Amir Hemmat pivoted careers and threw himself all in when he discovered social entrepreneurism. He has now built a sizable business around that, with the backing of some of the most notable international investors. His latest venture, Welcome Tech, has raised funding from top-tier investors like TTV Capital, Owl Ventures, Mubadala Capital Ventures, and SoftBank’s Opportunity Fund
In this episode, you will learn:
- International fundraising
- The future of immigration
- How Welcome Tech aims to help individuals become even greater assets to the countries they move to
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About Amir Hemmat:
Amir Hemmat is the co-founder and CEO of Welcome Tech, a digital platform providing immigrant families with the tools and services required to thrive in the U.S. As a member of a first-generation immigrant family, Amir experienced first-hand the hardships immigrants face gaining access to critical financial services and devoted his career to supporting this largely under-resourced segment of the U.S. Today, Welcome Tech serves millions of immigrants by offering the best-in-class financial solutions.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: I Hear you.
Amir Hemmat: Blue Sweater with those sunglasses. It was like you should be in Hollywood not me. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: I love it. I love it. So here. We go all righty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. We’re going to be talking about building financing scaling I mean you name it everything in between. So I guess without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today Amit Hemmat: Hammat welcome to the show. So originally you were born in Los Angeles but your parents you know came from Iran so give us a little of a walk through memory lane. How was how was life growing up.
Amir Hemmat: Thanks Alejandro great to be here with you.
Amir Hemmat: You know life is fantastic I think for any of us who were born into a household with loving parents. Weve pretty much hit the jackpot and in my case, um, you know my parents being none generation immigrants having to leave their family behind. Ah. In the Middle East and Europe um, you know ultimately, they were highly focused on myself and my brothers growing up and you know we have a father who I would say all 3 of us idolize as our hero somebody who is highly ethical and just been. Very dedicated to building family and a mother who is a angel of a person who was constantly you know, engaging us with every activity she could get us involved in so that we had every opportunity here to pursue the the greatest potential in life that she wanted for us and. And that was a huge blessing as well. So you know grew up in a very loving family and I think when you have that regardless of income geography etc. You’ve got a huge advantage in life and so I think of it as you know a jackpot and having loving parents and. We grew up in a community. Um in palace verdese and san pedro where here in Los Angeles it’s a suburb uniquely set up where you know you kind of get exposure to both sides of the tracks. Um, you know, working class in San Pedro ah long longshoreman community working the ports long beach and san pedro make up the largest import export port in the in the country and and pal verdes is you know middle to upper income community where um, you know you get exposure to um, you know. The the wealth and sort of the access to um, that world and I think it was a blessing to understand how to navigate both sides of those tracks and what learnings could be gained from it. So I look back and I’m super grateful for all of that. So.
Alejandro Cremades: Now I know that for you, you know your father you know was ah was a really big Figure. You know that as you were mentioning that played a really big role and inspired you to the point that you really wanted to become a doctor yourself, but then. Ultimately, you took a different direction. So What happened you know when you joined med school and you took a leave of absence to to look into policy. Sure.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, you know I think um, growing up with a parent as a physician is a very shaping experience in the sense that um, what you’re exposed to is somebody who is making a quality life happen while. Servicing others and um and and contributing to society in a positive way. It’s a very noble pursuit and and that’s attractive I think to most of us and so for me becoming a physician for a very long time in my life was the ultimate. Ah, objective I thought you know both the academics and education that came with it as well as the ability to you know, dedicate myself to something that felt very fulfilling every day was the ultimate outcome. So as you said I I spend most of my you know. Educational career. um pursuing that outcome and um and once I got to that point of my life where you know I got a master’s in public health a master’s in physiology you know, ah highly degreed and educated if you will. In ways that maybe I don’t use on a regular basis. But I’m I’m really grateful for it because it gave me an understanding of you know? Ah, how to align values with ah your professional career and so um. I had an opportunity while I was pursuing medin to work with policymakers in California and work on health care reform and health care policy and during that time it gave me exposure to all. The other possibilities you when he would grow up in a immigrant household a lot of times. There’s very traditional paths that are presented to you you know doctor lawyer, engineer etc. You know these are the things you need to pursue. But what’s amazing as you go through the different phases of life. You get exposed to more and more opportunity and um. Through a series of events I you know became aware of this concept of social entrepreneurism this concept that you could build businesses that could make money but also make an impact in the world and it helped me realize none of all that there was a name for what I ah. What I wanted to pursue and second of all that you know the type of impact I was looking to make and type of living I was looking to make was all possible in a much more scalable way through businesses and through building entities versus as an individual as a physician.
