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Entrepreneurship

How I Immigrated from Africa to the U.S and Got a 100k+ Job in Tech

I’ve recently been interviewed by a Los Angeles based online publication called Voyage LA.

In the interview, I talk about my origins and how I immigrated from Libya to Europe and then to the United States.

I also talk about my journey building things online and how I ended up working in tech in the US.

The full interview is below. I hope you find it useful or inspiring and if you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to email me or post a comment below!


Today we’d like to introduce you to Adam Bader.

Adam, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a Product Manager and Entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience building digital products on the internet.

I was born and raised in Libya, North Africa. When I was 15, I started building websites around my passions and I monetized them with Google Ads, subscriptions, and sponsorships.

The first website I ever built was called satmoz, a community forum for people interested in satellite TV and pay-per-view channels. I grew Satmoz to over 80,000 registered members and more than 2 million uniques. I sold it in 2008 to a company in the UK.

The second website I started was called Realmadrid Talk, a blog about Real Madrid soccer club. I wanted to be a soccer journalist and blogging was popular back then. Realmadrid Talk quickly became the most popular Real Madrid blog online and consistently ranked #3 on Google after Real Madrid and their Wikipedia Page.

The blog opened a lot of doors for me. In 2009, Real Madrid invited me to visit them in Madrid. I was able to tour the stadium and their offices and they gave me a shirt with my name and the number “1” on it. It was one of the happiest moments of life because I was a huge Real Madrid fan.

It turned out that they were reading my blog and following me on Twitter. And because of my unique skill set of being multilingual (I speak English, Italian, Arabic, and Spanish) and having a lot of experience building products and communities online, they asked me if I would manage their social media presence as a contractor in 2009.

I obviously said yes, but that also meant that I can no longer blog about the club due to conflict of interest. Eventually, I sold the blog to OleOle.com which was a Los Angeles based Startup building a social network for soccer fans. The acquisition gave me enough cash to not have to work for a few years and allowed me to move to Spain.

In 2010, I moved to Spain on a student visa since working as a contractor for Real Madrid didn’t qualify me for a work visa or a residency card. By the end of the year, my visa expired and I had to return to Libya to renew the visa.

I was unlucky because as soon as I arrived in Libya, the civil war started. I was essentially stuck in Libya during a brutal civil war with no hope of getting back to Spain and fighting for a chance to get a long-term contract and a work visa.

But because of my hard work and the results I achieved as a contractor for the club, they decided to offer me a long-term contract and a work visa. They asked me to find a way to travel to Egypt and the Spanish Embassy would take care of me then.

And that’s what happened. Through my connections and a few favors, I managed to leave the country to Cairo. Once I was there, the Spanish Embassy granted me a work visa in 21 days which is basically unheard of.

Not only did Real Madrid give me my dream job, but they also helped me fullfill my childhood dream of immigrating to Europe. And they did it when my country was going through a civil war. I have no idea what would have happened if I remained in Libya during the war.

During the five years I spent at Real Madrid (2010-2015), I helped the club grow their online fan base to more than 200 million fans, rebuild their website, and create a sustainable online business. Our YouTube channel became the first-ever sports channel to exceed 100k subscribers (that was a lot back then) and now has millions of more subscribers. We were also early adopters of Instagram where we now have millions and millions of engaged fans.

My job at Real Madrid was my first ever ‘real’ job following a few years of building things on my own. It taught me how to effectively work with others, how to collaborate, solve problems, and innovate at a much bigger scale than what I was used to. Most importantly, it gave me everything I needed to move on to my next opportunity.

Towards the end of 2014, I decided that I wanted to move to the US and pursue even bigger dreams. I wanted to be where technology and the internet was being invented and so I left my job and spent 2015 traveling back and forth to the US looking for interesting opportunities and companies who were willing to sponsor me for a US work visa.

Luckily, Kay Murray, a former colleague of mine and one of my best friends at Realmadrid TV, moved to Miami to work for beIN SPORTS. Kay introduced me to the company and they asked me if I were interested in moving and working for them. They’d also happily sponsor me for a visa, so I immediately said yes!

After a few months of paperwork, I was granted an O1 work visa (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) and I moved to Miami in April of 2016. That was another achievement and a dream come true for me.

At beIN, I was a Product Manager focused on building and improving their streaming platform in North America. I also worked on beINSPORTS.com and all of the publishing/video needs that company had. I learned a lot about the streaming space and I was convinced that product management is a great field for me since I like to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. As a PM, you get to combine your technical skills with marketing, business, customer service, sales, and other skills that are required to create products people love enough to pay for,

During my time at beIN, I was more sure than ever that I wanted to remain in the US but not in Miami. While it’s a great city to live, I was still away from the action and that is California — Los Angeles in particular.

