Most important lessons I learned
I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. My uncle nicknamed me Caesar after Julius Ceasar and my grandma said I was like a bouquet of jasmine. So much for names for I don’t think I am sweet as jasmine or as strong as Ceasar. I was always different though. At a young age, I was influenced by the international trips my family took me as they opened my mind up to different cultures, people, food and even commerce. It was during these trips that I got the idea of buying shoes abroad and selling them in the local market at twice the price. I was 11. Those earnings went into a poultry farm I setup that gave multiples in return and in Grade 8 the things I read most were the Economist and my brother’s MBA books. So no surprise I was planning to go to UPenn for college to study business for college and work in Wall Street after. And one day when it came to finally choosing my major and school I was convinced that technology was the future. The day before I left for the US, my brother sat me down and gave me three books to better prepare me for the road ahead: The Godfather to learn about ambition, I’m OK, You’re OK to relate to other people and the Holy Quran to know there is something bigger than me. I remember I finished reading The Godfather before my plane landed and feeling quite invincible which lasted a total of few hours until the reality of being somewhere new all by myself sunk in. Studying Electrical and Computer Engineering at WPI was a big deviation from the plan and while it ended my dreams of becoming an investment banker, it would prove to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Couple of years later while I was working as an Engineer in Boston, I visited my friends in LA and Santa Barbara. It was practically icing in Boston and here I was smoking a cigar on my friend Ali’s balcony at 80 degrees after a beautiful drive on Highway 1. I told myself — you would be a lot happier here. I came back packed my bags and moved to Santa Barbara and picked a company that was willing to give me a job. While the initial decision to move was purely out of passion, over the next few years I built some amazing products for underwater imaging for commercial and defense applications. I was eager to learn everything and grew into the role of VP of Program Management managing teams across US, Denmark and the Netherlands. I teamed up with private equity to do a growth induced turnaround of the company. I was 28.
Next when one of the Board members was financing a SaaS startup I jumped on the opportunity and was eventually moved to the CEO role. I learned how to build good products, build sales teams and shape go to market strategy. As an entrepreneur, I next launched my own mobile social startup. It wasn’t always easy — when my startup was struggling — couldn’t help but doubt and wonder what if I had stuck to the plan — Wall St or gotten my MBA. That’s when I learned two very important lessons: first, I need to live my own life and not compare myself to others and second, I should always follow my curiousity to the next challenge.
When the opportunity at Sunrun came around, I was fascinated by the mission and the business model and was curious to see where it would take me and it’s been an exciting four years scaling the company through hyper growth. I often get the question what I learned most building startups: I learned that you can change the world and you can’t do it alone. You need friends, support of family, a strong network and most of all brilliant collaborators who are very different from you. Let’s just take my current role — I have benefitted from Chris’ ability to cultivate talent, Nate’s process thinking, Eric’s out of box intuitions, John’s able to solve complex problems, Suriya’s execution, Caroline’s collaboration and Mike’s pursuit of perfection. Diversity of intellect, culture, sex and background is what makes us grow.
And finally something even more personal. My dad passed away 12 years ago. What I remember the most about him is his ability to love unconditionally. It had a deep effect on me. And what I admire the most about my wife Maria is her ability to always see the best in people. I am not wired like either of them. But being on the receiving end, it’s an amazing feeling. And the other day I tried to follow their cue and told my 4 year old daughter what an amazing thing she was doing trying to draw circles (rather than critiquing her that the circle wasn’t perfect). The way she said with pride “Awww thank you Papaaa” melted my heart and I could appreciate the positive effect you can have on people when you don’t judge them and see the best in them.
In summary, the most important lessons I have learned are live your own life, follow your curiousity, make a difference in the world and surround yourself with as many different people you can. And I hope for everyone they receive unconditional love and are able to give the same.
(excerpt from my keynote at Sunrun Software Offsite 2017)