Siamak Farah: CEO, InfoStreet

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Bio:

Siamak Farah is an industry expert and visionary whose technology focuses on small business computing in the cloud. Siamak Farah is the founder and CEO of InfoStreet, a leading provider of Cloud-based solutions and services for the small business. Prior to founding InfoStreet in 1994, Siamak worked at NeXT Computer, side-by-side with industry visionaries including Steve Jobs. InfoStreet is widely regarded as a Cloud App pioneer, InfoStreet began shaping a vision, a team, and technology as early as 1994; transforming the way business is done.

How did you get into the industry?

I am so lucky that I was born when I was. I can’t imagine how it would have been if I was born a couple of centuries ago.  As one of my strongest characteristics, I always felt compelled to increase efficiency and implement automation. It’s almost visceral. I always look to make processes more efficient, and once a process is efficient, then it’s time to automate it.

Making a process more efficient requires lots of iterations; or rinse and repeat cycles. When you are passionate about something, you have a tendency to also be impatient and want to reach your goal quicker.

Due to that personally trait, I got attracted to Software as it was so much easier to process the iterations and move toward perfection. Friends that were in hardware, had to wait for chips, boards, and configuration which was always slower and costly.

I am so glad that I ended up doing what I love, that’s why I love what I do.

My career began at Vertigo Systems International. Prior to founding InfoStreet in 1994, I worked at NeXT Computers, side-by-side with industry visionaries including Steve Jobs. Before joining NeXT, I was the Chief Operating Officer of Microstat Development Corporation. Today, I run a successful company that brings cloud solutions to small businesses.

It’s been a great ride, and to this day, I feel I am learning new things every day.

Any emerging industry trends?

Today, we see an increased adoption of cloud based services. More and more entrepreneurs are realizing the benefits of using cloud-based software (applications) to help them run their business. The ability to conduct business anywhere without being tied to a single device or operating system is one of the greatest benefits of cloud apps.  

Today, we have a user <-> server interaction.

With integration and single sign-on, we are seeing more server <-> server interaction., where servers are taking action on behalf of the user with the goal of more seamless use.

The next Giant thread which will occupy the next decade will be app <-> app interaction, where applications pick the proper data, apply the proper logic, and provide the user with the desired results.  Solutions such as IFTTT start with that, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Within a decade, centralized meta-languages will be built so apps can all talk to one another and the beneficiary of that is the end-user.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Aside from the app <-> app interactions mentioned above there are a myriad of new areas that will develop in the decade to come:

-    More opportunities in centralization and processing of data

-    Simplified logic/coding for people to be able to customize solutions to a perfect fit.

-    And whole new sectors will be developed:

o    IOT (Internet of Things) will give rise to

o    Privacy of Things (PoT)

 - You would like to have a central place to set up your privacy profile. Not have to do one for Facebook, one for LinkedIN, one for your TV, ….

o    Security of Things (Sot)

 - All these devices are potential security leaks. Therefore, you would like to have central control over “tightening up” and “securing” your TV, Fridge, Watch, Laptop….

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Prior to starting InfoStreet, I was working at NeXT computer. This is the company Steve Jobs founded when he left Apple.  NeXT developed NeXTstep which was chock full of incredible technological advances. In fact, many of the technologies you are used to using on your Mac, iPhones, or iPads have their root in NeXTstep.

Despite this rich base, NeXT was not able to gain any ground on the far inferior windows 3.1.  It was very disappointing, but all chalked it up to better marketing by Microsoft.

In 1995, after a year of starting InfoStreet, I was thinking about why NeXT could not gain any ground on windows. At the time, all other desktop operating systems were also massively unsuccessful.  The Wintel solution had more than 90% of the market.

I asked myself: “What operating system can beat Windows at the desktop?”

And the answer I came up with was: “No Operating System at all”.

That moment was pivotal in my life.

The right thing to do was to not give up. Rather, set out to make an operating system in the cloud, making the local desktop and operating system irrelevant.

This was 1995, where the web/internet was a rather large unknown to the majority of the world. Technologies needed to be developed, connectivity would need to be improved, and to put it mildly, it was a tall order.

However, with passion and perseverance, we are here today. We started a cloud-based system even before the words, asp, SaaS and Cloud was coined.

I am happy to report that that moment back then is still completely in sync with where the world is going today.

At InfoStreet, we have a cloud based desktop, complete with an app market which provides cloud solutions to tens of thousands of people.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We are constantly looking for ways to help small businesses run more efficiently. We are actively partnering with companies that share the same goal. In addition, we improving our own products to represent our user experience philosophies more closely.

We feel that the day using our solutions is a “no-brainer” is the day we have won. We constantly strive towards that goal.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

1. Build A Team:

No one person is a winner. It always takes a team.

The most successful thing I have been able to do is attract people smarter than me to work with me as a team and of course; if you are surrounded by smart people, listen to them.

The most important thing I have done is to create an environment for that team to thrive and feel empowered.

Our team is passionate, knowledgeable, successful, and loyal.  The majority of the team has been at InfoStreet for more than a decade, even as high as 20 years.

2. Empower the Team

Many companies have a pyramid style infrastructure. People at the base of a pyramid have to always check with supervisors before any decisions are made. Sometimes, decisions get bottlenecked on their way to the top, and they just die on the vine. Other times, the structure requires so much support that the middle layer’s only function is to support people above them and relay to the people below. As a result, they are squeezed from both sides in the process. Naturally, not efficient at all.

