Why I left being CTO of The New York Times, joined a startup, and am pledging 20% of my equity to charity

As The New York Times’ chief technology officer, I had a crucial role in guiding the company’s successful transition to digital, and an opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most talented journalists and software engineers in the world. It’s undeniably one of the world’s most influential institutions doing work in the public’s interest, and has been since 1851.

I love The Times and its vision, and cherished my four years there. But, there was something missing in my career. I had been in CTO roles at four major media companies, with accomplishments I was proud of. However, I didn’t want my 3 year old son Fitz Raj to know me for only being a successful corporate executive, but for accomplishing something significant for the greater good.

So I took a leap: A couple of weeks ago, I left The Times to join Vinit Bharara and fellow Times alum Paul Smurl at Some Spider–a startup creating a network of brands dedicated to community, content and commerce. In many ways my move is not surprising. Throughout my career friends and colleagues asked me why I hadn’t “done the startup thing yet.” People saw me as an entrepreneur inside and wondered why I hadn’t already become one.

However, until I met Vinit and Paul, I hadn’t come across a company with all the right ingredients. The most important thing about a startup, even more important than the idea, is the team that supports it. An idea evolves over time, the product and business pivot as the environment changes, and the technology improves and gets disrupted. But throughout, the people make all the difference between success and failure. Both Vinit and Paul share a dedication to building an outstanding team, which is a large part of why I chose to become invested in the company’s vision.

The people also make all the difference when it comes to giving back, and working for the greater good.

Dr. Krishna Chandra Pant (Rajiv Pant)
Dr. Krishna Chandra Pant (Rajiv Pant)

My grandfather, Dr. Krishna Chandra Pant, was a doctor under British rule in India. As the chief medical officer (i.e. the only doctor) at an institute in Mukteshwar, his job was to only treat the (mostly British) employees of the institute. But he knew no borders when it came to helping the sick and injured. There was no other doctor for more than 50 miles, so he welcomed all patients who came to him and he gave them the same treatment. His British employers didn’t appreciate that, and a drawn out lawsuit ensued. The courts finally ruled in his favor and he prevailed in not only keeping his job, but also in gaining the formal authority to treat all patients equally.

He continued his medical practice out of the family home long after his formal retirement. I remember he used to treat poor patients without charging them fees. He would even give them the medicines free of charge.

In 2014, the World Economic Forum selected me to join its Young Global Leaders community. I didn’t realize at the time the impact it was going to have in my life. I thought it was simply another award. But I met exemplary leaders like Ayesha Vera-YuAnalisa BalaresPardis SabetiLorna Solis, and others who have dedicated themselves and already accomplished more for the greater good of humanity than I could imagine accomplishing in a lifetime. I realized that YGL wasn’t really an award for past accomplishments, but an invitation to start a new journey committed to help make the world a better place.

We should challenge ourselves to make the world a better place
in the ways that we can.

Making the world a better place is no small feat. Last year, when the Ebola epidemic was at its peak, I felt a strong desire to help, but I didn’t know how. I have always admired the organization Doctors Without Borders for the work they do around the world. While many people and organizations claim to work for a greater good at personal cost, people who work at Doctors Without Borders live (and die) by that. In the past, I helped out by giving them small donations here and there, but I wanted to do something more impactful.

My move to Some Spider gives me a chance to use my specific abilities to make a substantial contribution to a cause that I believe in. As a part of my hire, I decided to pledge 20% of my equity to charity, most of it to Doctors Without Borders. This may come as a surprise, especially to those who know me only as a CTO. But just because we have talents in one field doesn’t mean that we can’t be of service in another.

The author and his son, Fitz Raj Pant (Rajiv Pant)
The author and his son, Fitz Raj Pant (Rajiv Pant)

We should challenge ourselves to make the world a better place in the ways that we can. For the doctors serving overseas, their commitment may be their life. For me, it’s dedicating myself to a company that shares my vision, and dedicating part of the reward from being at that company to the people on the ground who can make a difference where I can’t.