Amir Hemmat: And over time I just became obsessed with that and so um, you know my pivot if you will on my career came as a result of over time really buying into the fact that I could take what I wanted to do as a physician and what that meant to me and deliver it through building. Businesses building teams and having a mission and that scales to make impact on real challenges in the world.
Alejandro Cremades: So entering the venture world tell us about Catalyst capital.
Amir Hemmat: Um, yeah, um, so um, you know in the earliest days when I was in my early 20 s coming off of you know education and working with policymakers. Um, the first business I started was called Catalyst consulting now called Catalyst Capital where I had opportunities as a result of my network and some of the work I was doing on the policy front to work with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. As a consultant a built you know a business that in her early 20 s was pretty meaningful I had about 20 employees and was doing projects with for-profit entities that were looking to build nonprofit initiatives and nonprofit entities that were looking to build for profit. Initiatives and it gave me an understanding of various business models and what worked and what didn’t work in terms of how you could build a model to make impact effectively without um, you know, creating a counter. Incentive or a adversarial position with your customers. Um, and so that was really powerful for me to to get an opportunity. It led ultimately to the following businesses that I started as well.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s talk about that sa is po is obviously the the first stop that really let you in you know to really you know what you’re doing now with a welcome tech. But how did you meet your cofounder because obviously that has been a relationship of None decades now and they obviously ah a very important person. In your in your career.
Amir Hemmat: Absolutely yeah, super blessed to have a co-founder in droul that has been a phenomenal partner to me as we’ve been navigating the the business world which I know can be a rarity unfortunately and. You know in our case, we were introduced by a mutual friend that saw overlapping values right? I was working on policy drul was working with the mexican consular network part of the foreign ministry of Mexico here in the Us. And and we were both trying to make impact in the world and I think um, that overlapping value where mission and impact was more important than neither one of us. Um, you know is what brought us together as well as complementing skills. You know I always say you know role. Is the operating and executing ninja that I needed in my life to complement you know, kind of the vision and product. Um growth efforts that you know I tend to focus my energy on so you know we always say we could swap roles any day of the week what is ultimately fundamental to our relationship is the following statement. no margin no mission no mission no margin and and what I mean by that is at the end of the day you can’t make an impact in the world if you’re not building a sustainable platform or business and you also. You know, really can’t make a thriving business happen at scale if you don’t have a compelling mission that you’re very very committed to dedicated to and I think Raul and I can on any day of the week you know choose to focus more on margin or more on mission. Um, and we each take responsibility in owning. Ah you know. Um, both of those things for for businesses that we built together so a mutual friend introduced us. Um, ah both Roel and I went to ucla for undergrad. He was a little bit ahead of me. But um, but after graduating this mutual friend who was a.
Alejandro Cremades: So how how did you guys meet.
Amir Hemmat: Alumni of Ucla thought we would get along he he had us meet at a restaurant and and we you know broke bread had a meal together had a discussion of different work. We were going to do rowell at the time was on the board of a nonprofit organization that had just. Launched a new initiative around educating community members across the country and I was going to partner with him as a consultant to build a fundraising model to support that nonprofit initiative and it was from that initial relationship that.
Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about Saber is po there because that’s the ah how you guys really got started.
