Shakti was the Founder and CEO of Devfolio. I worked closely with him as his Chief of Staff at Devfolio from 2020 to 2021. In this time, I got to know him quite well and observed his working style in some detail. How he operated wasn’t always in line with popular startup wisdom (even the good kind), and it used to baffle me. He had his own special way of doing things.
Consider maybe one of the worst things a startup founder has to do, fire people. There are countless articles written about why it’s necessary to fire fast, how it’s better for everyone that way, and how best to do it, etc., but he just couldn’t get himself to follow any of that. He didn’t fire people; he gave them a company-sponsored hiatus & housing to take some time off, pivot, re-skill in a way that was a win for everyone, and come back. When a team wasn’t needed anymore, instead of just letting them go, he’d go out of his way, spend time finding them a much better job, one where they’d be a better fit and make much more money. When an intern didn’t perform up to the mark, he’d give them a list of things to improve upon, some guidance as to how to do it, and a future date at which they could come back to resume the internship.
A lot of these things didn’t make sense to me at the time. Only now, in retrospect, can I see that it all arose out of Shakti’s core beliefs, that everyone deserves our kindness and that sometimes people require more than one chance. He knew that maybe these weren’t high up in the list of things to prioritize as a constantly triaging founder. But he also knew and took pride in that as a bootstrapped CEO, he had the freedom to do more of these things his way and won’t have to justify it to someone else.
He went over and beyond for his team and convinced everyone else why it was the way to go, often at a personal financial cost. He knew the people you hire are the company you build. He believed that his impact was not limited to his direct reports or even all employees at Devfolio but to the entire developer community.
Shakti was on a mission, a mission to democratize access to opportunities in India. He was working towards a world where everyone, regardless of where they came from, would have a chance to upgrade their lives by interfacing with better opportunities. He knew there was much to be fixed to ensure that teenagers from 2nd and 3rd tier cities of India could compete globally. A large part of this dedication of his came from the fact that he identified with them, and himself overcame multiple hurdles to reach where he was.
Shakti was born and brought up in Jhansi. Like most peers, he tried his hand at IIT-JEE but soon figured out it was not meant for him. He ended up studying physics at SVNIT, on the other side of the country, just because he had heard that it was a great place for hackers, regardless of what they studied. He soon discovered he had a knack for organizing people, something that he never stopped doing and would end up shaping the rest of his life. One thing led to another, and he ended up starting a company and moved to Bangalore, trying his hand at playing in the big leagues. He knew he was fortunate but also that not everyone would be. He believed it was a moral duty to make sure that people wouldn’t have to be as lucky as him just to have a real shot. And that’s what he set out to do.
This might sound like a glorified picture of his life, but people close to him knew that all was not as rosy as it may now seem. Of course, he made mistakes along the way, but he learned from them and started turning things around. Insiders knew his good times were just getting started, that too in a way that would make all previous errors seem like blips. He won’t be around to see it all be worth it, which makes his passing so much harder for us.
He was a product of India’s developer community, which he always preferred to call the “builder ecosystem”. He was a product of this ecosystem; all he ever did was try to make it stronger and find a sustainable way of doing that. He was a man of few words, tweeting only a handful of times in a decade. He didn’t understand building in public, only building for the public. He loved the phrase Never Stop Building, and we promise we never will.
Shakti passed away on 8th May 2021 due to complications arising out of COVID. He is survived by his wife, parents, sisters, a team of close friends at Devfolio, and countless builders whose lives he hopefully impacted for the better.