I Am Living Proof of the American Dream: With Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder of Terminus

Read more books: Read at least one book a month or if not more. There is not a single successful person that I have met who is not reading…

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Read more books: Read at least one book a month or if not more. There is not a single successful person that I have met who is not reading and learning every day

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sangram Vajre, Chief Evangelist and Co-Founder of Terminus. Sangram is an author of an account-based marketing book, keynote speaker, 3x CMO, host of the daily #FlipMyFunnel podcast, founder of the #FlipMyFunnel movement, entrepreneur and above all, category maker. He is the co-founder and chief evangelist of Terminus, a leader in account-based marketing raising over $20M in funding. Prior to that Sangram ran marketing at Pardot through the acquisition of ExactTarget that got then acquired by Salesforce for $2.5B dollars.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in India and lived in a joint family home with 15 other relatives. It’s funny to think about now but when I was growing up, I never understood the difference between siblings and cousins because I was raised with both. I regarded my uncle’s children as much as my siblings as my actual biological ones. Altogether, there were five of us kids in the household and, as the youngest, I was subject to hand-me-downs and incessant teasing!

All five of us went to the same school as well, so I always felt the need to prove myself as each of the older kids excelled at one thing or another. By the time I started school, I didn’t feel as though I had my own identity which made me a little rebellious. I wasn’t that great of a student and consistently earned Cs, Ds and Fs in all of my classes. I attribute a lot of this to my frustration with the competition I felt with with my brothers and sisters, as well as the other kids.

It wasn’t until I joined National Cadet Corps (NCC), which is like the equivalent to the Boy Scouts program, that I began taking school more seriously and create my own identity. Becoming more involved in NCC allowed me to continue my schooling as I was representing my school at a national level through the organization. Not only did it allow me to continue my education, it also helped me to learn several important life lessons, like leadership, team-building and survival in general.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

When I graduated high school in India, my brother lived in Washington D.C. This was around 2001 and, up until that point, there were a lot of jobs available. However, after 9/11, that job market had shifted and my brother ended up moving back to India. When he came back, he told me that I had to check out the United States for myself, mainly because of the opportunity I would have there to do things that I’ve never done before. He offered to cover my college application fees but after that, I was told I was on my own.

After taking the GRE, there were four different colleges I was thinking about attending but it wasn’t until I talked to a professor at the University of Alabama who said that he may have an assistantship to offer me which came with a $5,000 loan. I took that and then proceeded to make the move to the States!

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I had to repay the loan I received as quickly as possible so the very next day I landed in the United States, I went directly to the University and met an incredible woman in the science department. I asked if there was anything I could do to help fund my college tuition, which is where I learned about how I could teach a class if I was able to bring at least three students together to learn about whatever I was teaching. I had the idea to teach a class on Hindi as I knew a few friends who were interested. I ended up getting the attendance I needed, which then helped to pay for my tuition.

I addition to that, I was also trying to learn as much about American culture as possible. A few of the students I met suggested that I watch Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld and Friends so I went to the library and rented the complete seasons of those shows and watched them in quick succession!

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

This would have to be Professor Ron — he had large impact on me during my time at the University of Alabama. I’ll always be grateful to him because he once told me that because I have a great energy about me, that I’ll do just fine in life. He instilled me with the confidence that I needed to look for my first job outside of college while living in the States. In addition to providing me with academic and moral support, he also invited me to my first-ever Thanksgiving at his house, which was incredibly kind of him. He proceeded to invite me to a variety of different events and get-togethers, introducing me to people and experiences that helped to shape my thinking.

So how are things going today?

I’d have to say that things are going incredibly well. After graduating, I was fortunate to land a job at Deloitte Consulting, which was a tremendous feat in and of itself for someone who was an immigrant, like myself. I knew it was the company that I wanted to work for but they didn’t hire people with their Masters right out of the gate. Even though I knew this, I was determined to at least interview with them and reached out to the company. I was granted an interview and was then hired, which was quite unheard of!

While there, the experience I gained was immeasurable and taught me quite a lot about have a strong work ethic, effectively communicating and the importance of being able to wear many hats in any workplace. My time at Deloitte was like working at a startup with very high stakes — and I loved it. I believe that was one of the best things I could’ve done at the time.

