ExecuTalks

Amperity CEO & Co-Founder: Kabir Shahani

March 09, 2020 Ash Faraj
ExecuTalks
Amperity CEO & Co-Founder: Kabir Shahani
Show Notes Transcript

Kabir Shahani was raised in Kansas City, KS before moving to Seattle in 8th grade with his family.  Kabir was an only child and he witnessed just how diligently his parents worked, which would prove to have a lasting effect on him. A few decades ago, Kansas City wasn't very diverse and there were certainly times that Kabir talks about feeling different, which would also prove to be something that stuck with him.

After graduating at the University of Washington, Kabir would go on to work for Avanade, then Blue Dot, Inc., a startup where he would meet Derek Slager, his business partner for the next 15 years. After a little over 6 years of his first startup being alive, it was acquired by IMS Health, and Kabir went on to work for IMS Health as their VP of technology. After some time had passed, Kabir decided he would take some time off and explore what his true passions are.

In January of 2016, Amperity was born; an AI-driven technology company that helps people use data to better understand and serve their customers. At the time of this podcast Amperity has raised almost $90M and is expanding very rapidly with offices in Seattle, Denver, and New York.

Speaker 1:

I remember coming home from a dinner party with my parents. You know, you guys remember these kinds of things and going out to a family party and you come home and somebody had tagged the house with a swastika on the front of it. And it was like this super jarring experience. But I,

Speaker 2:

Hey, welcome to the executive talks podcast. It's the show that gives you insight to the personal stories of today's top executives. In this episode, you will hear from Kabir Shahani, current CEO and co founder of Amperity an AI driven technology company that helps people use data to better serve their customers. And PRD has raised almost $90 million and has acquired some very notable customers. You want to stick around to the end to hear about Kabir , his unique approach to tackling challenges. So commuter grew up in Kansas city, Kansas until eighth grade before his parents moved to Seattle. As you can imagine, Kansas city, wasn't a very diverse city a few decades ago, and could be remembers a few key discriminatory experiences that would stick with him. And as he grew older, he would learn how to use his feeling of difference as a strength commuters, parents immigrated from India and were exceptionally hardworking . When I say hard working , I mean, at one point Kabir remembers them each working two jobs and they wouldn't stop working on the weekends either. They made sure to instill this amazing work ethic and Kabir from a young age. One example of this is his father enrolled him in community college when he was in sixth grade. And the only way it could be, we would find a way out of community college is by finding a job.

Speaker 1:

Well, my parents are immigrants from India. Um, they're both very hard working , very enterprising had a lot of ambition. They both worked. They both worked , um, at T so my dad was always in marketing and early in his career, he actually started his career , um, working in a laboratory when first came from India. And one of the guys that used to sell medical equipment to this laboratory said , gosh, you know, you're pretty good at this stuff. And you're an articulate guy, you know, you should come and do some selling. And so he started , started out as kind of a sales engineer for this medical diagnostics company, and then ended up becoming a salesperson for that company. And then, you know, got an opportunity to go into marketing at headquarters, which was in Kansas city. So my family moved to Kansas city when I was one or two years old. Um , my mom always worked kind of desk jobs, you know, receptionist or inside sales, customer service, you know, things that were on the phone. Um , and at times, you know, I remember multiple periods of time in my childhood. They actually both worked two jobs , um, at the same time. So, you know, at one point my dad was, you know , sort of doing his, you know , marketing job, which he ultimately over his career built an agency when I was much older and, you know , kind of continued that. Um , but he was doing both marketing and , uh , working for an early stage company, sort of helping them with marketing. So he was working for these two different companies at the same time. My mom was sort of doing her full time day job, but then also actually , um, getting , uh, Indian clothes manufactured in India and selling them to people in the community. Cause at the time, yeah , at the time there wasn't the internet you weren't doing. E-commerce like you weren't, it was, it was hard to like get those things and, you know, people wanted to wear traditional ethnic wear and they shouldn't have access to it. Um, and so, yeah, it was kind of a , that this idea of work being always on, it's just kinda what I grew up around. And so the notion of, you know, working on the weekends or just seeing kind of the blending of work and life, it's just kind of been how I've always, I would have been around my parents, you know , weren't big fans of this idea of summer. They didn't, I don't think, I don't know exactly, but I don't think growing up in India, they really had, you know, summer vacations. Um, and so they, that was kind of a foreign concept. And , uh, when I was old enough to sort of not want to do summer camps anymore and that kind of summer school type stuff , um, they sort of started enrolling me in community college and I would just audit the class. And so I did chemistry, biology, physics , uh , where you would just, and I frankly understood very little of what was going on in these classes. It was just trying to absorb as much as I could. Um, unfortunately it wasn't like for a grade. Um, but I was there kind of like just absorbing and learning and it's a way to keep me busy. Um, and then ultimately , uh , I kind of mustered up the courage to tell my dad I'm tired of going to community college. Cause it just doesn't feel very fun and not, I think, I don't think I'm learning a ton because I'm not really grasping all of the concepts that they're going through and he's like, yeah, no problem. Just go get a job, you go do something that's right. And handed me the classified ads that you guys are too young to maybe remember what that is, but literally job postings used to be in the newspaper and you'd have to physically look at a newspaper and read job postings. What's a newspaper. Right. Totally, totally. And, and , um, and you know, print out a resume and fax it. And so I did that whole process , um, early in high school , uh, when I was trying to get out of having to go to community college.

