I was in complete disbelief when I read the first tweet yesterday evening that Stanford Computer Science professor Rajeev Motwani had passed away. I was still incredulous and hoping that it was untrue until the sad news was verified in a email sent to the department. Even now as I write this with Rajeev’s picture on my screen, it’s still hard to believe.
In March of this year Rajeev agreed to be an advisor to K9 Ventures. I was very excited to have Rajeev on board as an advisor for K9 and as a personal mentor. His untimely passing is a shock that will reverberate through Stanford and the Valley.
My introduction to Rajeev began as a student in the PhD program at Stanford CS. Rajeev was the head of the PhD program when I joined, and he was the defacto advisor to all incoming students until they found their own advisor. He was responsible for making sure that every student find a new home within the department in a timely manner. I can still remember Rajeev’s advice to all the students — that your only job in the first quarter is to find an advisor. And to not worry about requirements like Comprehensive Exams and Qualifying Exams and focus on the research. His mandate to us was that a PhD should make an incremental contribution to human knowledge. That phrase stuck in the back of my head throughout my PhD work and proved to be a good filter to test potential thesis topics.
Even Rajeev didn’t know that in my first few interactions with him, I felt quite intimidated. Intimidated because of the immense respect I had for his intellect, his ability and his judgment. Even though my research interest was in the field of Human Computer Interaction, since my advisor (Terry Winograd) was on sabbatical at Google for the first year that I was at Stanford, I was fortunate to interact with Rajeev a little while longer than I otherwise would have.
When I decided that I wanted to enter the field of Venture Capital, Rajeev was one of the first people I contacted. He was instrumental in opening several doors for me and made valuable introductions to other VCs and firms on Sand Hill Road — leading to several valued relationships. As just one datapoint, it was through Rajeev’s introduction that Refocus Imaging obtained its funding.
Rajeev truly was a pillar of Stanford Computer Science and of Silicon Valley. He touched and helped so many people — as students, advisees, entrepreneurs, colleagues and friends. He directly or indirectly contributed to the formation and the success of numerous startups (Google being the most notable, but there are many, many more). I am incredibly thankful to Rajeev for this advice, his mentorship, and the role that he played in guiding me in choosing my path not only as a student, but for life.
I feel truly fortunate to have interacted with and learnt from Prof Motwani. At the same time, I am deeply saddened at his sudden and untimely passing. I sincerely wish Rajeev’s family all the best in this difficult time and beyond.