June 5, 2009

Tribute to Rajeev Motwani

Rajeev Motwani, a computer science professor at Stanford University, a Silicon Valley angel investor, and a close friend, unexpectedly passed away today in a seemingly unfortunate accident in his house. He was 47, and is survived by his wife Asha Jadeja and two daughters.

I'm currently in New Delhi on work, and just received a call with this shocking news from a common friend in San Francisco. This is a terrible, terrible loss.

I first met Rajeev around seven years back at the TiECon conference in Silicon Valley. We quickly became good friends given our common background - we both went to the same undergraduate engineering school in India (IIT Kanpur), he was from Delhi and I'd spent a significant part of my life, including senior schooling, in Delhi, and we shared our passion about Consumer Internet and technology.

Rajeev had been trying to pursue me to move to Silicon Valley ever since we met. He kept encouraging me to do a start-up, and felt I was not a big firm guy. He was one of the few people I always tried to meet when I visited the Valley. I'll always cherish all those moments when we would lounge around in the Stanford cafeteria and discuss and debate about industry trends, technology and interesting start-ups coming up in the Valley - Rajeev loved to mentor, advise, and even provide seed funding to aspiring students and entrepreneurs. He was an early adviser and backer of Google and PayPal. Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder, was one of the first ones to pay his tribute to Rajeev and acknowledged Rajeev's valuable contribution in his professional development as well as in the birth of Google in the halls of Stanford.

Rajeev was always helping others. He never hesitated to make my introductions to digital media & entertainment start-ups that wanted to work with NBC Universal, or entrepreneurs/students who needed my advise in this space. I've also been involved with Media X at Stanford University, a collaboration of the university and industry that brings together Stanford's technology research with companies committed to technical advancement and innovation (NBCU is a member).

Last I met Rajeev was only a couple of days before starting my current Asia trip - I was in Silicon Valley to speak at TiEcon, when we briefly met over coffee. We were supposed to have lunch the next day before my flight back to New York - he wanted to talk about a few startups he was working with. Unfortunately we couldn't coordinate the lunch due to some last minute changes in our schedules - his cell phone battery ran out, and by the time he got my message, I was already at the airport. We decided to catch-up upon my return from Asia. That will never happen now...such is life!

I'll always miss Rajeev's friendship, his quest for knowledge, his warmth, and his genuine desire & ever-willingness to help others. I would like to pay my most sincere condolences to Asha and her two daughters.

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