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Ian Ranahan Of Kami Vision: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a C-Suite Executive

When you fail, take it as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself for the future.

As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Ranahan.

Ian Ranahan has more than two decades of technical and business experience in the areas of product development, finance, customer success, sales and leadership. Before joining Kami Vision, Ranahan spent nine years at Simple But Needed, Inc., building the finance and operations functions and holding the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Early in my career, I was interested in how companies operated, so I decided to start out in public accounting with KPMG. This was a wonderful experience that taught me the language of business and how different parts of an organization function and interact. After almost 4 years in public accounting, I wanted to become more involved in the strategic aspects and decision making processes of a company, so I transitioned into a Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) role with a large multinational biotech company. In FP&A, I had the opportunity to work closely with leaders of many different parts of the company, including the board of directors, and gained valuable insights into the key considerations and challenges of each group. However, it was in my role in Corporate FP&A implementing enterprise planning, business intelligence and ERP systems that I found I had a knack and true passion for implementing software to streamline processes and improve efficiency. While working on my MBA from Haas Berkeley, I befriended several classmates who had similar passions for building practical software to solve real-world problems, so I set about forming several companies and delving even deeper into product development, marketing, sales, and multiple other aspects of business. My role at Kami Vision is the culmination of 20 years of experience of understanding internal and external challenges faced by various stakeholders and helping to solve those problems with practical, efficient solutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Early on when bootstrapping a B2B SaaS business, the company was taking side gigs doing consulting while developing the core product on the side. As first time founders, this approach allowed us to test the concept and gain initial traction without needing to bring on external investors. The upside was that the skills of the founding team were in high demand so we were able to track down a good number of consulting gigs. The downside was that consulting revenue can be sporadic and relatively minor delays in payment can cause major disruptions when the company has minimal runway. To that end, we had a large client delay payment for an extended period of time. With less than 1 month runway and payroll coming up, we were sweating it out. At one point, I had the realization that I had more cash in my wallet than the company had in the bank and payroll was less than a week away. This was absolutely nerve racking. Ultimately, we were able to convince the client to pay us a few days ahead of payroll. The company is still running today almost 10 years later; however, the experience of pushing things to the absolute edge puts the day-to-day challenges faced at work in perspective.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” — Voltaire

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith was a fairly eye opening read. The book focuses on common mistakes that leaders make and provides suggestions on how to avoid them. There were multiple practical ideas around dealing with people that I gleaned from the book, but more than anything, reading the book and looking for patterns in the workplace caused me to re-think career growth and interactions with colleagues.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Kami Vision is the biggest vision AI company that you have never heard of before. After learning about the company I was shocked at the lack of press Kami has received as the software is powering more than 15MM devices worldwide. The company stands out for the high quality team that has been assembled and the huge goal of democratizing vision AI that we are pursuing. In less than 6 months, our team has been able to ideate, build, and launch a game-changing solution in the elder care space called KamiCare, which is able to detect when someone falls and send an alert to caregivers. This combined ability to tackle big problems impacting millions of people worldwide in an incredibly short amount of time is amazing.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Bring a learning mindset with you every day to work. Every person’s career path is different so focusing on learning is the best way to build the breadth of experience that is required to rise to a leadership role. Also, understand that for most people, there are many failures on the path to success. When you fail, take it as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself for the future. Finally, if you aspire to a leadership position, seek out opportunities to take on key projects and collaborate with other teams. Corporations are ultimately run by people, so going above and beyond is the surest way to get noticed and promoted.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

