Australian venture capital firm AirTree Ventures has appointed the executive that runs Google Photos as a new venture partner.
Anil Sabharwal, an 8-year veteran at Google, led the team that designed, built and launched the internet conglomerate’s now-ubiquitous photo software in 2015. The Canadian-born Australian executive has returned to Australia from San Francisco to take on the AirTree position while continuing as Google’s vice president of product.
Sabharwal told Business Insider that he wanted to give back his experience and knowledge to the Australian startup community through his new role in venture capital.
“I was a serial entrepreneur, which is a nice way of saying I headed a whole bunch of companies that didn’t go so well. But I think back to that experience and how much I loved it – running companies and building products,” he said.
“It’s a real strong interest to get back to the passion I have around being an entrepreneur. What I realised was that the best thing I can do to help build great products, communities and entrepreneurship in Australia was contribute more as an advisor and mentor.”
Sabharwal just returned from last week’s Google IO conference in California where he wowed audiences with new machine learning capabilities in Photos. Before his leadership in that team, he led the projects that created mobile apps for Google Drive and Google Docs.
AirTree managing partner Craig Blair said that Sabharwal would use his extensive product knowledge and industry experience to advise the VC’s startups on “specific operational challenges such as product management, technology and growth”.
“Anil will also be active in evaluating new technology trends and investment opportunities and will play a key role in connecting founders with world class industry experts. This is exciting news for the Australian start-up ecosystem,” said Blair.
One of the biggest lessons he would bring to Australian startups, said Sabharwal, is to focus on the customer experience above all else.
“If you think about great products, while there’s an underlying technology that’s unique, really the best products come down to smart product and design,” he told Business Insider.
“This is true with Uber; it’s true with WhatsApp; it’s true with Instagram. The brilliance of what they did wasn’t patent pending technology but it was the product experience and packaging. It’s really about how they brought that to market, rather than throwing some technology at users.”
AirTree Ventures last September created Australia’s largest ever startup fund, raising a $250 million pot that’s since chipped in for local fintech Prospa’s record-breaking $25 million round.
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