7 months ago

Making a global mark at a young age

Sakib Jamal
Sakib Jamal

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Bangladeshi-born American venture capitalist Sakib Jamal recently made headlines when he was included in ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ list for 2024 in the Venture Capital category for the North American region. As the first employee at the venture capital firm Crossbeam Ventures, Jamal played a crucial role in growing the company's assets to a remarkable US$ 280 million across two main funds. Earlier this year, he secured a spot on Crain's New York Business 20 under 20 list.

In an exclusive interview, Sakib Jamal shares his story, opens up about the driving force behind his success, his transition from Wall Street to a Venture Capital firm, and his insights into the startup scenes in both the United States and Bangladesh.

Although Sakib was born in Chattogram, he lived in different parts of Bangladesh during his childhood due to his father's job in the army. He even went to an elementary school in Myanmar. Sakib has been a high achiever from his high school days. After coming back to Bangladesh, he managed to get a scholarship to go to Hong Kong for high school. In 2015, he went to the US with a scholarship to do his undergrad in Cornell University. "It's important to acknowledge the struggles. Leaving home at 16 for boarding school, juggling part-time jobs during university, and job-searching and getting a full-time offer post internship was fiercely competitive," Sakib reflects, emphasising the essence of his journey.

Sakib was drawn to Wall Street, the pinnacle of financial sophistication. He enjoyed the learnings, stability, and compensation packages during his time at JP Morgan. However, the passion for startups and building something valuable pushed him to venture into uncharted territory by joining a relatively new venture capital firm."It was risky, considering what JP Morgan offered. But I backed myself, believing that even if I failed, I would figure something out," he declares, a testament to the courage required to defy the conventional.

Sakib is an entrepreneur at heart. He started a business in high school that was taking 'nokshi katha' from Tangail to sell through a DTC (direct-to-consumer) e-commerce site and via stores in Queens, New York. While he was at JP Morgan, he, along with his friends, started a newsletter called The Capsule on Instagram that had 22,000 subscribers sharing bite-sized news across multiple platforms, although those did not continue for various reasons. He shares that he learned a lot from his past entrepreneurial projects.

When asked about his advice to Bangladeshi youngsters, he said they should keep things straightforward, concentrate on the fundamentals, and keep their word in implementing the advice they get from mentors or experts. The importance of dedication is highlighted as he says, "I slowly built a reputation as 'the guy who always did what he said he would do,' and that gave me an advantage," he reveals, emphasising the power of commitment.

Sakib envisions a tech revolution in Bangladesh and believes that technology can benefit several large industries. Drawing examples of local successes, he encourages business owners to take on major challenging issues, stating, "Bangladesh is ripe for opportunities, as we've been noting for years now. I think all the big sectors of the economy could benefit from technology, but if you want to raise venture capital (you can always build a very profitable business without VC), you have to tackle a large market size." "The success stories in Bangladesh like bKash, Pathao, and ShopUp all solved infrastructure level problems -- namely financial services, transportation/logistics and commerce respectively. They all tackled large problems that offered a multi-billion dollar market opportunity with strong underlying growth rates," he shares, making it clear that thinking big pays off.

Discussing his current areas of interest in the US startup scene, he shares affordable and accessible housing, elderly care/silver tech, and industries that have labour shortages have piqued his interests. Sakib's interest in these topics indicates a dedication to tackling problems that have a big influence on people's lives and society.

Sakib affirms that his company is also interested in investing in Bangladeshi startups with a strong founding team. He does, however, also point out that the worldwide recession has raised the bar for investment, indicating a cautious approach when choosing possible opportunities.

Sakib Jamal's story of determination, calculated risk-taking, and dedication to tackling big challenges is reflected in his journey. He shares, "If I were to pinpoint one thing -- I think it was that world class competition and mentorship pushed me to do better. I played to win, and every single day was my opportunity to add points on the board." His observations indicate the value of perseverance, strategic thinking, and an emphasis on finding practical solutions to problems. They offer insightful guidance for anyone navigating the intricacies of a startup or building a career in a reputed company.

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