In the Room with Shishir Mehrotra

This week on The Room, we interview Shishir Mehrotra, founder and CEO of Coda. Coda is a venture-backed workflow tool recently valued at over $600 million dollars. With Coda, docs are now as powerful as applications. Although Coda was started in 2014, Coda is more relevant now than ever as a key player in 2020’s “future of work.” Coda is redefining what it means to stay organized, engaged, and effective during COVID-19’s acceleration of a remote-first culture.

In today’s episode, we explore Shishir’s path to building one of the world’s most powerful work tools- where the flexibility of a doc is combined with the power of a spreadsheet and application. We’ll explore insights and themes such as prioritizing opportunities that foster personal growth, the benefits of building a company in stealth, and scaling a distributed workforce and culture well. Let’s open the door. You can listen to the episode here.

Key Theme 1: Prioritize opportunities that foster personal growth

In 2000, at the height of the dot com bubble, Shishir was graduating from MIT with a computer science and math degree and starting Centrata. Centrata, a Kleiner Perkins-backed startup was an early player in the utility computing storage space- solving data storage needs before the Cloud existed. Although Centrata was taking off, Shishir knew that to continue to grow, he needed to move on. Shishir’s story of founding his first startup provides an insight into how constantly pursuing personal growth opportunities can take you to a place you could never have imagined. After moving on from Centrata, Shishir jumped between roles at Microsoft, and the then younger, flashy Google and Youtube team in the Valley. Shishir’s pursuit for personal growth, even when it meant sometimes not taking the “up-and-to-the-right path,” led him to leave Youtube in 2014 to build what is now Coda. Shishir speaks about the pivotal relationships he made along the way, such as with Vinod Khosla, the learnings that stayed with him, and how his experiences came together in founding Coda.

Key Theme 2: Knowing when and why to go into the public eye

Unlike many Silicon Valley startups that follow the path of building an MVP, securing venture funding, and going head-first into the public eye, Coda took a different path. Originally under the name Krypton, Coda built in stealth mode for three years. Shishir explains the importance of understanding the pros and cons of building in the public eye and why a startup could benefit from stealth. Coda was in a unique position early on with locked-in funding, a rockstar team, and early customers. This trifecta allowed them the luxury of building a customer first product for their public launch. Shishir shares stories about working with his first customers and the bumps along the way; like losing 100% of their user base in one day. Shishir’s story of developing Coda is stealth provides tangible reasons to build or not to build under the radar.

Key Theme 3: Scaling a distributed workforce, and culture

Although a distributed team is the norm in today’s working context, Coda advocated for distributed workforces since 2014. In many ways, working in a distributed setting helped Coda deeply understand what was critical to making their product work. Not only is Shishir passionate about building a helpful product, but he also reminded us to prioritize culture. Shishir talks about collaborative product management principles, how to allow for all voices to be heard, and how asking the right question (what he has dubbed as eigenquestions) has the power to unlock everything.

A father, a thought leader, and of course, a founder, Shishir reminded us to stay curious and ask the big questions. What is a question you have asked yourself recently, that has unlocked a myriad of other critical areas of questioning and discovery?

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