Speaker 2:

Did your, did your parents ever feel like misunderstood as immigrants?

Speaker 1:

I think about for them and it's nice now my dad and I have the opportunity to have some of these conversations and kind of reflect on these things together,

Speaker 2:

But just how incredibly difficult. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

That was for somebody like him as an immigrant who, you know, was very misunderstood and was living in a environment where there wasn't a lot of diversity in Kansas city, Kansas at the time. I think there's a tremendous amount of diversity there now, which is really exciting. But at the time in the early eighties and late eighties, there really was not. Um, and so, you know, thinking about the, just challenges that, you know, he went through in terms of his career and kind of the , um, the, the way in which maybe things weren't really well understood or there wasn't as much curiosity or interest of other cultures, which I think has changed dramatically now, but at the time there certainly wasn't there. It didn't feel like , um, and then where that showed up sort of in society. Right. And there were certainly times I remember where, you know, and again, I think it comes from a place of misunderstanding. I think it comes from a place of lack of curiosity. Um, but you know, we saw everything from like, you know, the food's funny, smells funny, tastes funny, you know, you can remember this one , those experiences as a kid, and you remember kids were telling you that, yeah, you remember that in school, you know, like if, you know, your mom makes a different kind of sandwich or, you know, that kind of stuff, you remember those things like, Oh, you know, as a kid, you know, those are, those are impactful experiences because you feel so different and feeling different isn't necessarily being, is it a good thing? Does it feel good? Um, and then you have these more extreme situations. Like I've talked about one recently where I remember coming home from a dinner party with my parents, you know, you guys remember these kinds of things. You're going out to a family party and come home. And somebody had tagged the house with a swastika on the front of it. And it was like this super jarring experience. But I , I think what I actually talked to my dad about it somewhat recently, cause I was like, yeah, what was going through your head there? And I thought it was amazing how just like the next day there was somebody there and power washing it off the front of the house. Like they just kinda moved through it like a non event. What I've tried to do is I've gotten older and I've had more and more things that kind of make you feel different. How do you use that as strength? Right. And how do you say, well, my differences in advantage versus being different as a disadvantage. And I think, I don't know if it's the human condition. I don't know if it's society, but I think I can speak for myself. Your sort of natural state is to think, well, I'm different. That's not good. Right. I think we have this, this need to sort of, and not everybody does, but I think in general we have this human need to conform. You have this human need for acceptance to be like , to be liked and to be , uh, to be normal. Right. And so when you have these experiences that reinforce like, wait a minute, why is my house got this swastika spray painted on the front of it? And nobody else does, it's , it's reinforcing this difference. And so when you use that as a, as a source of strength, I think it become a tremendous advantage. And the decisions you make.

