There’s an amazing opportunity that will exist in the next decade to bring the physical world into the digital domain.
Dhiraj Malkani ’06 says that the venture capital world has taught him, above all, the importance of being able to connect with, understand, and inspire people. “At the end of the day, even though you’ve invested in companies, you’re ultimately investing in people,” says Malkani, a partner at Boston-based Rockport Capital Partners. “The skills that I find myself most relying on are the people skills.”
Malkani joined the company after graduating from Yale SOM, having connected with Alexander “Hap” Ellis ’79, a Rockport partner. Rockport invests in transportation, mobile technology, sustainability, and energy, including oil, natural gas, solar, and wind, with a focus on tools and technologies that make energy production and consumption more efficient. When Rockport invests in a startup, Malkani says, the company provides much more than cash. “You provide a lot of your personal time and resources in helping guide the management teams, advising them, helping them solve problems, raise capital, and build partnerships,” he says.
This multi-faceted role taps directly into concepts that Malkani was introduced to at Yale SOM. “It’s the organizational behavior classes that I took in emotional intelligence, in negotiation, in leadership that really matter most now,” he says.
Malkani began his career as an engineer at Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies in product development and product management. After Lucent, he worked at Boston University’s Photonics Center business incubator. “We successfully started a company that Boston University put a little bit of seed money into,” he says. “We got the company going and then attracted outside investors. That’s what got me excited about the whole world of startups.” Malkani came to Yale SOM with the goal of transitioning into the entrepreneurship space.
Today, Malkani says, he is most passionate about projects that use technology and mobility to disrupt existing industries. One of the startups that Malkani is working with has created a software platform that allows oil and gas companies to more easily access data that improves their ability to explore and extract hydrocarbons. Another company is developing technology that will let drivers locate available parking spots—especially in crowded cities—via mobile phones.
“There’s an amazing opportunity that will exist in the next decade to bring the physical world into the digital domain,” Malkani says. “Everything is going to get connected. Appliances are going to get connected. Buildings are going to be hyper-connected; cars, too. Everything that you see is being disrupted by mobile.”
Spotting such opportunities often requires the ability to draw on a broad range of knowledge, skills that Malkani says he fostered at Yale SOM. “Because I came from a very structured engineering and physical science discipline, I’d never had any exposure to the humanities and liberal arts,” he says. In addition to his coursework at SOM, he took classes at Yale Law School and photography classes at the School of Art. “That part of my education at SOM really helped open my imagination and my ability to think outside the box.”
This mode of thinking is crucial in assessing companies that are pioneering new technology uses, Malkani says. “What those courses taught me was the ability to think in the abstract and then tie it back to reality, which is a very important skillset to have, especially in the business I’m in. You’re always imagining what these companies could look like in five years, and then figuring out what needs to happen to get there.”
We spoke to Dhiraj Malkani in 2013, when he was a partner at RockPort Capital Partners.