Blog Post

Goodbye Old Friend. R.I.P. Rajeev Motwani

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.

203 Responses to “Goodbye Old Friend. R.I.P. Rajeev Motwani”

  1. Rajeev was a formal technical advisor to our company Mobissimo.
    He and Asha have opened their house to us to help us brainstorm on strategy and technology and improvements.
    He has made several introduction for us to venture capitalist and other entrepreneurs.
    My special thoughts go to Asha, the family and closest friends.

  2. Truly sad and tragic.

    But the most important thing is that: Though a person passes away, his character lives on.

    We should all try hard to emulate the character of Rajeev Motwani.

    I have not met him personally or heard of him before today, but from reading the condolences here, his character has already made a sticking impression on me.

  3. Regina Scolaro

    Rajeev’s contributions to the world of technology and the advancement of mankind, likely pale in comparison to the joy he brought his family. Rajeev’s brilliance and enthusiasm to translate ideas of passion into meaningful tools for everyone, is truly the essence of entrepreneurship. Passion, drive, joy and genuine intention……You will be dearly missed but never forgotten.

  4. Raghav

    Very sad news. Never met the man in person, but have read a lot about him. My heart goes out to the family. May God give them the strength to bear the loss.

  5. Lost a great friend and a fellow IITK alum. We were engaged in 2 startups together: (1) Centrata, which he convinced me to run it (2) Vdopia (iVdopia), where I and founders brought him on board as an advisor. Will miss his brilliance and friendship. A great soul!

  6. I only wish i had taken his graduate level course in Randomized Algorithms while at Stanford – I only wish i had gotten to know him more – growing up in college reading his books – it was almost a dream come true to watch him in real life at Stanford – it wouldnt be exaggeration to say that the human race might be pushed back a few years by his death

  7. Rajeev had a down to earth personalty; he was a humble man and had a enviable human side while dealing with the issues in early stage ventures. He was a terrific listener – his few words meant a lot in setting some directions at the early stage of development stage ventures.

    I came to know him when he was an adviser and investor at enScaler where he brought in a wealth of resources and network to the table. Most importantly when the going got tough it was Rajeev who spent more time with genuine interest to see the company succeed. He has been on my list to call upon first if I were to found a start-up. I cant believe that I will not get a chance to meet him again.

    My deepest condolences for Asha and the Kids and the Board members at the portfolio companies that Rajeev used to mentor.

    Rajeev, you will be missed. May your soul rest in peace.

    Tanmay Kar
    [email protected]

  8. Sangeeta Narayan

    I did not know Rajeev, but I feel the loss as well. I had reached out to him in November 2008 for help on behalf of someone via Facebook (we were not even connected) and he took the time to respond to me with guidance. Very approachable and humble. I am in shock and had tears in my eyes when my husband (Dr. Subir Varma IIT Kanpur ’85 batch) gave me this news.

    My prayers and sincere wishes are with Rajeev’s family.

  9. Sunil

    I am very sad and deepened to hear that Rajeev is no longer with us. Though I did not meet him or studied at Stanford, Being in Silicon Valley, I heard a lot about him and I read few of his papers and course notes.

  10. My condolences to the family. Saddened by the news. Hope the community provides support to his family. One of his kids is quite young. the same day that brought good news about Steve Jobs also got this piece of news.

  11. Kiran Nadkarni

    I have known Rajeev and Asha over the last nine years. Rajeev was an advisor to our fund and helped us in innumerable ways. My partners and I have lost a genuine friend. As I write this, I feel a certain vacuum and anger at the cruel ways of nature. Perhaps, his services were required in another world for designing the next best thing.

    Asha, we join you in mourning our loss.

  12. Mukund Chavan

    Rajeev was a technology visionary. He was always gracious with his time, advice, and guidance to young entrepreneurs. He had provided invaluable help when we were starting our venture and always helped us along the way. For someone so accomplished, he was in a league of his own. Irreplaceable. He will be missed.

