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Sequoia India and SEA tap international operators to help startups launch and expand overseas • Technology Flow

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Sequoia India and Southeast Asia has launched a new program to help its portfolio’s early-stage entrepreneurs connect with international operators that can help startups expand into new markets, the venture firm said.

Apart from providing advice, connections and assistance to entrepreneurs, the operators also invest in startups as part of a program called Pathfinders, said the storied venture firm. The initiative comes at a time when a growing number of Indian startups, especially in the SaaS space, are expanding into the US, UK, Europe and other international markets. Startups including Byju’s, Freshworks, Chargebee and Clevertap today count the US and Europe as their biggest markets.

The program will be open to most of the venture firm’s portfolio, but Sequoia hopes it will be most useful for early-stage startups — at the seed and Series A stages — Sequoia India managing director Harshajit Sethi said in an interview.

“What we see in the seed and series A stages are companies looking to expand to the US and immediately they start scrambling to find their first customers in a new market and who to hire. They have strong logos in India, but most of the names are not much recognized in the US,” he said.

Pathfinders works with a two-way feedback system, where any of the stakeholders can give their suggestions, he said.

The firm, which launched a $2.85 billion fund for India and Southeast Asia earlier this year, tapped Pathfinders for a Zoom call in 2020 to discuss ways to provide more help to firms looking to expand outside the country.

“We want our companies to do better and be the best in the world. We have very smart founders with deep domain expertise. But when they start building for a market they don’t have, we think structurally it’s not a level field. That’s the root of why we created Pathfinders,” he said. Sethi said, the right set of operators can give startups years of learning.

More than two dozen operators have signed up for Pathfinders. Among them are Amit Singh (President of Palo Alto Networks), Oliver Jay (Former CRO of Asana), Param Kalhoun (CPO at UIPath) Prasanna Shankar (Cofounder of Ripling), Pratyus Patnaik (Senior Director of Engineering at Octa), Sandeep Johri (Former CEO of Tricentis).

“The entire enterprise software market is being disrupted by next-generation SaaS built using cloud, AI and mobile-first design principles. To succeed, Indian disruptors must clearly understand Western buyers, their needs and their consumer expectations, and design products that effectively suit them. Pathfinders connects entrepreneurs with experienced operators living in these countries who have developed decades of expertise in understanding Western buyers,” Palo Alto Networks’ Singh said in a statement.

Pathfinders is Sequoia’s latest effort to expand its value addition to startups. The firm launched Arc this year to find and mentor idea-stage startups in London and the US, backing each with $1 million. As a highly influential venture capital firm, Sequoia’s approach differs greatly from that of its peers, many of which typically take a hands-off approach, handing over a check but not really being there first as startups navigate their journeys.

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