At InfoStreet, we have invented what we call a Lattice Structure company. People at InfoStreet have space and latitude, and by the nature of our organization, we’re all are lined up in support of each other’s efforts. As in a lattice, every point is independent, yet every point is connected. It supports and is supported by the entire structure, not unlike a perfectly engineered truss bridge.

This is why having a team of very smart and opinionated people can actually be very beneficial, as helps our team remove internal team conflicts and helps everyone work well together. Once a problem is identified, or a new opportunity is presented, all vested parties thoroughly hash out every possible scenario and drawback, but ultimately, regardless of rank, the person closest to the issue can make the best judgment call.

For instance, an engineer working on a project can make much better decisions on which approach to take much better than the CEO.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

This may sound completely counter-intuitive, but once I explain it may make sense to your readers.

During the dot-com era, many of our competition had received 10-90 million dollars worth of funding. We needed to compete with that world. We absolutely needed to raise money to be able to grow as fast as the market projection. Everyone was demanding exponential growth and our organic growth would not suffice.

I spent almost two years meeting with more than 40 venture capitalists, and I could not gain any traction.  I started to feel that I am a failure and could not see why people with little to no technology could raise 90 million dollars and I was unable to get passed the third meeting.

Entrepreneurs need to be honest with themselves. If there is a failure, they need to admit it, improve, and move on.  However, entrepreneurs are often hardest on themselves and that may not be their best trait.  Sometimes, they quickly judge something as their own failure.

Halfway through my money quest, I realized that I was not even playing the same ballgame as others.

Our competition had presented a business plan to the VC. It looked great and showed 400% growth per year.

We were a 6-year old business that had grown 655% in the previous 5 years. By traditional standards, that was phenomenal. We even made INC. 500 that year. However, to the VC that was not growing fast enough.

I tried very hard to explain to VC that our growth is organic and based sound principles vs. the strategy of spend money, gain eyeballs, with the hope that at some time in the future you can make money.

I even spelled it out to one of the VCs who bragged about the 20 million investment they had made. I said: “That’s a business plan, we are proven business”.

To no avail, I could not raise money.

My thought was that my worst moment to date; I had failed since I could not raise money.

However, today, I know my worst moment was that I got caught up in the race and wasted two years going after VC.

Today, none of those old competing companies I was referring to are in business, and we are thriving.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The best experiences with any product is when they are intuitive. When you don’t have to ask a question from support, or your friends, on how to use something, you feel empowered and naturally like those products more.

At InfoStreet, we always strive to develop technologies that are transparent to users. They just work. Users don’t have to ask 10 people how to get to the next step.

Arguably, that’s the best customer experience anyone can ever provide, especially for our small business clientele.

Once you provide a product, it should directly solve a problem that is real to the user. In our case, we are providing, centralized management of their business. Most small businesses are strapped for resources. They always have a lot to do in a very short time. Our goal is to help ease that pain and help them save time. Today many small businesses are using cloud apps to manage different parts of their business and it eventually becomes overwhelming to keep up with all the apps you use effectively, which in the long run will stress the small business out. Our goal is to help you simplify this process by bringing it all into one place so you can manage all your apps under one roof.

How do you motivate others?

While many find this difficult, I think of it as one of the easiest parts of management, that is if you are genuine

Always Lead by Example, Always Do the Right Thing, Always Treat People Right, and Manage Processes, not People.

1. Lead by Example

Do all the things that you expect your team to do. If the team is staying late to deliver a deadline, the CEO stays with them. Even if I don’t have direct involvement, I make sure they are well fed , have support, and know I am there side-by-side of them.

2. Be Brave Enough to ALWAYS do the right thing.

It is not always easy to do the right thing, as there are time crunches, and it’s human nature to take shortcuts and get it done. Doing it fast is great, but doing it fast and not right is not acceptable.

It takes guts to always defend the “doing it right” attitude. So, at InfoStreet, we have made it the company culture. We run our company with a number of mottos. Many of them are about doing the right thing.

Here are some examples:

Siamak's RIGHT Hand Rule

Hire the RIGHT people

Give them RIGHT tools

Ask them to do the RIGHT thing

Have the RIGHT balance of work and fun

You will get the RIGHT results.

Many have succeeded in doing the wrong thing rightly,

Many have failed doing the right thing wrongly.

Success does not come just by doing the right thing

It comes by doing the right thing right!

3. Always Treat People Right

Some people live by this for their customers, but fail to do so for their team.  At InfoStreet, we have a policy to treat everyone like gold. One of the best mottos we live by is:

Employee happiness is summarized in the 3G's:

Green, Growth and Glory

Have 2 out of 3, you have a happy employee

Have 3 out of 3, you have an employee for life

4. Manage Processes Not People

If you constantly tell people what to do, all you have done is wear them out. Instead, define processes, and empower them with the right tools and policies to execute those processes efficiently.  They will feel successful, accomplished, eager for the next task.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Be honest with everyone. Honesty is the number one way to gain customer satisfaction, and have long term team members. Most people understand that, and quite a few excel at that.

However, when it comes to their goals, people forget one important principle:

Be honest with yourself first.

Set out of the box, pioneering goals; since that is how society will improve. However, in doing so, you have to be able to separate the unattainable from the attainable that is out of the box.

Ambitious goals can be achieved with hard work, smart work, determination, and most importantly a great team.

However, none of the above can help you attain the unattainable. For an example just because you say you want to swim to Hawaii doesn’t mean you can do it if you are not a professional swimmer and don’t’ possess the proper skills.

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