For Sunil Rao, a Googler who has now joined early-stage venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners as Partner of business services and community, the move is a natural one (currently, Sunil is in a transition phase from Google and will be formally joining Lightspeed in September). Since the last ten years, Sunil has been working with startups. His role at Google, where he spent the last five years, majorly consisted on driving its mentoring programme - Google Launchpad, playing a key role in its accelerator programme and the more recent Sandhill programs for later stage startups. So as Sunil aptly says, \u201cThis (Lightspeed job) was just the right opportunity to connect the dots.\u201d\r\n\r\nBut as partner for a brand new function at Lightspeed, Sunil would be doing much more than just connecting the dots. He will be using his expertise to proactively help Lightspeed's portfolio companies to scale, expose them to the right kind of technology, help them make the right connect across the border and in growth hacking, fine-tune their product strategy, help them hire top notch talent and basically just be there for them for any and every way possible.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nFor Sunil, who has worked with many fascinating product companies from Talisma, Symbian, Nokia to Google, the opportunity will allow him to share his immense product knowledge with technology companies that could build potentially great products in the future.\r\nStarting From Services To Ending With Products\r\n\r\n\r\nSunil\u2019s early career years were spent in a services company BFL Software, where he was engaged in pre-sales in South-East Asia. HCL Perot Systems followed later. However, it was with Talisma Corporation\u00a0where his tryst with a product company started. The role also led his move to the US for three years. In 2006, he relocated back to India and joined Wipro for five-six months. But he realised he could not work with a services company any more. He says, \u201cHaving worked with product companies once, I found it more accomplishing to be working with a product company.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nHe also noted that while in services company, working 15-18 hours a day was pretty much the norm, but in a product company, he could work for 6-8 hours and yet contribute 10X. Hence working with a product company also helped him understand the importance of a work life balance and that of a cool-off period to rejuvenate one\u2019s brain and come back to the table with fresh ideas.\r\n\r\nThus followed the move to Symbian in 2006 where he had the opportunity to build the entire product ecosystem as the Head of Ecosystem Development. That\u2019s where his actual career of\u00a0working with the product ecosystem at the developer\u2019s end started.\r\n\r\nAt that time, Symbian had a mighty 78% of world\u2019s smartphone market share. There was no Apple or Android. All phones - from Nokia to Motorola were using Symbian as an operating system. Sunil\u2019s job consisted of working with OEMs and Silicon vendors and managing relationships. That\u2019s what gave him a huge exposure to the ecosystem as he was involved in working with top developers in the ecosystem. Sunil continued working with Symbian even after its acquisition by Nokia in 2009. In 2011 when Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia made his decision to move to Windows phone OS exclusively, that was the time when Sunil Rao was offered a job at Google to head the Outreach programs for Emerging markets. Google was eying for Top talent from product companies and Sunil was one of their first senior hires from Nokia.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nRao spent five years in Google, spanning three different roles. He led the outreach program for emerging markets, then headed the developer ecosystem, and was later involved with the Sandhill programs for mature startups. He played a key role in its accelerator program, which has launched two batches in the last eight months. Additionally, he became a popular speaker at most of the developer conferences and he spoke at more than 100 conferences addressing to students, startups, and developers as a Googler.\r\n\r\n\r\nStaying Agile And The Roadmap To A Good Product Company\r\nWhen Sunil was at Symbian, it was a product at the top of its game. Now, however, it is a case study for how one can end up as a failure if one is not fast and agile to what market is demanding. Adds Sunil, \u201cSymbian was a market leader, people used to feel proud that they could code in Symbian. It was tough to code in and not for all common developers. However, it was not able to keep up with the change in the ecosystem.\u201d There were upcoming OS like Android which was easier to code and even a coder at an entry to mid level could code and started becoming hugely popular.