[REVEALED] Fresh From Launching At This Years (San Francisco) Tech Crunch “Disrupt” Event, Acopio’s Iranian Co-founder and CEO Arash Jalali Returns From Start Up Alley To Download His Entrepreneurial Vision Into Our Heads. Expect stories of making social impact, disrupting hierarchical centers of industrial power and on how to create a category defining company within an increasingly noisy environment.
What is your start up Acopio?
Arash Jalali (A.J): Acopio is a geographical professional platform and tool for professionals to interact, network and collaborate with each other based on location. We pull up your LinkedIn account and based on the data that we get from your account we recommend the right professionals to you based on your location. At the same time we have a collaboration area on the platform so professionals can collaborate and share their ideas with other professionals.
There are already networks helping you connect to people that you already know but Acopio is helping to connect you to the people that you do not already know. Is that correct?
A.J: Exactly. We focus on open networks. We know LinkedIn is a great platform for professionals but as entrepreneurs we are always trying to improve the other products that are out there. We thought LinkedIn had a couple of problems in that it is a closed network and you have to know someone and connect with that person first but for us we want to push and address you towards the way you connect with those people that you don’t already know and therefore expand your network. That’s the beauty of our platform!
If we want to give some more statistics, we have 100 million professionals across the United States but also annually we have 25 million people who are losing their jobs so we are focusing on this too. People that are losing their jobs won’t be disappointed because they will have a network to rely on. So any problems that they have, they can use their network to easily change or improve their career. We want to just give great tools to everyone to use.
I think entrepreneurship is all about the process Arash Jalali – Acopio
What is your vision of the future for Acopio and what is the direction you are hedging for?
A.J: First of all it is to reshape the way professionals expand their networks and also the way that they can accelerate their career paths. The next product which we are actually launching is our video CV (resume) product which is a revolutionary product which replaces the CV and makes people represent themselves. In the future, professionals will have to connect with individuals in both offline and online environments. We are going to launch the video CV to eliminate the current CV in the world because we believe that the current CV is simply copy and paste.
At the same time we are using Artificial intelligence to understand your feelings to gauge what your confidence level is to give the right recommendation and make the right introductions to every professional. The artificial intelligence, is for example when you upload your video we want to understand how you are feeling and what your confidence is like at the time when you are presenting your self. So this can help a lot of recruiting companies identify and understand the professional clearer and to recruit the right candidate. This is our main goal and vision.
How was your launch at Tech Crunch’s ‘Disrupt’ Start Up Alley?
A.J: The media is very powerful as I figured out after my Tech Crunch interview. San Francisco gives you the chance to expand yourself and promote yourself with this type of media. You don’t have this chance anywhere else in the world. Tech Crunch was great exposure for us. 24 hours after Tech Crunch we acquired 10’000 new users! After the event we had a PR campaign and via Venture Beat and The Huffington Post we got some further exposure. Next we are expanding ourselves globally, so in the next couple of weeks we are going to focus on Asia, Korea and Japan and in parallel have an event in San Francisco and New York.
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What are the benefits of launching at a start up event like Tech Crunch Disrupt?
A.J: When you get into Disrupt it all depends on you. Different people have different experiences. Some great, some not. I think that there are around a hundred start ups participating that are wealthy and have a good idea, so you know that straight away you are competing in a major league! So that’s the first good thing. You are getting surrounded by very cool and smart people and great entrepreneurs, and investors and media alike. So it depends on you and if you can grab this great opportunity or not. For me it was really, really great. I definitely suggest and recommend for start ups to launch their start ups at such an event. Not necessarily Tech Crunch Disrupt. If they can find a good event close to their launch date it can be really good exposure for them. You should be wealthy enough to pay for the expenses of you and your team though. I would say at Disrupt 98/99% of companies who participated there already had an investor. The average company had $500K funding. So for very, very early stage start ups it might not be a good idea but for someone who has already raised funds, it is a good place to be.
I am always thinking that as an entrepreneur you have a responsibility to improve something in your life. If you see something that doesn’t work, you should improve it.
Would you say your entrepreneurial motivations have changed since you first started or were they always the same?
