Startup Expert Wears Many Hats
Our featured member for June 2015 is Waleed Rashid. With over a decade of experience in founding and growing organizations in the non-profit and Internet industries, Waleed is currently VP of Partner Strategy at InsideVault. He has held roles in Business Development and Marketing in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, USA as well as Non-profit development in Kabul, Afghanistan and Dubai, UAE. Waleed holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of California, Berkeley where he completed his Thesis on Comparative Economic Systems with an emphasis on Post-Conflict Iraq & Afghanistan and was a Master of Arts candidate at the California State University.
Read more about Waleed’s experiences below.
- Current Employment: InsideVault & HEEDA.org
- Previous Employment: Shmoop, The Search Agency, ResumeBucket.com, Quinstreet
- Education: Bachelor of Arts Degree – University of California, Berkeley
- Industries: Marketing and Advertising, Technology, Startups
- Location: San Francisco
Throughout your career, you have held a variety of roles at different startups. What advice would you have for someone else considering foregoing a traditional path of joining a Fortune 500 company and working at a startup instead?
The decision to join a start-up versus a F500 was made subconsciously when I was still an undergrad at Cal. I participated and placed in two case competitions (BCG and WF). In my 20 year old mind, though it was fun to play dress up, the rigid demands for acceptance and the lack of appreciation for outside-of-the-box thinking and solutions didn’t delight me much. Thus, it was more a personal decision to work in an environment where I felt my natural strengths would be recognized and where I could wear many hats, simultaneously.
I admit I have some ADD tendencies, which make for a good fit in the start-up environment with constant 80:20 execution plans before moving onto the next project. However, having worked with quite a few start-up organizations at various stages of development, I now appreciate that the full spectrum of personality types and skill sets can find a home within the start-up environment. Fundamentally, it comes down to the individual to find organizations that fit suit their passions and fit their needs for a happy and productive work environment. With the proliferation of technology throughout the world, creative minds everywhere are finding ways to re-invent old industries within a start-up context. From commodities to mining and financial services and to consumables/CPGs, there are start-ups to be found throughout the US, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Incubators are an industry within themselves, looking to capture undiscovered talent and help nurture them into the next big VC exit.
As someone looking to forego the traditional path, I would highly stress researching industries, which you are genuinely passionate about, and look for ways to get your foot in the door, both based on your education and your personal research. Most start-ups don’t have clearly defined roles but are looking for smart, go-getters with a passion for their vision/technology/service, so even if you don’t have specific experience within a start-up context but can align on those levels with the requisite level of education (classroom or otherwise), you should be ok. There are many ways to get into this industry, but as in all things, it requires a bit of creativity, tenacity, grit, follow-through and of course, patience & prayer. But, don’t let my story limit anyone. Joining a start-up should be made an available option to everyone, and if someone has never considered it, they should make it an option themselves, ADD not required, nor rewarded. In the words of Kurt Cobain RIP; Come as you are.
You spent some time abroad in Afghanistan working with HEEDA, an organization working towards health, educational and economic development for Afghanistan, and you currently serve as its Executive Director. Can you elaborate on a particular instance from this experiences that really impacted you and shaped your perspective moving forward?
HEEDA.org started as a family project to help rebuild my mother’s hometown masjid. It has blossomed into one of the largest active medical device trials and implementations in recent Afghani history. It has received accolades from the Ministry of Public Health and the office of the Honorable First Lady Rula Ghani, herself, but none of those acknowledgements were as impactful to me as an interaction with a mother at Indra Ghandi Hospital in the Afghani Capital, Kabul.
After her 2 week old son had been all but written off at his pre-mature birth (by 4 weeks) in the still cold month of March, the doctors suggested keeping the baby wrapped in the Embrace Infant Warmer provided to the hospital via HEEDA.org. The doctor had seen prior success and recognized that successfully combating hypothermia would give the infant a far superior chance of survival. Two weeks later, the baby’s health had stabilized, and the doctors prognosis was positive, which is saying a lot in the Afghanistan public health sector. Though I was only at that hospital for about an hour, the mother had seeked me out and made sure to come by to thank me for my generosity. While trying to explain to this illiterate mother of five, that it was not a personal effort on my part but rather part of a larger initiative that we are doing through the organization, I realized none of that mattered to her. She, along with so many other needy families out there in the world, just want to show appreciation for any little help they get. So, to them names like HEEDA.org, WHO, USAID, UNHRC don’t mean anything, it’s all about impact.
It was that day, I realized the need for impact and the need for our organization to continue to focus on where we can have the most significant impact, and this defines our strategy on all future projects.
Can you tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
After college some fellow classmates and I tried our hand at building a financial consulting practice, which focused on getting the post dot-com bust consumers out of their unsecured debt into tangible assets. We took on angel-funding and tried to build a service business with little to no professional experience amongst us. Aside from mismanagement of funds, disfavorable contract terms, and an unsustainable burn rate, we were also going up against an uneducated consumer population in the very early days of debt negotiation.
Needless to say, our doors closed within the first year; however, the lessons learned stay with me today and were factors which got me into my first start-up job at the beginning of my career. Reviewing financial and legal contract terms, understanding the market demand, and not least of which, appropriate timing as highlighted in the TEDTalk by Bill Gross founder of IdeaLab are things that have stayed with me ever since. It was indeed an experience and an education which I wouldn’t trade.
What is one of your current personal or professional development goals, and what are you doing on a daily/regular basis to achieve this?
I am currently looking at the alternative energy industry. With my semi-technical background and the opportunity to help introduce developing nations, like Afghanistan, into the modern global economy, I see lots of potential with alternative energy as a means to power modern technology and communications to assist in education, healthcare and economic growth. I am trying to learn as much as possible in my down time, usually 8pm – 12am, so this pretty much means lots of blogs, news articles, industry white papers, and other such publications. There is a lot of noise on the web, and it’s a hot topic on many commercially applicable levels here in the US, so sifting through the noise has been the largest challenge. A great source of condensed high-level information, thus far, has been the blog www.visualcapitalist.com. I hope it helps some of you all out there and am always looking for more sources of information, so feel free to share your favorites.
What role does Islam play in your professional life or career path?
Whether I want it to, or not, Islam plays a role in my life, professional, personal, career, health, family, friends, etc. Partly because with my dark facial hair and bushy eyebrows, there are only a few stereotypes I can pass for, Muslim being the primary one. But obviously, this is a purposeful choice as well.
I, like many other Muppies, have ebbed and flowed in my spiritual connection to The Creator and as with everyone this spiritual state manifests itself in various ways, physically. Things like praying at the office, fasting during Ramadan, and attending a Happy Hour while just ordering a soda water with lime are a reflection of my spiritual state. That is not to say anyone who does otherwise, is better or worse, but my personal relationship with my Lord is my personal relationship with my Lord. And as such, I treat it with that respect and expect others (colleagues, clients, etc) to do the same. Scheduling meetings around prayer times and communicating the need for flexibility during Ramadan are key for me to be productive and still meet my deen duties. I’ve found being up front and nonchalant about these facts helps keep everyone on the same page.
However, I try to not let my deen be the only thing people remember about me in most interactions, but rather, let it serve as the backdrop, which defines the way I just interacted with them. I don’t apologize for my deen, and I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt when I suspect they may be waiting for an apology.
Each month, Muppies features one of our members to share about their professional development story and the insights they’ve gained along the way. This interview was originally conducted in June of 2015. Opinions are of the member and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Muppies, Inc.