Co-founder of Nextdoor and president of Shondaland
Nirav and Megha Tolia were apparently at the peak of their careers a few years ago.
Nirav, 50, as co-founder and CEO of Nextdoor, was leading one of the hottest social networks as it headed for its New York Stock Exchange debut. Megha, 41, was remaking the laundry business of consumer products giant SC Johnson, the $10 billion-a-year family empire of some of the world’s best-known household cleaning brands – from Windex to Shout via Pledge.
But in 2019, they left.
They listed their San Francisco-area mansion overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge — a wedding gift Nirav bought for Megha — for $25 million, and departed for Florence, Italy.
The family spent time immersing themselves in Italian culture.
Two years later, they were back in the United States, taking their careers and their three boys to the Dallas area where Nirav’s parents and brother settled. Her parents, who immigrated from India in 1971, had moved to Dallas after retiring from medical careers in Odessa.
“Even though Florence could seemingly be a break from our careers, it was actually a push on the side of personal growth,” Megha said.
The modern-day power couple were soon back in prominent roles.
As the family settled in, Nirav became a guest shark on the longtime entrepreneur showcase show shark tank. He invested in two startups during the show.
In an episode that aired in October, Nirav changed his mind on a pitch he originally turned down – bringing up his wife’s former role with SC Johnson’s Method Products. He said the couple could help out SoaPen, a startup that makes colorful pens for children’s handwashing. He ended up investing $100,000 for a 10% stake in the company and royalties of up to $200,000.
A few months later, Megha took on an even bigger role, becoming the first president and chief operating officer of Shondaland, the global television production company created by the influential Shonda Rhimes. She will oversee operations and report directly to Rhimes, best known as the showrunner of hit TV series such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
“Over the past few years, Shondaland has expanded into many new business areas while simultaneously increasing the number of people working in each of our departments,” Rhimes said. “Megha brings her invaluable knowledge and experience to help Shondaland continue to successfully manage this growth while identifying new business opportunities and new endeavors for the company.”
Life before Highland Park
From the outside, the Tolia family appears like any average family that loves nightly home-cooked dinners and family movie nights. Their children – Deven (9), Dylan (8) and Declan (6) – sometimes called “The D bros” by their friends, walk to their school in Highland Park every day.
Nirav and Megha have taken different paths for much of their adult lives. Nirav went to Stanford University for her undergraduate education, while Megha attended University of California, Berkeley. She then went to Harvard University for her MBA.
They were introduced to each other by friends well into their successful careers and married in 2011 in Los Angeles.
Nirav got his start at Yahoo! in 1996 and was one of the first 100 employees to work for the consumer internet company. During the dot.com bubble in 1999, he co-founded user review site Epinions.com and stayed with the company after the bubble burst and took many high-flying technology companies with it. Epinions then became Shopping.com, which went public in 2004 and sold the following year to eBay for over $620 million.
He also endured his share of controversy, including a negligent driving charge for causing an accident and a lawsuit involving the founders of Epinions. Nirav left the Bay Area and spent time in New York “laying a low profile” with friends.
A few years later, in 2008, Nirav was back with another tech company – Nextdoor, the social networking site where neighbors find babysitters, lost pets and complain about everything from fireworks to loud music.
The “Neighborhood Network” was founded by a group of seven people, including Sarah Leary. Leary and Nirav worked together for over 22 years and met through friends in Silicon Valley. Leary said the two “just clicked.”
Leary admires Nirav and Megha’s courage and considers herself a close friend of the family.
“(Nirav and Megha are) ready to take on new challenges that will stretch them both in their professional and personal lives,” Leary said. “It’s definitely something I admire about them, individually and as a couple.”
Since its inception, Nextdoor has grown to reach 11 countries and 285,000 neighborhoods worldwide.
When Nirav retired in 2019, he took a position on Nextdoor’s board of directors. Sarah Friar, the mobile payments company’s former chief financial officer, became Nextdoor’s new chief executive and led the company to its IPO in November.
It went public at a $4.3 billion valuation, raising more than $674 million from its initial stock offering. Nirav held a beneficial interest in more than 28 million shares of the company as of Nov. 5, 2021, according to regulatory filings. Those shares are now worth just under $170 million.
