Sriram Krishnan was in with the scene back when startups were building up, back in the day before SoundCloud or Spotify. He’s an entrepreneur of sorts, and greatly believes in the ability of a startup to shape markets and drive social change. We spoke with him on the phone about how he got to where he is today and the very thing he’s passionate about – startups.
1. Yo man! Let’s kick things off with an introduction for our readers. Where you’re from and all that.
What’s up guys! I’m Sriram, 33 years old, and I currently reside in San Francisco, although I grew up in Malaysia before I began uni in Singapore. It was around that period that I began uncovering my interests which lead to turning my passion into a career.
2. So what do you do for a living?
Well I am currently the Head of International Growth for Tinder, although I’m also an angel investor for various startups.
3. What has your life path been like?
It’s funny you should ask that – I would say it’s been surreal. I’ve been dipping my fingers into a fair few things before fine-tuning my focus and learning what is it that I really was interested in. I studied electrical engineering, thinking that could have been what my future was heading to, but all the events in my life has lead me to delving into startups.
I learned so much from each new chapter, meeting so many different people with absolutely brilliant ideas, that the knowledge sharing that took place had immeasurably moulded my interests that it is today.
It’s been an unconventional route, but it’s definitely one that I have no regrets on.
4. How did you get involved with it in the first place?
During one of my semester breaks during university, I figured that I wanted to further enrich myself and be involved in something that would compliment my studies – so instead of going back home like most of my other uni mates, I sent out a whole bunch of applications to enroll myself for an internship.
I liked corporate engineering and had managed to land a gig as an engineering research intern with a PHD student under a multinational conglomerate company. I did not like it at all. I stayed in a lab the whole day and had minimal interaction with people. It wasn’t for me. So there I was realising that I’m yet to find what it is that would really engage me.
So fast forward to my third year, I started getting very interested in startups, the whole technology and the internet in general. I began attending a lot of internet conferences, networking and hanging out with people who were just starting their online companies. Coincidentally, at this point I was also fortunate enough to have managed to get in with this one programme in Uni that sent students to their partner colleges where the students would work full time in a startup and do the rest of their semesters part time. Apart from the learning and the real-world experience, the whole point of the program was to inculcate a sense of entrepreneurship in hopes that the students would return and start something of their own.
National University of Singapore (Sriram’s the one in the bottom left)
I was sent to Stockholm, Sweden, and learned so much. While I was there, I got the idea to organize a tech conference, together with a bunch of other colleagues. This was around ten years ago, back when the word Web 2.0 was still acceptable and people threw the word around all the time. We had a pretty good platform and resources to work with and it was from there that I really began to familiarise myself with the industry, getting to know more and more people. I became acquainted with the would-be founders of SoundCloud, the would-be pioneering team for Spotify and a whole bunch of various other talents, furthering my interest.
I eventually graduated and worked with a consulting firm in Bangkok first before joining a startup in Beijing. Soon after, I received an invitation for an interview with Spotify in Sweden. Although I was in Beijing and making my way to Sweden at the time would prove difficult, I nevertheless planned and scheduled my way over. I got there, attended the interview and thus began my career in the industry.
5. How would you say you have changed through the years since you first began your work professionally?
I’m still just as excitable, animated and as playful as ever, although I would say I’m less extroverted now though. Not saying that I’m introverted, just a whole lot calmer I guess. I’m sure this is applicable to a lot of people as well, having gone through a lot of different and enriching experiences. I don’t travel as much as I used to though.
Spotify Hong Kong
6. What about your many passions?
That’s easy. First off, it’s early stage startups. I’ve got a deep interest in startups in general, and moreso if it’s something innovative and/or has the potential to initiate either in a market or social level. That being said, I’m also a firm believer in access and equality for gender, health care, and education.
7. Who are your heroes?
I got some models and anti-models.
Shakil Khan – early investor of Spotify, co-founder of student.com and my mentor. He has been an incredibly impactful mentor to me over the past 10 years, helping and guiding me alot through it all.
One “unexpected” mentor would be Tex Gunning. He currently heads one of the largest logistics companies in the world, but he was a Senior executive at Unilever back then. I was still just a student, and was trying to raise money for a conference in Tokyo. I approached Unilever and enquired if they were willing to fund me and my friends, and he ended up sponsoring us around 10k. The Tokyo conference ended up being phenomenal and I’ve got him to thank for that. You don’t forget people who help you.
I generally draw inspiration from a variety of people, but Shak had definitely played an important role in my career.
On anti-role model, I think it’s important to also have them because you can learn about both what to emulate and what to steer clear of. I’ve had a few negative models in my life as well, and obviously I’m not dropping names here haha! They’re not necessarily bad people, but there are certain traits I think I shouldn’t subscribe to.
8. What’s in your bag?
It’s always my passport. Everything else is never always the same. Heck if my home were to ever burn down, I’d save my passport first, then my wallet second!
2016 MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre) Conference with fellow speakers
with the new markets team at Spotify
With Richard Branson at Necker Island
In Sweden with founders of Spotify, and founder of SoundCloud (before he started) at a party