Sheel Tyle is a first-generation American whose parents came to the United States from India. He is now CEO of venture capital firm Amplo. Tyle has written extensively as a proponent for open immigration to the United States and its many benefits.
Nate Lozier: Hi Sheel, appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.
Sheel Tyle: Of course! This is an issue close to my heart.
NL: So let's jump right in. We often talk about how every immigrant experience is unique but they also face a lot of the same challenges and obstacles. Tell us about your experience.
ST: My parents came to this country from India. My mom was from Madhya Pradesh and my Dad was from Uttar Pradesh. They had what I would classify as a classic immigrant story. My Dad applied to graduate schools in the US that did not have an application fee because that's what he could afford: free. My mom went to Washington University in St. Louis and worked her way through grad school by working cafeteria jobs. That's sort of where my parents come from. It was classically nothing but ambitiously everything.
I was born in San Diego and we moved around a lot as a kid. My parents tried to instill the best of their values from India: strong family values, respect for elders, and a critical focus on education. Education has the ability to lift people out of poverty and change their circumstances. My parents also coupled the “Eastern” values with the best of American values. America is innovative and ambitious, and the American dream was alive and well. They also showed us that we had been given far more than they ever had. Whenever they saved up some money, instead of going to the Caribbean or Europe, they would take us to Kenya or Brazil or India. Through those trips, they showed us we have been given so much privilege that they never had and that most people our age didn’t have. We needed to take that privilege and make the world a little bit better. Otherwise, what's the point?
NL: I think "coming from nothing and aspiring to everything" is a great term to use. There is also the question of assimilation versus a retaining of one's culture. I know you said pairing the best of Indian values with the best of America. How do you try to achieve both?
ST: Well, first of all, I think there is nothing that looks classically American. That is the beauty about this country. There is nothing to assimilate to. We are celebrated because of our differences. This is not Japan. This is not a society where there’s a national language and everybody comes from the same ethnic and racial background. Quite the contrary. What makes America beautiful is that you are just as American as anyone else. If you became a citizen yesterday and don't speak English versus if you've been here for ten generations and speak only English---you are equally American. They were very proud to share their culture with us. We grew up speaking both Hindi and English. We participated in cultural events and my mom raised us Hindu and so she would take us to the temple. In our mind, that didn't make us less American. It made us equally American as a Christian person from the South or as a Jewish person in New York. I don't think anybody is more or less assimilated, more or less American, so to speak.
NL: Specifically for entrepreneurs, I think, there's a similarity between the obstacles they overcome and what immigrants have to overcome. And today, half of Fortune 500 companies have been started either by immigrants or the children of immigrants. I don't think that's any coincidence, would you say there is some shared outlook or value that has caused this success of many immigrants?
ST: I think there is a risk tolerance in immigrants that can sometimes bleed to their children. So, if you think about my parents' story, they came from nothing. They knew nobody in this foreign place called America. And so if they or similar immigrants like them were to start a company, that's actually not the riskiest thing that they've done. The riskiest thing they've done is leave their family. And so I think that's part of what makes great entrepreneurial societies. It's that risk tolerance. And sometimes it bleeds into their children.
NL: You've written extensively about the immigration landscape and why an open immigration policy is beneficial for America. The past four years have been difficult for immigrants across the board, with heavy restrictions and travel bans even before the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think about these policies?
ST: I mean, I think it's un-American what's been going on. At the end of the day, every single person in America is an immigrant or they're the son or daughter of immigrants unless they're Native American. The people who are putting up these rules, these bans, these walls were immigrants themselves at some point. It’s hypocritical. It is also not advantageous to America long term. The whole thing is crazy. Remember former Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen? Moments after she and the Trump administration were putting children in cages at the border, she goes to a Mexican restaurant in D.C. I mean, come on. It’s just unbelievable.
NL: Yeah, how much more on the nose can you be.
ST: The whole thing is sad. I hope that this is a blip in time in our history as I am very bullish on America. I have an immense optimism that, over time, the American ideal will survive threats to its core values.