ICONIQ Growth Welcomes Kamran Zaki
Our new partner Kamran Zaki in conversation with Matt Jacobson.
By Matt Jacobson | January 31, 2024
Kamran Zaki, ICONIQ Growth Partner
At ICONIQ Growth, we firmly embrace the philosophy that while technology and strategy are crucial, it's the people who truly make the difference. In this spirit of valuing exceptional talent and leadership above all else, we proudly welcome Kamran Zaki as a Partner to our team.
We've known Kamran for almost a decade, dating back to our first venture into Europe in 2015 when we partnered with Adyen's founders, Pieter van der Does and Arnout Schuijff. Their vision transformed Adyen into one of Europe's most eminent technology enterprises, and Kamran was integral to this process. We view his near-decade experience at Adyen, serving initially as President of North America and later as Chief Operating Officer, as nothing short of extraordinary.
We believe Kamran joining our team is not just a milestone for ICONIQ Growth, but also an exceptional opportunity for the founders and CEOs with whom we partner. He has navigated complex market dynamics, spearheaded innovation, and led Adyen through periods of significant organizational change. His exceptional track record, characterized by strategic leadership, uniquely positions him to offer invaluable guidance and support to emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.
As Kamran settles into his new role at ICONIQ Growth, we took a moment to talk about the path that brought him here and the pivotal experiences that have shaped his illustrious career. We are thrilled to have Kamran on board and look forward to the positive impact he will undoubtedly have on our community of founders and CEOs.
What were some of the challenging aspects of scaling Adyen globally? What advice would you give to our CEOs as they tackle similar problems?
Adyen has a set of eight company values called the “Adyen Formula” that unite everyone across countries and departments. A critical part of that formula is how “winning is more important than ego – we work as a team.” I think of this even more broadly in that, ultimately, people are the most critical factor for success. This includes not just colleagues but also customers and partners. What is most important is how you interact with people and build these relationships.
As a company CEO, you want to help grow the business and be successful. Yet, as you scale and achieve success, the complexity increases. More customers across a number of different industries (and their associated nuances and needs) lead to more products and solutions, offices across more geographies and time-zones, and increasingly larger numbers of teams and employees. This can quickly become a multi-dimensional challenge, and one needs to be very thoughtful about prioritizing how, where and when to allocate resources. I think the best way to do so is to always keep customers top of mind and ensure your prioritization aligns with the simple objectives of attracting new customers and keeping existing ones delighted and growing with you. As a company scales, you will need to prioritize along a number of dimensions while maintaining speed and agility.
For example, let’s say you have a large global customer headquartered in the US but want a new feature or product in APAC. Which team decides if we should do this? How do we balance needed conversations and maintain the speed that helped achieve the current success? At Adyen, we had this concept of one global P&L and not falling into the silo mentality of which region or product/functional team gets the credit. We would determine as a global team if this is something we can deliver and productize for the benefit of other customers versus deciding at a US, APAC, or other individual team level. In doing so, we always strove to focus on the customer first, working as one team and leveraging the benefits of local expertise as a strength instead of a challenge
After 20+ years as an operator, what inspired you to pursue a career in venture and growth investing? What aspects of investing energize and challenge you the most?
I have always had a desire to learn new things and have enjoyed seeing how technology can solve problems for businesses and consumers while creating delightful experiences for them. So far, I have had the chance to focus on diving very deep into the nuances of doing this for specific business models and problems at several companies. Now, I would like to leverage my experiences to help a much broader set of founders and companies. I like working with smart and driven people trying to solve complex problems for their customers, which hopefully leads to creating and scaling the next set of industry-changing companies as a result.
What trends or themes are you excited to invest behind over the next several years?
I have seen people get overly focused on a particular technology, whereby some of the opportunities can feel like a solution looking for a problem instead of the other way around.
I like to focus on identifying challenges for potential customers (often segmented by consumer, SMB, or enterprise). I analyze the problem to understand if there is a large and growing market opportunity and if the proposed solution is unique from a competitive differentiation standpoint. Additionally, I look to see if the founding team is well positioned to both execute with speed and over time scale it.
There is a long list of areas I am excited about, but one example is the growing opportunity for “platform” business models to offer embedded payments and other embedded financial products (e.g., bank accounts, debit cards, working capital) to their end customers, often small and medium-sized businesses.
You have been on some incredible winning teams across PayPal, Netflix and Adyen. In your experience, what are some core drivers of success for those teams?
I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of some great companies and teams over the past decades. In my experience, success comes from actually working as a team, being able to learn from each other, and ensuring no one lets ego get in the way. While this sounds like common sense, the challenge you often run into is that, obviously, every founder and company wants to hire very smart and driven people. These colleagues are ambitious, and therefore you need a really strong culture, the right guidance, and day-to-day examples from senior leadership and mentors to incentivize the right behaviors.
In terms of founding teams, my personal experience has been that having founders and teams who are complementary can lead to a higher probability of success. For example, if a company has two co-founders, it’s great for one to have a strong engineering or product background and the other a strong go-to-market background. Then, over time, they can add strong finance and operational leaders to round out the team.
It is also important to have a team that supports each other in good times and bad. Every successful company goes through its share of “bumps” along the way, which are often not seen by outsiders. The best teams come together in these moments of crisis and work to overcome the challenges instead of devolving into finger-pointing or heading for the exit door. My personal experience, and that of many leaders I have engaged with over the years, is that these moments of crises are when you typically discover your best colleagues and employees, as opposed to when things are great.
What excites you about joining the ICONIQ Growth team?
One of the most important aspects for me in joining a company is the culture and people and ensuring that we have alignment on core principles. I was lucky to initially meet and develop a relationship with the ICONIQ Growth team from their early investment in Adyen, and over the past almost decade, I came to value the shared alignment we had on values and culture. Additionally, the unique set of capabilities that ICONIQ Growth can bring to bear for our portfolio companies, with an exceptional network and the uncommon care taken to help ensure success, were strong differentiators. Last but not least, I am excited about the opportunity to learn from the ICONIQ Growth team and the amazing founders they work with while also helping others learn from my personal experiences as well.
I think founders work with ICONIQ Growth for many of the same reasons that I enjoyed working with them whilst at Adyen, which ultimately led me to join the team as well. We offer an uncommon network and set of resources to help founders realize the full potential of their business. The best way to really understand how ICONIQ Growth differentiates itself is to spend time with the team and ideally talk to existing companies in the portfolio and hear the stories from them as your peer group.
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