Speaker 3:

So Kabir attended the university of Washington and got his degree in informatics before going on to work for [inaudible] a consulting firm that was started here in Seattle and now has over 36,000 employees worldwide. But at the time computer work there, it was just a startup for oven nod for about a year and then went on to work for blue dot a small startup where he would meet his business partner for the next 15 years of his life. Derek Slager in late 2006, blue dot laid off a large percentage of their workforce, including Kabir and Derek . And that would prove to be a turning point for careers life.

Speaker 1:

They called me up one day and said, Hey, if you're not writing code, there isn't a job at the company. And so I was sort of forced to be in a position to say, well, what am I going to go do? And my instinct was not to go and start something. That was the last thing on my mind actually having have just gone through a really entrepreneurial experience and kind of been a part of this startup that we all had a ton of passion around and it was an incredible product and an incredible team. Uh, and so there was a lot of, you know, anxiety and angst on my part around doing something entrepreneurial again. And , uh, you know, I have to say, there's, there's a few. And you know, we all come into each other's lives at different times for different reasons. And , um, you know, there was a few people in particular that were really influential in that period of my life that kind of helped make that a much easier decision. Right.

Speaker 3:

W w where did the idea originate? Like how did you come up with the actual idea?

Speaker 1:

The, the, the core idea. Um, we spent a bunch of time looking at a bunch of different markets and, you know, I think like most people that are thinking about going down the path of starting something, you sort of take an expansive view and kind of whittle down. And one of the views we took was at the time I mentioned, my dad had been in marketing and then had a marketing agency. So at the time he was running an agency that he would , he was a founder of. And , um , he was sharing with me that all these challenges that all of his clients were having around, but essentially is marketing automation. Right. He described it as, Hey, they don't really have a good way to reach customers in different channels. They don't have a good way to assess the value of the marketing they're doing. Um , and sort of trying to encourage me to say, Hey, you know, and sort of like, you know, in a parental way, like a you and your friends should go, you know , tackle this, right. And like, let me see if I can help you and try to be super supportive. Um, and so that was kind of the kernel of it. And Chris and I then went and had some conversations with his support and help to figure out, you know, Hey, where is there an opportunity here? And we found that, well , there actually is something here that we should go and kind of unpack and decided to jump in and kind of build the, one of the product and lots of, lots of, you know, a very windy road, you know, to sort of ultimately get where we got with the business. But , um, that was kind of the first start of it

Speaker 3:

Are some steps that you guys took to find your target market.

Speaker 1:

Yes . You know, one, it was very circumstantial, right? We're like, Hey, we found somebody who has a pain. They're willing to give us a shot. Like let's go for it and then see if we can go build a market out of it. And I , and I don't think that that was necessarily the best approach to finding scale and we could have , we could have approached it differently. And it's sort of the first one that said today, we're interested. We're like, great. Let's go, you know, you're just excited to get started. That's right.

Speaker 3:

So Kabir would go on to build a company with, along with three co-founders. And after six years of building his first startup, it was acquired by IMS health in 2013, a publicly traded , uh , global information and technology services company. And along with his co founder , Derek Kabir would go on to work for IMS health is their VP of technology for a little over two years before realizing that it was time to take a break. And in may of 2015, he left IMS health without a plan.

Speaker 1:

