Growing up in the densely populated metropolis of Karachi, Pakistan, Ahmed Makani felt helived in two different worlds. By day he attended a private Catholic elementary school on full scholarship with children who came from Karachi’s wealthiest families. After school he lived in a poverty-stricken neighborhood — where electricity was scarce and retrieving drinking water consisted of filling it by the gallons and hauling it up ten flights of stairs to his family’s small apartment.
Everyday Makani walked two miles to the bus, while the other students drove by him with their parents in expensive cars. However, Makani says that instead of letting his shame and embarrassment overcome him, he was fueled by something else — a deep desire to be better than his peers at academics. “I felt like I could be better than them in something else and that’s academics,” Makani says. “And I thought, ‘you may be better off financially, but I’m better off academically, and I can beat you.’”
That self-awareness put him on an educational path that allowed him to reach an unusual milestone last week when he was among 901 MBA graduates in Harvard Business School’s Class of 2013. In a sea of cap and gowns on his graduation day, Makani looked like any other Harvard MBA: a newly minted corporate soldier filled with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. But unlike many of his classmates, his journey from Karachi to Harvard was long and difficult, and began early in his life, inspired as much by his academic prowess as his ultimate passion to become an entrepreneur.
‘BEING ABLE TO EXCHANGE A SCARF FOR A HANDFUL OF BILLS–THAT WAS THRILLING’
Makani ranked at the top of his class year after year and eventually won a scholarship to the best secondary school in Pakistan: Karachi Grammar school. And while he continued to excel in academics, his entrepreneurial roots were also being formed working at his father’s scarf shop. Makani says that this is where he became an “entrepreneur at heart.”
“… Making a sale and being able to exchange a scarf for a handful of bills — that was thrilling,” Makani says. “And I think it was at that point that I probably realized that I wanted to be in a position one day where I was selling a product or providing a service and engaging with the outside world.”
Quickly approaching graduation from Karachi Grammar School, Makani had no idea what he wanted to do. However, he says he came to a major turning point when a group of Karachi Grammar School alumni returned to give a presentation about Yale. Makani had never traveled abroad, but in that moment he set his sights on Yale and became the first person in his community to leave Pakistan to attend college in the United States.
MAJORING IN MATH AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT YALE UNIVERSITY
At Yale, Makani pursued degrees in mathematics and international studies. He says it was the first time his perspective was broadened and that he was exposed to other students from all over the world. But like many of his peers with an affinity for numbers, Makani decided to make the leap into the financial sector after graduation as an analyst at Goldman Sachs for two years. Then he moved to San Francisco where he worked as an associate for technology-based private equity firm Vector Capital. However, both jobs exposed his lack of interest in the financial world and led him back to his first passion: entrepreneurship.