my friend and mentor: rajeev motwani


four years ago today,  rajeev motwani passed away, but his spirit lives on.
a few weeks ago, i was emailing with a friend in the valley, about mentorship and our times through the valley. we may be young, in one sense, but we’ve been around the valley and technology now for some time. as we discussed mentorship, my friend asked a curious question: “who filled the hole once filled by rajeev?”
i didn’t have an answer. there isn’t an answer. there is only one rajeev. 
the “rajeev” he meant was rajeev motwani, famed professor, mentor, investor, and advisor to some of the valley’s biggest and brightest computer science minds. like many others, i was lucky to not only call rajeev a friend and mentor, but had the added luxury of having him as an investor and advisor in my first company, composite software. it was funny how we met — when i was raising money for composite, three different venture firms asked rajeev to conduct tech due diligence on my work.
i was intimidated of rajeev’s intellect at first, but as we spent time together, rajeev invested in me and, in the process, i got to know him and his family very well. he was a very trusted advisor. he helped me think through financings. he encouraged me not to bring in an external ceo. he also encouraged me later on to move on from the company, as i’d lost control of composite and needed to move on. those were tough decisions, but having rajeev there made them much easier. i went up to microsoft, and rajeev connected me with great folks there. when i’d come back to visit, i’d always see him.
a good number of people reading this will know rajeev and probably nod their head as they’re reading this. they’ve felt his mentorship and, in some way, still do. and, there’s a younger set of you who will have to google him and read his wikipedia entry. but, those entries don’t do him justice. he was taken from us too young, and i still think about him when i’m driving home on el camino. and, i wonder who does, in fact, fill rajeev’s shoes these days? who is out there mentoring for the sake of giving back, for the sake of pushing talented people to the limit, to achieve their potential and be there when things aren’t rosy as it all seems. can anyone fill his shoes, let alone just one toe?
how did rajeev have all this time to help me and countless others? i’m trying to fill in a small part of the hole left by rajeev, just a little. it’s impossible to do so, to the level he did. i’m hoping more of my peers do as well. and i’m hoping that, somewhere, out there in the world, the next rajeev — if that’s even possible — graces us in the valley with his or her presence. these days, we need it more than ever.

10 thoughts on “my friend and mentor: rajeev motwani

  1. What a wonderful testament, Mike, and so typical of you to give credit to others. Obviously, his mentorship lives on in you and you, in turn, will pass that along, I know.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Mike. I miss Rajeev a lot. I try to do my best to help people whenever I can, just as he had done. I will never forget his rare combination of hard work, creative thoughtfulness, and genuine kindness.

  3. It’s interesting. I don’t know you, mike, and I didn’t know Rajeev. In fact I’ve never heard of either of you. I stumbled upon this blogpost thru an interview I just saw you conduct for TC. I’m sort of on an insatiable kick for inspiration thru startup blogs to continue fueling my tank when I hit those not so “rosy” moments as I persist thru the early stages of my new startup. I don’t have my own Rajeev right now, but in a simple twist of fate, your desire to impart to other entrepreneurs nuggets of wisdom and strength – the way Rajeev did for you – came to fruition simply by writing this post about what Rajeev meant to you. A bit of circular logic.,I guess. His inspirational spirit actually found its way thru your post. Thank you. Now I’m set for my next 24 hours:-)

  4. Although I haven’t yet started on my own, It was a dream to take his class at Stanford 😦 Someday, I will make 1% of his contribution, someday.

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful and inspiring post, Mike. While I came to the west coast too late to have the opportunity to know Rajeev personally, I’ve been able to learn so much about him and become a part of a community of his family, friends, and mentees, and have been welcomed with open arms. It’s almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t been influenced by Rajeev in one way or another around here. Just the other day I had a meeting with one of his advisees, who then without any prompting immediately offered to intro me to other members of the community who could help me with my work. I thought to myself, this is really what Silicon Valley is all about, and from all that I have heard, Rajeev was the embodiment of that spirit.

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