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Pejman Nozad: From Rugs to Riches
Pejman Nozad is one of silicon valley's most unlikely venture capitalists. Growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, he dropped out of college to play soccer, wrote a sports column, and created one of Iran’s most popular sports talk radio shows. He moved to Germany to continue to play soccer professionally and to be near his family that immigrated there. Soon after, due to his brother’s convincing, he decided to try to get a visa and move to America, the land of opportunity for many immigrants.
When Pejman arrived in California, he wasn’t able to speak English, he had no job, and had only $700 to his name. He was also in love with a girl back home in Iran and ended up spending every dime he had calling her to try to make sure they didn’t drift apart while physically distant. Completely broke and living with his Uncle, Pejman knew he had to land his first opportunity if he was going to make it in the US and be able to once again afford his daily phone calls. Fortunately, Pejman’s superpower was networking and he had built up an incredible network in Iran that he was able to tap into to land his first job.
Leveraging the power of networking
Having played soccer professionally for three years in Iran, Pejman reached out to the coach of the Iranian National team who lived in the Bay area. He was able to quickly source Pejamn’s first opportunity and Pejman, thinking that since the coach knew his background, the role would be in journalism or sports. It wasn’t.
Pejman showed up all dressed up for his new job only to find that his new opportunity was at a carwash in San Jose. Pejman didn’t rest on any laurels. He worked hard, day in and day out, to be the best. He took pride in what he did and used the time to not only collect a paycheck but also to practice his English. His improved English then landed him at a Yogurt shop in Palo Alto where Pejman convinced the shop owner to let him work in the shop and sleep, rent-free, in the attic atop the store.
From rugs to riches
Aside from networking, Pejman’s other skill is he is a natural born salesman and is able to sell his skills. He saw a commercial for Medallion Rug Gallery in Palo Alto, and immediately knew he would be perfect for the role. The owner took some initial convincing and, even though Pejman lacked any tangible sales experience, agreed to bring him along.
Pejman had a fervent passion for the rugs, which had a steep price tag—to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars apiece. But more than the price tag, Pejman was inspired by the meaning woven into the rugs. Each rug was handmaid, a process that took between six months and four years, and each lasted for generations as central fixtures of one’s home and heritage. Due to their price tags, most times Pejman would visit the client in their homes to drop off the rugs or assist with clearing. He got to know his clients on a personal level and was able to disseminate his passion for Persian rugs to them. These rugs were not just decorations, they were investments and the more that the clients understood that, the more valuable they became.
Pejman’s success selling these rugs—selling $8 million worth of rugs in his best year—can be attributed to more than being a savvy salesman. He had a knack for transferring his passion for the deeply meaningful rugs to his customers. He invested time and effort into knowing them on a deeply personal level, never underestimating the power of forging strong connections. Building trust, building connections and asking them questions to get to know his clients better was a secret to his selling success.
Investing in customers
Many of Pejman’s customers and prospective customers at Medallion Rug Gallery were affluent investors and successful entrepreneurs. Many of the top venture capitalists who worked nearby, on Sand Hill Road such as Sequoia’s Doug Leone, shopped at Medallion. After discovering the potential of venture capital, Pejman, together with his boss—the owner of the rug gallery—committed all of his savings to start a venture capital firm.
As Pejman set out to find the next greatest entrepreneurs and business ideas, it seemed he was at a bit of a disadvantage—at least on paper. Most of the founders he met with had come from meetings with top venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road. In comparison to the glitzy Sand Hill Road offices, Pejman greeted entrepreneurs in the back of the rug gallery.
Yet—in the days before Y Combinator and Angel List—Pejman offered entrepreneurs something that rivaled a big check—a community. He started to host networking events at the rug gallery to bring together entrepreneurs and investors. As word got out, more and more people came to the rug store to talk tech.
Top-tier venture capitalists, like Sequoia's Michael Moritz, began taking his calls seriously. And over time, his investments grew. He became an early investors in Dropbox, Lending Club, SoundHound, Danger, Zoosk and others.
Founding Pear VC
In 2013, Pejman decided to start his own venture capital firm with Mar Hershenson, an accomplished entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford. The firm’s name—Pear VC—had a special meaning. In addition to being an eponymous moniker (the combination of Pejman and Mar), Pejman chose the name Pear because it represented his approach to supporting entrepreneurs. Just like fruits that need nurture and resources to grow and ripen, so, too, do budding entrepreneurs.
The premise behind Pear is simple—to invest in people as much as technology. Pejman and Mar wanted to invest in entrepreneurs who were working to solve big problems. They also wanted to make them part of their family, and to support them through good times and, more importantly, challenging ones.
One of the hallmarks of Pear is Pear Garage (also known as the “Hacker House”), which is a yearly project involving 15 Stanford University students. It was at the Garage that Pejman first met Affinity’s co-founders, Shubham Goel and Ray Zhou. The co-founders camped out with Pejman and Mar for almost a year before coming up with the idea for Affinity.
Pear supports entrepreneurs with no strings attached and no equity exchanged. In doing so, Pejman and Mar trust that the strength of their network and their focus on founders will pay off in the long run. And it has paid off. Pear VC’s companies, which include the likes of DoorDash, Guardant Health, Branch Metrics, One Concern, and Affinity, collectively are valued at more than $20 billion.
The power of relationships
What was the driving factor behind Pejman’s ability to reach the highest echelons of venture capital? Unlike the majority of business professionals, Pejman became a super connector who created one of the strongest networks in Silicon Valley.
Pejman, took pride in his work and displayed a positive attitude throughout his career. He sold rugs with a passion that extended beyond commissions and naturally forged long-standing relationships with his customers. He was an out-of-the-box thinker that was able to see gaps within the industry and fill them by providing value and giving first. In building his venture capital firm, Pejamn and his partner rely on tools like Affinity manage his robust network and leverage features like Alliances to share his connections with his portfolio.
And as for that girlfriend that he spent his last $700 on phone calls, she is now his wife of over 20 years.
Click below to listen to the full story on our podcast, Capital Connections.