Zahra Yarahmadi of BG Financial Consulting On Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine
13 min readFeb 15, 2024

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Not Taking No for an Answer: Whenever I faced a blocker, I worked tirelessly to find solutions to overcome it. This trait goes hand in hand with problem-solving skills. I truly believe that there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and the key is to understand different perspectives and rationales.

Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles. Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup? In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experiences about what it takes to create a highly successful startup. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zahra Yarahmadi.

With over 15 years of dynamic experience at the crossroads of finance, entrepreneurship, and sustainable growth, Zahra Yarahmadi excels in strategic financial management. Passionate about mentoring startups, she has aided over 100 ventures in securing $200 million in pre-seed and seed funds in the last four years. Her unique perspective, gained from working with both venture capital firms and startups, provides a deep understanding of aligning goals for sustainable business success.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born into an entrepreneurial family in Iran. Growing up, I was deeply influenced by my father’s business acumen. My early exposure to the challenges, strategies, and business of transportation and logistics gave me a practical understanding of supply, demand, and market dynamics. This foundation, along with my studies in business and economics, laid the groundwork for my entrepreneurial journey that resulted in founding BG Financial Consulting.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The pivotal moment came during my time working with startups. I realized that there was a significant gap in the market: founders and CEOs of startups desperately needed financial consulting and strategic advice. However, their limited budgets prevented them from accessing top-tier firms. Recognizing this need, I saw an opportunity to provide essential financial guidance and strategy consultation at a more accessible cost, leading to the creation of my own consulting firm — BG Financial Consulting.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

My dad was an entrepreneur and being exposed to his business had a significant impact on me. He would assign me tasks and would pay for the work to keep me motivated. He would always ask us as kids to bring him new ideas for a business, and if we convinced him he would give us the funds to start it. While I was never able to convince him with my ideas (or he would intentionally question them), I got the ambition to prove to him that my ideas are legitimate by doing it all by myself.

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

There was a tech startup I worked with that was struggling to balance their rapid growth with sustainable financial practices. They had an exceptional product and a talented team, but they lacked the financial expertise necessary to scale their business effectively. The major consulting firms were beyond their budget, and they were on the brink of making costly financial errors.

Seeing their potential and challenges, I stepped in. I provided them with a comprehensive financial strategy that encompassed cash flow management, investment planning, and cost-effective growth tactics. My approach wasn’t just about crunching numbers; it was about understanding their vision and aligning my advice to propel them towards their goals. Within a year, the startup not only stabilized its finances but also secured a significant round of funding, largely due to the robust financial strategy I helped implement.

This experience underscores how I made BG Financial Consulting stand out. I don’t just offer financial advice; I tailor my services to the unique needs and aspirations of each client, ensuring that even small startups receive top-tier consulting that can help them grow and succeed. Unlike many larger firms that might overlook smaller clients due to budget constraints, I focus on providing high-quality, strategic financial advice that is both accessible and affordable for startups and growing businesses.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My passion lies in leveraging my role as a strategic consultant to uplift women entrepreneurs. Committed to making a meaningful impact, I dedicate my expertise to offer tailored guidance and support, addressing the distinct challenges faced by women in business. My strategic insights serve as a catalyst, propelling female entrepreneurs forward in their endeavors. I firmly believe in the transformative power of empowering women in the entrepreneurial landscape, and my advocacy reflects that unwavering commitment.

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?

The three character traits that were instrumental for my success are:

  1. Asking for Help/Guidance from Experts: I realized early on that I couldn’t learn everything by myself, especially as businesses become more complex. Leveraging experts in the field has massively saved me time and reduced costs by avoiding trial and error. While it’s beneficial to ask for advice, it’s crucial to seek it from the right experts, as poor advice can lead you down the wrong path.
  2. Not Taking No for an Answer: Whenever I faced a blocker, I worked tirelessly to find solutions to overcome it. This trait goes hand in hand with problem-solving skills. I truly believe that there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and the key is to understand different perspectives and rationales.
  3. Flexibility: While I am persistent and hardworking, I have always kept an open mind. This flexibility has allowed me to quickly pivot from one idea to another and find the right focus for my business that best serves my clients. Being adaptable has been instrumental in navigating the ever-changing landscape of business and responding effectively to new challenges and opportunities.

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?

One piece of advice I regret following was to pay a lot of money to get a mentor. I’ve come to realize that a true mentor should be someone who believes in your potential and is willing to support you without demanding a hefty fee. A genuine mentor shares their wisdom not for financial gain, but because they believe in you and your vision. This understanding has taught me to seek out mentors who are genuinely interested in my growth and success, rather than viewing the relationship as a transaction.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I had to overcome countless challenges. Starting my journey involved facing discrimination and regional limitations in my living space, leading me to make a bold move to the USA. This period was filled with hard transitions,adapting to a new culture and market. However, the hardest part was realizing that the problem wasn’t me; it was my surroundings. I understood that to become successful, I needed to change my environment, not myself. This realization was a turning point, prompting me to seek opportunities where I could thrive and grow without being hindered by the constraints of my initial setting.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

I firmly believe that if there is anyone out there who can help, it’s me. I shouldn’t be waiting and hoping for someone else to solve my problems. My strategy has always been to explore multiple avenues for a solution and to conduct my own research. I make it a point to listen to several experts on any topic I’m delving into and leverage their knowledge and expertise. This approach has empowered me to take charge of the situations I face and actively seek out the resources and information I need to overcome obstacles and move forward.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?