My grandfather passed away before I could make him proud. I pray that I am able to do something for this world that fills his great-grandson with pride.

Follow Rajiv on Twitter. This essay was originally published in Quartz.

Kindness is Powerful

Kindness is Power
Photo of a an umbrella a stranger gave me in the pouring rain in Manhattan.

Last night in New York City I was walking home, getting soaked in the pouring rain. Along the way I noticed other people’s umbrellas wishing I had brought mine. As the cold water drenched my hair and neck, I hoped I wouldn’t fall sick. Then the unexpected happened.

Noticing my plight, a stranger about to enter an apartment building turned to me and asked, “Why don’t you take my umbrella? I’ve reached my building, so I don’t need it anymore.”

As I continued my journey home touched by the Good Samaritan’s kindness, I realized this nice big blue umbrella would remind me of three things:

  • Charitable actions, big and small, make others smile and the world a better place.
  • I must give more to others in need.
  • Kindness is power.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I originally posted this on: Facebook.

Esfand Pourmand, Program Director, The New York Times

Esfand Pourmand shared this recommendation for Rajiv on November 17, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv and I started around the same time at NYTimes and during this 4+ years he was more than just your typical CTO, in addition of possessing all the technical skills to manage complex business and system issues. He has a deep understanding of lean product development methodologies combined with day to day knowledge of latest agile development practices. He has a gift in connecting with co-workers from different level skill-sets, his interactions with others are conducted with great care, and his detail-oriented hands-on approach continues to be admired.

As Program Director, E-Commerce/NYT Beta/Continuous Delivery at The New York Times, Esfand reported to Rajiv.

Joy Goldberg, Director, Portfolio Management at The New York Times

Joy Goldberg shared this recommendation for Rajiv on October 22, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv is unique. He’s intensely interested in every person regardless of hierarchy or background, strives to see their point of view and then invests energy to help them advance their ideas or career. He does this without guile or agenda, with simply a desire to see smart people motivated to do their best work. He’s a cultural ambassador committed to an organization being greater than the sum of its parts.

As Director, Portfolio Management at The New York Times, Joy Goldberg reported to Rajiv.

Erin Grau, Program Director, Web Products, The New York Times

Erin Grau shared this recommendation for Rajiv on Oct 21, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Some of Rajiv’s contributions to a technical organization are obvious and shared by many successful CTOs: He sets the technology strategy of our platforms and systems, and he attracts top talent. But many of Rajiv’s contributions are unique and – I’d suggest – equally as valuable: He is skilled at building an engineering culture that sees developers thrive, motivated and respected; he builds relationships across departments and disciplines; he encourages and ensures there is transparency into complex programs and technical implementations. His legacy and impact on The Times will remain for years to come.

As Program Director, Web Products at The New York Times, Erin reported in to Rajiv.

Rohn Jay Miller, Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at Knight Ridder Digital

Rohn Jay Miller shared this recommendation for Rajiv on September 11, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv Pant was leading the online technology organization at and the Philadelphia Inquirer when I selected him to become the first Vice President – Engineering for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

We were preparing to build the first true platform for all 34 Knight Ridder newspapers (Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, San Jose Mercury, among others) and the 29 city portals (,, Silicon Rajiv was hired because he alone within Knight Ridder had the technology, content management, and leadership skills to take on this $20 million development effort.

Quickly it became clear to us that this platform development effort was much more complex than we anticipated, especially in migrating operations from 63 individual sites onto a single platform that could support common content management, advertising, classifieds and e-commerce.

It also quickly became clear how singularly skilled Rajiv Pant was as a manager of large-scale platform development and operations. I can say that without Rajiv’s strong leadership this platform would never have become operational. It was built around an open source news content management system that Rajiv’s team developed in Philadelphia–one of the first examples of Rajiv’s natural entrepreneurship.

