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Dara Khosrowshahi and 39 other Iranians who power Silicon Valley

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is just one of dozens of execs and investors who’ve shaped the tech industry, from Airbnb to Google to Y Combinator.

Dara Khosrowshahi and 39 other Iranians who power Silicon Valley
[Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images]

The Hostage Crisis, Death to America, The Axis of Evil, The Great Satan, The Travel Ban–these are hardly the buzzwords that form the foundation for a fruitful relationship, yet Iranian-Americans have flourished amid the rancor. How they’ve managed to is instructive, not just for the next generation of innovators, but for policy-makers, immigration activists, and anyone wishing to better understand the relationship between the United States and its purported adversaries.

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As explored in my feature on Dara Khosrowshahi and the effect of his heritage on his leadership, Khosrowshahi’s generation fled Iran around the fall of the Shah and many came to America to rebuild their lives. “This first wave of Iranian immigrants were the upper crust of their society,” says Farhad Mohit, who left Iran in 1978, when he was nine and went on to found BizRate, Shopzilla, and Flipagram. His father, a physician, had been head of family planning for all of Tehran. “They weren’t the ones running across the border with their possessions on their backs.” Though many lost vast sums of wealth leaving Iran, most still had enough to maintain a decent, middle-class life in the United States. “A lot of the people that left at that time were the people that could leave, and were more educated,” adds Mohit, who actually wrote a college term paper examining the phenomenon of Iranian-American achievement.

As those families looked to regain what they lost, their children, already oriented in the value of math and science, gravitated toward computers and Silicon Valley. For the wave of Iranian immigrants like Khosrowshahi, who arrived in the years around the Islamic Revolution, networking within their community was of limited utility when they were coming up, simply because so few were in positions of influence then. But once some family members attained success, it encouraged others. “My cousins were really instrumental to my success,” says Amir Khosrowshahi, citing not just Dara but also Dara’s brother Kaveh as well as his twin cousins Ali and Hadi Partovi, who were the first investors in his startup Nervana, which he later sold to Intel. “They shepherded me through the process of building a business.”

Today, second-generation Iranian-Americans, or recent arrivals from top Iranian universities, now often find tech gatekeepers welcoming them in Farsi. Take the story of Dropbox cofounder Arash Ferdowsi, born in Kansas to Iranian immigrant parents. As an MIT undergrad, he met Partovi when he applied for a summer internship that he didn’t end up taking. Partovi liked him though, and when Ferdowsi quit MIT to start Dropbox, Partovi offered an initial investment and lots of advice. When Ferdowsi and his cofounder Drew Houston later pitched Dropbox to an audience of potential investors, he met Pejman Nozad.

“As soon as we stopped presenting, Pejman ran up and started speaking to me in Farsi,” says Ferdowsi. “He was super-excited, one, for our idea, and two, because I was Persian.” Nozad is a former rug dealer turned venture capitalist and a key conduit within Iranian-American tech circles. For several years, Nozad has been hosting a Friday morning Persian breakfast in Palo Alto that has become so popular that versions of it now happen in San Francisco, Menlo Park, Orange County, Vancouver, Barcelona, and London. He’s been an early investor in multiple successful tech companies with Iranian-American founders including Aquantia, SoundHound, and AppLovin. After meeting Ferdowsi, he put his money behind Dropbox.

“When I look for entrepreneurs, I look for a piece of me in these people, and if I see it, I connect pretty quickly,” says Nozad. “When you’re Iranian and we talk about the food, your background, your culture, it’s a magnet.”

All this bodes well for the next generation of Iranian immigrants, and not just in the tech world. Pirooz Paravandeh, COO at Aquantia and the founder of the nonprofit Iranian-American Contributions Project, which uses data-mining to track Iranian-Americans’ professional and civic achievements, says the number of Iranian-American attorneys has ballooned since 2000: “Getting into law requires a mastery of English that the first generation of immigrants didn’t have. They naturally gravitated toward things that didn’t require English mastery, like math and sciences. But now the second generation has a much broader canvas to paint on.”

