Be kind to yourself, meditate, and be at peace as much as you can. Don’t get overwhelmed by hustling so hard that you forget how to live.
Shervin Pishevar is a naturalized American entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He was born in Tehran, Iran, the son of a television and radio executive. After his family moved to the United States, Pishevar studied cellular biology at the University of California Berkeley, and as a senior, he founded and served as Editor-in-Chief of Berkeley Scientific, the first peer-reviewed undergraduate research journal in the United States.
In 2016, he was selected as an Ellis Island Medal of Honor award winner and was a member of the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council, serving several state department delegations to the Middle East and Russia.
Forbes magazine ranked Shervin Pishevar #93 on 2017’s The Midas List for the top 100 venture investors. He has been ranked in the Midas List top 100 venture capitalists list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. He was a Managing Director at Menlo Ventures, led key early investments, and started their seed investment program called the Menlo Talent Fund.
When it comes to forward thinking, investor Shervin Pishevar has a reputation for finding unique businesses and funding them for the future. Pishevar has invested many game-changing companies including Airbnb, CabanaApp (sold to Twitter), Dollar Shave Club (sold to Unilever), Cherry (sold to Lyft), Milo (sold to eBay), Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Taskrabbit, and Postmates. Pishevar is a former member of the Board of Directors of Uber.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I sleep with my windows open, so I’m typically woken up by the sunrise. I like being in sync with my circadian rhythms. If you neglect your sleep cycles as an entrepreneur, the quality of your work definitely suffers.
Once I’m up, I start the day with meditation.
I live within walking/biking distance to my office. It’s important to me that I live close to my work, which stems from being a single father. I became a dad at 26, and I travelled back and forth between home and work often. I actually lived across the street from my office back then and I wouldn’t have been able to take care of my kids if I had a long commute. I’d host board meetings at my house with my kids crawling on the floor, in between board members’ legs. Curiously, both of my kids are very entrepreneurial now – I wonder why.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I try to reduce the delta between having an idea and building it as much as I can. When we come up with an idea, we typically start 3D printing the design and are holding it in our hands within 24 hours.
One of my main struggles early in my career was market timing. I would pick ideas that were essentially ten years ahead of their time. The difficulty with ideas like these is that you can find yourself in a funding desert, much like we did in 2000 when the market crashed.
My first software company was WebOS, which I started in 1997. It was ten years ahead of its time because I was trying to replace Windows with a web-based operating system that existed in the cloud. At the time, the only person doing something like that successfully was Marc Benioff with Salesforce.
The difference between WebOS and Salesforce was that Benioff was older, smarter, and more experienced than I was at the time. He leveraged that experience to strategically choose the types of apps, like CRMs, that people were ready to adopt in the cloud, as opposed to an entire suite of apps.
I’m proud of what my team and I built because we architected the way web and mobile apps work today. We had a foundational patent in WebOS that has a lot of the central tenets and architecture of how web apps work nowadays.
After lots of iteration and experience, I found being 2-3 years ahead of the curve is much more practical as it typically takes 2-3 years to build something out, and obtaining 2-3 years of funding is more realistic than obtaining 10 years of funding.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to trends. I’m more curious – and get more excited – about ideas that are being overlooked. I find most investors and founders are distracted by buzzwords and shiny objects, whereas I’ve been able to create value in areas that aren’t being focused on.
If you look at a space like AI, while there are plenty of companies in that industry, self-driving cars is currently the only real-world example at scale. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are making bets on areas of AI that are way ahead of the curve or will never come to mass scale fruition.
The necessity of R&D doesn’t justify an investment thesis. The internet wasn’t created by a startup company, but by scientists. I think the most significant advancements will be made on the national level, and specifically for national security.
I think people forget that in tech, innovation might not come out of a startup company, but from some laboratory in a classified government department. While that can be harmful, entrepreneurs can also use that technology to build things that benefit the world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t change and don’t delay. Even today, I still have the idealism I had in my youth. A lot of entrepreneurs deal with a great amount of doubt from others while they’re forging their own path. When I was younger, my father wanted me to become a doctor. Looking back, I could have accelerated my path if I hadn’t spent 1992 to 1997, foundational years of the internet, on my medical studies. What if Amazon’s start was delayed four years? They would not be a trillion dollar company today.
The cost of delaying the pursuit of your convictions is extremely expensive, as I think we’re living through the most historic time of disruption and change that we’ve ever seen.
