Sequoia India and SEA use international operators to help startups launch and expand overseas

Sequoia India and Southeast Asia has launched a new program to help its early-stage portfolio founders connect with international operators who can help startups expand into new markets, the venture firm said, as it aggressively scales its offerings in the key regions.

In addition to providing founders with advice, connections and assistance, the operators will also invest in startups as part of a program called Pathfinders, the legendary venture firm said. The launch of the program 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 some of their biggest markets.

The program will be open to much of the venture firm’s portfolio, but Sequoia expects early-stage startups — at the Seed and Series A stages — to find it particularly useful, Harshjit Sethi, managing director of Sequoia India, said in an interview.

“What we see in the Seed and Series A stages are companies that want to expand in the US and immediately start looking for their first customers in the new market and who to hire. They have strong logos in India, but many of the names are not very recognized in the US,” he said.

The Pathfinders will operate with a two-way feedback system where any stakeholder can air their suggestions, he said.

The company that launched $2.85 billion funds for India and Southeast Asia came across the idea for Pathfinders earlier this year on a Zoom call in 2020 while discussing ways to provide more assistance to businesses looking to expand overseas, said Payal Banerjee, executive director of marketing and communications in the company.

“We want our companies to do better and be the best in the world.” We have very smart founders with deep experience in the field. But when they start building for a market they’re not in, we feel structurally that it’s not a level playing field. This is the genesis of why we created Pathfinders,” Sethi said, adding that the right set of operators will bring years of training to the startups.

Over two dozen operators have signed up to Pathfinders. They include Amit Singh (President of Palo Alto Networks), Oliver Jay (Former CEO of Asana), Param Kalhon (CPO at UIPath), Prasanna Sankar (Co-Founder of Rippling), Pratyus Patnaik (Senior Engineering Director at Okta), Sandeep Johri (former CEO of Tricentis).

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

Pathfinders is Sequoia’s latest attempt to extend its value added to startups. The company this year as well launched Arc, in London and the US to find and mentor idea-stage startups, backing each with $1 million. The approach of Sequoia, the most influential venture capital firm, is different from several of its peers, many of whom typically take a hands-off approach, providing the check but not really proactively as startups navigate their journeys.

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