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We compiled a list of the most notable tech executives with Iranian heritage, both executives and founders as well as investors:

Executives/Founders

Alphabet/Google

  • Salar Kamangar, executive officer, Alphabet; former CEO, YouTube

Kamangar was employee No. 9 at Google and has served a variety of roles in his career there. He is thought to be a highly valued consigliere to cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

  • Farzad Khosrowshahi, director of engineering, Area 120

One of Dara’s cousins. “Fuzzy,” as he’s known, works at Google’s new internal product incubator. He’s credited as the creator of Google Sheets.

  • Parisa Tabriz, director of engineering

Once known as a “security princess,” Tabriz is also a former member of the United States Digital Service.

Amazon

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  • Babak Parviz, VP and leader, Grand Challenge research team

Parviz runs Amazon’s version of Google’s moonshot factory called X. He is a former Googler himself and is the creator of Google Glass.

AppLovin

  • Adam Foroughi

AppLovin helps mobile game developers reach their audiences and monetize their games. It was recently valued at $2 billion and Foroughi expect to take the company public in the next 18 to 24 months.

Aquantia

  • Faraj Aalaei, CEO
  • Ramin Farjad, cofounder, SVP of R&D
  • Pirooz Paravandeh, COO

Aquantia, a semiconductor company focused on high-speed networking, was founded in 2004 and Aalaei took the company public in 2017. Its market cap is about $400 million.

Brite

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  • Niousha Zadeh, cofounder and CEO

Zadeh leads this health-tech startup that uses AI to manage the clinical trial process.

Code.org

  • Ali Partovi, cofounder

Partovi, another Khosrowshahi cousin, has long been a significant founder, investor, and connector in tech. He was the founding partner of Link Exchange, a pioneering internet advertising firm, which was acquired by Microsoft in 1998 for $250 million. He went on to cofound a social music service called iLike, which MySpace purchased for a reported $20 million in 2009. He is currently CEO of Neo, a communal venture fund.

  • Hadi Partovi, CEO and cofounder

Hadi, Ali’s twin brother, cofounded TellMe Networks, an early voice-recognition service. Microsoft acquired it for $800 million in 2007. He also cofounded iLike with his brother. The Partovis founded Code.org to help young people learn computer programming; 30% of U.S. students have a Code.org account.

Coriant

  • Shaygan Kheradpir, former CEO

Kheradpir is a longtime networking executive. He was CEO of Juniper Networks in 2014 and ran Coriant, an optical networking firm until June 2018. Coriant was acquired by Infinera shortly thereafter for $430 million.

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Dropbox

  • Arash Ferdowsi, cofounder, former CTO

Ferdowsi helped build Dropbox from a Y Combinator startup to a public company valued at more than $9 billion, with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

eBay

  • Pierre Omidyar, founder

Omidyar worked at the legendary Silicon Valley startup General Magic and in the earliest days of the World Wide Web envisioned the power of a user-driven marketplace of buyers and sellers. eBay was one of the handful of major successes of the dotcom era and today has a market cap of $28.5 billion. Omidyar has gone on to be a philanthropist and investor, supporting Code.org, African Leadership Academy, Kiva, Meetup, and scores of other pro-social enterprises. He is also the founder of The Intercept, a digital media journalism startup, and has produced a number of award-winning films and documentaries, such as Spotlight and Dark Money, through First Look Media.

Facebook

  • Amin Zoufonoun, VP, corporate development

Zoufonoun has spent his career in corporate development. Before joining a pre-IPO Facebook in 2011, he spent eight years in a similar role at Google.

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Flipagram

  • Farhad Mohit, cofounder

Mohit is a serial entrepreneur who started Bizrate to give consumers confidence in ecommerce and then Shopzilla, a shopping search engine. In 2005, he helped sell Shopzilla (which included Bizrate) to E.W. Scripps for $565 million. He went on to create the popular social image-sharing app Flipagram, which Bytedance acquired in 2017. 

Genius

  • Mahbod Moghadam, cofounder

Moghadam was one of three cofounders of RapGenius, which later rebranded as Genius, a site dedicated to explaining rap lyrics and other texts. His flashy antics brought a lot of attention to the fledgling startup, though he eventually got himself and the company into trouble–with Google, Whole Foods, and others. In May 2014, he was fired from Genius in the wake of posting tasteless comments on Genius annotating the manifesto of the San Bernardino, California, mass shooter.