Amir Hemmat: And led to opportunities so us to build more together.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, absolutely so so else where there was started actually out of this nonprofit initiative that Rel and I none met around which was um. There was an opportunity to partner with consulates and embassies across the us to provide educational programs to visitors of consulates and embassies and the waiting room areas of those locations and initially we started with this idea that we were going to produce print brochures and distribute those brochures through the waiting rooms of consulates and embassies. With the support of foundations and government grants. Um, typical lines ah or channels of capital from for nonprofit organizations and so um, we were doing that and found that corporate America was actually very interested in reaching this demographic in a major way. And every time we would meet with a foundation, especially a corporate foundation. They would direct us to the marketing departments and tell us that there was more scalable more sustainable dollars available there versus the foundations. Well over time those dollars became much more apparent and as a result we spun this nonprofit initiative out into what became our none for-profit ah program together which was sa is split so we started this business with this idea of how can we provide education. Um, on a sustainable and scalable basis to the country’s us hispanic population in partnership with consulates and embassies across the us and um, it was an ad-based model model sponsorship based model. Um, it was profitable from day one. Um, we grew the business successfully but we learned a ton as well and one of the things we identified was that generally speaking the dynamic was such that you had um, a community that was seeking. Useful tools and services certainly information as well. But often was frustrated with the options available to them and you had a ton of services and brands that were also interested in reaching this consumer but were generally just horrible at reaching them. And or horrible at providing services that were relevant to the consumer and so we saw this gap in the market and realized that there needed to be a bridge to that and with some of us from there. We saw education as that bridge.
Amir Hemmat: But over time we realized that we also needed to provide the actual solutions. So build services that would solve for this. We also realized that what we were working on in the us hispanic population through sa e displayer was actually a challenge that every immigrant community here in the us and frankly in the world. Facing which is that it’s been historically difficult for these communities to connect to the services that are optimal for their needs and their lives and for services to actually deliver value to the consumer in the way that they’re looking for. So. We realized that we’re in 2022 now and ah back even back then there’s never really been a formal onboarding integration support platform for immigrants here in the us or really anywhere in the world and that’s what led to us starting and now building welcome tech.
Alejandro Cremades: So and let’s talk about welcome tech because obviously what you did there is you rolled in you know all the assets of Sas pauletti to welcome tech and now welcome tech is really you know what you guys are up to but for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of welcome tech How do you guys make money.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, so at welcome tech we believe we’re building the future of immigration and what I mean by that is a single resource platform for immigrants to turn to to connect to the information and services they need to succeed and thrive. And you know a big part of our mission. There is obviously to improve the lives of immigrants and their families but also to build a stronger nation if you think of countries the same way you think of companies you would want to attract great talent and then enable that talent and so. What we realize is that if we want to be the operating system for immigrants if we want to be the platform of choice. We really need to enable transactions very effectively and so fundamental to the immigrant journey is to be able to make payments and to be able to transact efficiently. With the optimal services that they need so what you see us doing at welcome tech is we’ve built a digital wallet that allows immigrant consumers to set up initially their financial services basic banking credit remittance and payments. And with that capability and with the ability to transact through the wallet they’re able to then access key services that they need for their lives whether that be in education whether that be in healthcare whether that be in telecom and technology utilities, legal etc. Endless number of services that they will eventually be able to access through the platform. So from a business model standpoint we have None primary sources of revenue one is our wallet and the transactions that occur there. Although it’s fee free to the consumer today. As they transact and interact with our digital wallet. We’re generating revenue through those transactions and the backend interchange or transactional revenue that we generate and the second is that we’ve built a high ah roi high impact subscription offering for the consumer. So part of our play as a business is that we’re aggregating a historically fragmented consumer segment that aggregation gives us a huge amount of leverage similar to a Costco or Amazon prime where we’re able to source better services at better prices and better experiences for the consumer. And a faster rate than anybody in the world can and that gives us an ability to charge a subscription fee which um is extremely valuable to the immigrant consumer similar to a Costco membership or Amazon prime may be to you and me.