Getting to be a
Microsoft Venture Capitalist for a Day
Last published on Dec 26, 2018 by Koshy John

On a warm Monday morning in March (2017), my Uber dropped me off at a non-descript, sparsely populated locality in Los Angeles, California. Unsure of if I was at the right place, I wandered into the unmarked, and completely unassuming, office space at the address, only to be met by hardhat workers installing something in the ceiling of a large open-office space and a very strange, sizable metal object sitting on the floor.

My mind, now super-worried that I got the address wrong, was thankfully put at ease as I was soon met by two members of the Microsoft Ventures team, Priya Saiprasad and Elliot Robinson. They had flown in from San Francisco that morning. And they were soon followed by the gentleman who was the reason I was standing there – Nagraj Kashyap, the CVP (Corporate Vice-President) leading Microsoft Ventures (now known as M12).

We were actually in the offices of Relativity Space and we were soon sharing quick introductions with the people we were meeting with - Tim Ellis (CEO) and Jordan Noone (CTO). Tim Ellis was formerly an engineer at (Jeff Bezo’s) Blue Origin where he worked on Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine. Jordan was a propulsion development engineer at SpaceX. Yes, we were meeting with rocket scientists. Entrepreneurial rocket scientists.

Tim and Jordan dove into a detailed presentation that went over many things including the value proposition of their well-funded company – they were working towards very significantly reducing the cost of building rockets while also increasing the pace of doing so. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, they are still in stealth mode and while I’m not bound by a NDA, I won’t reveal more out of respect for what they are trying to achieve. But color me extremely impressed. [Update 12/26: Since this was originally authored, details of what they're doing have been made available online]

And this was only the start of an entire day filled with meetings with founders and/or top management of startups while tailing Nagraj and enjoying the company of his team.

Peeking Behind the Curtain

I’m a software engineer on the Azure Infrastructure and Management team. So as the furthest thing from a VC, how did I end up in Los Angeles, tailing the CVP of Microsoft Ventures, no less? Glad you asked. I’ll do one better and tell you how you can get to do this too: by simply participating in that proud but humble tradition at Microsoft of giving back through the annual Giving Campaign.

If you are a Microsoft FTE and somehow don't know about this, please look me up internally and reach out to learn more.

Zipping Around the City of Angels

Our engagement at Relativity Space at an end, we headed over to Santa Monica to meet with a company that Qualcomm, Microsoft and Airbus led a $26-million investment round in - AirMap. AirMap builds technologies that tracks air traffic, weather patterns and flight restrictions for drones. Another very impressive startup then – making a name for itself in an area that until recently was filled with hobbyists.

There we met with Kevin Hightower, their Director of Product. After a quick tour of their facilities, we went into some depth with where they were with their product and their seriously impressive vision for their future. In what may be a theme for this post, bound by a NDA, I can’t reveal much more.

Delicious Sushi, Exara and Virtual Reality

In some nifty planning by Carol Yi, Executive Assistant to the CVP, even lunch time wasn’t wasted. Over some delicious sushi at Sugarfish (and this is high praise coming from me as someone who’s no big seafood fan), we met with people from Exara. Exara is a startup that enables enterprise/industrial data consumers to query vast volumes of machine-generated data from assets deployed in the field.

The engagement that was set up for after that was Survios, a VR game developer with successful hits in this relatively nascent application space. The people we were to meet had to push forward the meeting which led to the disappointing outcome of me not being able to learn more about them.

The silver lining to that, however, was that I got a good hour of open conversation over coffee with Nagraj and his team – I had a number of questions for them about their journeys to where they were, their opinions on MBAs (there was some spirited conversation there), and the goals of the Microsoft Ventures organization in general. The chemistry between members of the team was easily discernible and it was (happily) apparent that a lot more went into team composition than individual competency (as it should be, and something that is relevant to any great team).

Soon it was time to head off to our final meeting for the day – and we learnt how unpredictable Los Angeles traffic can get on the way there (very, if you were waiting for a reveal).

Greycroft Partners

If you’ve heard of the Huffington Post or Munchery, they are just two of a great many startups that Greycroft Partners had a hand in. They had lined up presentations by key people from some of the companies in their portfolio for review by the Microsoft Ventures team.

Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, I got to really play VC and evaluate pitches from a variety of startups - one focusing on differentiating itself in the small business employee scheduling space, another dealing with event management, a third carving a niche in background check space, another establishing itself in the location of things space, and more!


Sadly, since the day went over-schedule and I had a hard-stop for my flight back to Seattle, I had to scoot out of Greycroft's offices with brief goodbyes and apologies to the final startups lined up.

It was an incredible day overall though and I'm very grateful to Nagraj's generosity in making this opportunity available, and to Priya, Elliot and Carol for making the day memorable. It was a real privilege to be able to take advantage of such a rare opportunity and fulfill a long-standing aspiration to experience the venture-capitalist scene in California first-hand (as a Microsoft VC, no less).

I went home with a pocket full of business cards from determined entrepreneurs passionate about the problems they're solving, and a little bit more knowledgeable about the world than I was on the day before.

But most remarkably, I now even more frequently ponder "If my team were a company in itself, what would a VC see in us, the problem-space we're targeting and the solutions we build?", and let that guide the actions I take and how I influence outcomes.

Learn more about M12 / Microsoft Ventures

Did you find this page to be useful? If you did, know what'd be cool? Sharing it with others. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)