A.J: Definitely. One day I went to a speech by Jack Dorsey (co founder of Twitter) and he said entrepreneurship and having a start-up is progressing along in a way that you never stay in the same stage. You must always be progressing and always improving. The most important thing is transferring yourself from an entrepreneur to a company and a start up! After we shaped ourselves as a company a lot of things changed. The way we made progress and were motivated were absolutely different. The thing is that behind every iconic company is an iconic team member. One of the things that makes a great impact on you as an entrepreneur are your team members. Whether it’s by their ideas or something else which motivates you to make something very special with them. In the beginning it is only you and your co-founder who are working on something and you don’t have employees. But after a while things will be reshaped and you will become a company.
Behind every iconic company is an iconic team member. Arash Jalali – Acopio
Start Ups are like one big experiment. Agree or disagree?
A.J: Yes. The problem is that a lot of entrepreneurs or start ups do something but because they have already done it a certain way, now they are not going to change it because they want to insist on that they have done is correct. But you should be very open and if you think you made some mistakes you have to go back and correct it! So we were very open with our product and went and revised it with something way better!
Elon Musk has said, “Being an entrepreneur is like chewing on broken glass and staring into the abyss”. What sort of entrepreneurial hacks have you developed to stay focused and productive in your day-to-day to not lose focus and motivation?
A.J: Progressing well is a short cut. One of the shortcuts I used from the start is to grab good team members and have a great team. It was a kind of shortcut for me, everyday getting to talk with a lot of talented people. Everyday we had a checklist, and would say, “Hey, we have to do this, this, this…” and after that we were getting an evaluation of our selves, on a weekly basis. So it was a very good thing for us, for our company, to progress very well.
What is the one thing that you believe to be true that no one else or very few other people believe to be true?
A.J: One of things I believe and a lot of people don’t is I am never afraid to compete with the big companies even in Silicon Valley. From the very early days even the venture capitalists and investors discouraged us of this and said there are big boys in the valley. One of the unique things that we believe in terms of our thinking is our vision that we can be a game changer! And we don’t sell ourselves cheap. Few people in Silicon Valley have this. If someone says ‘Don’t compete with them’ they won’t and even when we had the chance to do just that, we didn’t. One investor in the very early days asked “do you know what LinkedIn stands for in the valley? Something really big and great!” I told him the difference between Silicon Valley and any other location in the world is that in the valley you can’t ever predict who is going to the next Google or Facebook. There is always an exception. No one knew Instagram or WhatsApp would be coming. None of these big companies and big boys would expect that these companies would come and compete with them. I am never afraid of these kinds of things. We are going to compete with them, but act smartly.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in this industry?
I think the most important lesson I have seen in this field is a lot of people are not passionate enough and patient. You need both otherwise you can not be successful. Arash Jalali – Acopio
A.J: I think the most important lesson I have seen in this field is a lot of people are not passionate enough and patient. You need both otherwise you can not be successful. Along the way I have seen thousands of entrepreneurs who have come through this way but they gave up for a lot of reasons but mostly they gave up for a lack of passion or for making money. I think the people who are successful stood by their work and their projects and you should work very hard. Otherwise you can not be successful. People come along the way who will tell you, you are not going to be successful, but I think anyone can be successful in this industry if they have patience.
What are the potential mega trends coming in the future in your industry?
A.J: I think there are two things now that are going to be trends. One of the them is artificial intelligence. I think our lives are going towards a way that the technology and apps that we use are trying to understand our feelings and want to ‘talk’ with us. So I think in the future we will have a lot of systems and technology with A.I. Secondly one of things that I have seen on social platforms is that people want to capture their lives in the moment and want to share it. I think things like Apple Watch and Google Glass will improve and be one of the very great trends next year.
