Updated with additional details: Rajeev Motwani, one of the savviest angel investors in Silicon Valley, a Stanford professor and most importantly a close and personal friend passed away earlier today. My feelings and thoughts on the passing of one of the quiet influencers of Silicon Valley.

Updated, June 7, 2009Rajeev Motwani, one of the savviest angel investors in Silicon Valley, a Stanford professor and most importantly a close and personal friend passed away earlier today. He was 47 and is left behind by his wife Asha and kids.

It is hard for me to write this post — this morning the news of Steve Jobs’ improving health put me in a good mood. My day is ending with a broken heart and tears in my eyes. It is the day which reminds you of the unpredictability of life. Rajeev and I had been swapping emails, hoping to get together for a cup of coffee and discussions about technology. Alas, that shall never be.

After working tirelessly in anonymity, his tutelage of two Stanford University young grad students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, made him a household name in Silicon Valley. He started the Mining Data at Stanford project (MIDAS) and was one of the earliest backers of Google. He was an early investor in Paypal and a special adviser to Sequoia Captial.

That success never came in the way of Rajeev’s quest for knowledge and innate desire to help others. There wasn’t a startup he didn’t love. Like his chosen specialization of search, Rajeev was searching for the unknown. He was still active as a professor and was teaching a couple of classes as recently as the last semester.

I have known Rajeev, his wife Asha and their family for a long time. Rajeev, like me, was from New Delhi. In my professional career (and personal moments of crisis) Rajeev was only a phone call away, sharing his vast rolodex. Just like a true friend. Only a few weeks back, I had a simple Indian lunch in his house with his family. I am sure, I am not the only one who has benefited from his generosity of time and knowledge and his ability to create connections and help others.

My prayers go to his young family. I hope god gives them strength and courage to navigate through these rough seas of life.

Update, June 7, 2009: The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Artherton police are waiting for an autopost report on Rajeev’s accidental drowning. The Silicon Valley chapter of TIE is planning a memorial service on Wednesday. Details of a memorial service to follow.

In addition, there were will be a visitation event on Monday June 8th at their home between 5-and-8 pm. Instead of flowers and gifts, family would like you to make contribution, please mail checks made out to “Rajeev Motwani Foundation” c/o Ash Chopra, Merrill Lynch, 101 California Street, Suite 2100, San Francisco CA 94111.

Tributes from around the tech community:

Sergey Brin pays his tribute on his blog. “…Yet his legacy and personality lives on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched. Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it,” he writes.

David Hornik of August Capital writes: Rajeev just wanted to be helpful. And he was. To so many of us. Perhaps that is why so many of us thought of Rajeev as a friend. It is one thing to be friendly with someone in the business world. It is another thing altogether to consider them a friend. Rajeev genuinely liked people and people genuinely liked him.

Dan Gould, co-founder of Newroo, emailed this story about Rajeev and wanted me to share it with you: “I didn’t know Rajeev well, but he was a great guy who helped us quite a bit. We were the classic two kids with some software who had just moved to California. I only knew him from using his Randomized Algorithms book in school, but he spent a bunch of time with us. He helped us improve our algorithms and ideas and introduced us to Ron Conway and to other folks which led to the acquisition of our startup. I ran into him several times since and he was always both kind and brilliant. I had hoped to work with him on a future project. While that’s not to be, I imagine dozens of other computer scientists-turned-entrepreneurs can tell the same story.”

If you have a Rajeev story you would like to share with rest of us so we can all remember and grieve together, please leave it in the comments section or email me.

  1. Very very tragic. He was an extremely gracious person. Condolences to his family.

    1. so many blogs Sunday, June 7, 2009

      I read on so many blogs about raJeev

      no one actually cares to state cause of his death :(

      RIP Rajeev

    2. very sad that he was so young, i read about this story on http://www.allvoices.com/rewards/aaa

  2. Om, thank you for sharing this. I met Rajeev and Asha at TiE and found both to be sincere, intelligent and generous. I shared a long bus ride with both of them in Malaysia and we talked about everything from startups to the meaning of life. I won’t forget that.