Home Care Assistance

  • Lily Sarafan, CEO

Sarafan runs this consumer health company focused on in-home care for senior citizens.

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Intel

  • Amir Khosrowshahi, CTO, AI products

Another Dara cousin, Khosrowshahi was the founder and CTO of Nervana, an AI startup which Intel acquired in 2016 for a reported $408 million.

Intuit

  • Sasan Goodarzi

Like Khosrowshahi, Goodarzi emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 9 years old. After Goodarzi’s father passed away, his older brothers started a business to support the family. That intimate connection to small business has served Goodarzi well in his rise through the ranks at Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, and last August, the company announced that he would be its next CEO, starting January 2019.

Kobalt

  • Avid Larizadeh Duggan, EVP, chief strategy and business officer

Duggan was a London-based general partner at GV, one of the venture-capital arms of Alphabet. In January 2018, Kobalt, which owns and manages music publishing catalogs and their digital rights, hired Duggan to run global strategy for the company.

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Nokia

  • Hossein Moiin, former chief technology and strategy officer

Moiin has spent more than 30 years in the technology business, and ran tech and strategy for Nokia’s networking division from 2010 until February 2018, when then-CEO of Coriant, Shaygan Kheradpir, brought him on as a strategic executive advisor for the company’s 5G initiative.

Oracle

  • Bob Miner, cofounder

Miner is an outlier in the story of Iranians in tech in that his parents emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and he was in his 30s and already a successful tech executive at the time of the Iranian Revolution. In 1977, Miner met Larry Ellison at Ampex, a then prominent Silicon Valley company, where he was his supervisor. Miner left shortly thereafter to start a company with two other colleagues and Ellison was later hired. Miner ran engineering (Ellison led the sales team) and is credited with writing Oracle Version 3 by himself. He was also renowned for pushing back against the hard-driving culture Ellison favored; he believed in work-life balance and was against having his engineers work long hours. He died in 1994 from mesothelioma at age 52.

PriceGrabber

  • Kamran Pourzanjani, cofounder

Pourzanjani started PriceGrabber in 1999. The price-comparison shopping tool was acquired in 2015 by Connexity, which is the rebranded Shopzilla which Farhad Mohit founded.

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Radius Intelligence

  • Darian Shirazi, cofounder and CEO

Another of Dara’s cousins, Shirazi was an early Facebook employee and worked at eBay before starting the enterprise data analytics platform Radius in 2008.

Roche

  • Narges Baniasadi, former VP and lifecycle leader

Baniasadi cofounded Bina Technologies, a software startup to analyze genomics data. In 2014, Roche acquired Bina in a deal that was worth up to $121 million. Baniasadi is currently an entrepreneur-in-residence at Zinc VC.

Tinder

  • Sean Rad, cofounder, former CEO
  • Justin Mateen, cofounder

Rad’s parents emigrated to Los Angeles from Iran in the 1970s. In 2012, he and Mateen cofounded Tinder, the dating app which revolutionized smartphone interaction design, thanks to the concept of the swipe. Rad has had a controversial career: His cofounders Justin Mateen and Whitney Wolfe both left the company in a sexual harassment dispute between the two. Rad was replaced as CEO in 2014, for six months, before returning and running Tinder until December 2016. At times he has criticized and embarrassed Tinder’s parent company, Match Group (which is part of IAC), with his public comments. In August 2018, he filed a lawsuit against Match Group alleging that the company purposely devalued Tinder in an effort to give him and Tinder employees less money.

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Twitter

  • Omid Kordestani, executive chairman

Kordestani had a successful career as a Silicon Valley executive with stints at HP, as well as historically notable startups such as Go, 3DO, and Netscape. He was employee No. 11 at Google, brought on to be its first business executive. He helped build Google into a company that generated $70 billion in annual revenue. When Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey returned to the company to be its CEO again in October 2015, he named Kordestani executive chairman.

