Many of the articles I’ve read about him over the last several years have a listing of his biggest successes – mostly Uber – and a tinge of cynicism about his close connections with celebrities or self promotion. Not this one. I’m going to write a pure admiration piece. A “hats off” (see what I did there?) story about big bets and equally grand huevos. And also a “thank you.”
I first met Shervin (does he need a last name?) in 2009. We attended a fbFund demo day (which I rarely do but it was put on by my long-time buddy Dave McClure – who hadn’t yet started 500Startups – and Sheryl Sandberg who was much more of a mere mortal back then). FB was becoming big but nowhere near the juggernaut it would become.
We saw several companies present and I was mostly there for the networking. One company – Samasource – presented an incredibly inspirational goal of helping people in developing countries – not by aid but by engaging them in work. It was what has now become more common – a social startup – and this one was a non-profit. I loved the idea.
I thought I would get to quietly admire the ambition of Leila Chirayath Janah and just get back to checking my Blackberry and waiting for the next pitch. Yes, I still used a Blackberry in 2009.
But, nope! No peaceful distractions allowed.
Dude with full beard shouts out, “I’m in for $50,000. What an amazing mission. Who else is in with me?” The whole audience was looking around sheepishly. Dude was challenging everybody to give money on the spot to a non-profit they hadn’t heard of 5 minutes before. Blank stares. Crickets. He stands up, raises voice, loud, “Come on! You just heard Samasource’s mission. We all have money. Who’s with me?” Several hands went up. Many faces stared at the floor, trying to avoid eye contact.
All I kept thinking was, “Who the fuck is that guy? Whoa. Has he got stones. Challenging all these people to donate.”
That was my introduction to Shervin Pishevar. I asked around who he was. Founded a few startups. Sold them. Angel investor. Philanthropist. Hmm.
[update: after posting I was sent this awesome photo from that actual event! If you look carefully, in the foreground is Travis, next to him is Shervin (they didn’t know each other!) and further afield is me. I hadn’t yet met Travis (later met as SXSW) or Shervin. I’m just glad in this photo I’m the one paying attention ]
By the time I got to know Shervin I basically knew him as a big, jovial, ball-of-unbridled optimism and enthusiasm. A teddy bear. He was the guy you always saw at a conference or networking event and would give you a great big hug and smile. He seemed to be omnipresent and have an unlimited appetite for travel. Many of us loathe the …