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Leila Islam

Leila Islam

I became fascinated by the impact of artificial intelligence on business in my first job

After graduating with a degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard, I started my career in consulting at McKinsey. I liked the McKinsey way of thinking, and it gave me the opportunity to get under the skin of a range of different businesses. During my two years at McKinsey, I focused primarily on tech-related projects, and in the second year a lot of the questions from clients started to shift to data analytics and machine learning. I became more curious about this new trend and decided to postpone business school to focus on AI, a topic that I could see was going to be integral to virtually all businesses. I spent a year at Oxford doing a Masters in Artificial Intelligence, working alongside DeepMind.

My first VC experience taught me the importance of people

During 2018-2020, while attending business school at Stanford, I worked at Pear VC, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. It was a very tight-knit team; the founder who knew everyone in the Valley and had one of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard - he started his career selling carpets and ended up being one of the first investors in DoorDash! Pear VC taught me that investing is not just about crunching data, it’s primarily about imagining customer needs and understanding management teams. It was my first real exposure to Silicon Valley, and I got to meet a lot of inspiring entrepreneurs and feel like I was one email away from being connected to anybody.

It’s easy to criticize large organizations until you’ve worked in one

After business school, I was at a crossroads between continuing in academia and gaining operational experience. I decided to join Facebook as part of the team that led M&A for its Commerce unit. It was a pivotal time in the history of the firm, and it made me understand how incredibly hard it is to run a company well. It made me appreciate organizational complexity in large companies to an extent that I hadn’t as a consultant or an investor. It also helped me understand at a very detailed level how large strategics think about M&A and value creation, something that I lean on often in my current role.