  13. Vinod Dham

    I had met with Rajeev on a few occasions. He was a gracious and friendly person. I am shocked and deeply saddened by his sudden passing away at such young age. May God rest his soul and give strength to Asha and his family to bear this tragic loss.

  14. My condolences. I heard about this from a friend. I had the honor to meet Rajeev a few times @ Stanford and have the deepest respect for his knowledge and humility.

  15. Sriram

    Although I dont know this great person, its clear that he has had a remarkable impact on so many. Hope he is remembered in a way that reflects his personality and values.

    the same day that brought good news about Steve Jobs also got this piece of news.

  16. Deepak Nayar

    Very Saddened by this news. I have not stayed in touch with him over the last few years. This brings back the memories of our UC Berkeley days. I was one year senior to him at iit K and when he arrived to Berkeley, I picked him from the SF airport and had a run down room ready for him ( next to our run down room above Pasand resruarant). 4 of us lived above Pasand.

    He and His success was admired by so many of us. So many of us looked up to him and refered to him as an iit Baap. In our own ways, we were proud of him.

    Sad it ended this way. This is not how it is supposed to be!!!!

    • Yudhishthira Raina


      “Motwane” is how I remebered him at IITK. He was in the likeness of his elder brother Sanjeev, a schoolmate and friend of mine who also shared a passion for physics. It was Motwane’s younger brother’s (who was at IITD) left over application forms that I used to apply to college and get to the US.

      To misquote Arundhati Roy “Life seeps out of us like tea from a tea-bag. Sometimes we are discarded early when there is still tea left in the bag”

      47 is too young. Way too young.

      Rajeev was always a smiling, passive, “hang-loose” guy in those days.

  17. Ambarish

    Rajeev has been very helpful to both my wife and me.

    He got my wife her job at Google.
    He helped me and my co-founder with our startup – giving us great intros to any VCs we wanted to talk to and spending time brainstorming with us.

    All this without ever expecting anything in return and without having any old connections with us.

    I will miss him.


  18. Om, Thanks for a wonderful tribute. It is shocking and it is hard to come to grips with the news but may he serve as an inspiration to us all in reaching out and making a difference in lives other than ours. RIP Prof. Motwani.

  19. Sridhar Sourirajan

    I knew Rajeev before he was famous….After his IITK days and my IITD days and before he became a Silicon Valley legend. We were together at a software company in Delhi for a few months before he decamped to UC Berkeley and I went to Washington State. Sadly, I lost touch him with him after his Berkeley days, but have followed his awesome accomplishments through mutual friends and press. All the warm tributes I’ve been reading — no one deserved them more. “Moat-wane” as we used to call him — I will miss you so dearly. You’ve left a lasting legacy in probably the most competetive arena in the world and I can never google anything anymore without thinking of your seminal contribution to the underlying search engine.

    Motwane, rest in peace….


  20. Om,

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. Everything you wrote is exactly how I left when I heard the unbelievable news yesterday. Rajeev’s heart was so big and his help was endless. He was so instrumental to the success of Baynote from the very beginning before the name of the company was even formed. 2 weeks ago, just about 5 years after I first met him, I had the fortune and luck to sync up with him one last time. He was so live, full of energy and ideas. Our one hour Palo Alto coffee talk went on and on. He was so excited about his planned trip to Wimbledon with his family this summer… And as usual, he was there to give unconditional help and made 7 connections after our chat…

    It is completely not fair that he is gone. He is too young, too smart, and with too good of a heart not to be here with us in Silicon Valley and with Stanford. My thoughts and the thoughts of entire Baynote team, advisers and board go to Asha and the kids. Rajeev will be greatly missed but he will be in our heart forever!

    As Om said, we are all inspired by Rajeev to care and help the world. Let’s do more of it together.

    Jack Jia

  21. Great people like Rajiv makes the difference in our world, he leaves behind a legacy which we all will celebrate. Although I have never met him , I did know of his influence in Silicone Valley.His success will always be measured by those he touched and helped become successfull. God bless his soul and my condolences to his family