Five Questions For … Hesam Panahi, Rice University Entrepreneurship Lecturer

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Aquarium in Atlanta and once in San Francisco—never in the wild. Lina had a co-worker who saw a bunch hanging out in Australia. Maybe that’s a future destination for us.

X: What leadership lessons did you get from your parents?

HP: As entrepreneurs, they’ve always been against the conventional way to do things. That influenced me a lot. I didn’t feel obligated to go a certain way just because everyone else had gone that way. Just seeing them do it, made me feel it was possible anyone could do it, assuming the right skill set and resources.

There was definitely the idea of persevering. My father, he for a while ran a used car dealership. It’s very much a seasonal business; you have good months and have bad months. Just being able to push through that was something that was really inspiring. The other thing that I really learned is there are no titles. In small companies, there are roles and responsibilities. My dad and myself—I worked with him—washing cars in the middle of the Houston summer heat. Regardless that he was the founder of the company, you’ve got to do it all. To this day, I still really don’t care as much about having a particular leadership position or title.

From my mom … I learned that when you start a company, founding with friends can be a tricky way to start. You risk not only losing your company if things go wrong, but the friendship as well. It worked out well for [my mother’s company], but at certain times, you could see there was tension because of company issues and the results spilled over into the friendship.

X: Where do you think your drive comes from?

HP: Curiosity about why things have to be a certain way and why they can’t be done differently. I wanted to do things more efficiently: There must be a better way to do it. I’ve been teaching entrepreneurship classes for a while now and every single semester I want to redo the entire class. I want to refine it make it better. I don’t have to do that but I think you’ve got to continue iterating. That’s what drives me to continue working. It’s always a work in progress.

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