By nature, when I am learning something new at work, I tend to spend time researching the task and determining an optimal approach. Early in my career, I had a manager instruct me to blindly update some spreadsheets without understanding their purposes or how they were built. The advice was meant to increase my productivity in the short term since reviewing the sheets would take extra time. I tried following this advice; however, I found this approach led to multiple negative outcomes since I was not able to explain what I was doing, perform a sanity check on the data, or add any real value to the process. I ultimately ignored this manager’s advice, reverse engineered the spreadsheets, and researched the issues at hand which allowed me to discover and fix multiple errors, become a subject matter expert, and contribute to strategic conversations that were happening with the C-Suite.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Resilience, persistence, and curiosity are the three traits that were most instrumental to my success. At one point, I was simultaneously juggling a full-time job, a start-up, training for a nationally competitive ultimate frisbee team, a part-time masters program, and (sometimes) a social life. Curiosity drove me to pursue so many simultaneous interests, persistence helped me to follow through in spite of minimal sleep, and resilience allowed me to overcome the many challenges that cropped up in each area. While I was highly overbooked during this particular time of my life, I would say that those 3 traits have consistently driven me to set and achieve ambitious goals over the course of my career.

In just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?

At the C-Level, a lot of the responsibility is on setting strategy, overseeing key initiatives, and managing teams. Compared to more junior roles, there is less focus on direct output and more focus on making sure that an environment is being created where everyone else can be successful.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth is that executives have everything figured out. While most executives are very experienced, there is always an opportunity to grow and improve. I have found that most executives are highly intellectually curious and it is this trait which has led them to amass the skills and knowledge necessary to attain a leadership position.

What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?

C-Suite leaders tend to be high performers who have a preference for action and demand results. This can lead to leaders either not listening to employee input or creating an environment where employees are not comfortable providing feedback and ideas.

There are a few things that leaders can do to mitigate this tendency:

  1. Understand employees have different communication styles | When leaders are conscious of the communication preference of their employees, they are able to make a deliberate effort to tailor communication methods to make more employees productive
  2. Use active listening and ask questions | There is a tendency for those in the c-suite to jump ahead and assume they know the answer to questions. What I have noticed is that the most effective C-Suite leaders take the time to carefully listen to their employees and ask probing questions. This helps foster a cooperative environment and encourages employees to think through their positions carefully before presenting them
  3. Be humble | Great ideas and insights can come from any level of the organization. I personally have seen examples where interns have developed better solutions to problems than c-suite executives. When C-Suite leaders place too much emphasis on title, there is a risk that they dismiss offhand a great idea from a junior employee without giving it appropriate consideration.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

At fast growing companies, the level of difficulty in hiring great employees is massively underestimated. At Kami Vision, we have doubled the team size over the past year and have managed to maintain an extremely high level of talent. This feat has been challenging due to the current superheated job market, scarcity of employees with desired skills, and the amount of time it takes to source quality candidates. For certain key positions, we spent months searching, engaged multiple external recruiters, and interviewed many prospective candidates before finding a qualified candidate. Searching for multiple key positions at the same time led to upwards of 20 interviews a week in some cases. All of that time spent searching for high quality candidates is time not spent on other activities to build the business and the level of effort is often underestimated and overlooked.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.

The transition to the C-Suite is really an extension of other leadership roles. Accordingly, the things that are important to C-Suite leaders are largely the same as those that are important to any leader within an organization but there is a bit more emphasis on certain areas. If I were giving advice to my younger self on the things to focus on as a C-Suite leader, I would advise to treat people well, maintain integrity, expect significant challenges, practice active listening, and work hard / be well prepared.

In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

Empowering employees is one of the best ways to create a fantastic work culture. For example, I recently hired a highly driven and motivated PM to lead a new product launch. Rather than immediately dictating to him how the product needed to be built, I instead had him update our strategy documents based on his pre-existing knowledge and market research.

This served 2 purposes:

1) It provided him an opportunity to understand the big picture and make suggestions

2) By being given the chance to contribute to the strategy, he felt a greater sense of ownership

Understanding context and feeling a sense of ownership creates a culture where people feel like they can contribute and where they feel empowered to reach their full potential.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Disruptions to the environment due to climate change have the potential to impact the global economy for generations and create massive negative outcomes for billions of people. There is not a need to start a new movement rather there is a need to come together globally and develop a unified approach to avert this crisis.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianranahan/

Follow Kami Vision at: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kamivision/

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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