TiE DC Charter Member Spotlight: Kiran Hebbar, Valhalla Partners

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Jess Maier
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Kiran Hebbar charted a typical Indian immigrant’s path to a hi-tech career, but accidentally got into venture capital. Kiran came to the US to pursue graduate studies at the University of Maryland and worked as a software engineer at an entrepreneurial CAD company upon graduating. He enjoyed the engineering job for a while, but became interested in expanding his business skill set, particularly as it applied to start-ups.

Kiran went to business school in 2001 to gain those skills, but the headwinds to pursue a startup career were particularly strong in those years, as the dot-com bust, 9/11 and recession, took the wind out of start-ups during that time. As he pondered his options, a venture capitalist called him out of the blue in spring 2002 and convinced him to pursue a career in venture capital. He was fortunate to get a summer internship at a VC firm during which he worked closely with the CEO of a portfolio company to devise a new product strategy (he eventually headed products at that start-up). He enjoyed that experience so much that venture became his passion.

After graduating from business school, he returned to an operating role an additional three years in order to have a wider perspective and be effective when working with entrepreneurs and their companies. In 2006, he found his way to the venture capital firm of Valhalla Partners through the Kauffman Fellows program where he met his mentor, Art Marks (the founder of Valhalla).

Looking back, he is glad he devoted considerable time to a number of operating roles before entering venture capital. Besides helping a VC to pick better companies, operating experience across a few domains will help an investor effectively nurture companies in which they invest. A VC can give better advice if he or she has been in start-ups and has faced such situations before. Moreover, operating experience in start-ups teaches humility, which is very important when working with entrepreneurs. The most enjoyable part of his job is when he works with super-passionate entrepreneurs to solve complex problems, be they one of strategy, product or team.

Kiran is now a General Partner at Valhalla Partners, which has $440 million of assets under management, and invests primarily in early stage companies in digital media, enterprise applications and next-gen infrastructure sectors. Before starting his venture capital career, Kiran was in various operating roles and spent over ten years in software development and product marketing at companies spanning the software, Internet, and technology-enabled services domains.

Kiran serves on the boards of several Valhalla portfolio companies in the social, local, mobile, video and advertising technologies areas including, Adaptly, Fishbowl Marketing, Legolas Media, Zonoff, PlaceIQ, ShopSocially and Yelli. Additionally, he works closely with Custora, Vistar Media, and Vubiquity (formerly Avail-TVN). Kiran has contributed to three recent successful exits for Valhalla including the 3d reality capture company Geomagic which was acquired by 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) in February 2013. Kiran was instrumental in launching Valhalla’s seed investing program which has made sixteen investments in the past four years.

In his operating roles, Kiran led product management at RichFX, a venture-backed rich media applications company targeting e-commerce retailers. Before RichFX, Kiran was a product manager at Siebel Systems where he managed CRM products for the high-tech, semiconductor and industrial manufacturing verticals. He began his career as a software engineer at Bentley Systems, where he developed 3D mechanical CAD software products and managed offshore development partners.

Kiran has an MBA from the Wharton School, where he was Chairman of the Wharton India Economic Forum. He earned a Bachelor's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and an M.S. from the University of Maryland, both in Mechanical Engineering. Kiran received the Graduate School Fellowship award at the University of Maryland. He is a graduate of the Kauffman Fellows Program and a Charter Member of TiE-DC. Kiran lives in Dunn Loring, Virginia with his wife, two children and a sprightly Portuguese water dog.