The 2019 Venture Capitalist: What We’ve Learned from Shervin Pishevar

Shervin Pishevar investor futurist

From a pure longevity standpoint, Venture Capitalist Shervin Pishevar began his career roughly around the time that startups were becoming something big. But from a success standpoint, there is no other comparison: He is the real deal.

Uber. Airbnb. Hyperloop. Slack. These are just a few of the investments this busy venture capitalist has made over the years, and he’s already shown that one can bet on the best horses in the game, and win almost every single time.

Last year, Shervin Pishevar had plenty to celebrate, including the purchase of Pillpack, a personalized, mail-order pharmacy, by Amazon. He also saw his Hyperloop project take flight, with tracks being built all over the world for the high-speed train.

But what can we learn from him in 2019? As the new year kicks off with a bang, here are 7 things we learned from this extraordinary venture capitalist.

You can find venture capitalist success outside Silicon Valley

Shervin and family now get to enjoy Miami views

You’ve no doubt heard about the challenges of living in world’s biggest technology hub. From rents that are absolutely unaffordable to a general high cost of living that rivals some of the world’s top metros, Silicon Valley has become expensive — even for top talent.

When London is considered almost 17% cheaper than Silicon Valley, rent-wise, and Paris is a cool 50% cheaper, the charm of living in San Francisco and surrounding cities no longer exists.

Though Shervin Pishevar has naturally amassed lots of wealth thanks to his investments, he decided to do something truly revolutionary last year: he moved to Miami.

His purchase? A waterfront jewel of a home in Miami Beach, complete with eight bedrooms, a movie theater, a private dock, summer kitchen, and even a basketball court. While the purchase itself made news, few talked about what it meant that one of Silicon Valley’s most lauded venture capitalists left the place where he made his fortune.

Could Shervin be one of many people leaving the world’s capital of innovation? According to The Economist, Silicon Valley may just be losing its luster. In a 2018 survey of people living there, an astonishing 46% of residents said they planned to leave Silicon Valley within the next few years. In 2016, only 34% said the same thing.

Peter Thiel is another high-profile investor who left Silicon Valley recently for Los Angeles, a move nearly unheard of in 2016 or 2017. But as venture capitalists and private investors pour almost 2/3rds of their money into startups outside the California tech capital, it certainly appears that the Bay Area has lost its mojo.

Your background should shape who you are as an investor

Entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar with father and brother

Shervin Pishevar’s journey, from Iran to the United States, is legendary. When he was a child, his mother held him as bombs dropped all around them in Iran. His father, working as a radio host, broadcast instructions on how foreigners, who were in danger, could leave the country.

Iran was home, but suddenly the Pishevar family’s lives were at risk. So the Pishevar family had no choice but to flee, which saw Shervin and his family land in Silver Springs, Maryland.

From that point forward, a young Shervin would make his mark. After attending UC Berkeley, majoring in cellular biology, Shervin Pishevar would move on to create his own business. But as he grew more successful as an investor, he became more involved with the immigrant cause.

In 2011, he became a member of the prestigious UN Global Entrepreneurs Council, where he worked with businesses and the united nations to develop programs for immigrants. He was then given a rare award by the United States government — Outstanding American by Choice — which honors immigrants who accomplish extraordinary things as new American citizens.

He also was given the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2016, and was directly appointed by President Barack Obama for the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

But beyond all these positions of influence, Shervin Pishevar has been a staunch defender of immigrants and immigrant rights in the U.S. One high-profile project was the Startup Visa act, which was created to help deliver two year visas to immigrant entrepreneurs. He gave an impassioned speech to congress about his motivation:

“Reforming the legal immigration process so that highly motivated, well-intentioned immigrant entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses in America must be a Congressional priority,” Shervin said. “I share my story with you because I am just one of thousands of entrepreneurs who were not born in the United States, but who believe that this country is still the land of opportunity. I am fortunate to have been brought here when I was a child, but this is not the case with others. Still we are similar in that we have the talent, the passion and wherewithal to start and grow companies anywhere in the world,” he said “But we know that the best company successes, the most exciting innovations, and the greatest opportunities for value creation will still happen here in America.”

