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As Ramp turns five, I want to share a little about my cofounder, Karim Atiyeh.

To give you a quick sense: at 18, Karim was taken hostage at gunpoint by a group of armed militiamen at the border with Syria, when he was trying to leave Lebanon for his college exams. Ten other people were held with him, and he was the only one who spoke fluent Arabic.

He thought fast, talked fast, convinced the gunmen he was on their side, and somehow got them to believe the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. He negotiated an escape for the entire group, and by the end, some of the militiamen even helped the group carry their suitcases across the border. This is someone who can always pull a rabbit out of a hat. 

The first memory I have of Karim was him talking to me in French. I don’t speak French and had no idea what he was saying. It was our first winter in Boston, and we both grew up in the desert — he in Beirut and myself in Las Vegas. So we had equipped ourselves with the heaviest jacket we could find: Canada Goose, which in 2009 was only worn by French people and Canadians. And Karim and me.

Turns out Karim saw my jacket, assumed I was French, and tried to bum a cigarette. The request failed but our friendship began then and there. (He still can’t handle the cold and lives in Miami now.)

When I was learning computer science, Karim helped teach me. He assistant-taught the course alongside other greats like OpenAI’s Greg Brockman and Figma’s Yuhki Yamashita. When Karim couldn’t get a visa to work in the US one summer, I helped him get a slot on Harvard’s delegation to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai; I also got myself on a local game show, and so we both went to China.

We started our first company Paribus together, and I discovered that Karim was not only a great programmer and a great friend, but exactly the kind of person you want to be in business with. When we sold the company, we allocated most of the retention package to our team, not to ourselves like the acquirer had offered. We thought it would mean more to share it even beyond what the employee ownership stakes implied. And we made a point of recognizing the many other people that had helped us.

Doing the right thing and being generous with people are why there are so many repeat team members from Paribus at Ramp, and it’s part of what makes Karim a leader people want to follow.

Five years after cofounding Ramp, and fifteen years after accosting me in French, Karim is still pulling rabbits out of hats regularly. Ramp has been called one of the top startups in America, and if that’s true, it’s because I have one of the best cofounders in America.

Karim, thank you “a bunch”!

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Co-founder & CEO, Ramp
Eric is the co-founder and CEO of Ramp. He previously co-founded Paribus, a digital tool that automates price protection and shipping guarantees at online retailers (acq. in 2016 by Capital One). Eric is an active New York-based angel investor. He graduated from Harvard with a BA in Economics and East Asian Studies, and was raised in Las Vegas.
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