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My Co-Founder, the Skittle

Increasing the potential something good will happen.

I am the co-founder of a 38-person New York City software company called Postlight. The other co-founder, Rich Ziade, was born in Lebanon. In the mid-1970s, when Rich was four years old and when Lebanon’s bloody civil war was expanding, his grandfather put the entire Ziade family on a plane (all 15 of them), sent them to America with no money, and told them to figure it out when they arrived. More than 30 years have passed. Judging by the size and scope of their barbecue parties, they did figure it out.

Rich and I became friends about five years ago. We did some work together. He sold a company, then wanted to start another. The Lebanese celebrate friendship in two ways: By ordering lots of appetizers, and by going into business together. At a certain point you run out of appetizers. Starting Postlight was the next step.

After thousands of hours of working side-by-side, I know Rich’s life story well — the first twenty years in America were very tough for him and his family. He got through law school, fell in love with technology, and through constant hustle built his first successful small business.

I also know Rich’s family. They are scattered through Brooklyn and Lebanon. His mom calls his cell phone ten or fifteen times per day. The number of cousins is effectively infinite.

A local business in Brooklyn, owned by Rich’s uncle

Put aside the idea that a few bad Skittles justify banning entire classes of immigrants. That’s racist nonsense. Don’t flatter that argument by countering it with statistics. Consider: When you let people in, yes, you increase the likelihood that something bad will happen. You also increase the potential that something good could happen. If you want to make America greater, if you are at all hopeful about this country, you need to increase that potential.

It took some years for the optimistic investment America made in the Ziade family to pay off, but Rich and his family — startup owners, real estate investors, and deli managers — have generated hundreds of jobs over the last few decades.

We have a simple no-politics rule at our company — say what you want on social media, or at home, but leave it there — and in general we stick to it. In this case, there is a direct line between a relatively liberal immigration policy in the 1970s and the salaries of everyone at the company. Without that immigration policy there would be no Postlight, no offices on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, no paychecks and health insurance, and no huge tax bills to pay (grudgingly, but with respect) into the federal, state, and city governments. We just…wouldn’t exist. I could not have built this on my own.

The Reagan Administration cut off Lebanese immigration in the 1980s, after a TWA plane was hijacked and landed in Beirut. As a result you still can’t get a direct flight to Beirut from the United States. Another result is that a whole class of possibilities were cut off in America. Many presumably dangerous Lebanese people instead emigrated to Canada. Thirty, forty years later, Canada seems fine.

Countries are like families, companies are like families, and families are like families. When you tweet out a picture of Skittles with a smirk on your face you tell me that, no matter what else you say, you’re against entrepreneurship, optimism, and opportunity. And you’re against any family but your own.

Story published on Sep 21, 2016.