Toledo Society

Episode 10: Peter Gould – The Road to Zileej

Arguably the forerunner in Islamic related design across the world, Peter Gould’s journey is fascinating on both a personal and business level. By the time Peter hit university, he discovered two crucial things that would inform his work to come; his passion for design and his belief in Islam. Instead of working at a corporate firm to channel his design talents, Peter took the road less travelled by and started his own design agency from scratch. From here on, Peter worked with some of the biggest brands in and out of the Muslim World – from icons like Sami Yusuf to brands like Emirates Park Zoo and Colgate. Alongside servicing major clients, Peter is now working on some projects of his own. In the episode, Peter walks us through the journey that finally culminated in his most recent project, Zileej – a design agency creating the next generation of meaningful toys, games and creative experiences for the Muslim World.

Listen to Peter’s journey wherever you get your podcasts.

Shahed Amanullah | Silicon Valley, Start-Ups and Muslim potential

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.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify.

Episode 9: Shahed Amanullah – Silicon Valley, Start-Ups and Muslim potential

If there is anyone who has walked the world through his career, its Shahed Amanullah. He’s worked at several major engineer firms, at the World Bank, in real estate development and in the US State Department. But these jobs have only been in between what Shahed is truly passionate about – creating, leading and supporting impactful start-ups. A Silicon Valley native, he founded Zabihah.com – a Yelp for Muslims (before Yelp was a thing), Zakatify – an app changing the way we do Zakat and is currently the founder and CTO of Affinis Labs. We cover all bases with Shahed – from Muslims in Silicon Valley, to what makes a successful start-up and how Muslims should approach business today.

Check out the Toledo Society blog where we summarise some of the key lessons from this episode with Shahed Amanullah.

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In case you missed it, check out our interview with fellow South African entrepreneur, Haroon Meer on how to scale a successful start-up.
Also check out this great episode with Mohamad Jebara on entrepreneurship and Islamic values.

Episode 8: Hanan Dover – PsychCentral, Mission of Hope & a few taboos

Recent times have seen massive strides in Muslim mental health awareness. The ways in which we understand wellness have shifted a great deal and it’s increasingly clear that mental illness is not to be pushed under the rug. However, we often don’t hear of the individuals who tirelessly work on the ground to create this awareness. One such personality is Hanan Dover: Vice President of the International Association of Muslim Psychologists and a Founder of PsychCentral. Hanan’s fight against the taboos and superstitions surrounding Muslim mental health, alongside the struggles of being an outspoken Muslim woman, mother and community leader (who’s on her fifth degree and counting!), Hanan’s story is nothing short of inspiring.

Check out the Toledo Society blog where we summarise some of the key lessons from this episode with Hanan Dover.

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In case you missed it, check out our interviews with social justice advocate Dalia Mogahed & British MP Naz Shah.

Episode 5: The Happy Curls

Sama has curly hair that she loves. But when she goes to school some kids in her class make fun of her because of her curls. Sama goes home upset and tries to cut her curls. She just wants to be normal like everyone else.

Listen to the podcast to find out what happens next.

Riyaad Minty | AJ+, TRT and everything in between.

Riyaad Minty | Co-founder of AJ+

The AJ+ phenomenon is a familiar sight for anyone using the internet today. Short, flashy and yet compelling, AJ+ videos have become a staple in the modern news industry. Far less known, however, is the young South African who played a major role in building it: Riyaad Minty.

As a first year law student, there wasn’t much on Riyaad’s plate apart from going to classes and participating in the Muslim Students Association. From the outset, Riyaad seemed like a very normal 18 year old. His next course of action, however, was far less typical. With an idea in mind and a vision to achieve, Riyaad decided to drop out of University after his first year. Partnering with his cousin, Riyaad had a start-up idea which changed the way greetings and ringtones were digitised. Despite the success of his start-up at a young age, Riyaad’s journey really kicked off when he was picked up by a global media giant: Al Jazeera.

At 22 years old, Riyaad left everything and moved to Doha as an e-marketing specialist at Al Jazeera. As a strong believer in the counter voice that Al Jazeera provided, Riyaad was able to bear the less picturesque parts of working as a junior in big media; sharing tables, working unrealistic budgets and battling his age to be taken seriously by anyone.

In speaking to Riyaad on The Transit Lounge, we feel a strong sense of perseverance and faith behind his successes – “When everyone is telling you no, that’s when you know you are on to something good”. Almost paradoxical, Riyaad draws his strength from the fact that an idea sounds so absurd – a sure step in becoming a disruptor in any given space.

Riyaad’s creative genius met his unparalleled drive to achieve for one reason: his strong belief that Muslims need to be “going somewhere”. From practically inventing “Live-Tweeting” news coverage with his team, to pushing for coverage of the Egyptian leg of the Arab spring, to finally playing a major role in bringing AJ+ to the world, Riyaad’s philosophy of defying the norm saw no end.

