Part of the challenge for me living in Iran was that my entire family, other than my mom and dad and brother, basically had left and fled the country, and we stayed behind. The reason we stayed behind was that my father had started the technology university there, and he said, “The country’s going through all this challenge, but if the education system falls apart, who knows what’s going to happen?”
When did you get interested in technology?
My dad started teaching us on a programmable calculator when my brother and I were 8 years old. And then the next year, he brought a Commodore 64 home. In Iran at the time, there was nothing fun to do. There was no Xbox, no PlayStation, no internet. We had one TV channel; it was all propaganda. There were no sports in school. So for us, this computer was an escape from just a horrid life situation. It was really the only good thing we had in our life.
How did you get out of Iran?
To get the permission to leave, my dad had to promise the minister of education that he was coming back — that he wasn’t taking his family to leave forever. He was like, “I give you my word. I’m coming back.” And when we came to America, pretty much the first thing he did was to say, “All right. I’m going back. You guys can stay here.”
My mom was like, “What are you talking about? We’re done with that country.” And he said, “I just want to go for one or two years because I gave my word, and then I’ll join you guys.” So we spent a year or two in America with our dad living in Iran, only because he wanted to stay true to his word.
“We’re not trying to prepare kids for jobs. We’re trying to prepare kids for life.” — Hadi Partovi
Tell me about arriving in the United States.
We were not well-off at all. Our family couldn’t afford a home. So all four of us lived in one bedroom in my grandma’s house in one bed, which is an awkward thing to do when you’re 12 years old. My parents worked three jobs, but they put all of the money toward our education. That left an imprint of how important education is. Education is the No. 1 thing you should invest in.
You have many relatives who’ve also been successful in the technology industry. How do you explain that?
Entrepreneurship is in my family’s blood. My grandfather and all of his brothers started a great company together almost 100 years ago. It was called Alborz Corporation, and it was one of the largest industrial companies in Iran. They started by being a trading company and importing goods, but then all the most popular goods they’d import they’d start manufacturing locally, in partnership with whoever was the original producer. Then the entire company was taken away by the government as part of the revolution. So growing up in America, there was this desire for us to effectively make back the money that our family had lost.