“Some marble blocks have statues within them, embedded in their future.”
This quote, from The Watchmen, is a great metaphor for the challenge and lure of building great software at startup companies. For most engineers, the prospect of working on a nascent product or idea that’s just taking shape is deeply compelling.
Startup engineers get to lay down a lot of building blocks that truly demonstrate their capabilities: from using the right frameworks and languages for front and back-end, to doing micro-services correctly, to whipping up prototypes quickly to drive product and market thinking. Many important things are decided in the first few days and months of a software project that have lasting impact – and shape that final statue.
Product architecture is a true differentiator for many companies, and that’s why startups try to hire as many 10x engineers as they possibly can. Unfortunately, too many high-impact engineers in India and SE Asia steer clear of startup roles because they don’t feel they can evaluate the startup’s idea or assess the founding team’s capability. There is also a lack of clarity around their own ESOP and equity compensation and how that will develop along with the company.
We think of it as the Engineer’s Dilemma: I want to get in early, build something new and have a big impact – but it’s hard to identify the right startup opportunity. Will it be worth the time spent? Will it be able to raise the cash that it needs to do build something magnificent? Will I be justly rewarded for all the value that I bring to this endeavor?
These are valid concerns. There are lots of engineers across the region who’ve burned time and energy stuck in the wrong startup, or in a company that ran out of steam and runway through no fault of the product team. Some startups, meanwhile, have taken a suboptimal or opaque approach to equity, and this has led to a lack of trust on ESOP plans in general.
All this is propelling strong engineers into the arms of larger companies that highlight job security and growth prospects as part of their recruiting efforts. While that might be absolutely the right answer for folks who are drawn to finish and perfection, it is not necessarily the most appealing to the 10x engineer archetype.
However, when a 10x engineer and a founder click – it’s magic. Over the last 13 years, we’ve seen early engineers within Sequoia India’s portfolio help build massive billion-dollar companies across India & ASEAN, generating a lot of wealth for themselves in the process as well. These engineers have played a truly pivotal role as both an architect and stakeholder, moving the needle significantly for both their companies and their careers.
We want to leverage some of that experience to help the next generation of ambitious, early-in startup engineers.
Introducing the 10x Engineer Initiative for Surge
In January, we launched Surge, a rapid scale-up program for startups in India & Southeast Asia that combines $1.5 million of seed capital with company-building workshops, global immersion trips and support from a community of exceptional founders. Every aspect of Surge has been designed to give founders an unfair advantage to scale and grow, make smart business model choices at the start, and raise a Series A round soon after.
We want to help the region’s 10x engineers to be the first to connect with these innovative founders, and the first to work on these early ideas.
To start, we’re curating a group of high-caliber engineers who share the same passion: building something from scratch. Then we’ll show these early engineers what we think are the most interesting skyscrapers of tomorrow. The 10x Engineer initiative is is a rolling program that will continually match talent with subsequent waves of Surge founders.
The first cohort of Surge, which kicks off in March, has received more than 1.5K applications from a wide range of sectors, including SaaS, Fintech, e-commerce, healthcare, deep tech, blockchain, education and direct-to-consumer brands. About 1/3 of these startups are prelaunch; the majority have 10 or fewer employees. There’s going to be plenty of scope for engineers to get in on the ground, early in the startup journey, and build something new.
What’s more, Surge will select only 10 to 20 startups in each cohort, so our team can provide tailored support and mentorship for founders. While there are no guarantees to a startup’s success, engineers can rest assured we’ve worked hard to assess the founding team, the idea and also the size of the market.
We are also planning to work closely with the first Surge cohort to create a transparent, standardized and employee-friendly approach to ESOPs. We’ll be talking more about this in the coming weeks.
We hope the design choices of Surge will help play a small part in resolving the dilemma for a group of ambitious, talented engineers.
Getting involved at Ground Zero
If you are a 10x engineer who is energized by the act of imposing order on chaos, who wants to build new worlds from scratch, who wants to build your own engineering culture and put together the highest performing teams that the world has seen, then we would encourage you to apply to this program.
They say that to make gold, you need the heat of a supernova. We would like to bring these supernovas to you, 10x Engineer, to help you become the best version of yourself. We await your application with much interest.