What impressed me the most among all Rajiv’s gifts was his skill as a manager of people, especially among very talented and opinionated professionals from across Knight Ridder.

Within one year of launching the Knight Ridder platform Knight Ridder Digital went from hemorrhaging $50 million a year to turning a profit. When Knight Ridder was eventually sold, Knight Ridder Digital was one of the three most profitable business units including the 28 newspaper units.

I am not surprised to see the track record of successful leadership Rajiv has built since I hired him in 2000. He has grown into one of the leaders in large-scale technology development and operations, even beyond the news business. I have no doubt that he will continue to build his record of innovation and management.

As Senior Vice President of Product & Technology at Knight Ridder Digital (now McClatchy Interactive), Rohn Jay Miller managed Rajiv.

Atif Azam, Product Designer, at MongoDB

Atif Azam shared this recommendation for Rajiv on Aug 26, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Working with Rajiv is an absolute pleasure. He is a great leader with a knack for managing a team in a way that empowers them to do their best work. He has the ability to always remain composed and to make clear, logical decisions that are in the best interest of the product and his team. I would work with him again in a heartbeat.

As Product Designer at Some Spider, Atif Azam reported to Rajiv. Atif subsequently became Product Designer at MongoDB.

Morgante Pell, Technical Entrepreneur

Morgante Pell shared this recommendation for Rajiv on August 14, 2015 via LinkedIn:

It was a great pleasure to work with Rajiv at Some Spider. He is a highly capable leader, mentor, and developer. His transition from managing a large development team at the New York Times to working with us at a startup was graceful and successful. Rajiv never lets his extensive experience stand in the way of rolling up his sleeves to contribute in an ego-free and effective manner. I would jump at the opportunity to work with Rajiv on future entrepreneurial endeavors.

As VP of Product Development at Some Spider, Morgante Pell reported to Rajiv.

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. Chairman & Publisher, The New York Times


Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

The New York Times Company
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
[phone and email redacted]

July 27, 2015

Mr. Rajiv Pant
[address redacted]
New York, NY 10019

Dear Rajiv:

I am writing to extend to you my congratulations on your position at Some Spider and to thank you for the excellent job you did at The New York Times over your four years with us.

Your insight and expertise were enormously valuable as we built the technology needed to launch and grow our digital business. And, your eye for talent helped us to fill our ranks with top developers and technologists. The spirit of collaboration and enthusiasm you brought to your work will surely live on.

I thank you again and wish you continued success.


Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

Leon Levitt, Vice President of Strategy, Cox Media Group

Leon Levitt shared this recommendation for Rajiv on Jul 24, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv excelled in a difficult job of building IT infrastructure support for a shared resource unit with many stakeholders. His attitude, style, and eagerness to please helped him work across the many agendas and develop cohesive solutions. The fact that he is so smart and strategic didn’t hurt! Most importantly Rajiv is a team player and a delight to lead and partner.

As Vice President of Strategy at Cox Media Group, Leon Levitt indirectly managed Rajiv.

Brian Murphy, VP of Engineering at The New York Times

Brian Murphy shared this recommendation for Rajiv on July 24, 2015 via LinkedIn:

When Rajiv called me to join him at his new job at The New York Times, I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again without any hesitation. He creates a culture of collaboration, high performance and productivity with a deep understanding of technology, architecture and operations. His kindness towards coworkers is unparalleled; always putting the needs of others ahead of his own. The best measurement of a leader is whether people follow them from company to company and Rajiv’s track record on that front is clear. He’s approachable, open minded, inspirational and manages his teams according to their varying needs and capabilities. I valued the autonomy he provided me with immensely. Rajiv is an exemplary executive who can scale with an organization. With his strong technical foundation, Rajiv has all the ingredients to be a stellar COO/CEO.

As Vice President of Engineering at The New York Times, Brian Murphy reported to Rajiv. Previously, he reported to Rajiv at Conde Nast.