Throughout my childhood, my parents had the same morning routine. They’d wake up at 5 a.m. and drive to the local mosque; my mother would go inside to pray while my father waited in the car. Then they’d drive to the Roman Catholic church, where my father would go inside to pray while my mom drove home to take care of me and my siblings. As a kid, I thought this was perfectly normal. Now, as an adult, I realize how special it was — that two deeply religious people, of different faiths, loved each other enough to not try changing the other.
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That was just the way my parents were. My father was a white British citizen who fought in World War II, got stationed in East Africa and ended up as CEO of a Nairobi power company. One day in 1961, my mother applied to be his secretary. She was 22 years his junior, and a black Muslim. Their marriage upset his deeply conservative family — and, this being the age of apartheid, also made their lives in Africa challenging and sometimes dangerous. So in 1965, they moved to America, where I was born.
I grew up with photos and quotes of Nelson Mandela around the house. At the dinner table, my parents led the family in conversations about the issues of the day, and what we’d do if we had the chance to completely correct them. “It’s not about what the norm is,” they’d tell us. “It’s about what the right thing to do is.” My father passed away in 1997, and a few years ago, while looking through his old files, I came across a deed from when my parents left Africa. They’d sold their property, but, as the document showed, they left a portion of it to the staff that worked there. My mother is still alive, and I asked her about that decision. Her explanation was a simple echo of every lesson she’s taught me: It was just the right thing to do.
I framed that deed and hung it up in my office. For the past two years, I’ve been in stealth mode building a startup called Ripcord; we’ve developed a way to digitize massive amounts of corporate documents and make them searchable and usable. On March 23, we announced ourselves publicly, along with the $ 9.5 million we raised from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and clients including Fortune 500 companies. As we’ve grown, and I’ve hired what is now a staff of 30, that deed on the wall has helped remind me of how important it is to do right by people. We don’t have tiers of medical benefits or paid time off here, for example. Everyone has an unlimited vacation policy. We’ve consciously built a team full of diverse people with diverse personalities. Because as I’ve learned from my parents, entrepreneurship, like everything else, is a team sport. There’s nothing worse than coming to work and having a mentality of us versus them. It’s all us. That’s what’s right.
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