My best advice is to not delay. Start it now.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think that the majority of people believe that the current society that we live in today, will be around 100 years from now. I don’t think that’s the case, as I think we’re going through an accelerated process of disruption of the central pillars of our civilization; our systems of government, economics, religion, ethnic identities, etc. All of these things that we hold dear as “security blankets” for our identities might not exist in 100 years.
A real life example is the Yellow Jackets in France. I think they’re canaries in the mine of our existing economic system. With automation beginning to replace jobs that aren’t going to come back, our political and economic leaders are being dismissive to the plight of billions of people by not dealing with it now. If we don’t find ways for people to put food on the table, we’re going to see plenty more examples of what’s happening in Paris, and Paris is burning; not just physically, but politically.
I think the majority of people are sensing these changes, but aren’t agreeing with the significance and interconnectedness that I currently see in it.
Whether the Persians, Aztecs, or Greeks, civilizations come and go, often leaving totems of their existence and supposed superiority, however, their identities don’t exist anymore.
Is there some forcing function that is going to require the fundamental reformation of some of these systems? Are capitalism, socialism, and communism just seedlings of ideas that are meant to evolve into something else? Nobody knows the answer to that, but I don’t think that the current institutions: governments, religions, economies, financial markets, will exist 100 years from now.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think WebOS is my biggest failure because I was right in terms of where I thought computing was going: from desktop software to the cloud.
Sometimes an idea is not going to accelerate or evolve until the right founder or teams get involved. I think if I hadn’t gotten involved in Hyperloop One, the idea of Hyperloop would have taken 10-20 years to become an industry. We’ve already broken ground in five years. That was informed by my painful experience with WebOS, where I knew I was right.
Looking back, I wish I had continued to focus on building out WebOS. I think it had the potential to become, at least, a Salesforce-sized company, if not a Google-sized company, if we had continued to build on the idea and had our timing been better.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I was recently teaching my nephew how to invest and I was explaining what I call the “love principle” to him: you have to love a company’s product and team to invest in it. I gave him $100 to open his first Robinhood account and it’s exciting to watch him pick stocks. He’s already up 17% in his first month of investing, I just think it’s awesome.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack is a big part of how I run some of my companies.
Uber has also been a great productivity tool as it allows me to get somewhere much faster and work while travelling.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis.
There’s a popular line in Greek literature about there being two types of people: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes are typically quick on their feet, make quick decisions, and are open to dynamic conditions. On the other hand, hedgehogs are stubborn and more resistant to change. The conclusion is that it’s good to have a little of both. There are times where it’s good to put your foot down and be the stubborn hedgehog, and times it’s good to be nimble-minded like the fox.
The author uses the fox-hedgehog dichotomy to describe historic leadership struggles. One example was Xerxes’ stubborn vision to invade Greece. He was literally moving the earth. He used hundreds of ships to create a bridge across the channel to walk the soldiers across.
His uncle warned him that he was going to run into logistical issues. Despite his inability to answer crucial questions — how are you going to feed your soldiers? Where are you going to get the sheep you need? Do you expect the Greeks to feed you as you invade their land? – He refused to listen to his uncle, who was the fox. In his hedgehog mindset, he stood his ground, believing he was destined to succeed and was blind to the logistical issues.
I think an example that’s more relevant to today are the recently released documentaries about the Fyre Festival. These are a great example of someone who thought he could ignore all logistical issues, similar to Xerxes. He thought he could conquer islands and develop infrastructure out of thin air, and that everything would work out, and that’s a hedgehog strategy.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is from one of my favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote. My brother wrote it out for me when I was young, and it’s very inspiring.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Never give up. Don’t let anyone dissuade you from your dreams. Just go for it. It’s really expensive to delay, way more so than wrapping yourself in a security blanket of timidity. Being timid can buy you time and give you comfort in the security of not taking risks but aren’t you actually taking a huge risk by delaying your dreams? I think that’s the biggest risk of all, which, to me, is regret. Regret is something that stays with you throughout your life.
Timing. If you’re going after something, go after something that is both timed for success and realistic. However, at the same time, go after big ideas and ignore small ideas. We all have 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, so utilize those hours to pursue big ideas. Because, why not? If you get even 10% of the way to bringing a big idea to life, that 10% is worth much more than multiple small ideas.
Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself, meditate, and be at peace as much as you can. Don’t get overwhelmed by hustling so hard that you forget how to live.