasting VC firm if you only invest in fast growing startups, and try to exit them in 3-5 years time. You have to be courageous enough to build a company that has long term enduring value, and this may take as long as 8-12+ years. I also think the very best firms are independent thinkers - they try to imagine the way we will all live and work 10 years from now, and try to be a part of creating that future. When done correctly, it is incredibly meaningful work that can change people’s lives.

Excited to dive right in on my first day at Decibel!

Venture capital is undergoing significant change today. Where are the areas for innovation and growth?

Venture capital is evolving from a “one size fits all” model of investing to a more diverse and specialized industry. We call this the industrial era of venture, where firms are increasingly building their differentiation around specific segments in the value chain. I think there is a lot of room to create a highly specialized VC firm that focuses on technical founders building highly technical products. When I look back on what I needed as a founder, I needed access to targeted early adopter customers, advice on how to set up go-to-market, and highly technical help on product strategy. We are building all of those capabilities here at Decibel to help founders increase their odds of success in a repeatable way. I’m excited to work with our founders to make this vision a reality.

As a first step, we’ll be launching a program to help aspiring future founders in the coming weeks. Please reach out to me directly if you’d like to be a part of this at!