10 Questions: Shafqat Islam, CEO, NewsCredJanuary 30, 2014: 10:31 AM ET
On why MBAs are red flags, solving the problem of poverty, and eating Froot Loops for breakfast.
FORTUNE -- As a child of Bangladeshi parents who worked for the United Nations, Shafqat Islam spent his youth living in Thailand, India, and Switzerland. His parents wanted him to become an engineer. When he began college at the University of Pennsylvania, Islam studied computer science and economics. He worked as a DJ throughout school, but wound up taking a more traditional career path when he landed a position at Merrill Lynch. After five years, Islam became tired of corporate life, and the day before he married his wife, he decided to leave the firm and start his own company.
Islam's company, NewsCred, began as a website that evaluated the quality and credibility of news sources. It quickly shifted to become a fully fledged content marketing company. NewsCred now provides original content to companies, cultivated from a network of freelance writers and licensed content from third-party publishers. The company has offices in New York, London, and Dhaka,Bangladesh. (Still chasing DJ dreams, Islam says he wants to install turntables at the office and offer "a spin class that's way more fun.") Last week, his company announced an additional $25 million in funding. The 32-year-old entrepreneur -- and one-time Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference attendee -- spoke with us.
1. Which business or technology person do you admire most? Why?
Elon Musk. There are two reasons: He dreams exceptionally big -- so it's not just about building better technology or software products, but it's also about helping mankind and the human race; I love the scale of his ambitions -- and he's also gone through a lot of failures and always come out on the other side as a success. I like that perseverance.
2. Which other companies do you admire? Why?
I love Uber. I think it completely changed the lives of both sides of their user base. When I get in cars and talk to the drivers, they say that Uber has changed the way they work and given them flexibility and revenue. And when you talk to users, [for them] it is the most amazing experience. They press a button, and a black car shows up.
3. Is business school necessary for entrepreneurs?
I would say definitely not. In fact, sometimes it raises a red flag for me. It's a lot of money and a lot of opportunity cost. I haven't quite figured out why people do it. Whenever I meet someone who has an MBA, I start off by questioning why they made that decision. Oftentimes they do have good reasons, but I'm skeptical because the cost of time and money is so high.
4. What is the best advice you ever received?
I don't know who to attribute it to because I've heard many people say it, but it's that if you aren't being told "no" enough times, you're not pushing yourself hard enough or thinking outside of the box enough.
5. What would you do if you weren't working at your current job?
If I never entered technology, I would probably have continued as a DJ or a teacher. Maybe a teacher DJ! I love the idea of teaching young kids, like in elementary school. That's where you can have the most impact on the course of someone's life.
6. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
I'm originally from Bangladesh, and there are over 100 million people there who live in poverty. I think that finding a way to bring that enormous mass of people out of poverty and giving them a socioeconomic chance would be my life ambition. I think technology can do a lot, like provide jobs and access to food, water, and medicine. Technology can't do everything. But I would say that technology is probably the best chance that people have of getting out of their current situation.
7. Describe an ideal day.
Deals closing, then hiring some amazing new people, then some more deals closing. Then spending time with my wife, and more deals closing before I go to sleep.
8. What was the last book you read?
One of the most recent books that I read was the Steve Jobs biography [by Walter Isaacson]. I loved it. I love Steve Jobs, and I chose it because I've heard so much about it. There's a lot of talk these days about whether there is a correlation for great entrepreneurs between being an asshole and being successful. I don't think there is. I think you can be a good person and also be successful. So I wanted to get inside his mind and see what the whole Steve Jobs story is.
9. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
I eat like a little child. I eat Froot Loops for breakfast, and I love Nutella. My eating habits more resemble those of a five-year-old than an adult.
10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation. I love traveling, so I could be in many different places. It's a no-brainer for me.
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