Naeem Zafar chose San Jose’s “A Bill of Fare”, where he has been frequenting for almost 15 years, to be the venue for his Mentor Breakfast event. They definitely serve one of the best waffles.
After mentioning his humble beginnings and recent success with Bitzer Mobile, Naeem started the discussion with stressing on our need to think clearly and express eloquently in fewest words – using 90-sec rule. He suggested walking into a room or discussion with one or two objectives of what you want to accomplish. A firm handshake and eye contact show confidence and interest. Naeem said leadership is about influencing people without authority. Education and GPA can open door initially, but getting ahead requires focus, caring for people/cause, and networking. Most Ivy League graduates are confident not because they are always right, but they believe they are top of the cream, and that they are the ones obliged to move the world forward. (I'd say, noblesse oblige!).
Naeem stressed on clarity about self: assess your strengths, what you enjoy, and what you consider success. Then, charting out the path to their life objectives from here, ie, list out steps that will help achieve what you enjoy or consider success. Work on small steps that lead toward your ultimate objective in life. Naeem gave own example - he loved teaching and travelling. He envisioned himself a “visiting professor”. He realized it required first teaching at a prestigious university, not community college. He then worked toward it.
Answering question how to work toward a C-level position at a Fortune 500 company, Naeem responded: 1. climb the ladder by networking, finding mentors and latching on to visible successful projects approaching completion, 2. Get MBA (only) from top-tier B-schools. However, Naeem cautioned, try to understand the day to day life in any career before working toward it.
About innovation at big corporation, Naeem cited P&G’s Open Innovation program that changed R&D to C&D. The program’s goal was to acquire 50% of innovations from outside P&G:
Regarding startups, Naeem advised aspiring entrepreneurs to practice crisp delivery of their message. They must be able to succinctly describe the problem their idea solves. They rather not first try to describe what and how they are executing or creating product. He said most people engage in starting a business driven by three motivations: do good for the world, own a company, or financial returns. To defend the idea, an innovator must truly understand the nature of Intellectual Property – what is patentable, what does patent defend, and will be the true cost (legal filing and defense) of patent. A corporation can be founded as soon as people start to work together on something. The “Corporate Veil” separates and defends against claim on proprietor’s personal property. Most startups start with 70% equity (often unequal) among founders and 30% to employees. Founders’ share should consider future, not past, contributions. Corporations should have a vesting schedule – typically 4-year or 2% per month vesting. That protects against unequal or static contributions going forward. IP (patents) should be transferred to corporation from employees/founders. Board seats can be awarded, after Series A or other funding, to investors, not to employees. Employees should not be awarded board membership, as it can become impossible to fire them for even valid reason. Best is to reward employees with vesting shares. Advisory board can be used instead. Advisory board can include: domain experts, tech experts, “connector” (networking, contacts), personal coach (to executives/founders), and celebrity (eg, Ashton Kutcher for Twitter) who brings fame to company.
For those seeking jobs with a startup, Naeem cautioned rewards depend upon when someone joins. A typical early entry may yield following distribution: VP 2%, tech VP 4%, managers 0.5%, and individual contributor engineers 0.1% of the outstanding shares. Shares may get diluted upon further investments. Late entry into an established startup will obviously lend lower share to incoming employees.
Naeem recommended several books: Bossidy and Chara’s Execution, Bossidy’s Confronting Reality, Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start, Naeem’s 7 Steps of a successful Startup, Jack Welch’s Winning, Collins’ Good to Great, and Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?
We thanked Naeem for taking time out of his busy schedule and for his advice, and wish him best of luck in his next endeavor.