“My dad was an entrepreneur from the day he arrived in North America.”

By Shaherose Charania (Co-Founder & CEO, Women 2.0)

My father was an unique man. He gave more to the world than he took. He kept giving time and money even when we didn’t have time and money — that’s all he knew to do with his life.

He always found someone worse off than him who needed help, or someone older than him who needed company. He helped immigrants he didn’t know settle in Canada, he spent evenings in the senior’s home feeding and talking to aging people (yes he was only 56). He spent time at the prayer hall conducting tasks for the daily ceremonies, giving advice of all sorts – religious, business, family.

He did all this outside of running his own small business and tending to his own family. He always sat in the back of the prayer hall and meditated after everyone was gone. I picked up that habit from him.

Everyone I meet now who knew my dad tells me stories about what he did for them, how much they admired him, how much they respected him, how much they TOO can’t believe he’s gone — from clients to elderly folks in our community. Some people are calling and asking me if *I’m* sure that he has passed. The stories about him go on and on and I want to escape! But mostly they are great. I almost want to go have coffee with everyone he knew to hear more about him from their eyes.

My dad was an entrepreneur from the day he arrived in North America. He launched his small business in the 80’s – he started off as a distributor of low-end retail items to Dollar stores. From keeping stock first in his car, he grew the business to where he finally had a large warehouse stocked with shelves of useful and random retail items.

Through this business, he had friends (clients) on Main Street (the “Little India of Vancouver”), and in Surrey (the second “Little India of Vancouver”). He kept in touch with his network in Pakistan (where he was raised), in Seattle (not sure how that all started), in the prayer hall, in the seniors’ home where he volunteered… everywhere. The phone has been ringing non-stop with condolences from all corners.

My dad and me

My father became my best friend. When growing up, I found him and I to be very different people. We just couldn’t connect at first. As an immigrant father, he of course kept me on a tight leash and I always resented him for it. But then I grew older and wiser and don’t blame him for being over-protective. I missed out on sleep overs, I didn’t party the way others did, I didn’t do all the crazy things kids do and now I’m glad. To me, his small business was boring, uninteresting. “When I grow up, I want to work at a big famous company”, I would tell him. I always felt I would never be an entrepreneur, because at a young age, I didn’t really know what that meant.

After I came back from living in Spain in 2004 and graduated from college, I knew I’d have to begin my real-world life, which I was excited about, and suddenly our relationship started to open up.

I told him my dreams of starting a tech company, of helping people in other parts of the world with my tech company. I had no idea what I was blabbing about or how I’d achieve my dreams. When I learned through my then-boyfriend that the best first step would be to move to Silicon Valley (which I couldn’t locate on a map) my father said to me, “Go, go try, go try and see what you can do. If you don’t try, you don’t know.”

He always said that taking a risk was the only way to see what was possible. He said that if I failed, “so what, then you try something else. See, that’s how I got started in this country. I’m here to support you.”

After I graduated, I was in deep debt – but my dad told me his story about how he got started, how the banks services were necessary to get started. He started his stockpile of goods to sell by taking a loan. And before he had to chance to start his own small business, he started as a pizza delivery boy in Chicago. With no more than a highschool diploma, and a very basic command of English, he came to the US, in his 20’s on his own, and made his way up to Canada where he eventually settled.

He encouraged me to invest in my future by taking a risk, just as he had. So, I took out another $5k loan on top of the tens of thousands of debt I already had, and that was my starting money to buy a one-way plane ticket to Silicon Valley and a few months rent before securing my first job.

With my dad’s encouragement, guidance and love, I packed my bags and came to Silicon Valley in 2005. Not only did I not have any money – I also didn’t have that typical engineering degree, nor a high-profile network (both coveted resources in this small Silicon Valley). So what did I do?

I did what my dad did, I made the best of what I had to offer and figured the rest out on my feet. Like him, I found myself in a foreign place, an immigrant, struggling to make ends meet (even defaulting on bills some months). I lived in a 400 sq ft. apartment for the first 8 months in a dodgy part of San Jose. Oh, those are moments I won’t forget. Just like my dad taught himself English and the ins and outs of western culture, I taught myself the Silicon Valley ways and the lingo.

I’ve been able to start a media company (Women 2.0), an idea lab (Founder Labs), work at three different Silicon Valley startups (one of which was acquired and was a great help to pay off all that debt!), launch six different ideas (all of which have failed), and I’m just getting started. Like him, it’s been and up and down journey, good moments and challenging moments but being an entrepreneur is what naturally feels right to me, though I never knew it. Throughout his life, helping others was the core of all his work. Enabling others is the work I do today, just like my dad.

“In your lives, you will meet people who are either givers or takers. Giving or sharing is not just giving of money, but also of time, ideas and knowledge, of opportunity, credit and hope, of respect and dignity, of care, comfort and protection, and of benefit of the doubt. And you will also meet people who take credit, take your time, and take away opportunity or respect. Givers do so for no personal gain or reward. They have no expectation of a return or a reciprocal gesture. Their giving is unconditional.” – Firoz Rasul, President Aga Khan University, Convocation Speech Simon Fraser University, 2001.

In my life, be it business or personal, I want to be remembered as someone who gave more than she took or received.

Photo credit: Pandiyan V. on Flickr.