What Starting a Startup as a First-Gen American is like

A conversation with Kamrul Khan for the Bengalis of New York podcast

  
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Kamrul: Obviously you're Bangladeshi, but do you find yourself to be in touch with your "Bengali-ness" for lack of a better word. Are you close with your family in Bangladesh?

Raad: Yes and no. I was born here in the U.S. I went back when I was really young for a year when I was one or two years old.

I've only gone back like two or three times since then. One time when I was 16. Then another time recently after my mom passed away. I went back for that. It's interesting, all of my relatives are pretty much in Bangladesh. In the the U.S., it was just my dad, my mom, and some of their college friends.

I have cousins that are in Australia and some that are in Florida, but nowhere near me. I never had this big, Bengali family-type experience growing up. When I went back for the funeral I saw my uncles, my aunts, and my cousins, it was like, we didn't even skip a beat. I felt like I knew them my entire life. Family's family, and I think it's been different for me just because I haven't had a lot of that growing up.

When I did experience it, it's had a profound enough experience for me to want to go back more often and cultivate those relationships a little bit more.

Kamrul: Where in New York did you grow up?

Raad: I grew up in Queens.

Kamrul: What part of Queens?

Raad: I was born in Elmhurst hospital. We lived in Richmond Hill for quite some time.

Kamrul: Did you not have a Bengali enclave where, you made people that are not your family into to your family. Not you, but your parents?

Raad: They had friends that they went to college with or high school with that ended up immigrating around the same time as them.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of core friends around my age plus or minus one year that I grew up with at family parties. Actually, I'm going to see one of those friends—he's getting married in two weeks. We've been able to stay in touch.

They were basically family, right. Even to this day, I consider my friends like family members that I can pick. I think about this the same way as my college friends and some of the people that I grew up with. They were there and that was cool. I wasn't as lonely growing up. I still keep in touch with most of them actually.

Kamrul: That's what happens. I grew up in a building, all Bengali, pretty much 40 Bengali families.They just ended up becoming like family.

Raad: I ended up moving to Long Island when I was in the sixth grade. I stayed there for middle school, high school, and part of elementary school, and they visited. I feel at that time in Long Island, it was just not a lot of Bengali people, not a lot of brown people really. That was just kind of who I felt most comfortable with, plus we moved around a lot. It was just weird. I really didn't enjoy school that much.

I was a bit of a loner, I was into music, I was interested in creating things. I was into things that were very different than varsity sports. I actually wasn't even that great of a student, to be honest with you, I'd just work on other projects and other ideas.

Kamrul: I was asking about how connected you are to your Bengali side, because I really enjoy talking to people like you that are entrepreneurs. There's not a lot of Bengali entrepreneurs. I feel like there's a mindset that Bengalis that fall into, including me, we go for the safe career. Doing the nine to five, which is ironic because our parents came here and risked a lot for us to have a better life and would take more risks for them. A lot of people like me and my friends end up taking these safer roads. I'm trying to figure out what happened that was different with you.

Raad: It's an interesting topic because I've definitely talked about this before with some of my Bengali friends or older family members. The bottom line is that, at least for me, when my parents immigrated here, they had no choice but to start a business.

They came with nothing. They didn't have advanced degrees. A bunch of my friend’s parents went to college, they were pharmacists. They came here and opened up their own pharmacies. My dad didn't and it was almost like starting a business and entrepreneurship was a last resort.

The thing that they wish they had were degrees, were white collar jobs. Going in and having a boss, having a paycheck, making $100,000 a year. Whatever thing that they dreamt up as the American dream was what they wanted their kids to have.

I was never interested in money like that, even though we've had our ups and downs and we grew up pretty poor. At some point my dad made a decent amount of money and bought a house in Long Island, but then lost it all. It was always very fluctuating and up and down. It led to a lot of fights.

Bengali parents really value status and prestige in the realm of society and degrees like being a lawyer, or being a doctor- which is the obvious thing. You get people that either listened to them and people that don't. I didn't really listen to my parents that much.

It was mainly my dad. I listened to my mom more than my dad. You have to go through a lot of shit, anytime you do something against what the norm is. You're going to get a lot of uncomfortable pushback. Most people don't want to deal with that pushback. There's a multitude of reasons to not do the thing that probably is the "better path”, which for me was freedom.

I wanted to build something where I didn't have to be at a certain place at a certain time. I didn't have anybody telling me what to do. Money was never something I had to think twice about. I had that vision for myself when I was 15 or 16 years old. All of the jobs that I had just further validated that this just isn't me. I'm not built this way. I like creating, I don't like doing something over and over again.

Within the Bengali community, it comes a little bit to that society around parents, and what your view of wealth and money is. I said that I don't care about money, but I meant like I don't really care about the salary. I care about creating wealth in the form of equity and enriching lots of people in that process. You need that leverage to make a difference in the world and in society. I would be just as happy if I made the bare minimum to eat, but I got to create and do my own thing.

I got to make websites, I got to touch millions of people's lives on the internet, and I got to improve it in some way. That is something money can't buy. That's an experience that has to be created and cultivated. I couldn't see any other way. My parents obviously came around and my dad was just like, this makes a lot of sense.

It took them a really long time to A, accept that, and B not be mad at me for not being a lawyer and not taking the bar. I signed up for the bar and then the day before I didn't take it and launched the startup instead.

I guess I never really grew up craving appreciation from others. In high school I was a super quiet kid. I was a little bit of a loner. I never looked for social approval. I guess that always stuck with me.