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your guys’ case you got started with welcome tech in 2010 but it took you about 4 years to raise you know any any capital you know that is publicly disclosed now I know that for you. It was important to build a profitable business before seeking money. So Why was that the case.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, so there were a couple things that are part of our journey. So first of all, we built our business profitably from day one. We sort of bootstrapped and given the experience we had had historically with ad revenue sponsorship revenue. We knew had to build a business. Um. You know, profitably and extend our runway without having to raise capital and you know I’d say that was very much a part of our backgrounds and upbringing you know money and money out. Um and we wanted to really figure out what business model was really ultimately scalable. Another big part of our journey is that you’re talking to cancer survivor 2012 I was diagnosed with non-hogkin’s lyuhoma stage three was a complete curveball to me and my co-founder and we went into crisis management as you can imagine to maintain the business. Um, and so it took us a couple years to work through what was in the end of the day nine months of chemo for me and then recovery and once we got our feet under us again and um, really leaned into what we ultimately only built more commitment to. With the business model and business. It was a path to really not raising institutional capital to about 2018 so quite a long path and unusual 1 but 1 that we could do because we had a business model. Was profitable and that we could you know continue to grind away at to figure out the product market fit figure out the business model that scales and I would tell you you know it’s not at a lack of scars on our backs that we have gotten to a place where we have built the you know. Market winner the category winner because of a business model that really scales to be a consumer advocate and allows us to focus on creating value for the consumer rather than extracting value from the consumer in a very unique way.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow I mean unbelievable. The fact that that you know what you just shared incredible the stage 3 you know cancer now now I guess you know the question that’s incredible congratulations I think that the um that one thing that I like to ask you is you know.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, be 10 years in remission this year so lots to be grateful for? Yeah, thank you.
Alejandro Cremades: Building and scaling companies is you know is is being able to be with uncertainty and obviously what you just shared is is is unbelievable. You know, inspiring and you know here you know you had to deal with uncertainty at a personal level. I Think that going through that journey yourself. What would you say that that taught you or what what perspective did you took out from that experience.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah I mean so many things Alandra we could. We could spend a whole podcast just talking through that. But yeah I would tell you um, a few things one is that um you know.
Alejandro Cremades: What will be the biggest one. The biggest one. But.
Amir Hemmat: We don’t control much in this life and so this idea of having certainty and trying to pursue that is a ah waste of energy and instead it’s not really what happens to you but it’s how you respond to it that matters in life and um and you know so much of. This building of a business is much more about the journey than the end result and so how you engage with that Journey is so important um to be aware of and and then lastly that you know any kind of. Of of approach that does not Involve. You know a deep connection to both the mission and vision that you have is a waste of energy. Um, you know we have one life. Um, our time is limited and our time is our greatest asset in life. And if you’re going to invest that asset in anything make sure it’s something that’s truly meaningful to you and that you’re pursuing exactly what you’re hoping to pursue in this life because I think a biggest shift among other things that people would note about me Pre. Ah. That experience. Um I had a healthy ah you know view on life I had a lot of things that I was doing right? but I think um I was willing to concede on certain opportunities for the hope that you know others would show up. And after going through this rollo and I were only further committed to our vision and to our mission and we were not going to spend our time on anything but building that and I think I would encourage other entrepreneurs who are spending their valuable time on.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it.
Amir Hemmat: Building things to make sure that it’s something that is really in line with their vision and their mission and otherwise it’s not worth their time.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow. Well thank you for sharing Amit Hemmat: now for the people that are listening to how much capital have you guys raised to date.
Amir Hemmat: So today we raised None from world-class investors. We’ve been really fortunate to have folks like Softbank Owl Ventures Ttv Capital Mubadla next play crosscut ventures. Um, the list goes on and also been very fortunate to have some really great family offices. All ah have in common the same thing which is they intend on us building a world-class multi-billion dollar business but they also intend on us making impact in none of people’s lives. And for that’s that’s been extremely important for us as we’ve been building our board as we’ve been bringing on capital partners for that alignment to exist is is fundamental to what we’re trying to build for the world.
