Alumni Spotlight - Amit Sharan

Amit Sharan

Amit Sharan, a former marketing major at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business who earned an MBA in 2005, had always wanted his career to go into one of two directions: either creating a "cool" startup or working for an established tech company.

He's done both.

After starting his own online retail company while still in school and then taking various jobs in marketing for a decade, he's now in a dream job at a little firm you may have heard of: Facebook.

He is responsible for driving strategic initiatives that market new products and features to help Facebook's clients and partners achieve success with media products, such as Facebook Live video, 360 video, branded content and Instant Articles.

Since his graduation, Sharan has just about done it all. He's worked for global companies in both B2C and B2B industries. His résumé offers a breath-taking list: strategic planning, marketing communications, digital marketing, branding, demand generation, product marketing, public relations, and managing both sales and marketing teams.

Inhale here.

But the route he took to land at one of the most innovative and fastest-growing companies in the world is not one that you'd expect. His story isn't one about a person who submitted their resume and landed a dream job.

While attending classes at USF, he played lacrosse and found he could not get equipment or uniforms anywhere local. So he started up an online retail company selling the product to a wide variety of Florida schools, universities and club lacrosse teams.

After graduation, he landed at his first start-up thanks in part to an MBA project where he helped write a business plan for a K-12 reading software product. He then worked at Bisk Education in Tampa, which partners with universities to develop and market online degree and certificate programs. It's where he learned "a lot of my marketing chops," he said, managing marketing budgets upwards of $10 million.

"I found out what worked and what didn't," he said, "on a very large scale."

But he wasn't satisfied.

"This may sound strange, but I knew I was kind of meant for more," he said. "And online marketing and most tech innovation; it's largely happening in Silicon Valley."

Sharan recalled a talk given by a since-retired professor and MBA Program Director Steve Baumgarten, to his MBA class during orientation more than a decade ago. Something said there stuck with him.

"He said ... finish your education here and then move to the market where they will pay you what you're worth. You can always come back," Sharan said. "I took that advice to heart. That really made me take a hard look at Tampa in a way I hadn't by evaluating it as a job market. And that view certainly affected how my life has played out.

"People tend to stick with what's comfortable," he said. "It's hard to find a reason for change when you like your network, job, or city. That comfort can hold you back. If the industry you want to be in is in a different market, you should go to that market. If you're comfortable, you're not learning," he said. "If you're comfortable, you're not growing."

Applying for a job from another market, he said, can work against you.

"You're not going to get a job in California applying from Orlando," he said, "or in New York from Tampa."

There are just too many qualified applicants, he said, already living there.

"I picked up and moved," he said. "I didn't know anyone. I didn't know much about the job I was taking. It was a lot of risk."

He joined a start-up in San Francisco and shortly after found an opportunity at LiveRail, a video advertising technology company that had only a handful of employees and relatively small funding.

"I believed in online video being the future and when I met with LiveRail's founders, I told them that I wanted to be in the front row in building the company," he said. "And that's what I got."

In 2014, the company had become an industry leader and caught the interest of Facebook. Sharan led the aggressive marketing team that made the company attractive to Facebook, which reportedly paid between $400 million and $500 million.

After the merger, Sharan helped integrate the LiveRail business and held the role of head of marketing for LiveRail and Facebook Audience Network. He has since gone on to his current role as part of the Global Business Marketing team focusing on media monetization.

When Sharan headed west, he didn't really look back, though he still keeps in touch with one of his USF professors, Paul Solomon, who spearheads USF's master's program in marketing and teaches graduate capstone courses.

"And," Sharan said, "I still subscribe to the (Muma College of Business) newsletter."

Solomon remembers Sharan as a student who was deeply involved in marketing.

"He was years ahead of his time when he was in the MBA program," Solomon said. "To put it mildly, he taught me as much about digital marketing as I was able to teach him." Even back then, Solomon said, Sharan always knew the action of the digital revolution was in San Francisco.

"He finally landed with the top-of-the-heap Facebook," the marketing professor said. "I have all the confidence in the world that he will be a mover and shaker at Facebook. I am so proud of Amit, the digital marketing whiz. He is one of the gifted graduates of the Muma College of Business MBA program."

"I feel like I've gotten exactly to where I wanted to be," Sharan said. "It took a lot of hard work, sacrifice and luck."

So, is Sharan living large in the City by the Bay?

"More like living small," he chuckled. "San Francisco is the most expensive city to live in the United States."

But the trade-off is that it is the epicenter for his career and he would rather be nowhere else. He describes working at Facebook as exactly like those on the outside may think of it: surrounded by "some of the most talented, brightest and fun people" and a work environment that moves fast and focuses on impact. And while most may know the company for its social network with 1.7 billion people, the company is now a "family of apps and services" that include Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Messenger, and more.

His advice to students about to enter the workforce comes in two parts:

Whatever your dreams are, you have to be ready to shake up your life. And think long term.

"Whenever you're looking for a new job," he said, "think about how this job will get you to the next job. You've always got to think two steps ahead.

"And most importantly, get out of your comfort zone by taking risks and challenging yourself. It just might pay off big."

Facebook currently is accepting internship applications from undergraduate and graduate business students until the end of November for the 2017 program. More info can be found here.