\r\n\r\n"A similar thing happened with Nokia. They lost the market at a very crucial time to Micromax back in 2009-2010 when dual sim became a rage. Nokia was lethargic to understand, and losing a 25% market share in India was a wake up call for them. For a product company out there, the biggest learning from these two companies is that you should pay real attention to develop products which the consumer needs as opposed to what you are after at. It has to be as local as possible. Moreover, recognizing trends early is also very important," Rao\u00a0explains.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAs far as Google is concerned, for Sunil, it has been one of the best product companies to work with. He adds, \u201cIt is one of the most well-run company from an employee standpoint of view. The highlight of my career in Google is that I could do three different roles in five years which ideally would have been in three different companies. At Google, you have a transparent dialogue with management to know what you are really good at, which not many companies do. In most organisations, you keep on doing the same work for 8-10 years and lethargy sets in. The major fun element of working with Google is that you get the get the opportunity to do what you really like. I don\u2019t think I would have got this opportunity to do three different roles somewhere else.\u201d Sunil\u2019s experience should probably be the benchmark for startup founders who want to build a great startup culture from scratch and aim to retain top notch talent.\r\n\r\nHis advice to those looking to build a great product is to spend a considerable time to do a market research and see if there is a real need for that kind of product in the first place. Adds Sunil,\r\nIt\u2019s not about you feeling the need alone. You should have done sufficient analysis on entry barriers - if it\u2019s a me too product or is it different from existing products. If the entry barrier is very low, then it becomes difficult to sustain leadership position. You should aim to create a product with a great technology which will serve as a high entry barrier or it could something core to your belief which someone can\u2019t blindly replicate. What is also needed is having a having a long term vision of the company and committing oneself to entrepreneurship wholeheartedly for the first five years. You have to be giving 100% to what you want to do as a product leader.\r\n\u201cI am pleased to see Indian entrepreneurs and ecosystem mature over the last couple of years. We are seeing maturity in product management and founders valuing importance of UI and UX and investing in it early on,\u201d Rao adds.\r\nLightspeed And The Road Beyond\r\nHaving worked with VCs in the last four years, Sunil\u2019s role at Lightspeed is pretty much akin to his role in Google. With a full time opportunity to move to the VC side of things and a clear mandate, Sunil found the opportunity interesting from the word go. He says, \u201cOur aim is to expose these portfolio companies to the global best practices and new technologies at a very early stage. We want to make these 30-40 portfolio companies understand how to work smarter without burning too much cash and also hit their benchmark numbers. Additionally, it will also involve a lot of engagement with the community. The idea is to eventually position Lightspeed as thought leaders in this area and as one of the most founder friendly companies.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGiven the fall in funding at late stage and the overall funds challenge in the industry, Lightspeed\u2019s motives seem well on track. Explains Sunil,\r\nExisting investors want the companies to hit the minimum benchmark agreed upon and the run rate agreed upon. They also get all the help from investors to reach that goal. \u00a0However unless they reach that goal, it doesn\u2019t make sense to keep on blindly pumping money in terms of advertisements. For investors, the quality\u00a0of downloads, retention numbers, monthly active users are all factors that count. Hence what we are seeing as fall in funds is more like a correction, which will bring about more discipline in the ecosystem.\r\nAnd hence, despite the talk of tough funding climate, Lightspeed as per Sunil, will keep its eyes and ears open for any technology companies which look promising enough. Those eyes and ears are a $135 Mn maiden India-specific fund raised by the Silicon-Valley-based venture capital firm, which generally invests $1 to $25 Mn in growth or early-stage startups.\r\n\r\nDev Khare, Managing Director of Lightspeed India Advisors Partners LLP (LSIP), added that Sunil\u2019s appointment is a part of the firm\u2019s efforts to expand its team in India as it gears up to leverage the ever expanding opportunity in India. Sunil\u2019s appointment was preceded by the appointment of Harsha Kumar, who was earlier AVP, Product at Ola. She was instrumental in scaling Ola\u2019s daily cab bookings from 3,000 to 1 Mn in a short span of 8 months. The firm which consistently invests every year in six to seven Indian startups is looking forward to invest in the consumer sector, education, health, B2B marketplaces and B2B software this year.\r\n\r\nWith Sunil on board, a new office in Bangalore and an expanding team, one can safely say that Lightspeed is more than ready to listen!