You know, I had thought in my head that I was going to go and do this and stay, I was super committed. I'm just sort of one of those, like when I'm in, I'm in , when I'm not in , I'm not in, and there's sort of no, in between, it's kind of how I'm wired. And , um, I remember going through the process of like, you know, the sort of contractual commitment was up. Um, I was fortunate that they were really eager to see us, you know, stay on the OnCourse. And I remember coming home and talking to my wife and she, to her credit, you know, really advocated for me to take a break. And she said, look, you know, I know this is appealing. I know that you're excited about what you're doing. Um, there's a bunch of stuff that isn't you, and there's a bunch of stuff that you don't love. Uh , and she was right about that. Um, while there was still a ton of stuff I did love. And what were some of the things that you did not love to do? I guess? Yeah. I mean, it's, it was less about like anything to do. I think , um, the company, you know, large companies of that scale, just, there's a different set of things you gotta do. The company was going through an extraordinary amount of change and transformation, which I do love it . It's really exciting, but also creates, you know, in certain roles there's , you know , politics, there's kind of the, you know, culture there's things that just, maybe aren't as , um, you know, for the time of kind of where I was. Um, but , um, I felt, you know, like I said, I mean, I had such a strongly positive experience that my inclination was to stay the course, and I appreciated that she was able to sort of hold the mirror up a little bit and say, Hey, like, let's think about this a little more holistically. Right. And when taking a break be useful and valuable for you kind of given that it's been eight and a half years of a hundred miles an hour, right. Um , and at the time we were trying to start a family and that was super important for both of us. Um, and just having the time together to be able to kind of hit the reset button on life and sort of thinking about the next chapter and just, it felt like a good time to be able to make that transition. Um, and so I kind of left without a plan, honestly. Um, you know, and , and the idea was like, take a break, you know, explore things that give me energy and the things that give me passion, whether that be being a founder or not. And at the time my instinct was actually that probably wasn't going to go be a founder again. And that, wasn't the thing that I was really driven by. And I still am not like being a founder. Isn't super important to me. The quality of the environment is super important to me, the quality of the team and the problems you're solving are super important to me, the impact that you have on your customers and the people that work in the organization are super important to me. And it turns out you don't have to be a founder for any of those things. Um, and so my inclination was more to figure out ways in which I could have impact , uh, ways in which I could be intellectually fulfilled , um, ways in which I could see opportunity created for everybody that was involved, right. There's many forms of that can take.

Speaker 4:

So how did the idea come about?

Speaker 1:

We knew we wanted to do something together. We knew that there was a bunch of fun stuff. We could go tackle together, but sort of being quote unquote founders, wasn't like number one on the list, or probably even number three or four on the list. Um, and this opportunity, as I mentioned is we were kind of , uh, engaging with folks that spend a lot of their time thinking about the future, like venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs who have built incredible companies that I'm fortunate to be around, you know, and spending time with these folks , uh, you know, it became this really intellectually stimulating experience to start to interrogate these different problem domains. And this was a problem domain that we just kind of started to interrogate and part of what we expected to find on the other side of that was, Oh, there's a company doing this and they're probably doing a really good job, or maybe there's an early stage company that we could be helpful to that is already doing this and, you know, maybe bring our skills and perspective to, to that company. And it turns out neither were the case,

Speaker 4:

The problem domain during that time. Was that something that you weren't specifically passionate about or was it just a problem that came up and you're just passionate about solving problems in general?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah. That's a good question. I mean, it was more of , um, I wouldn't say I'm passionate about solving problems in general, right? There's a certain bar , uh , for me personally, in terms of like the quality of the problem and the impact of the problem, I think in this particular case, you know, it was sort of the perfect intersection of one. It was an area we kind of had some exposure to, right. If I go back to our last business, we were having to deal with customer data, deal with customer data, to be able to help customers get value from the marketing automation platform. And so we kinda did have a lot of experience and perspective around the problem domain. And then the other one is it happened to intersect with, you know , the excitement of the consumer world.

Speaker 2:

So at the time of this podcast and parody has raised almost $90 million has about 160 employees and has acquired some very notable customers. High performance teams are typically a result of high performance founders and leaders and Kabir has a very unique and intentional way of thinking through challenges.

Speaker 1:

I think what I'm trying to do a much better job of, you know, especially I would say in this journey in general and just kind of my own personal journey and the growth that I'm trying to do is Anne . And the team here has heard me talk a lot about this recently is controlling the six inches between our ears and the , the idea of a super painful day or a super happy day is, is I think kind of flawed in itself because I asked myself, I try to ask myself, Hey, you know, going back to your urgent and important thing, there's going to be more complexity every day. There's going to be more challenged . Like the nature of the problems are going to be harder. The challenges we're facing are going to be harder and more complex, and our ability to attack those challenges, our ability to lead through those challenging times are the things that are going to be the difference between being a massive, you know , globally impactful company or not. And , uh, so, so, you know, it's a long way of saying you can't let the highs get too high. The lows get too low and that's something historically I've been very bad at. Uh, I've lived in the high highs, the lows. And so, you know, my own personal journey is , well, that all starts right here. And so how do I stay super focused on being intentional about what I'm thinking? Right. Um, one of my favorite kind of sayings from , um, uh , world famous , uh , athletic coach got him , Trevor Moe out. He always says, you know , um , what you think impacts how you feel and how you feel impacts how you behave and making that connection to be super intentional and thoughtful about is like, what is it that I'm thinking right now? And how has that thought making me feel? And when you don't have intention around that, then you operate in high highs and low lows. I think when you do have a tension around that, then you actually can control how you feel regardless and heightened , which is ultimately how you behave. Um, and again, it's not something I've historically been great at, but it's something that I'm super excited about because I think that's the difference between scale and not.

