A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy showed that immigrant founders started more than half of the so-called ‘Unicorn’ startups (startups with valuation of $1 billion or more) in the U.S. This is solid proof that grit, tenacity and passion are potent ingredients needed to start some of the most transformative companies in human history.
Samir Shaikh – born to a middle class family in Pakistan and currently running several businesses (real estate, technology investing and his most recent start-up Near.biz) from his Palo Alto office since immigrating to the US in 2000 – is embodiment to this immigrant ingenuity and success.
- Hi! Can you please tell us more about yourself?
I’m a technology and real estate investor and entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley. My start-up Near.biz aims to create the biggest marketplace for service professionals in the world. Our team is anchored on the bigger picture of creating the workforce of the future – a future where individuals do can create their own career, book work through email, messenger, social media in just a click. We created the world’s first Book Me Now button and that becomes how people find work, engage customers, and get paid. More on this later.
- What inspired you to want to become an entrepreneur, and start your company?
I was born to a serial businessman who saw only opportunity and not the hard work and failures in establishing a business. A big part of childhood spent with the family travelling by road between Dubai and a small town of Al-ain shuttling products from the suppliers in Dubai to my Dad’s retail shop. Solving math riddles with my father and siblings all along the road trip.
As a child, I always kept an arm’s length from the daily business routines so I can go to school, always sheltered, always peppered with hunger to succeed, using gifts and daily privileges in a middle class family. Always fed to become full of belief in myself. My mom tells me that I would pick fights with bullies larger than me. Well, I did it even if I got hit. This hunger and desire to make a difference and have impact on solving problems
- Please tell us how Near.biz works?
Basically, Near.biz turns your email address into a permanent, unique and bookable profile, the Book Me Now TM profile, that integrates across any online channel – social media, websites, messenger. What our engine does is take any skill the professional wants to offer and make it bookable in a click.
The professional sets the price and may accept or refuse any projects that are sent her way. The reservations are boxed into 4 hour increments to allow for shift economies to provide the lowest cost of service. The customer leaves a review in the end.
At Near.biz, you can list yourself for independent work based on hourly packages, so then your colleagues or anyone can work on their projects with you. This makes professionals contribute meaningfully, grow their career independently and ultimately, build their own brand.
- You grew up in Pakistan, and also lived in Dubai coming up (awesome). Please tell us about that? What type of challenges and significant life events did you experience?
1- At 13, My father decided that his successful small textile shop in the small town of Al-ain isn’t going to be good enough. So he kept us involved but decided anyways to rock the boat to move to a bigger town, Dubai, and leave behind the textile shop. This unleashed a whole set of issues on our life, bigger city, new friends, smaller house, cramped urban lifestyle, bigger competition, but better schools, and more opportunity.
2- At 18, my parents and sisters unanimously betting our entire life savings to put me through Pakistan’s best university (Lahore University of Management Sciences) at the expense of their own lifestyle and perhaps their future. My dad grew greyer paying for that.
3- At 21, just out of school, raising money for a business to the tune of 20 years of income and it blew up which led to the darkest moments of my dad’s trading business that pushed us 50 years in debt with no money to meet day to day expenses. Promising my parents and siblings at a very emotional moment that I’ll make it right. After making that promise I fretted about the how for the weeks and months following thinking about how we will claw back out of this hole. In a third-world country creditors are not civilized, and there’s no chapter 11 unfortunately. They are sharks circling the prey but we survived. I want to write a book about this experience for anyone who’s run into a hopeless situation.
4- At 24, went back on a trip to Karachi to find out that a close friend from school got killed. He was a rising business magnate in rice trade. We were in touch trying to construct a business between Pakistan and US just a few days prior. So this thought be how fragile life is, it made me value my friends and family deeply.
- How does it feel to be an immigrant founder in the Valley?
1- You are a no-one. So you have no burdens, No pressure, except if you are driven.
2- There is a big league here and they do not know you and are too consumed to care about you.
3- You are mostly surrounded by advice by your peers and your managers to play it safe,
4- You have lots of advice on what not to do — while what you seek is what to do and how.
5- Silicon Valley is the world’s best place for innovation or reinvention. People are generous with time and are happy to listen to your ideas and genuinely interested.
- How has non-US roots helped you find success in the Valley? Was it an advantage?
1- It has given me more hunger.
2- It has given me more baggage to carry, and therefore a stronger back.
3- From execution standpoint it is a major disadvantage, and as a result many incredibly smart people end up playing little league all their life.
4- You have very little mentorship, and every time you jump into the deep end you’re quiet lonely.
5- The advantage is, there’s peace, law, order, and inclusion here which is big.
- What vision of the future do you see?
If you look 10 years out service delivery will be much more in real-time. Lots of recent laws and some in the works may make flexible work a viable alternative to today’s full time jobs. Further I think the business models we are pioneering around open and connected in the hiring industry are at the cusp of taking off, and the Internet will become more centered around how people work, play, and learn — this is what we call The Internet for Everyone. We believe we will get a lot of traction as we get our message out. We are completely focused on the experience we want to give to our customers, partners, and team members.