As a chip designer and then product manager in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s—working for venture-backed startups such as WebTV and Andes Networks—Arif witnessed first-hand the power venture capital had to effect change. It proved to be the introduction to the rest of his life.
“There were a number of VCs affiliated with those companies who were kind enough to share their time, mentor me, and teach me about the art and craft of venture capital,” he says. “From then, I had my sights set on VC.”
But whether he knew it or not, the groundwork for his career path had long since been laid. Between his grandfather (an entrepreneur who had started and run several businesses around the world) and his father (an engineer and MBA turned entrepreneur who relished every opportunity to discuss his passions with his son), Arif grew up surrounded by the pillars of innovation.
So it comes as little surprise that he went on to earn a BSc in computer engineering from the University of Waterloo, in Canada, and an MBA from the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania.
But while his first love was technology, he’s learned during his tenure at Lightspeed that it’s usually the founders, along with incredible technology, that make an enterprise company great. That’s why he looks for founders who not only have deep insight into technological innovations, but also those who think big about the future.
“I’ve switched from thinking, ‘What’s the technological advantage?’ to, ‘What drives this founder and how will they use their technological advantage to build an enduring business?’”
He says it’s a challenging and lonely job, being a CEO, which is why he aims to be a true partner to his founders—a trusted, levelheaded person who can help navigate the trenches of building a business. From being a coach, advisor, and even a psychologist to offering hands-on help with hiring, strategy, and business partnerships, there’s little Arif doesn’t do to support the CEOs he works with.
It seems to work. Since he joined Lightspeed in 2008 with a focus on cloud and datacenter technologies as well as enterprise mobile and Saas solutions, he’s helped six companies toward acquisition and one to IPO. Of course, he credits some of this success to his upbringing.
“I’ve got a way about myself that’s quite Canadian,” he says with a laugh: “polite but firm.”