DURHAM – From rock star dreams to helping startups succeed is the interesting career path for Google’s Amrit Dhir. He’s Head of Startup Connections and he’s in Durham as part of a Google for Startups entourage visiting American Underground this week for a series of events. WRAL TechWire’s exclusive two-part interview sheds light on the executive and his advice.

First, a bit of background.

“I help startups. But I don’t want your money. Or your equity,” he says in his LinkedIn profile.

“I connect promising tech startups to experts who can help them. Often that expert is a Googler; sometimes it’s me; and sometimes it’s someone else I know. I measure my success by the success of the startups I connect.”

His role at Google involves “connecting promising tech startups to Googlers and others who can help them. He identifies the need /opportunity jointly with the startup’s founder(s) in an initial consultation,” Google explains.

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“When the startup’s need can be addressed within his own skill and experience set (e.g. certain areas of business strategy, partnerships, or operations), Amrit provides the mentorship directly. In other cases, he taps into the 100k+ employee resource pool of Alphabet and his own personal network to make a connection.”

WRAL TechWires Chantal Allam Q&A with Dhir via email:

  • You’re definitely considered one of Google’s heavy hitters. What does it say about American Underground that Google is sending you here to do a workshop?

I feel like I have the best job in the world. What I love is that it’s squarely within my mandate to come out to ecosystems like Durham’s and work with founders and help them, on their terms, and according to their needs. American Underground has been a leading partner for Google for Startups for a number of years now. And we were very excited to recently welcome Veteran Capital into our network. It’s only natural for me to come out to their community, which we know to be both strong and well-served by these two organizations, and help however best I can.

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And the way that I like to help is by sharing – or open-sourcing – two features I have already seen add value in other regions: my experiences and my network. On experience, I’ve had the great privilege to work in business development for some of Alphabet’s most innovative products and groundbreaking technologies: projects in Google Research and AI; X, the Moonshot Factory (formerly Google X); Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences); and more. My workshop draws from my experience in this work, as I pull out some of the lessons I’ve picked up when it comes to pitching and closing partnerships. That’s how I help directly.

One thing I’ve learned in the past three years working for Google for Startups in regions outside of Silicon Valley is that I can also help indirectly: by connecting founders with others who can help. As an advisor to startups, I think it’s very important that I am honest about what I don’t know. There’s a ton I don’t know, and there are many areas where I would be doing the startups a disservice if I were to let on that I know something I don’t.

Honesty and humility are essential here. And, sometimes, in these cases, I know someone who can help: someone I’ve worked alongside in one of these various, multidisciplinary projects, or someone I know socially, whose work is relevant or adjacent. And, in some cases, I don’t know someone directly, but I have a pretty good guess that someone of the 100,000 people who work at Google has the right knowledge and/or skillset; in those cases, I then set about doing something I really enjoy: navigating Google and finding the right person to volunteer his or her time to help the startup.

  • Tell us a little about yourself. By looking at your LinkedIn account, you’ve jumped around from international studies to media culture studies to a law degree from Harvard. How did you end up in tech?

I’m definitely a jumper. I’ve always been drawn to the multidisciplinary and the interdisciplinary, and my scattered journey to today probably reflects this. I grew up in Los Angeles and spent most of the 90s and early 2000s singing, rapping, and screaming along to Rage Against the Machine, Sevendust, Thrice, and other punk and metal bands. All I ever wanted was to be a rock star. I tried to make that work. It didn’t. I failed. So this career at Google is a second choice.

I got here by way of law school, which I loved, but much more so because of school than because of law. I realized in my third week of Civil Procedure that I wasn’t meant to be a lawyer, but I just loved the privilege of sitting in a classroom and hearing an expert who has dedicated his or her life to a particular subject tell me about it, and so I stuck around. The other consistent theme in my background is the international. I love living in other countries, exploring other cultures, reading and walking in history, and fumbling around other languages.

My current job very conveniently allows me to do a lot of this while also helping entrepreneurs: in the last month alone, I’ve been in Nairobi and Kampala (where my father and mother, respectively, were born), Maribor, Philadelphia, and Warsaw (where I spent a number of months, struggling to distinguish between Polish consonants). Oh, I also really love broadway musicals and opera.

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