I had visited LA a couple of times while searching for a place to move to. I knew I wanted to end up in LA because my long-term goal in life is to build a space technology company that help us become a multi-planetary species. LA has a lot of history in aerospace and is currently home to companies such as SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Relativity, Virgin Galactic and many others. Additionally, LA is home to the major streaming giants such as HBO, Disney, Netflix, Discovery, and others. Also, the weather isn’t bad!

In order to make the move, I had to control my destiny. An O1 visa is unique but I wasn’t allowed to work for other companies so I spent a big chunk of my savings to sponsor myself for an EB1 Green Card (of the same category: Alien of Extraordinary Ability). So I asked my lawyer to do whatever it takes to make it happen since Trump’s ban on Libyan citizens that took effect in 2017 would prevent me from staying in the US.

Despite Trump’s ban, I received my Green Card in May 2018 and I quickly started planning my move to LA. I interviewed at a few companies and I decided to accept an offer from MotorTrend which is owned by Discovery, inc.

I joined the company January 2019 as a Senior Product Manager. At MotorTrend, I worked on growing their subscription streaming service which is geared towards car fanatics. It’s a fantastic platform for those who love Roadkill, Top Gear, and MotorTrend’s incredible catalog of car content.

When the pandemic started, I moved to another Discovery team to work on a new product that hasn’t been announced yet. Discovery has the world’s biggest and best unscripted content library and it’s so exciting for me to work on incredible brands such as Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Food Network, TLC, and many more.

The pandemic has left me with a feeling of immense gratitude to be able to live and work in the US. I grew up dreaming about being an immigrant, achieving great things, and I’m finally doing that. I don’t take anything for granted so I wake up every day with immense motivation to work harder but also a lot more gratitude for being where I am and having what I have.

In the next few years, I would like to start my own companies and go back to my roots. I’ll still be monetizing my passions because that’s what made me successful early on. A lot of people chase business ideas that seem to have a lot of financial upside, but they are usually not passionate about them. For me, I optimize for happiness and well-being first and that is working on things that I’m interested in that can also be great businesses.

My immediate priority is to grow my personal brand at adambader.com as well as release a digital course to teach anyone to become a Product Manager the way I did it — by taking a very unconventional path.

Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest struggles I’ve faced are the following:

– Being born and growing up in a small country without proper internet or banking infrastructure to start businesses. Libya was ruled by Gadaffi, a dictator who was in power for the majority of my life (and 42 years of his life). I started my online business in Libya with a dial-up connection, using credit cards and bank accounts of friends and relatives abroad.

– Having to get a visa to live and work in the US and Europe. Libyans have a hard time getting visas and Green Cards everywhere in the world. This limited my potential since I had to find companies who would sponsor me and they weren’t many. Luckily, my dream company did say yes (Real Madrid) and now I’m two years away of becoming an American Citizen. When that happens, I’ll be free for the first time in my life. I’ll be able to book a flight ticket online, show up at the airport, and fly everywhere I want!

– I never had a safety net. My family isn’t rich and I had to work when I was 15. It’s challenging but I wouldn’t trade that for anything else. Not having someone to ask for help means that I always need to take care of myself and that pushes me to work harder.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m currently working as a Senior Product Manager at Discovery. We are one of the biggest broadcast media companies in the world and famous for our flagship TV brands including Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Eurosport, MotorTrend, and many more. Discovery also produces amazing shows such as Shark Week, 90 Day Fiancee, and Naked and Afraid.

Early on in my career, I was known as the ‘Real Madrid guy’ because of my blog and then my five years working at the club. Now, I’m a lot less unknown online since I got busy working in the corporate world and stopped writing and sharing online. I’m working on changing that by writing and tweeting more, as well as doing more interviews like this one (thanks for that by the way!).

What sets me apart from others? I’m not sure, but I think what is unique about my is that I never wanted to become the expert in one area. I’ve always wanted to be the jack of all trades and the master of none. I admire and read a lot about people like Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk who have done a lot of things in different industries. I think life is more interesting this way. You don’t have to choose to be one thing or do one thing. You can be an engineer who can also design and market. I think if you can build things and sell them, then you’ll be unstoppable. I try to be that way.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Los Angeles is my most favorite place on earth. I love the diversity, the talent, the history, and the ambition of its people. LA is also a jack of all trades in a sense — it has beaches, mountains, lakes, rivers, and hills. It has many industries: aerospace, tech, movies, art, music, fashion… etc. – it’s the center of the universe.

What do I like the least? It needs to be a lot more affordable to maintain its diversity. The housing costs in LA are insane. They don’t make financial sense. A lot of people will have to move away to have a better quality of life and that saddens me.

Obviously, the other negative thing about LA is the traffic. But I designed my life in a way that this is not a problem for me 90% of the time. Pre-COVID, my commute was 15 minutes away. Now it’s a minute away (from my bedroom to the living room!).

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By Adam Bader

Adam Bader is a product manager, entrepreneur, and technologist. He is currently a Senior Product Manager at Discovery, inc.

Previously, Adam built products at beIN SPORTS, Real Madrid, generation Adidas, and other companies.