Unfortunately, Shervin and his team were unable to get congress to pass the Startup Visa Act. But he has found more ways to honor immigrants on a more personal level.

Shervin launched the Cyrus Prize to celebrate and inspire Iranian culture and entrepreneurship.  The first $100k genius grant went to Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi.

The Cyrus Prize is an award created by Shervin Pishevar to honor Iranian and Iranian American entrepreneurs. This $100,000 grant is given out every few years to people demonstrating entrepreneurial excellence, with the co-founder of Dropbox, Arash Ferdowsi, receiving the first award.

With all of this, Shervin has shown repeatedly that he is determined to honor the people who make the startup industry great: immigrants. As an immigrant himself, he honors other immigrants, through grants, support, and more.

You must build consensus around wild ideas

From left to right: TJ Ronacher, Shervin Pishevar, Brogan BamBrogan, Rob Lloyd at Hyperloop Technologies’ LA facility.

The year: 2013. The place: Havana, Cuba. As Elon Musk and Shervin Pishevar were on a humanitarian mission to the tropical island, the venture capitalist brought up the topic of a new type of train to the inventor.

The Hyperloop, until that point, had only existed in exploratory documents. The premise was to take an enclosed tube, above or below ground, add a train that didn’t use tracks, and use magnets to propel the train along. Thanks to the environment, this train could reach speeds of 600+ miles per hour — cruising speed for a commercial jet.

It was a radical idea that would not just cost a lot of money, but require the builder and designer to totally rethink travel. The benefit would be tremendous: Trips that took hours would take minutes. Both human and cargo could go from city to city faster than any bullet train.

Pishevar understood that Musk would be his best bet to explore the technology and spark the will to make it happen. After consideration, Musk wrote a white paper that was given to President Obama.

The President told Musk and Pishevar that he would offer support if necessary. Next, Pishevar had to get other investors on board.

It’s true that venture capitalists get approached with strange and fantastic ideas all the time. But in order to invest in something like this moonshot, Shervin Pishevar’s venture capitalist friends and leaders needed to know that if they were going to go all in, it had to be with someone they trust. Shervin Pishevar was that person.

Venture capitalists like disruptive ideas and companies, but even the Hyperloop was beyond what most would be comfortable with. But Shervin Pishevar not only added some marquee names to his team, he raised millions to fund the project because the people investing and following him believed in him.

“The incredible talent that has assembled at Hyperloop One is what is making it possible. I don’t just think it’s a technology story, I think it’s a human story. It’s those hearts and that passion of everyone and the commitment that is distorting reality and making this possible as fast as it is,” Pishevar said.

This shows that a reputation for getting things done can easily inspire others. Shervin Pishevar invested in some of the most ground-breaking investments, from Uber to Airbnb to tumblr to PillPack. But he’s also invested in Warby Parker, a completely radical way to buy eyewear online, and robinhood, a cryptocurrency trading app.

Shervin Pishevar, like Elon Musk, thinks outside the box. And his track record for bringing on both talent and investment are unmatched.

Make your philanthropy personal

Despite the goodwill that comes along with it, not every Silicon Valley company gives back. But when Bay Area companies do raise money for charity or indulge in philanthropy, they usually go big, partnering with charities all over the world.

For Shervin Pishevar, frequent philanthropist, giving back is something deeply personal.

shervin pishevar philanthropy charity water

One example is the nonprofit charity: water, a charity Shervin Pishevar has supported for more than five years. This charity provides clean water by building wells throughout the world for people who normally don’t have any access. They have built thousands of wells across Africa, Asia and south America, from hand-dug wells built by skilled laborers to rainwater catchments and holding tanks.

For Shervin Pishevar, getting involved meant understanding who is affected by the problem of not having water. So Pishevar actually took a trip to Africa to see, first-hand, what it was like to live without this life-giving liquid.

