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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.

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

letter-from-arthur-sulzberger-address-redacted

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

CHAIRMAN
The New York Times Company
PUBLISHER
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.

Sincerely,

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.

Brad Kagawa, Vice President of Technology, Content Management Systems at The New York Times

Brad Kagawa shared this recommendation for Rajiv on July 23, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv is a different kind of CTO. While he always has valuable input on architecture, and is a great sounding board for a techno-philosophical discussion, he doesn’t often insert himself aggressively as a final decision-maker in these matters. Rajiv practices the philosophy that the strength of a good technology organization is that you put the right people in place so that you can trust the technology decisions that they make, and he is good at it. Rajiv’s strength as a CTO for the 4+ years that I worked for him was in actively building a technology culture at The Times. He made every developer feel welcome, showed genuine interest in their work, helped them understand the company direction as at least as well as any product manager could, and facilitated people making personal connections across the company. At the same time Rajiv could dig into low level technical details, conduct a meaningful code or architecture review, and flex all the technical muscles that a CTO should be able to. As an executive, Rajiv was able to elevate the status of the technology with senior management and throughout the company and made it easier for the rest of his staff to do their jobs.

As Vice President of Technology for Content Management Systems at The New York Times, Brad Kagawa reported to Rajiv.

Greg Felice, Director of EIT Strategy and Business Agility at Cablevision

Greg Felice shared this recommendation for Rajiv on July 23, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Maybe once or twice in a career, you get the opportunity to work with someone who helps change your mindset, and raise your game to the next level. In my time reporting to Rajiv at the Times, Rajiv was that person for me. In addition to our coaching and mentoring relationship, Rajiv clearly communicated and managed at the chief-executive level. I would recommend him without reservation for any challenge.

As Director of Technology for Agile and Scrum at The New York Times, Greg Felice reported to Rajiv. He subsequently became Director of EIT Strategy and Business Agility at Cablevision.

Ross Settles, Vice President of Marketing, Knight Ridder Digital

Ross Settles shared this recommendation for Rajiv on July 22, 2015 via LinkedIn:

During my time at Knight Ridder Digital, I worked regularly with Rajiv on both operational issues concerning the media organization’s multiple content and advertising management systems and strategic issues facing a publisher of local and national news. In both roles, Rajiv was an invaluable resource for his insight, and the strength of his points of view. As a “legacy” news organization we tended to look at the world from the vantage point of historical trends. Rajiv was always able – sometime painfully able to – make us realize that the past in our case almost certainly did not predict the future. I can’t think of a better strategic partner and thinker at such a critical time.

As Vice President of Marketing at Knight Ridder Digital (now McClatchy Interactive), Ross Settles worked with Rajiv.

Chris Ladd, Senior Software Engineer at The New York Times

Chris Ladd shared this recommendation for Rajiv on July 22, 2015 via LinkedIn:

Rajiv truly believes in the importance of people and of culture — from the first moment I joined The Times, he nudged me towards places in the company where I could shine and best contribute, and connected me with others that could help. He is an executive who genuinely wants to hear your technical technical details, who wants your opinion on this technology or that, who genuinely wants you to do your best work and to succeed in your own career. He has been a great friend to me at The Times over the last four years, and even as my boss’s boss’s boss, made me feel as if I was truly his charge as well, in the best possible sense.

As Senior Software Engineer at The New York Times, Chris Ladd reported to Rajiv.

Bobby Chowdhury, Senior Director of Technology, Conde Nast

Bobby Chowdhury shared this recommendation for Rajiv on June 12, 2015 via LinkedIn:

I am lucky to have worked for and with Rajiv Pant at Conde Nast and to be able to consider him my good friend. Rajiv is an avid technologist – always seeking the best solutions; a leader of people – inevitably finding ways to mentor and enhance others’ careers; a great human being – someone you can trust and respect and poke fun at for stopping after that half glass of the 1961 Bordeaux :) I wish him all the best in his new endeavors at Some Spiders and I know he will have great impact in whatever he chooses to do.

As Senior Director of Technology at Conde Nast, Bobby Chowdhury reported to Rajiv. He subsequently became Vice President of Technology at Conde Nast and CTO at Rodale.