Samuel Sunderaraj’s (’95) uncle in Seattle was the only person he knew in the United States when he first stepped onto Biola’s campus in the fall of 1991. He was an international student from India with little money but big aspirations. After graduating from Biola with a B.A. in business administration, he got an MBA at the University of Arkansas. He then married and moved to Seattle, where he has carved a lucrative career building early-stage technology sales teams.
Here are five things you should know about Sunderaraj’s journey from growing up in India to becoming a successful businessman in Seattle.
- He grew up in Hyderabad in central India. “When you’re a Christian in India, you’re basically a minority,” Sunderaraj said. According to Samuel, Catholics and Christians made up only 3% of India’s population at the time. Even at his Christian elementary school and high school, his classmates were mostly Hindu or Muslim. “I had neighbors and friends of all religions and ethnicities,” he said. But his grandparents were Christians and his dad was a pastor and missionary to Malaysia, so he grew up in the church and discovered Biola through a family friend.
- He started out as a janitor. “Biola was the most expensive school I applied to,” he said. In order to pay tuition, he worked late-night shifts for 20 to 25 hours a week. “I cleaned almost every building on campus,” he said. “And every time I’d clean a professor’s office, I would notice who had candy and who didn’t.” He left notes asking permission and when they said yes, he helped himself.
- He didn’t plan on becoming a tech executive. After graduating with his master’s, Sunderaraj and his wife moved to Seattle so he could join Eddie Bauer as a sales allocation analyst. But in 1999, Eddie Bauer had layoffs, so Sunderaraj took the opportunity to move to the world of tech. He started out selling hardware, then software, then joined a startup as a sales manager. After that, he joined another, and since then has continued helping startups build their market teams and accelerate revenue.
- He has helped tech startups go from zero to a million to a billion. In 2010, he joined a company called Dove Networks and took them from $0 to $1.8 million in revenue within 15 months. In 2014, he advised a startup called Outreach. At the time, it was only four founders. But after working with Sunderaraj, Outreach has since become a billion-dollar company with almost 600 employees. “It was one of the fastest startups in Seattle,” he said. He then joined ExtraHop Networks, which is now another billion-dollar company. He is currently consulting with an Indo-U.S. startup called Insent and also works with Madrona Venture Labs.
- He got there by prioritizing growth and integrity. “For me, it’s all about growth — professional growth, personal growth. I’m drawn to people who can challenge me in the right ways,” he said. “There’s a lot of negative perception about Christians in tech. ... But I think the best testimony is to be focused, be kind to people, empathize and do good work.”