Naren Gupta memorial: Friends, family recall an intellectual giant who forever gave of himself

Ritu Jha-


Family, friends and colleagues remembered the qualities of head and heart of the late tech entrepreneur, investor and thought leader Naren Gupta, who died 25 December while on vacation with family in Charlotte, North Carolina, at a simple and elegant memorial program on New Year’s Day at the Guptas’ residence in Woodside, California.

Speaker after speaker at the event which was relayed live on YouTube recalled Gupta’s tirelessness and fearlessness, his positivity and determination to overcome setbacks, his intellectual prowess and encouraging nature, and how, despite all his success, he always seemed to have time for those who needed him.

Gupta, 73, always described putting money in the bank as a losing proposition and said investing is the answer. One needs money to make money, he would say. He would also tell would-be entrepreneurs that a healthy breakfast was usually his first investment of the day.

Ash Gupta, Naren’s younger brother and a former top executive at American Express Inc, shared some childhood memories. “I can see how he became what he became,” Ash said of his brother, cofounder and managing director of Nexus Venture Partners in Menlo Park.

“Naren was born in a small town called Panipat [in Haryana, India], about 50 miles from Delhi,” he continued. “Our dad’s name is Amar Singh Gupta and mother, Dhanvanti Gupta. My dad has done high school and mother, eighth grade. My dad retired as an upper divisional clerk. They used to stay in a one-room apartment in Subzi Mandi [in Delhi] and eventually retired to a one-bedroom apartment in Lodi Colony.”

Ash explained how their house, after their father retired, had seven electric bulbs and two fans and their monthly power bill was the equivalent of 30 US cents. Yet, when Ash asked Naren how he would characterize his life growing up, “he said I was born in privilege, our parents had the view that things that matter the most require zero talent, education or resources. Instead, what matters is keeping your commitment and showing up on time, taking that extra step when everyone else is tired, and being curious and always available to assist others.”

Ash recalled how Naren was always trying to compete with people who were taller and older. “We used to play chess and cricket and initially he would lose. But the thing is that he was so bent on improving himself, he gradually became an expert chess player and a good cricket player.”

One of the things Naren always said is that “to advance in life, you cannot fear failure,” added his brother, explaining how even their mother used to call him Narenbhai for his sense of maturity and responsibility.

“He would say love is not about how smart or good-looking you are. Love is the capacity to appreciate and love others. I grew up in privilege because Naren was in support of me. He was pushing me to live a privileged life,” Ash said.

Ash said Naren was self-confident and self-assured by age 7, started walking when he was just nine months old, and went on to get the first rank in the IIT entrance exam when he was just 15. Not expecting his son’s name to be at the top, Ash Gupta said his father looked lower down the list in despair.

Close friend and fellow IITian and venture capitalist Ashok Vaish described Naren as “one in a million with a brilliant mind”. When Naren launched Nexus Venture Partners, Vaish was the first to invest in it. “It was fascinating to see his vision unfold,” he told the gathering of about 150 people, “with a pioneering mission of bringing venture capital to India and building world-class companies.”

Vaish recalled Naren’s love for travel and the many trips they made together. “We traveled all over the world,” he said. “He had a lust for adventure and a love for photography. The trip to Patagonia [in Argentina] was the most memorable we did, as Naren set up this 17-day trip…. It was the best thing I did.”

Vaish said the greatest thing about Naren was that he cared about his friends. “We miss him and our hearts are broken,” he said.

Serena Gupta, Naren’s daughter, said, “When I think back about everything, there is a sense of loss in everything. I am trying to teach myself gratitude, to learn from him what to do and what not to do.”

Her elder sister Anneka Gupta shared the experience of time spent with their father. “I was exactly zero days old when I first met my dad and I have no memories of those days,” she remarked. “My dad loves kids the most and would ask them what they want to do in life no matter what their age was. I still remember, when I was just eight years old, I would ask endless questions, such as how the world works, how aeroplanes fly, what causes rainbows, why the sky is blue. My dad would patiently answer all the questions accurately, breaking down all the concepts and scientific phenomena. He would reply in a way that I could understand….

“In the past week, I learned that he was a global entrepreneur and how he would talk to and help anyone. He used to say I am never busy for anyone who needs help,” she added.

Anneka told indica of the day of her father’s death between 11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. on Christmas day. “He had spent the night in North Carolina at my aunt’s house,” she said. “He passed away after having a vibrant breakfast with everyone and then taking a shower.

“They were getting ready to head out for the day and my mom found him in the bedroom not breathing, with no heartbeat. She had only been out of the room for 15 minutes or so,” Anneka said.

“My last memory of him is kayaking with my mom on our family vacation in Florida the day before Christmas,” she said, adding that the family was kayaking till 45 minutes before they left for the airport. Her father, she said, was having a great time taking photos of the birds there.

“We were texting on Christmas just an hour or two before he was gone,” Anneka said. “It happened so quickly. So many of us got emails and texts from him Christmas morning.”

“My dad was an incredible person,” she continued. “He was always making wild new travel plans to far reaches of this earth. He was the most intellectually curious person I know. He brought joy to every moment, from the second he woke up to the second he went to sleep. And he made it known day in and day out that the greatest joy in his life came from me and my sister.

“I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without him and yet I’m grateful for every moment we had together. I learned so much from him and he will continue to be an inspiration to me every day.”

Rajeev Goel, also an entrepreneur and currently CEO, PubMatic, said at the memorial service, “He was available for the entrepreneurs he worked with. He gave me advice, and I couldn’t take it, as his thinking was six months ahead of mine. He had an amazing ability to see ahead. I never traveled with him, but whenever I used to talk with him, he would be back from some amazing trip. He would spend the time with his family.”

Jishnu  Bhattacharjee, Naren’s colleague at Nexus Venture Partners, said he was “proud, fortunate and blessed” to be a part of the firm for the past 14 years.

“I learned from him in the office and spent most time with him,” Bhattacharjee said. “Naren’s stint as an entrepreneur began in the early days of technology enterprise in Silicon Valley. He was the first founding CEO of Indian origin to take a company public in the US.

“Naren co-founded Nexus Venture Partners to bring company-building expertise and risk capital to India’s enterprise ecosystem. He helped build the firm into a leading investment institute in India and globally, where he would get to touch many.

“He genuinely cared for each and every entrepreneur and gave time to everyone,” Bhattacharjee continued. “He had an intellectual curiosity and passion for life. An avid reader and listener of audio books, he was willing to engage in an intellectual conversation on almost any topic under the sun. From quantum physics to Indian politics, from wine making to child rearing. He wanted to experience as much of the world as he could, with a travel bucket list across the world. We have lost a visionary, a mentor and a dear friend. The gentle genius lives in our hearts.”

Tom Kailath, c0-founder, Integrated Systems, Naren’s mentor, and professor emeritus at Stanford, said, “I have known Naren from the 1970s. It was a great education and experience to see his growth, from being a student to being an entrepreneur. If we could explain him in two words, they would be ‘consistently brilliant’… He knew everything as he used to do a quick study. He had a lot of love for the people who worked with him. He had very close friends and he loved them.”