Name 3 of the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
A.J: The first one which really hurt me was my team members actually. It was really difficult for me. The first team that we tried to have, I had a couple of problems. I advise every start up to be very careful about the team members that they are grabbing for themselves. The second challenge that every entrepreneur is going to face is when talking with investors. Investors think they are in a better position and they think they understand everything better than you. So sometimes they will discredit you, discredit your idea, discredit your job. It is a challenge but you should never get disappointed about it. Everyone has a different vision about your product. And the third one would be regarding how we were going to promote ourselves the right way. One of the challenges that every start up will face is to structure your company. If you have a good company you can do whatever you want. Having a good company if more important than having a good project. So they are the challenges.
I think management was one of the most revolutionary things in the world. Because if you can not manage you can not be successful.
How would subordinates you have had describe your approaches to developing them?
A.J: I think one of the things I try is to give vision to my team members. I am not going to limit them. I give space to my team members to be great by themselves. I think this is what all good leaders should do. You should give a clear vision about your company and then create space to give them their own creativity.
What is the trade off between money and opportunity to motivate early employees?
A.J: When you are in San Francisco the most difficult thing is recruiting team members. Over the last six months, one of the jobs I had was interviewing more than five people every day. I am always looking to drag talent into my company. To be honest if you want to be a top Silicon Valley company it is hard to get talent because Google and Facebook are right next to you and are offering everything to employees for free. Free rides, free food plus salary. But you only need one thing to drag the right talent from Stanford, Harvard, MIT et cetera and that is you should have a charismatic character as a leader! If you have it, your team members and employees will follow you. Otherwise you can not win in that market. We give them our vision and they see the clear vision of the company. We are very good negotiators.
What should the mindset of a successful entrepreneur be?
A.J: To be creating and setting up a great product and a great company. One day I remember I was talking to someone at an accelerator and he said right now you’re a founder with two employees, but could you be a founder or manager with two thousand employees? So you should be ready for that. I think Mark Zuckerberg has this. It is not that he is super smart. It is because he can manage two thousand people right now. I think management was one of the most revolutionary things in the world. Because if you can not manage you can not be successful. After you make your product and you have employees you can into details like branding and marketing. But you must be able to manage your team first.
The Iranian market is considered the last ‘untapped’ emerging market. What is missing in your opinion?
A.J: I think Iran has great resources. They have great talent but what is missing is a lack of management to put all of these resources and talent together and create something great. That is the most important thing that is missing over there. I would say actually we have a lot of users from Iran. We found Iranians use social networks a lot more so than European countries, amongst the youth, which is astonishing. Actually the last time I was at Berkeley University the Bridge 2014 event for Iranian entrepreneurs was going on.
What would you invest in, in Iran?
A.J: I would invest in the tech industry. I think right now it has a lot of potential. I have seen Tech Crunch have released some news about Digikala which I think has great potential. The biggest problem that I personally face in the Iranian market is the banking transactions which we can not do very well but I hope it will be solved very soon and I think if it is solved, a lot of things will be accelerated for the future. So this is something a lot of investors can invest in right now.
If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best Iranian in the world at?
A.J: A lot of people say my management skills to be honest. I can at least manage my team very well.
Quick Fire Round:
What do you think are the most important attributes of successful people?
A.J: I think the need to be highly motivated. Self-motivated and that they never give up.
Who have been your major career influencers and why?
A.J: In each stage of my life I had a different hero. But first of all definitely my dad was one of my influencers. And then really Elon Musk.. I always appreciated and admired him.
What makes you love coming to work everyday?
A.J: Actually, I think to change the world.
What maxims or mantra’s do you live by?
A.J: Every day I wake up and I try to improve things by solving the problems. This is our motto. To improve things. I am always thinking that as an entrepreneur you have a responsibility to improve something in your life. If you see something that doesn’t work, you should improve it.
What book do you think everyone on the team should read?
A.J: I love the book The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products, which is actually the biography of Jony Ive from Apple.
How would you like to be remembered in the future? When I “tell” people about how I met you, how would you like to be remembered?
A.J: I think I would love to be remembered forever first of all and leave a foot print. I think the best thing about entrepreneurs is they want to evolve along the way and not stay at the first stage. If today I make Acopio, tomorrow definitely I am going to make something bigger and the day after something bigger and bigger. I think all great entrepreneurs have done this Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg… So definitely something that will make me have a foot print forever..
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