“CEOs Can Never Call In Sick” 5 Leadership Lessons With Susan Akbarpour, CEO of Mavatar Technologies
CEOs can never call in sick (I’m notorious to go to work with mask, Vitamin C packs for everyone- I feel guilty to stay home when everyone works. Later on I read in a study that Guilt is the main ingredient of entrepreneurship
I had the pleasure to interview Susan Akbarpour. Susan is the CEO and co-founder of Mavatar Technologies, the company she founded in 2011 based on her research in graduate school, soon after receiving her MS in Management from Stanford University in 2010. Mavatar is the leading provider of SaaS,PaaS and turnkey solutions that make the world around us shoppable, allowing consumers to track products to online and offline stores, leveraging the power of the content which is very close to Susan’s heart as a former investigative reporter and publisher. Susan, born in Iran; lost her mother in a car accident at age 12 and her father by cancer as age 19, hit the ground when she first arrived at the United States with $2000 in her pocket as a former investigative reporter in Iran. She started multiple start-ups and age 40 decided to get back to graduate school, while she has her 3 years daughter. Throughout her journey as an entrepreneur, journalist, publisher, investor, board member, community advocate and political fundraiser, Susan has received multiple media, community and business awards, spoken at various conferences and is frequently featured in mainstream media. Susan is also a partner at Candou Ventures, member of the board of directors at IMA International Executive Council and VOMax Corporation, member of Stanford Business School Alumni Association, Stanford Women On Boards, a prestige member of Watermark (a nonprofit organization that is a community of executive women) and an official Member of Forbes Agency Council. mCart by Mavatar was recently selected as one of only 25 technologies, chosen from over hundreds entries, showcased at RECon, a global retailer convention hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, happening in Las Vegas in May 21, 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My team and I for the last 7 years worked on the solutions that change the way people shop, sell and advertise. In 2010 during my time at Stanford Graduate school, I was researching on new advertising models effect on user’s privacy. 7 years before GDPR becoming a concern for all the advertisers and publishers! My research proved there is no benefit for consumers nor for advertisers to continue shadowing users everywhere they go online and offline and push more junk to their lives. Mavatar team’s vision was creating a consumer-centric commerce and as a former journalist nothing could fuel this engine except content! However when we found out only 10% of the US retail sales is coming from online, and touch and feel is still important, we thought about making sure that our technologies can close the gap between online and offline. This could propel brick and mortar retailers into a space dominated by Amazon; capturing the attention of modern shoppers with an experience that they had neither offline or online!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have a bittersweet story. We were organizing an event and had a deal from a local luxurious hotel. Soon we found out they didn’t have exactly the most helpful sales team. Many problems along the way and then at the end they told us that we were responsible for filling 80 rooms after the group rate time was over based on tiny font in the contract.
Our guests were mostly local and we were stuck with a 40k bill. Our team was dazzled and everyone was coming up with an idea. Our sales director joked that maybe we should give the rooms to a local shelter and I thought why not. We have to pay this bill anyway. My family is helping a few local shelters. Guess what when we broke the news to the hotel. We were shocked with the first question coming back: You mean the shelter staff or homeless people!? My PR director on the call, asked why did they care? Yes we are bringing the resiodents.
In a few hours they sent us an email that they think they can easily rent all the rooms and we shouldn’t be worried about the bill! It was funny and sad at the same time while we know there are thousands of homeless students are living in Silicon Valley.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our ability to pivot when we faced a challenge or saw opportunity is what makes mCart and our ICO unique. I know cryptocurrency is a scary buzzword for some, but with mCart we have years of research and development and a viable product that could possibly used by major retailers. Our caveat was our technology created excess accounting for stores paying influencers for the product sold promoted in millions of mCarts that can sit behind any type of content. We saw how easy it would be for cutting edge blockchain technology to solve this bottleneck out of our technology market adoption. We know our technology is a proven viable product, we know retailers need us to execute in-store and online as a joint venture for shoppers and now our mCart token makes it easy for them to do it.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
It’s always new and exciting working with a massive and disruptive technology platform alongside an ICO that place the support of a greater community behind a technology. I call it wisdom fo the room! When the developer community put their financial support and small bids behind a product they can move the niddle! Also we have worked on a major turneky solution, called Shoppable Wall lately in partnership with Virtual Vision that just arrived in our office last week. It’s it super user-friendly, brilliant and sleek. It lets shoppers search and browse online and local inventories around them, create shopping carts they can save and take home, share on social media or send to store associates.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Don’t be afraid to give people multiple hats to wear and push them to face and resolve challenging tasks — that’s what startup life is about. Encourage them to learn, discover and feel brave! And pay for it! You are the winner at the end. Even if they leave your company, they always feel graduated from a family that allowed them to grow and thrive. You rarely leave your family.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Late Professor William Miller; Silicon Valley legendary veteran; President and CEO of Emeritus of SRI International, Professor of Stanford Computer Science, School of Engineering, Graduate school of business and co-founder of Mayfield Fund the first Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Professor William Miller later on became my previous venture, Teksia’s chairman of the board and remain my lifetime mentor. He was the one who discovered my keen passion and talent for designing software platforms, having seen three platforms that my brother and my co-founder back then,Cyrus, a tech prodigy with degrees in both electrical and software engineering, coded for facilitating different processes in our start-up. Bill encouraged both of us to get back to graduate school and wrote a letter of recommendation to Stanford for me. I never saw the letter but he told me once that he told them “She can walk on water”!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My husband and I are passionate about leveraging our fortune, network and knowhow to shed light on inequality, eliminate prejudice and to create opportunities for young generations around the world. We both support multiple non-profit organizations such as Center for investigative reporting (CIR), Iranian American Contribution project, Iranian Scholarship Foundation (ISF), Pars Equality Center among others.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- That CEOs can never call in sick (I’m notorious to go to work with mask, Vitamin C packs for everyone- I feel guilty to stay home when everyone works. Later on I read in a study that Guilt is the main ingredient of entrepreneurship
- That I have to live to work and not work to live
- That I have to be able to make quick decisions and then worry about the outcome
- That I should surround myself with people smarter than me
- That I shouldn’t lose my sleep on firing bad apples who introduce politics to our culture
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
This is my own quote that I live everyday: “The ball is always in your court.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
As a woman who has gone through so much hardship in life and came out even stronger, and someone who has been involved in media, I think I have a lot to share with Oprah. It would be a great pleasure to meet her personally and see what is she really up to these days!