On episode 7 of The Transit Lounge, Riyaad tells us more about the spirituality which led him to refuse job offers from major tech giants, his current projects at TRT World, and shares a personal struggle which we can all derive strength from.

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Episode 7: Riyaad Minty – AJ+, TRT and everything in between.

Riyaad Minty grew up in a South Africa just recovering from decades of oppressive apartheid. With a keen interest in human rights in a post 9/11 world, Riyaad chose to do a Law degree at university; but only for so long. With a vision in mind and a company to build, Riyaad dropped out of university after his first year of study. Starting off in the animated greeting cards and ringtones industry (back when it was revolutionary, that is), Riyaad eventually moved to Doha to pursue an e-marketing role at Al Jazeera. Through a mixture of pure genius, a desire for impact and a deep spiritual drive, Riyaad went from the junior no one had time for to the man that would play a major role in bringing AJ+ to the world; a purely digital news outlet that has changed the way humans consume news.

Check out the Toledo Society blog where we summarise some of the key lessons from this episode with Riyaad Minty.

Available wherever you get your podcasts.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here.
Listen on Google Podcasts here.

In case you missed it, check out our interview with fellow South African entrepreneur, Haroon Meer on how to scale a successful start-up.
Also check out this great episode with Mohamad Jebara on entrepreneurship and Islamic values.

Episode 4: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Noura & Yusuf have moved into their new house. They’re excited to make new friends. However, when they first meet their neighbor he is very rude to them. They are upset and tell their parents that they don’t like their neighbor. But their parents tell teach them an important lesson, two wrongs don’t make a right. Listen to the episode to find out what happens next.

Mohamad Jebara | Islamic Values and Modern Business

Mohamed Jebara | Co-founder of Mathspace

The Global Financial Crisis is a stark moment in the modern memory. For some, it illustrated the deep flaws within the existing system. For others it meant a lot of lost money. But for very few, it became the site of a deep reassessment of their life’s direction and greater purpose. Mohamad Jebara was one of these few.

A senior partner at a lucrative derivatives trading firm (at the age of 25!), Mohamad profited heavily as the Global Financial Crisis deepened. Whilst not contributing to the crisis itself, the market volatility made for a profitable playground for traders like Mohamad. As the days went by, Mohamad would break profit record after record. To put it mildly, Mohamad was doing handsomely well for someone just 25 years of age.

Strangely enough, Mohamad decided to leave it all. As we sit with Mohamad on the Transit Lounge, we poke at the mindset that led to this perplexing decision. Surely enough, Mohamad describes his dilemma of operating in the zero-sum game that trading was: there was no value created for the Akhirah (hereafter). Sure, he made a killing during his time trading, but he wasn’t adding any value to anyone’s life. As a Muslim grappling with his faith today, that just wasn’t good enough.

Taking a year off travelling, reflecting and spending time with his family, Mohamad knew a couple of things: Firstly, he loved Mathematics and truly believed in its empowering capacity, and secondly, he needed to add value to the world around him. The interaction of these two principles saw Mohamad bring to the world Mathspace: A start-up digital tutoring company which rewards students for learning Mathematics. Whilst Mathspace hosts over 500 thousand active students and 20% of Australian schools now, it was far from an overnight success.

Mohamad debunks the romanticised start-up story: things are never easy, and breakthroughs are few and far between. Interestingly, this wasn’t something that broke Mohamad. Described as an unfair advantage, Mohamad’s Islam bought something to the table that other start-ups didn’t have – Tawakkul. Tawakkul as an unwavering trust in God’s plan, not only lets him get through the tough times, but also keeps him from ever compromising on his principles.

On episode 6 of the Transit Lounge, we uncover more pearls of wisdom about how Islamic values permeate Mohamad’s inspiring work in the education start-up space. We also hear about why Mathematics is critical today more than ever, and how Donald Trump’s election would’ve been prevented with more Math literacy!

Listen to this episode & more of The Transit Lounge Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts & Google Podcasts.

Episode 6: Mohamad Jebara – Islamic Values and Modern Business

By any measure of the word, Mohamad Jebara is a true Math whiz. Scoring in the top 0.5 percentile in his year 12 finals, he ventured to take on the toughest Math he could find at university: actuarial studies. By his mid-20s, Mohamad’s genius saw him being named senior partner of a lucrative derivatives trading firm in Sydney. But after just two months, Mohamad dropped it all. Something just wasn’t right. From here on, with a relentless pursuit of value, faith and principles, Mohamad brought Mathspace to the world; a unique start-up changing the way children learn Math through reward-based digital tutoring. We trace Mohamad’s journey from growing up in a Lebanese household of 8 siblings, all the way to the struggles of the start-up space and uncover some gems about practicing Islamic values in the corporate world.

Check out the Toledo Society blog where we summarise some of the key lessons from this episode with Mohamad Jebara.

Available wherever you get your podcasts.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here
Listen on Google Podcasts here

In case you missed it, check out our interview with Haroon Meer on how to scale a successful start-up.