Amer Akhtar – Entrepreneurial Genius

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Born in Bahrain to Pakistani parents, Amer Akhtar moved to the United States for college at the age of 18. He married a Cuban American, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Spain and Miami. The family’s diversity doesn’t end here. Someone who has a knack for constantly innovating and getting involved in ventures that are positively contributing towards society’s growth, his family has been moving around within US and around the world working within confinements of the most rigorous countries such as China.

While Amer is a perfect example of someone who is breaking stereotypes, his pick for majors at college was a typical pursuit drummed in by every Pakistani parents’ choice- an Engineer! A subject he was not at all keen for, he followed the instructions and enrolled in a double major program of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. After completing his degree though, in order to “wipe away all of his engineering sins”, he enrolled into business school.

“During business school I worked for Microsoft, found it to be a lot of fun but it was too far away to be anywhere from Seattle, so I moved to Boston and did what every business grad does; that is strategy consulting until they figure out what they want to be when they grew up and I very quickly decided that I wanted to move to the Silicon Valley.”

Being in the Silicon Valley and infested with the internet bug, Amer started working for a start-up which was a search based company, something that Google is doing now. He led the mobile and product team there. Eventually, they took the company public and ended up selling it to Microsoft.

From there he moved to a venture capital company, thinking that he would be doing big investments which he did for the next three years. He left in order to get some operating experience and went on to work for a company called ADP. This ended up being the longest stint he had with an organization, lasting for nine years.

“Working for business ventures was interesting because I didn’t think that I was a big company guy.”

ADP came Amer’s way as a great opportunity. Miami, as a city, is tough for the technology profession as the trend is more towards the hospitality and off-shore banking industry. He liked the organization culture and they in-turn liked his Silicon Valley background which gave him an entrepreneurial mindset. This helped him establish two successful businesses under their banner. Based on these successes the CEO amongst a fifty thousand employees company asked Amer to move to China. The entire family moved to China, which they called home for the next four years.

“It is a tough country to do business in for many reasons but for others it is the most fascinating, amazing, open and welcoming place to experience.”

In China, given that Amer was at the top of the hierarchy the culture of the country is such that he was treated as royalty, both professionally and in his personal life style. However, in his ninth year with the company, he wanted to get back to the USA, before hitting the ten year mark. After leaving ADP, he didn’t do much for a year, other than consulting for a venture capitalist firm and a few start-ups, settling in the family in Northern California and driving Lyft and Uber for three months!

The first time he heard about Uber was back in China when a friend vented his remorse that he wished he had invested in the idea. At that point Amer thought it was not a model that would work. His first ride home from the airport back in USA was in an Uber. Someone who enjoys studying business models he signed up to work for both the services to study them. An additional idea was to publish an article in collaboration with some tech journalist from the Silicon Valley. However, he was mid-way in his business/social study, when he joined Yahoo and as per company policy it didn’t make sense for a Yahoo executive to be writing about other online companies.

“Silicon Valley can be a very unforgiving place, if you have been away from it for a long stretch you have to prove again that you are from there.”

Hence at that point in his career, Yahoo was a great place to re-start, learn and build contacts. He worked there as the head of Yahoo Small Business and it was fun but the company was in decline. His attempt at spinning it out into a separate company was axed by the CEO at the last minute. Seeing that he can’t do anything that would help make a major turn out he decided to leave because just tuning the system is not something that interests Amer.

Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle

“I found this out later in life, that I like running businesses; building teams, organizational culture, product development and marketing is what excites me. You don’t get to do this when you are younger as you have to work up learning the operations etcetera.”

Post Yahoo, Amer is now back to his start up roots. Wanting to do something that would change the world for the better, a couple of his key interests included; green transportation, food and health care. At the moment what he is doing covers all these aspects in a manner.

The key start up that he is working with at the moment makes electric cars. A few weeks ago they just launched their ‘super car’ in London with the main passenger car coming out in over a year’s time. The goal of the company is to put out an affordable autonomous electric vehicle in the market. He is involved in pursuing hot technology which can help materialize this concept. Simultaneously, he is working as an advisor and investor in a few other start-ups along with his own business of cashmere hoodies because he loves fashion.

Even though Amer has not lived much in Pakistan, he identifies himself as a Pakistani-American. His parents and extended family which are based in Pakistan has kept the close connection. In his opinion it is the underdog and he roots for it. There is a natural pull, based on his childhood memories during his visits. Kite flying and playing outdoors with his cousins are activities that he wishes kids these days indulge in instead of sticking to their technology oriented activities. He has no plans of moving back because he doesn’t find the macro environment conducive enough. However, given the amount of potential he has seen and reads about he wishes to use his position to provide a platform for that the young talent to flourish. When asked about his views on Trump’s victory in US as the president, Amer shared:

“This election has caused an epidemic that, for the first time makes me feel like an outsider. It has made me angry and feel that the world is so close minded. But I want to concentrate on what I can control. Be successful and influence my surroundings as a Pakistani American.”

To the young individuals his advice is what he tells to his own children- to be risk takers. He suggested that after completing college, they should spend a year in an entrepreneurial activity no matter what it is. The standard job opportunities are not going anywhere but explore your potential and give it a chance is an essential component of professional experience.

Amer’s multi-cultural family and his spirit of constant innovation is a source of inspiration for us. While we are impressed that his kids are multi-lingual and are keen on learning more languages, the Pakistani in us is proud that he has enforced a positive culture in his family and proved to be a deviant to the stereotypical image of Pakistanis. We hope his startup continues to grow and that he keeps building a positive image of the Country to the Global Village.

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