Episode 11 | Azeem Zainulbhai explains the Indian tech scene

My guest this week is fellow UChicago alumnus Azeem Zainulbhai, who quit being an international financier to be a tech entrepreneur in India. I spoke with him about his journey and stories, from co-founding Restaurant Week India (successful exit) to Housing.com (there’s lots on the internet about that story) to ShopX, his current professional home. We talk about tech, India, professional growth, and learning in a conversation I would have been happy to keep on having for hours.

Being in tech in India feels exciting and daunting. The sheer scale and potential of it all is noteworthy, but add to it the complexities of working on Indian infrastructure (both physical and social) and the dynamics with raising capital for a tech company in India, I’m left awestruck at the whole enterprise. You’ve got to have a gut of steel to want to do it, and I’m thankful that there are people who not only do it, but, like Azeem, are willing to explain it to the rest of us.

There was so much career advice mixed in this conversation that I’d encourage any young professional to listen to the whole thing, but one set of life lessons I thought particularly worth highlighting:

  1. Always be learning

2. Tame your ego

3. Have a reason above salary

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Thank you!

Episode 10 | David Akinin is helping urbanize Namibia

This week’s guest, David Akinin, spoke to me from Namibia, where he has boldly embarked on the mission to help urbanization. Unlike the mindset of foreign intervention, aid, or charity, David’s motive is to satisfy customers (small as the promises might be) and deliver good returns for his investors. (The token reference to Namibia if you’re struggling with your geography:  this.)

David’s journey from banking in Venezuela to America, France, Switzerland, Chile, and Namibia is breathtaking, and I found myself reflecting on what he said in passing, about being one of 3,000+ students in a classroom:

And that’s what we are… just a number, until we make something out of it.

I also thought that David’s story about the intern that didn’t get the job because an analyst thought that the intern’s habit of touching his chair was an invasion of his private space is important as it is unfortunate. When foreign students look at US internships that don’t translate to full time jobs, cultural norms may well be at play. Still, as David says

We don’t lose out on the opportunities that are in front of us; we lose out on the opportunities that we do not create for ourselves.

Continue reading “Episode 10 | David Akinin is helping urbanize Namibia”

Episode 9 | Suheil Tandon is using sports to transform India

My guest this week is Suheil Tandon, the Founder and Director of Pro Sport Development, an NGO in India with the lofty mission of using sports to transform India’s youth. This group first showed up on my radar when they were raising money to buy shoes for children/youth in one of their projects so that said youth could compete in a running event. I have watched stories of the transformation that they bring to the communities that they work with, for the youth themselves, for the parents in the community who start to think about sports differently, and also to the instructors, who learn new pedagogical methods as a part of the process.

One of the things that surprised me in this conversation was the poor government/policy coordination when it comes to setting priorities in sporting. If winning medals was truly the priority for the last several years, I’m not sure India got what it paid for, so an approach that looks for better health and human development outcomes seems worth at shot. But outside of the fact that there are new talking points in town, I’m not sure that there’s anything encouraging on India’s sports-policy front. I’d be happy to have India’s “Sports and Youth Minister” on the podcast if he’d like to shed some insight. His Twitter feed is certainly not reflecting of any change in thinking.

One fascinating nugget for me was Suheil’s decision to not cater to small donors at all. It’s a really smart move, and I think he’ll look back in 5 years and feel really good about having side-stepped that.

Suheil is an alumnus of Woodstock School, McGill University, and Loughborough University. Y’all should be proud.