#34 PayPal's Head of Global Public Policy, Usman Ahmed
On joining PayPal post-spinoff and the future of fintech
📣 NYC event with Indian Matchmaking’s Aparna Shewakramani
TO our NYC-based readers and listeners, we are thrilled to announce our inaugural in-person event with Indian Matchmaking's breakout star, Aparna Shewakramani. I will be hosting a ~live~ podcast with Aparna to discuss her highly-anticipated book, She's Unlikeable on Wednesday, March 23 @ 6:30 PM.
Hot of the Pod🎙️ Head of Global Public Policy and Research, PayPal
Season 4 continues with Usman Ahmed, Head of Global Public Policy and Research at PayPal!
Usman began his career in public service at non-profits focused on voting rights and good governance. Eventually, he decided to pursue his law degree at the University of Michigan. While there, he pursued a legal fellowship at eBay, quickly ascending to the role of Policy Counsel just a few years after graduating.
In 2015, after PayPal was spun off of eBay, he decided to joined the newly-separated company as Head of Global Public Policy and Research — his current role. In addition to his work in the tech sphere, Usman teaches international and fintech law as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown. He is also Millennium Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project. His work has been widely published in the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, MIT Press Innovations Journal, and other prestigious journals. Beyond his J.D., Usman holds an M.A. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a B.A. from the University of Maryland.
Excerpts from the episode below:
No surprise: Indian Matchmaking isn’t just a show. It’s real life. And BanyanWay founder Aparna Basker sees the magic in these matchmaking practices.
A few years ago, she realized that Indian immigrants to the US often struggled with finding partners because they expected to rely on their loved ones and communities like people did back in India. So she launched BanyanWay — fusing elements of traditional and modern matchmaking practices to help people meet their match.
Learn more about their services and upcoming events for singles.
What influenced you to pursue law?
Digging back in my family history, I found out that my grandfather — who passed away before I was born — was actually a judge in India, in a very small village in Varanasi. I didn't know that until after I went to law school, but I wonder if there's some thread there. That's on my dad's side. On my mom's side, nobody was a lawyer, but there were a lot of people who were involved in policy or politics in the subcontinent. So there is some history there.
It might have been just been watching Law and Order when I was a kid, I'm not entirely sure. I'll just share that I thought law school was policy school — and I knew I loved policy. I grew up in D.C. My parents immigrated in the 60s, so they were relatively recent immigrants and my mom in particular was just like, ‘We're here, we're Americans, we're going to engage.’ We would go march on the Capitol. The one I distinctly remember was during the war in the Caucuses in Bosnia in the early 90s. I remember marching on that issue. And so it was just this spirit of: ‘We’re American, we’re going to engage with our environment.’ And they did the same back home. My dad was an engineer and my mom ran a small babysitting business, but they believed in the American vision of civic engagement. That's probably the main thing that drove me down this path.
In 2015, PayPal is actually spun off of eBay — where you were working as Policy Counsel. You opted to pursue a role with PayPal as Head of Global Public Policy and Research — was it always the plan to join this new venture?
When PayPal decided to spin off from eBay, they were becoming two independent companies. And when corporations split, it's almost like a fantasy draft. Players get selected from within existing companies to go to each side. I actually got drafted to eBay. But regardless of which side I was ending up on, I was looking at the landscape and exploring all sorts of opportunities.
I was really blessed and lucky. On his first day, Franz Paasche, the new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at PayPal interviewed me and said, ‘Hey, would you want to come over and lead our policy shop?’ And that was cool because that was my boss's job at eBay. So that was exciting.
I really appreciate that you framed it as a new venture because it was a 17-year-old company at that time, but it felt like a startup. And it was the world's biggest startup — it was 15,000 people, but we had no processes. We had an independent brand amongst consumers. But amongst the corporate stakeholders, we did not. It was always just a part of eBay, at least for the last 14 years, and the company was only public for a year in 2001 before it got bought up. It felt like we had the momentum and the creativity of a startup because we were starting from scratch and asking questions like: What is the mission of this company? What are the values this company wants to base itself off of? What is our approach, when we think about government, public, and nonprofit sectors? That was all fascinating and fun to create. When I came into eBay in 2010, I think it was the biggest tech company. Google took over obviously, quickly, but it was a big company. And it was a big team. And then to move to a place where it was a big company in the amount of people but there were no processes and no restrictions on what you could do and what you could create — it's pretty incredible what the leadership team, in particular, has created since that time.