    1. All of us at TiE, who have had wonderful times together with Rajeev and Asha, feel sad and want to share in the sorrow of this loss.

      Rajeev was a special person and will be remembered fondly, always. Asha and the children have our deepest condolences….Kalpana and Raj Jaswa

      1. sri narasimhan Saturday, June 6, 2009

        It is surreal as I type this, I met Rajeev at TiE 2009 as I did TiE 2008, in the lobby on the second day. He had just sauntered in that Sunday afternoon when the conference was thinning out, wearing a light purple cotton shirt (or was it pink) and his trademark work-out Brahma boots, and characteristic gait. Unassuming, to most Valley newbies..and likely, making good on word he may have given an entrepreneur.

        It is clear now Rajeev was handed a mission from above. There is no doubt he over-delivered. Lets cherish a bit of Rajeev in things we do henceforth – selflessness, excellence, trust, patience.

  3. Ezra Burgoyne Friday, June 5, 2009

    He was my prof at Stanford. What happened?

  4. Om, I saw it on Twitter and couldn’t believe it until you tweeted it. A brilliant researcher and a Silicon valley icon. I will miss him, as will the entire startup ecosystem.

    1. Anand

      I couldn’t agree with you more. It is such a tremendous loss to our little ecosystem and to the humanity at large. One of the true good guys. A day later, the shock of it is finally setting in.

    2. I was shocked when I read about this on the bscs list. I took a complexity theory class from him just last spring. Brilliant guy with a very sharp wit and was always willing to stay after class and explain things to us — he would ask challenge questions after explaining something to make sure we truly understood.
      He seemed like a really good guy and will be deeply missed — this really makes you think about how unpredictable life can be.

  5. [...] was a close friend and a cherished mentor. We were saddened to hear the news today and we will miss him dearly. Our thoughts are with his [...]

  6. Om–I am very sad to hear that you have lost a friend. It is never easy losing a friend/colleague…I am reminded of my own experience losing James Kim during my time at CNET. Please let me know if there is any way I can help–as you know in our tradition, we usually bring food to those in mourning. Send me an email if there is any way I can help out.

  7. Condolences to his family and friends. Still can’t believe it.

    Was sharing his website and discussing research topics with couple of budding computer science students. What a loss.

  8. [...] a few years back and I distinctly remember how gracious he was with his time and perspectives. Om puts it best in his post on GigaOM “There wasn’t a startup he didn’t [...]

  9. :-( Wish life was not so unpredictable.

  10. The guy was a total tool and ego manic.

    1. Not cool.

    2. Not only is this not cool, it’s completely unfounded. Prof. Motwani was one of the clearest and best professors I’ve ever had. He was a very intelligent man and a devoted teacher.

    3. “Lou” — that was classless. We are all entitled to our opinions, but you chose a poor moment to express your rancor.

      I’ve had occasion to talk with Rajeev. He was opinionated but effortlessly brilliant. He elevated the state of the art and science in Information Retrieval and left it on a much higher plane than where he found it, not the least of which was his participation in the genesis of Google.

      My sympathies to his family, to his friend Om, and to his friends in Search.

      1. Prakash Iyer Monday, June 8, 2009

        And how exactly did he elevate the state-of-the-art? This is not a rhetorical question; I am just curious.
        Anyhow it is interesting how people suddenly start overly eulogizing someone after their death. I doubt if they would ever sing such praises if he was alive now.

      2. I did not know him but know a couple of of his students and knew of him by reputation. By all accounts, he was exceptional, both as a data-mining Guru as well as a human being.

        So Prakash, what is bugging you ? Are you jealous, cynical or just plain ill-bred ??

    4. lou
      get a life
      not cool at all

    5. Thanks for you candor and courage. But perhaps not a good time as everyone is grieving.


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