On his 38th birthday, Shervin Pishevar did something highly unusual. He asked people not to give him gifts, but rather send money to charity: water. That would be his birthday present. His original ask was for $5,000. He raised more than $43,000.

Had he asked friends and family and co-workers just to donate, he would have not gotten the results that he saw. However, by making it personal and tying it into his birthday, he was able to raise thousands more than he even asked for.

shervin pishevar invisible childrenInvisible Children is another charity that Shervin holds dear. This organization started with a huge goal: to protect children in war-torn countries. The charity was formed in reaction to a long conflict run by the infamous Lord’s Resistance army, and led by Joseph Kony. Now, the charity has changed its mission and made it even larger: to protect families throughout Africa.

As part of Shervin’s role in helping the nonprofit raise money, the venture capitalist traveled to Egypt with Sean Penn, as well as Libya. He not only served as one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile champions for justice for children, he actually spoke at an Invisible Children conference.

As someone deeply embedded in the tech industry, Pishevar has also offered significant help in the realm of technology and the government. In this role, he worked directly with President Obama on a number of projects and ideas, including the President’s much-lauded 2008 Technology and Innovation Agenda. Through this work, Shervin was able to donate his thoughts and ideas on how to use technology to improve government, healthcare, national security, and even education.

One of Shervin’s most personal projects, once again, is the plight of immigrants in the U.S. and beyond. As a member of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship board, Shervin was instrumental in helping foreign students, teacher and other educators participate in the country’s exchange program.

The goal of the Fulbright Program is the radical and refreshing exchange of ideas. Shervin and his small team were able to hand-pick some of the people who would be brought over to the United States for a variety of reasons: to go to university, promote peace and share their own cultural journeys.

As someone who left his home country for a new one, and maybe needed some help along the way as he navigated through academia and business, Shervin’s journey was essential to how he handled his duties as an advisor, consultant, and thought leader for the Fulbright Program.

Use Twitter and social media to spread your thoughts 

Shervin Pishevar tweet stormWhile most venture capitalists in Silicon Valley are tech savvy, few use Twitter for their messaging. For Shervin, sending out tweets is not just something he does on the weekend, he uses the platform to deliver some of his most controversial ideas.

In June 2007, the venture capitalist joined Twitter and sent out his first tweet. Since then, he has sent out an astonishing 37,700+ tweets on a wide variety of topics, from inspirational quotes to the stock market.

One tweet storm in particular from 2018 made huge headlines. For more than 20 hours, Pishevar tweeted about the stock market, from how much it would lose over the next year, to just how low Bitcoin could go.

This 50+ tweet storm made the web pages of Business Insider and other publications, as journalists all over went through each tweet and tried to decipher whether Shervin’s predictions would come true. In fact, months later, one publication actually took all the tweet and predictions to see if Pishevar was right about what he posted.

But Shervin Pishevar also uses Twitter to connect with his fellow man on a different level. Last year, he tweeted out this simple message to his 91,000+ followers: How can I help you?

What followed was a barrage of mentions and PMs from people all over the world, asking for everything from life advice to recommendations on how to fund their projects. This resulted in more than a hundred requests being answered, with Fast Company and other publications following this as it it happened.

Shervin has also used Twitter to raise awareness for various causes, as well as problems throughout the world.

One recent retweet alerted followers about a coup in the West African country of Gabon.
Another post tells readers about the alarming trend of teen vaping, and how young people have no clear path to quitting this habit. Yet another warns about a slumping stock market. And yet another shows a map that sizes countries based on their population, not their land mass.

Pishevar’s Tweets are meant to inspire, spark conversation, and help the world become a better place.They’re a powerful megaphone for a venture capitalist, and an example of how, in 2019, having a social media presence is not optional.

In the last decade or so, Pishevar has funded more than 60 startups,disrupted a number of industries, raised an extraordinary amount of money for charity, and left Silicon Valley for a brand new life in Miami. As he continues betting on the companies destined to become winners in the race of startups, Pishevar’s experience and track record make a great template for 2019.


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