While Nirav was immersed in the tech culture of Silicon Valley, Megha’s career took her into consumer products. After earning her MBA in 2008, she became a brand manager for skincare maker Neutrogena in Los Angeles. She managed the acne line, which consisted of 35 products generating $180 million in annual sales.
She left Neutrogena in 2012 to become general manager of Method Products in North America, working to drive sales in fabric care. She remained with the company until its merger with SC Johnson, where she was part of the management team until 2019.
“Megha came along and revolutionized our laundry business,” said Michelle Arnau, Megha’s colleague and former boss. “She’s so innovative.”
The Italian getaway
The Tolias packed their bags and traveled to Florence, Italy in 2019 for a family sabbatical. The family of five moved into a two-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom apartment at Palazzo Tornabuoni and loved every second of it.
Megha studied the language, while Nirav taught a course called “Silicon Valley: The Modern Renaissance Revival in Florence,” as a guest teacher through her alma mater. They took advantage of their free time to spend time with their boys and immerse themselves in Italian culture.
During their stay in Italy, the Tolias financially supported the Fondazione Mascarade Opera.
About two years later they returned to the United States. But instead of moving back to California, they moved to the Park Cities to be closer to Nirav’s family and allow the children to spend more time with their family.
It can sometimes be difficult for children to understand what parents have managed to do to make this happen. When Nirav was on shark tankit was a teaching moment for the family.
Nirav said he saw his children learn the basics of trading when they first started watching the show. He heard his children use the word “equity” for the first time.
“And my eldest was like, ‘Dad, I don’t know why you would buy 10% of this company. I really don’t think it’s going to succeed,’” laughed Nirav.
Nirav has invested in more than 100 private technology companies and is an active member of three boards – Nextdoor, the Dallas-based insurance startup, Bestow, and Palmetto, a solar energy company. Like a shark tank investor, he took stakes in SoaPen and the online prenuptial platform Hello Prenup. He was also recently named executive chairman of venture capital investor Hedosophia.
Another teaching moment is happening now.
With Megha’s new job, she works from a home office, which has made her sons more aware of online meetings and the different commitments their mother’s job entails.
“I wanted the boys to see their mother working and contributing to the community and having something that is only mine,” Megha said. “I kind of bear a lot of responsibility for how they view female leadership and the place of women in the world today, because all they have is me right now.”
Rooted in India
Both Nirav and Megha are children of Indian immigrants who came to the United States for better opportunities.
Nirav’s parents were both doctors in Odessa, where Nirav grew up. Megha’s father came to the United States in 1967 to pursue a doctorate. in electrical engineering, and his mother arrived in 1975 after their marriage. Megha grew up in the Los Angeles area.
“I certainly think of my parents as entrepreneurs and as people willing to take big risks and work hard to ultimately succeed,” Nirav said. “And once they created the success, the importance of giving back, the importance of sharing that success with family members, friends and the community at large was so inspiring to me.”
The Tolias said they were excited to move to Texas. The couple live in a house in Highland Park while building a new one on Lakeside Drive, replacing a historic home they purchased in 2020.
The couple primarily donate to a charity run by Megha’s family members since its inception, the ROADDS Foundation. The India-based non-profit organization strives to provide affordable education to those in need. In Dallas, the Tolias supported the local chapter of the Pratham Learning Charity, as well as the Westapher Golf Charity run by the Preston Center Rotary Club.
In their spare time, friends and family say that Megha is an excellent dancer and lights up a room when she is with friends. Nirav’s brother, Veeral Tolia, introduced him to his love for Dallas Cowboys football. Nirav enjoys throwing a soccer ball with his sons.
The “D bros” play flag football on the Highland Park Cowboys and Highland Park Tejas and win their “Super Bowls” in the fall. The boys also play piano and YMCA basketball.
Both parents wake up early to train and get their kids ready for school. They start their day around 5 am and go until the work is done, then they spend the night with their boys.
Indicative of their origins, Megha and Nirav chose an interesting metaphor to describe their family life.
Their “biggest startup is the family startup,” Nirav said.