Advisor Highlight: Steven Maheshwary
August 4, 2022
Get to know our Advisor, Steven Maheshwary (he/him).
Tell us a bit about yourself:
My wife and I (and a forthcoming little one) live in Seattle, which I have called home for close to 9 years. Throughout my career I have had several seats at the table of supporting entrepreneurship. I have formerly founded a language learning company and been an operator at a few other tech startups on the east coast before heading west to Seattle. Since coming to Seattle I have worked at Microsoft and Amazon in finance, go-to-market, and partnership roles in support of launching or growing multiple $100M+ consumer businesses.
In between my time at Amazon, I took two opportunities to work in the public sector- including a Fulbright grant that allowed me to teach social entrepreneurship in Malaysia and most recently serving as Governor Inslee’s Director of Economic Development for Washington’s Information & Communication Technology sector. Through public-private partnerships with the tech industry, I focused on growing Washington’s startup ecosystem, tech workforce, and developing economic hubs around emerging technologies (A.I., 5G, blockchain, IoT, and quantum computing). Through my time there I am also proud to have secured initial funding for the Equitable Innovation Accelerator as a joint initiative between the Department of Commerce and Find Ventures. I currently serve as the Head of Marketing and Partnerships for the Underserved Populations team at Amazon, which builds financial flexibility, food access, and healthcare offerings for low-income communities.
I currently serve on several boards including the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), Western Governors University Washington (WGU WA), DemocracyLab.org, X4Impact, and the Center of Excellence for ICT. I formerly served as co-chair of the Washington IoT Council and on the Japan-America Society Washington board. I am also proud to have been a mayoral appointee and elected chair of the Community Technology Advisory Board working on issues related to digital equity, privacy, and smart city innovations. I originally hail from Houston, TX and graduated from Harvard University.
What excites you most about tech startups?
I am excited by founders who create impact by solving societal problems AND are able to build a real, venture-scale P&L. Specifically, we are seeing a new wave of startups addressing the obstacles to social determinants of health faced by customers that are often overlooked including those who are un(der)banked, those living in healthcare deserts, those who lack access to education and workforce training, and more.
What is increasingly encouraging is that the barriers to entry of starting a tech company have significantly decreased due to low code/no code platforms, ease of using basic tools to create MVPs, and a proliferation of capital (economic pressures of 2022 notwithstanding). While we all face obstacles in life, founders are special people who will come across one and have the conviction to overcome those problems at scale, and can convince other intelligent people that these problems are meaningful to solve. And today, they have less and less logistical barriers to creating a company that supports their vision.
What change are you hoping to create in the industry by serving as a Find Ventures advisor?
As a Find Ventures advisor, I want the industry to recognize that there are many capable entrepreneurs who have barriers to financial access, a limitation that is systemic to communities of color and other underrepresented founder communities. I believe Find Ventures is a great model to bridge that gap and to help visionary, underrepresented founders succeed.
In your experience with startups and entrepreneurs, what’s one of Founders’ biggest hurdles? What advice would you give Founders facing similar struggles?
I have seen founders get tripped up in investor pitches when asked about customer feedback. Continuous testing and learning of your MVP with pilot customers is critical – don’t consider it an MVP until you have had feedback from customers and have iterated accordingly. I have also seen founders commonly overestimate their go-to-market needs without realizing there are many ways to be scrappy about building an initial customer base. For consumer companies, I have often shared how even finding relevant Facebook groups to pitch your solution or ask for feedback can be an easy (and free) way to build an initial customer base.
Name one tech startup that you really believe in and want to help amplify.
One organization I am proud to be involved with is DemocracyLab, led by Executive Director Mark Frischmuth. While not a tech startup per se, it is a collaborative tech platform that enables individuals across the world to create civic tech solutions addressing homelessness, education, immigration, and many other areas of social need. Pre-pandemic, Mark hosted large bimonthly hackathons in person that would leverage the platform (I was always impressed by the hundreds who would show up at 8am on a Saturday to spend the entire day building civic impact tech projects). Since then he has done a remarkable job of pivoting to digital hackathons that leveraged the DemocracyLab platform. It also provides a huge opportunity for prospective tech employees who need to gain practical experiences as product managers, engineers, marketers and so forth, as anyone can volunteer to join the hackathon in whichever competency they choose. These are great resume building experiences for those who might not have access to internships or entry level positions.
What one piece of advice would you give to a Founder that is thinking about launching their own tech startup?
I would say two things: 1) you can be risk averse and still start a company; in fact, failing at a startup can lead to an even greater career. 2) And more often than not, you can build an MVP or proof of concept with less than you think you need.
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