The only downside to the job was that I was traveling a lot, taking me away from my soon-to-be wife more often than we both wanted. So I ended my time at Deloitte and hopped around a couple of startups until I ended up at Pardot, where I was put in charge of their marketing. I helped to lead the company through the acquisition of ExactTarget, a transition that helped me to learn how to scale a business and what category making was all about. I then co-founded Terminus, which is one of the nation’s leading account-based marketing software companies and one of the fastest growing in the marketing technology industry.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Honestly, I don’t know quite yet as I don’t know what will happen for Terminus tomorrow, let alone five years from now. And as I continue to grow this company, my goals keep changing. At first, I thought that going public or being acquired would be a success. Now that we’re four years in, I think about the lives that are being impacted from the jobs with Terminus and I can’t imagine doing anything to risk that. In addition to that, I’ve been fortunate to lead #FlipMyFunnel, which has evolved into a community of 10,000+ passionate B2B marketing and sales leaders. This movement has opened my eyes to a lot of the possibilities within the account-based marketing field, a rapidly growing industry in the world. It’s not often that people have an opportunity to build a new category in the marketplace that will fundamentally change people’s lives. I have that opportunity and it’s a feeling like none other. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of account-based marketing jobs being created and I’ve had the honor of being a part of that. I guess that’s part of the goodness I’ve been able to bring to this world and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

The incredible thing about the life I’ve build here in the United States is that I did it all while living here on a Visa. It wasn’t until last year that I became a Green Card holder. Up until that point, I always felt as though I had a deadline hanging around my neck. At any moment, everything that I’ve worked for could be gone. And that feeling does impact your personal life. The only change I would suggest making with the U.S. immigration system is streamline the process by identifying what an ideal citizen actually looks like. For example, I’ve been paying taxes here for 15 years, I’ve received my education here, I’ve written and published a book here, I’ve raised over $30 million through my business, created a lot of jobs for other citizens and immigrants alike and I’ve never committed a crime, yet I witnessed numerous people who were not making the same contributions as me receive their citizenship much faster than I did. To put it simply, I wish that gaining U.S, citizenship was less paper-driven and more merit-driven. I really do believe that this country is the greatest place on Earth, therefore there is a reason people want to be here. And while I appreciate and love the law, because it’s part of what makes this place great, but I think that the immigration process should include, if not rely heavily on, an ideal citizen profile.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Be authentic: You don’t have to be perfect. Be you and let the people see your imperfections and see amazing things happen as a result of it.

2. Ask for help: The last thing you want is to try to do it all by yourself. Trust me, you won’t go too far. You will be surprised how many people are willing to help and waiting for you to ask for help

3. Read more books: Read at least one book a month or if not more. There is not a single successful person that I have met who is not reading and learning every day

4. Fail fast: Don’t delay. If you have something in your heart, go for it. Nothing will ever be more hurtful than having regret that you didn’t try. People will admire you more if you failed and owned it than if you were only successful

5. Love others: I can’t overstate this. The more you love and forgive others, the more you will grow. This is the hardest lesson I have learned and one that I continue to work on every day.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

1. Our freedom in general. This is a place that encourages you to live out your dreams — there’s nothing to stop you. Hopefully, I’m a living example of that. I still don’t have my citizenship, but I have a house, kids, a family and great neighbors. From my experience, the United States is a place where diversity truly is respected. If you’re good at anything, you can do it here.

2. Through my experience with a few nonprofits, I’ve come to change my idea of what owning and building a company is all about, One of my future goals is to start a nonprofit of my own because I feel as though it will balance out the craziness of building a business, giving it a deeper meaning. This country has inspired this goal of mine as it is one of the greatest when it comes to giving. The hearts here are always open for people in need and the first to give, something I haven’t witnessed in many other countries. This generous spirit keeps me optimistic in the resiliency of the people I share this world with.

3. On a more personal level, I feel that there is a revival in people’s spiritual journey here in the United States. As someone who runs a tech company and is also an avid church-goer, I find myself in the middle of two different extremes. Yet I think that as a country, we are on the brink of a reconnection between the two, leading the way into a type of spiritual revival. My own spirituality has definitely shaped my career so far, both personal and professional, and I hope that many others experience that same success in their lives.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Jeff Bezos, hands down. What’s interesting about people like him — the Steve Jobs of the world — is that you can’t imagine them being anything or anyone else. They become this character associated with not just the companies they’ve built, but the movement they’ve created. Jeff’s journey as the CEO of Amazon has been unrelenting and I wish to know what keeps him going after all these years. He continues to tenaciously achieve unbelievable accomplishments. There is a timeless element to their pursuit and I’d love to pick his brain as to how he balances it all.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.

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