Alejandro Cremades: And why did you go with the strategy of getting capital from different parties all over the world instead of maybe like staying local.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah I mean I think a beautiful thing if you’re trying to build the future of immigration. A beautiful thing is to recognize the interdependency of society and if you look at our business. It involves us focusing so first on the largest immigrant population in the world which is the hispanic immigrant population in the Us. And building our business and model there first. But as a result of the scale we achieved there. We have a massive advantage to then scale into other domestic immigrant populations as well as scaling our business globally and the same is true of capital right? If you’re trying to build a platform that not only serves. Um, for the us but eventually the world. Um, it’s really important to have partners that provide you access and opportunity to scale um with unique knowledge, unique resources and so we are building early into our business. The ability. Scale not only the business model but the capital needs that we have globally and and so what you see with our business is not only having incredible investors that are helping us win here in the Us but also are setting us up. To be able to scale. What is a very powerful business model into other markets as well.
Alejandro Cremades: So imagine you were able to go to sleep tonight a mirror and you wake up in a world where the vision of Welcome Tech is fully realized what does that world look like.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah I think I mentioned a few things None is none of all our platform and brand would exist in the world at the same scale and level as your passport or a passport does everybody in the world. Would have the ability to turn on their phone or whatever medium at the time would be and through their profile and data access the optimal set of services they need at the time in their life that they’re integrating into a new country and by doing so. They would not only succeed at an individual basis but be able to contribute to that country in a greater way as well. The none thing I would tell you is that with our mission and our company. Um, we’ve attracted some of the best talent in the world. Alejandro I mean you think about the folks that are. At the top of the talent pools across industries and it is you know immigrant communities children of immigrants that are there and or those who are trying to solve really big problems in the world and so we’ve had an incredible group of talent in our company and. If I think about what I would hope for the world is that these talented individuals continue to lead companies that are actually solving problems for the world because these are you know, incredibly talented people who are very mission oriented. Um and that would be incredible to to wake up to. And then lastly it would be you know a world where I think more communities are coming together as a result of our platform and that you know for. Ah. The world to be able to see that if we arm one another with the abilities to succeed that we win as a whole and I think that our company our platform the technology we’re building has an ability to contribute to a world where people work with None another. Um, collaborate with one another and succeed with each other.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Imagine I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time maybe to that moment where you were in in med school and you know think I Maybe you know I’m gonna take a look at what’s out there and you know imagine you were able to sit that younger self and. Give that younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why giving what you know now.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah I’ve mentioned it earlier but I’ll emphasize in a different way I think I’ve been really lucky to take ah some pretty big swings in my life and and and I think I would tell myself to be even more aggressive about. Taking bigger swings faster and also I would encourage my younger self to embrace a massive mission and vision even earlier in life and to to really feel comfortable. Um, with this, you know feeling I had very early in my life that maybe I didn’t know how to communicate which was that I really wanted to be working on something that felt like I was making a difference in the world and you know, especially when you jump into the business world. It almost feels at times like you’re treated like a none class citizen if you talk about anything what money. But what we’ve learned in the world is that if you want to build a massive business. That’s successful like in Amazon or like a Costco or. Other great businesses with massive market cap you have to create value for the consumer you have to create value for the world. We have too many entrepreneurs that are wasting cycles wasting energy on just crap and pollution and. You know if we could take all that energy and resource and point it towards solving real problems in the world. Not only will we have a better world but we have a lot of successful businesses as well. And so I think encouraging my younger self to embrace that in a bigger way earlier is something. Now with the knowledge I have I could I could do a lot more effectively.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it I’m here. So for the people that are listening that want to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Amir Hemmat: Yeah, Linkedin is a great way. You can find my profile there. My full name Amit Hemmat: Hemet and and Twitter as well. Spend time there but but mostly heads down focus on building ah a business and making impact in the world. So. Um, you know don’t spend a lot of time on social media but certainly love to hear from folks who are aligned with the values want to contribute to the mission and or if I can None in their pursuit to make a difference and build successful outcomes happy to happy to connect.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey ami it has been an honor to have you on the dealmakerr show. Thank you so much for being here with us.
Amir Hemmat: Thank you love the conversation.
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