Navigating the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship is crucial. I’ve found that connecting with peers who understand my journey and talking to friends who know me well has been incredibly helpful. Taking short breaks to clear my mind and rejuvenate is also essential. Additionally, reflecting on my journey and reminding myself of how far I’ve come serves as a powerful motivator. These practices help me maintain perspective, recharge my energy, and stay focused on my goals amidst the inevitable highs and lows of running a business.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

Here are some key considerations for fundraising or bootstrapping:

  • Business Model and Growth Trajectory: Analyze how your business model aligns with each funding approach. Venture capital is often more suitable for businesses with a high-growth potential that can generate significant returns. Bootstrapping suits businesses that can grow at a more gradual pace or those that want to maintain full control.
  • Market Dynamics: Consider the competitiveness and maturity of your market. In a fast-moving and highly competitive market, quick scaling through venture capital might be necessary. Conversely, if the market allows for slow and steady growth, bootstrapping could be more appropriate.
  • Control and Independence: Reflect on how much control you want to retain. Bootstrapping allows you to maintain complete control over your business decisions, whereas venture capital often comes with strings attached, including giving up equity and decision-making authority.
  • Financial Risk Tolerance: Assess your risk tolerance. Bootstrapping involves using your own resources, which can be less risky in terms of debt but might limit your growth potential. Venture capital can provide the necessary funds for aggressive growth but comes with the pressure of delivering high returns to investors.
  • Long-Term Vision for the Company: Align your choice with your long-term vision. If you envision a rapidly expanding company that might go public or be acquired, venture capital could be the way to go. If your vision is to build a sustainable business over a longer period, bootstrapping might be better.
  • Access to Networks and Expertise: Venture capital can offer more than just money — it can provide access to valuable networks, mentorship, and industry expertise. If these are areas where you need support, venture capital might be beneficial.
  • Current Financial Health and Resources: Evaluate your current financial resources. If you have the capacity to fund the initial stages of your business, bootstrapping could give you more time to build value before seeking external funding.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Holistic Business Understanding: Viewing the business as an interconnected ecosystem.

2 . Adaptability: Being flexible and responsive to market and environmental changes.

3 . Strategic Financial Planning: Understanding and leveraging financial insights for growth.

4 . Market and Customer Insight: Deep knowledge of market dynamics and consumer behavior.

5 . Drive and Determination: A relentless pursuit of goals and solutions to problems.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Throughout my career, I’ve observed several common mistakes that CEOs and founders often make when starting a business. Understanding these pitfalls can help new entrepreneurs avoid them:

  • Lack of Clear Vision and Plan: Many founders start with a great idea but lack a clear, strategic plan for execution. To avoid this, it’s crucial to have a well-defined business plan that includes market analysis, a clear value proposition, and a roadmap for growth.
  • Underestimating Financial Needs: A common error is underestimating the amount of capital required to start and grow the business. Founders should perform thorough financial planning, including cash flow management and contingency funds, to ensure sustainability.
  • Trying to Do Everything Alone: Attempting to handle every aspect of the business single-handedly can be overwhelming. Delegating tasks and building a skilled team is essential for growth. It’s also important to seek advice from mentors and industry experts.
  • Neglecting Market Research: Skipping comprehensive market research leads to misunderstanding customer needs and market demand. Founders should invest time in understanding their target market deeply to tailor their product or service effectively.
  • Ignoring Customer Feedback: Overlooking the importance of customer feedback is a critical mistake. Engaging with customers and incorporating their feedback can significantly improve the product or service offering.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Being too rigid in business plans or strategies can be detrimental. The market environment is dynamic, so it’s essential to be adaptable and open to pivoting when necessary.
  • Overexpansion Too Quickly: Rapid expansion without a solid foundation can lead to unmanageable problems. Founders should focus on achieving stability and consistent growth before scaling too aggressively.
  • Poor Hiring Decisions: Hiring the wrong people can adversely affect the company’s culture and productivity. Founders should take the hiring process seriously, seeking individuals who not only have the necessary skills but also fit the company culture.

To avoid these errors, founders should engage in thorough planning, seek guidance from experts, be adaptable, listen to their customers, and make strategic decisions about growth and team building. Being aware of these common pitfalls and actively working to avoid them can significantly increase the likelihood of a startup’s success.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

The best way to take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company is having a support system and exercise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. There’s no shame in asking for help; it’s a sign of strength and self-awareness.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Given my background, I would advocate for a movement that empowers women entrepreneurs, particularly those in challenging environments, to overcome barriers and succeed in their ventures.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Does it have to be just one? I have two. My first would be Oprah Winfrey. Her life story is a testament to overcoming adversity and achieving immense success through determination, empathy, and intelligence. Her ability to connect with people from all walks of life and her keen business acumen is outstanding to me. I believe she is one of the most intelligent beings in our lifetime.

The second would be Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo; because of her background in navigating cross-cultural business environments and breaking barriers. A conversation with her on how to maintain balance and integrity in leadership would be enlightening.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

One of my goals for 2024 is to partner and collaborate with well known VCs and accelerator programs for startups to provide services for early and mid stage startups. You can follow my work on my company website, https://bgfinancialconsulting.com/, and my personal website, https://www.zahrayarahmadi.com/.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.