Archive for May 2013
Exactly one week ago, I was sitting in the living room of Amitabh Bachchan‘s suite at his favorite New York City hotel. I had flown to NYC just for this meeting with the CEO of one of our portfolio companies that we just invested in (and will announce soon!).
“Hi, I’m Amitabh Bachchan,” he said, extending his warm hand to me. “What can I get you – tea, coffee, cookies…?”.
That was the first sign. For those of you who don’t know, Amitabh Bachchan is arguably the biggest star in the world. The true King of Bollywood, he is a god in India. He has won every award in Indian cinema and was in NYC for the premiere of The Great Gatsby. His wife is an actress, his son is a famous actor, and his daughter-in-law is an actress and dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”. Yet, here he was introducing himself as if I shouldn’t know who he is and making sure we are comfortable.
A one hour meeting turned into 2.5 hours of gripping conversation focused on Indian media, technology, his father, his charitable work (and how he doesn’t want people to know what he does for reasons unique to fast growing emerging economies), and much more. I wish I could detail all that we talked about, but out of respect for his privacy I’ll just leave it at that.
Yet, what impressed me most about him was his utter genuineness and deep-rooted humility. He is not a man content with being the legend he is; he’s a philomath who listens intently to every word, probes gently but intelligently, and sucks in information like fresh air. Not once did he mention his fame or success–or that of his family–rather, he talked about his goals and areas for improvement: increasing his digital presence, building a brand in other parts of the world, and others. Not once did he mention his countless movie hits, but I can count on two hands the number of failures or shortcomings he brought up in himself. And not once did he exude any sense of superiority, which just put him on a higher pedestal in my eyes.
And I’ll never forget the way he walked us out. He looked me right in the eye, patted me on the back, and said, “I hope we can meet again soon. This was lovely.” And then he walked us out of the suite, pressed the elevator button, waited until we had gotten into the elevator, and then bowed his head slightly until the elevator door had closed, with us on the inside, and him on the outside.
An actor for the ages. But even more impressive, a gem of a person.
Almost four hundred years ago, 102 English Pilgrims set sail westward toward an unknown land. They didn’t know whether they would survive their harsh journey, but they believed so strongly in their pursuit of freedom, and in their hopes for economic prosperity, that they dared to do what very few had done before. They became one of the first sets of immigrants to arrive at a frontier that would soon become the United States of America. Over time, the United States became a nation of immigrants—an eclectic cultural collage, a melting pot of ethnic groups, and a vibrant microcosm of the world.
Today, America embraces a full spectrum of heritages, from those whose families have been here for centuries to those who just recently immigrated. All of us, at essence, are immigrants. And increasingly it has been immigrants who have empowered our country’s founding promise, and its perhaps most cherished ideal: entrepreneurialism. America has let them innovate, and in return they have innovated for America. In 1784, the second-generation immigrant Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals; and in 2003, first-generation immigrant Elon Musk, who himself was born in South Africa, founded Tesla, building on the shoulders of thousands—if not millions— of inventions and companies launched by immigrants in between. Today, more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 are companies founded by immigrants or their children. And myriad of America’s most iconic brands are the brainchildren of foreign-born, first-generation Americans. Consider merely Pfizer, Google, and Procter & Gamble as a few examples.
These are the companies, the entrepreneurs, the ideas that make America what it is: a beacon of bold innovation for millions across the globe—a city upon a hill—an inviting shore. And this is the reason I am so thrilled to announce the launch of Innovate for America, a nonprofit aimed at educating Americans about the staggering impact of immigrant entrepreneurs, by measuring the number of jobs they have created. My co-founders Scott Sandell, Carmen Chang, Chetan Puttagunta, and I reached out to a little over 35 of our friends who are building transformative companies as immigrant founders. These companies are now sharing the number of active U.S. employees they have hired across multiple locations. And we are aggregating this data and packaging it into a shareable widget that blazons the total number of jobs enabled by all companies participating.
As the IFA network grows to more companies, and companies hire additional employees, the total number of jobs IFA immigrants have created will continue to rise. Many of the participating companies, as well as non-immigrant-founded entities, have already begun to place this widget on their homepage. Incidentally, the Innovate for America widget, as well as its website, workflow, and back-end, were designed by a hard-working team at another immigrant-founded company, Bloomreach.
With the public launch of our effort, today marks the beginning of Innovate for America. Yet already we have mustered 38 venture-backed private companies hailing from over 20 countries, fueling more than 3700 jobs. This ship has just set sail. And we cannot wait to see how far it goes.
You can read about the launch here in a story covered by The Economist.