Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Anu Sharma left Amazon for Madrona to put money into serving to new companies

Anu Sharma. (Photo courtesy of Anu Sharma)

As someone who was already interested in investing from a personal standpoint, Anu Sharma said it was always on her mind to turn her “side project” into a full time thing. She did that recently when she joined the investment team at Madrona Venture Group.

Sharma, our latest Geek of the Week, spent eight years at Amazon and Amazon Web Services, most recently leading a product management team at AWS for a new service, AWS Outposts, which extends AWS infrastructure and services outside of AWS owned data centers to customer locations or colocation spaces.

Prior to the tech giant, Sharma co-founded an apparel e-commerce company called LifeLemon, led marketing at Flipkart, was a developer at Oracle and was an associate at Softbank Venture Capital in India.

“I’m an engineer and have always liked to get to the first principles on why we create new products before diving into the what and how,” Sharma said. “At Amazon, I was lucky to have been part of the phenomenal growth in AWS and observed the degree of clarity people had about why, what, and how as well as how they got there.”

Sharma felt that there was an opportunity to apply that same rigor in evaluating new business opportunities and in growing young companies. She wanted wanted to build on her strengths of connecting several different pieces together in addition to diving deep where required.

Calling Madrona “the best investing team in Seattle,” Sharma was nudged toward the VC by a few good friends, including Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer. Sharma had also known Madrona’s Tim Porter and Soma Somasegar for a bit, and after the Outposts team and business at AWS were “firing on all cylinders,” she thought it would be a good time to reach out.

In her new role, Sharma joked that among her expertise she brings with her “the ability to read long documents.”

“Jokes aside, the most crucial experiences have been watching what companies look like where they’re on a tear, growing like crazy, and what graceful leadership looks like in times of hard decisions,” she said.

Sharma is focused on enterprise software and services, especially “horizontal (cross vertical) plays that lower the barrier for learning and usage.”

“I do roughly the same things as a board member and as an investor at Madrona,” she said. “As a board member, I partner with founders and product leaders in refining the details of product and go-to-market strategy, diagnose pitfalls in execution, and help navigate tough decisions. As an investor, I try to uncover big opportunities for new businesses.

Asked what she likes to do away from work, Sharma admitted to being a bit of a workaholic.

“If I were to pack for a vacation, I’d pack books on neuroscience,” she said. “Or if I took a break year, I’d enroll into UW’s neuroscience courses.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Anu Sharma:

What do you do, and why do you do it? On typical day, I’m usually tinkering with something. It’s hard to call it “building” because the building part is never done. It’s more like figuring something out while tinkering with it. Once I get to the bottom of something, I find other people who are interested in the same topic and try to connect the dots with them. We start to frame hypotheses on how the context around the topic may play out over time, validate the hypotheses, and build momentum around it.

After a few days, I write down everything I’ve gathered and craft a narrative that we can test over time. As events unravel, a fuzzy picture becomes sharper and sharper. Sometimes when we’re lucky, we are able to invest and partner with some of the most outstanding people on the planet to help create that picture.

And I’m even more lucky to be able to make living out of what I love to do.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “There’s no tyranny greater than not being able to think for yourself.”  — from a TV series that I was watching recently (“TURN: Washington’s Spies”). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Where do you find your inspiration? I love war stories and the extraordinary people who work in their studies pouring over research, scout the streets for information, and crawl in the trenches fighting to defend their country or cause.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? The internet + Wi-Fi; even on a holiday, I need those before I look for a shower.

(Photo courtesy of Anu Sharma)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My window looks out to the UW campus over Portage Bay. The whiteboard is behind me. I like watering the plants in my little nook when I need a break … the deck just outside my office is fun to hang out when I want to curl up with a book and soak up the sun

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I’m a morning person, so I wake up at 4 a.m., make time for a workout in the morning, and love having a wind-down routine like cooking or heading out for a walk in the evening.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Dr. Who (I like “Star Trek,” but it’s No. 2 on the list).

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine, no question.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Get to work on the time machine!

Your role models: Margaret Thatcher … for her work ethic, courage, conviction, and wit.

Greatest game in history: Civilization series -> time travel + war strategy = epic stories.

Best gadget ever: iPhone.

First computer: PC with Intel i386.

Current phone: iPhone X.

Favorite app: Roam … web app, coming to the phone.

Favorite cause: Children’s education and health.

Most important technology of 2020: Accurate and fast detection of infection.

Most important technology of 2022: Learning efficiency with virtual education and training.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Never run when you’re scared.” — Dr. Who.

Twitter: @anusharma

LinkedIn: Anu Sharma 

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