Speaker 2:

What, what, what are the, what are the most common challenges you face , uh , an imperative

Speaker 1:

There's been plenty of challenges, right? There's been plenty of , um, and I can say existential, but feels like existential crises, right? Where it's like, you know, early days, well, the product doesn't work, can't get it to scale. Right. And then the product, you know, is in an extraordinarily, highly performant place today. And it's like, okay, well, how do you create repeatable? Right? How do you create value for customers fast enough? Right. There's all kinds of , I can give you examples on both sides, right? Where we, you know, we crank on getting deals done, versus when there's a dry spell, right. Where we deliver extraordinary results for our customers very fast versus where we feel like we're not doing it as quickly as we want. And so it's about staying focused on what that objective is. And depending on what's happening on that given day, look, self doubt is real. Self-talk is real, all that's noise. And, and, you know, you've got a , I think in, in a, as an entrepreneur, as a founder, or even honestly working in an organization like beads , uh, whether it's Amperity or another early stage, fast growth company, like that mindset is fundamental and being able to not get caught up and the highs and the lows, and just stay focused on the mission and not be questioning, is this the right decision? Should I be doing it or not? Like, that's all, that's all noise and doubt that has to be cleared because you can't perform when you're in that mindset .

Speaker 5:

Yes .

Speaker 1:

I have this fascination or developed a fascination when I took some time off and really understanding why great athletes can perform at these extraordinary levels. Like what makes, what makes great athletes great. And I was really fortunate to go spend a bunch of times with these folks, right? And I went and sat down with Bobby Wagner and Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson, and Cooper health, and a good buddy of mine who now works at Amperity. Like I actually went and sat down with a bunch of these professional athletes. And what I found was that their mental toughness was actually significantly better than even their physical toughness and their, their mindset and their intellect so high. And that controls everything and being able to translate that now. And I think a lot of what we try to do in Perry is how do we translate that into business and how we translate into the business world? Because if we can bring that same level of mental discipline, the , the performance that you experience is extraordinarily higher.

Speaker 4:

So obviously you've achieved a lot of success in your life this far. What would you say? Um, the achievement that you're most proud of is

Speaker 1:

I wouldn't say a lot , uh , I've got a lot , I've got a lot to do. Um, you know, I would say I'm really proud of the commitment to learning. I think one thing that , um, if I share like personal achievement is I think pretty consistently, despite my great days and my terrible days , uh, people will say like my capacity to, to, and change and learn. And , um, I'm really like that to me is like the fuel of life. Like this idea that, Hey, I'm willing to get better. Right. And I'm willing to learn and I'm willing to grow versus there's a destination. Like to me, what makes life really interesting is that there isn't a destination, right. You can grow and learn every single day and you can get better every single day. Right. Um, and so to me that that's an achievement in itself. I think that's a , a mind shift that I probably made, you know, a number of years ago. Um, so I'm , I'm , I'm super proud of that. Um, and just that journey. So we want to wrap this up with a , finish the sentence game, get ready. So the first one is, in my opinion, the most important life skill is how you treat other people. The one thing I dislike about my job is when people can't work together in a startup, I think speed is more or less important than durability. More when I'm considering partnering up with another person or business, some deal breakers for me are values, values, misalignment, the worst advice you've ever received. Oh , uh , no worst advice I've ever received. You know, someone once said to me, and I should be careful about being too specific here to somebody , somebody once said like, Hey, it's okay to kind of ride in third gear for a while . You don't have to always be on sixth year . I just didn't like that advice. Thank you for tuning into this episode. If you enjoyed listening, please subscribe on Spotify or Apple podcasts, and please leave a review so that we can better serve you. Take care, dream big, and we'll see you next time .

Speaker 5:

[inaudible] .