Is business a calling? Most of us are familiar with people being called by God to become ministers, priests, or into some other vocational ministry. But does God call some people to a career in business? Top Silicon Valley Venture capitalist, Promod Haque, believes God called him to a career in business, but only after he first felt called to vocational ministry.
The year was 1986. Haque was CEO of a start-up company in Minnesota. Three and a half years into his work, the company was struggling. While Haque was re-considering his career decisions, he became aware of the seeker church movement led by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church, a mega church located in suburban Chicago. As a marketing guy, Haque sensed that God might be calling him into vocational ministry as a church planter. He enrolled at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul in their part time M.Div. program while continuing as CEO.
All went well at the seminary until he enrolled in a class on spiritual gifts. As part of that class, he took a test to assess his strengths. The professor of the class called Haque into his office to go over the test results. Much to Haque’s surprise, the professor told Haque, “You have no pastoral gifts. You are a business guy and are in the wrong place.” Haque comments, “It was a blow to hear that. I was depressed and confused. I thought this is what God wanted me to do.”
Haque admits he went through a tough couple of months asking God, “What do you want me to do?” He sold his company to a larger company and started looking for jobs and found a position in venture capital with Norwest Venture Partners in Silicon Valley. It was the right fit.
Norwest Venture Partners
Haque worked his way up at Norwest to become a senior managing partner. In his 24 years with the firm, Haque has invested in over 60 companies, producing more than $40 billion in exit value to date. More than 20 companies have gone public, and many others have been acquired. In 2014, Forbes Magazine recognized Haque as a “Hall of Fame” investor. He has appeared on Forbes’s annual Midas List of top venture capitalists 10 times, including in 2004 when he was ranked as the “number one” venture capitalist. Reflecting on his career, Haque, who is now in his 60s remarks, “God helped and has blessed me in my career. I think that the professor at Bethel was led by the Lord to get the right message to me.”
His Christian Faith
Faith is central to Haque’s life. He views God as is “his CEO” in his business and in his life. He remarks,
I live by His rules and standards which are absolute. And I take issues like justice, ethics, honesty, and integrity seriously. I work at my job as I am working for Him, not for men. And I fear Him, as that is the beginning of wisdom.
Haque became a follower of Christ at the age of 18 while in engineering school in India. He grew up in what he calls “a nominal Christian family.” But at a Youth for Christ meeting, God got his attention. A pastor challenged him to have a personal relationship with Christ. “I was convicted of my sins and recognized my need to have a savior who would forgive my sins,” says Haque. This led Haque to investigate the evidence for faith to strengthen his commitment. He not only read the Bible, but also read history, including Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. “The fact that Jesus’s disciples were martyred for what they witnessed and believed was very convincing to me,” says Haque.
Faith Leads to Action
Faith to Haque is more than having a relationship with Christ. Looking back, Haque sees that God wanted him in the business and venture capital world. “But God also wanted me to serve Him and to be a good steward of what he has given me,” remarks Haque. “One of the things the Lord impressed on me was that the wealth I receive is not for me to live a flamboyant lifestyle. He has a claim on it and wants me to give it away for ministry. That is what I am called to do.”
Haque does not promote his generosity, but when pressed admits that he gives to many causes, including local and foreign charities engaged in discipleship, evangelism, and social justice. Haque’s wife was brought up in a missionary family which served in Africa. “She has interests in Africa. I have interests in India and China,” says Haque. “We give to causes in those areas and give locally.”
Haque is active in his church in Los Gatos and serves on the board of Biola University. Other charities he supports include: Opportunity International, which is focused on helping the poor; and the International Justice Mission, a U.S.-based non-profit organization helping abused people around the world.
Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs
Haque has looked at numerous business plans, met many entrepreneurs, and sits on the boards of several companies. I asked Haque what advice he would give to someone who wants to start a business. Although businesses and individuals are different, he emphasized these points:
- Do you have domain experience? — “Although there are exceptions, when we invest, we want to make sure the entrepreneur has relevant experience in the domain in which they plan to operate.”
- Is the product differentiated? — “We invest in companies engaged in domains in which it is difficult for someone to do a ‘me too’ product. We avoid companies and domains in which there are other ‘me too’ companies already operating. Chances are that only two or three companies will succeed in a domain. Others will fail.”
- Is there a team with complementary talent? — “It is very difficult for one person to do everything. A marketing person teamed with a product person makes a good team. The product person knows how to build the product and the marketing person has the relationships and the talent to talk to perspective customers.”
- Are you collaborative? – “We want to make sure that the entrepreneur is somewhat collaborative and open to suggestions. If the entrepreneur is not open to suggestions or too highly opinionated, he could be difficult to influence, and chances are he won’t be able to work with anyone else.”
Perspective on Faith in Silicon Valley
Haque is part of the leadership team of a group called “Transforming the Bay with Christ” or TBC. TBC has drawn together leading pastors, business leaders, venture capitalists, and non-profit leaders in an effort to serve the social needs in the community, such as homelessness, drug-use, and poverty, and to help foster the planting of new churches and the relevance of the Christian faith in the area.
Although the Bay Area is one of the most unchurched areas in the country and has one of the lowest rates of philanthropy, Haque is optimistic.
I see God working in San Francisco in particular. The city’s being transformed economically and there is an interesting growth of churches in the city. There is a tremendous need for people to come to know Jesus as their savior and have richer lives than the materialistic, consumer-driven life so many have today. I have great hope for what is happening and see much opportunity for the Gospel to move in a very interesting way in the Bay Area.