  • Kayvon Beykpour, head of product; cofounder, Periscope

Beykpour cofounded the video live streaming app Periscope, and Twitter acquired it for a rumored $100 million before it launched in 2015. Beykpour has continued to oversee Periscope while expanding his purview at Twitter. In June 2018, he was named head of product.

Uber

  • Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO

Khosrowshahi was a surprise candidate to run Uber when he won the job in August 2017. He had been the CEO of Expedia since 2005. Prior to that he was an IAC executive, working for chairman Barry Diller in a variety of roles.

  • Pedram Keyani, director of engineering

Virgin Hyperloop One

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  • Shervin Pishevar, cofounder

Pishevar is another colorful, controversial founder on this list. Best known as an investor (see below), Pishevar cofounded Hyperloop One in 2014 in response to Elon Musk’s call for others to take up the idea he championed for high-speed transport. In October 2017, Sir Richard Branson took a majority interest in the company. In December 2017, Pishevar resigned as executive chairman (and left his role at his investment firm, Sherpa Capital, as well) after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. He has denied the charges and claimed they were part of a smear campaign.

Y Combinator

  • Ali Rowghani, CEO, Continuity Fund

Rowghani joined Y Combinator in 2014 as a partner and launched Continuity, its fund for growth-stage investments, a year later with $700 million to deploy. Prior to YC, he helped build Pixar as its CFO and SVP of strategic planning, and he served as Twitter’s CFO and COO when it went public in 2013.

Yahoo

  • Farzad Nazem, former CTO

Nazem worked for Oracle starting in 1985, helping to build the company into the database giant it became. Yahoo recruited him to run its engineering team in 1996 before it went public. He helped grow the company by significantly growing its technical talent and acquiring dozens of startups to build out its internet service. He retired in 2007 and has been an investor and advisor since (see below).

Zoosk

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  • Alex Mehr, cofounder

Mehr started the online dating service in 2007, growing it to almost $200 million in annual revenue in 2013 and the verge of an IPO. Tinder’s popularity, though, hampered the company’s prospects and Mehr and Zadeh left the company when it canceled its IPO in December 2014. Mehr has gone on to cofound MentorBox, a new kind of executive education program, where he’s CEO.

  • Shayan Zadeh, cofounder

Zadeh and Mehr met in school and went on to work together in building Zoosk. He’s currently CEO and founder of Leap Rail, a data analytics platform for surgical practices.

Investors/Advisors

Airbnb

  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi

Bonobos

  • Bobby Yazdani

Yazdani started his career at Oracle in the 1980s and has gone on to be a prominent and prolific investor. He is the founder and managing partner of Cota Capital, which launched in 2014.

Change.org

  • Hadi Partovi

ClassPass

  • Hadi Partovi

Color Genomics

  • Farzad Nazem

Convoy

  • Dara Khosrowshahi
  • Hadi Partovi

DoorDash

  • Pejman Nozad

Nozad, as noted above, is a former rug dealer turned venture capitalist. He is the founding managing partner of Pear VC.

Dropbox

  • Pejman Nozad
  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi

Facebook

  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi

Ginkgo Bioworks

  • Farzad Nazem

Google

  • Bobby Yazdani

Indiegogo

  • Hadi Partovi

LegalZoom

  • Kamran Pourzanjani

Rent the Runway

  • Shervin Pishevar

Salesforce

  • Bobby Yazdani

SpaceX

  • Hadi Partovi

Sweetgreen

  • Bobby Yazdani

Thrive Market

  • Ali Partovi 

Thumbtack

  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi

Tumblr

  • Bijan Sabet

Sabet is a general partner at Spark Capital, where he made his name investing in Tumblr in 2007 and Twitter in 2008. Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo in 2013 for $1 billion, and Twitter had a successful IPO later that year.

Twitter

  • Bijan Sabet

Uber

  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi
  • Shervin Pishevar
  • Bobby Yazdani

Ubiome

  • Farzad Nazem

Warby Parker

  • Shervin Pishevar

Zappos

  • Ali Partovi
  • Hadi Partovi

ZipRecruiter

  • Kamran Pourzanjani
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