Shahed Amanullah | Silicon Valley & Muslim Start-ups
In the late 1990’s, the tech start-up space was absolutely booming. The world was coming to terms with the power of technology, and after seeing some incredibly successful ideas, investors were ready to throw stupidly large amounts of money at tech start-ups. In this environment, Shahed Amanullah saw an opportunity which he couldn’t miss. Teaching himself how to code and desperately looking at ways to get involved, Shahed eventually landed his first gig in the start-up space. He managed to score a job as a creative director for a 40 million dollar backed tech start-up.
Whilst the tech company went under in less than a couple of years, the experience and exposure that Shahed got was invaluable. For starters, Shahed learnt that Silicon Valley was surprisingly Muslim friendly. In fact, it was a competitive advantage to be a Muslim because of all the Muslim connections (and there were many of them) you would inherit. This environment gave rise to Shahed’s first big project: Zabihah.com
Whilst Zabihah.com now hosts thousands of halal restaurant reviews from all over the world, it humbly started off as a way for Shahed to share all the cool Halal places he came across with his Muslim friends in Silicon Valley. As the website stayed up, Shahed started noticing postings from all over the world and knew he was onto something. 6 years later, Yelp.com came to be – and quickly became the standard worldwide restaurant review platform. They did what Zabihah did for Muslims but did it for the entire world. Here, Shahed learnt his first important lesson about the Muslim Start-Up philosophy – products should be “By Muslims, for everyone”.
On the Transit Lounge, Shahed describes that there are two main ways to go about start-ups as a Muslim. Either you go the path that he learnt (“By Muslims, for everyone”), or you do the wrong way – take a Western idea, cripple it and try selling it to Muslims. Shahed believes Muslim start-ups need to move beyond copying other ideas – they need to carry a Muslim spirit and an embedded social purpose. Our belief system is filled with rich values that we can share with the world, and we shouldn’t shy away from those things.
It’s through this desire to see authentic Muslim businesses thrive, that Shahed’s brainchild enters – Affinis Labs.\Affinis Labs seeks to change the Muslim mindset when it comes to start-ups. We don’t need to be mediocre or think small anymore – we have the talent and we can source the funds. According to Shahed, all that needs to change is the way we think about our abilities.
On episode 9 of The Transit Lounge, Shahed delves more into his other start-up projects such as Zakatify, describes his expansive career inlcuding his role at the World Bank and the US State Department, and lends us some hard-hitting truths about the Muslim mindset today and the way forward.