Siamak Farahbakhshian, founder and CEO of InfoStreet, Inc. In October 2002, Inc. magazine named InfoStreet, based in Tarzana, California, as one of America’s entrepreneurial growth leaders. Founded in 1994, InfoStreet has grown 655% from 1997 to 2002.
Hers is an Email interview with Siamak Farahbakhshian by Iranian.com.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up? How did you end up in the LA area?
I was born in Tehran. Always being in a rush to get things done, I came into this world a bit too fast. My mom could not get to a hospital and by the time my dad brought home the qaabeleh (midwife), I was already 15 minutes old. So I am a proud home-born baby.
Growing up in Iran will forever be the most cherished time of my life. Watching my kids, I am reliving the growing years, but somehow, as wonderful and exceptional as California is, I feel that they are missing out on something.
When I was junior (sevvom nazari) in Alborz High School, I got admitted to Purdue University in W. Lafayette, Indiana, and left Iran in December 1977, just a month shy of my 17th birthday. After college, I immigrated to Vancouver Canada, lived there for seven years, found the most beautiful and magical woman in the world and was fortunate enough to marry her. Being married, my highest priority was to live somewhere that my “kids to be” could speak Persian freely, have Persian friends, go to Persian restaurants and grow up knowing their heritage. So I chose Los Angeles.
Through a whirlwind roundabout way, as dictated by my career, I lived in the Vancouver, San Francisco Bay Area, New Jersey and Arizona, till I finally arrived in LA in September 1993.
What is your own professional background — prior to Infostreet?
Here is my “professional bio”, right off of our web site. I hope it works.
Siamak Farah is the founder and CEO of InfoStreet. Active in its day-to-day management, Siamak has assembled and leads a seasoned team of industry professionals. By employing a business philosophy that focuses first on solving business problems and second on applying appropriate technologies to those solutions, he has enabled flourishing businesses for both InfoStreet and its clients.
As president of a small publicly listed software development firm and the chief operating officer of another, Siamak has extensive small business management knowledge. This, combined with years of experience as a software developer, places him in the unique position of having hands-on knowledge of technical, marketing and management issues; the very combination required for the creation of successful Internet presence.
Prior to his eight years at InfoStreet, Siamak worked at NeXT Computer side-by-side industry visionaries the likes of Steve Jobs. During his six years at NeXT, his responsibilities grew from technical sales and marketing to district sales management. Before joining NeXT, Siamak was the Chief Operating Officer of Microstat Development Corporation. During his two years at Microstat, he was responsible for the day-to-day operation of this publicly listed R&D firm. He initiated his tenure at Microstat as Systems Coordinator, managing the development of stock quotation software.
Siamak began his career at Vertigo Systems International. Initially hired as a systems administrator, he soon rose to be team leader for the development of a 3D-animation software package. Ultimately, he became Product Integration Manager and Customer Support Coordinator. During his time at Vertigo, he was instrumental in its growth from a startup with just six people to a full-fledged business employing over 70 individuals.
The positions held by Siamak span the gamut of those required in the operation and management of a software development company. Siamak set out to experience these roles by deliberate design. At the age of 22, Siamak already had a vision to create a software development firm. Leaving nothing to chance, he systematically chose positions that would provided him with experience in all facets of a software business: software development, customer service and training, executive management and finance, and sales and marketing.
With this operational perspective, Siamak has striven to include a cutting edge technological vision in his work. As evidence, Siamak has been and continues to be active in the envisioning and creation of forefront technology. 3D-animation, Internet technology, and object-oriented programming are just a few leading edge technologies to which Siamak has actively contributed.
When did you start InfoStreet and what is its mission?
I started InfoStreet in the fall of 1994. The mission of InfoStreet was to provide “know how” on the Internet. Back then, the Internet was new. If you went to a meeting with 10 vice presidents of a billion dollar corporation and asked: “What is the Internet and how would it effect your life in the next 3 years?” you would get 10 different answers. I saw that confusion as a business opportunity.
InfoStreet was started as a consulting company, helping corporations devise their Internet strategy. Shortly after our launch, something special happened. These companies said, “Well, if you know what to do, and how to do it, why don’t you do it for us?” Consultants? Delivering something tangible? That would be a first. But, then again, if it is not challenging, it does not excite me. So, as opposed to me being the only person in the company, we started staffing.
Being small and having to serve such large corporations was the best thing that ever happened to us. We had to automate everything, so that our 6 people produce as much as 60 people in a big corporation. This challenge, and many years of extremely hard, nonstop work, resulted in automation became InfoStreet’s forte.
Today, InfoStreet’s Intranet and Extranet products are used my many companies to streamline their processes and make their most valuable resource, their employees, more efficient.
What services do you specifically provide to Iranians?
Without any taarof, I feel that most first generation thirty to fiftysomethings that have managed to make a successful life here in the United States owe it to their Persian upbringing. The Street Smarts we learned in the koocheh, and the hospitality and even taarof that makes us naturals for customer satisfaction. And the drive; I can go on forever on that — the drive for all of us to be proud successful Iranians. Those wonderful traits are what make us who we are, and therefore, I try to do my share and keep them alive in any which way I can.
There are numerous expatriate Iranians around the world, who have taken their heritage and added the culture of their host country. For instance, many of us here in the U.S. are equally proud to be American as well as Iranian. As such, we now have needs, concerns and desires that might be different from those living in Iran.
I have tried to the best of my abilities to help both the traditional and the expatriate Iranians. For instance, InfoStreet provides two very interesting communities on the web. One is the Alumni Web Site for Alborz High School and another one is the Hamzaboon Iranian Community. These sites offer a wealth of services to Iranians. Members use our services to find their long lost friends, chat with loved ones, create mailing groups, make their own web sites and more. Of course, we provide these for free as a community service.
What are Hamzaboon’s main features?
Hamzaboon.com in particular was created to:
— Establish an economic identity for Iranians and Farsi speakers at large, in particular expatriates living in the United States.
— Be a place that unconditionally supports and respects freedom of speech, thought, expression, religion and more.
— Offer convenient web based tools to Hamzaboons at no cost.
— Establishing an Economic Identity
Most Hamzaboons arrived in the United States with little more than our luggage, an entry Visa and a world of dreams. To say the least, the past two decades have been tumultuous ones. Despite the odds, our community is shining and can arguably be the most successful community that has ever immigrated to the United States. As a whole, however, we have gone unnoticed. As if this now very affluent and influential community has truly melted in the United States melting pot.
By establishing an Economic Identity, we will not melt away. Organizations will recognize our economic prowess and special programs will be made for Iranians, in both for-profit and nonprofit circles.
The first action we took toward establishing an Economic Identity was to offer the Hamzaboon MasterCard credit card from MBNA America Bank. The principal subsidiary of MBNA Corporation, MBNA America, a national bank with $90 billion in managed loans, and is the largest independent credit card lender in the world.
Not only it feels good to shop with a card adorned with pictures of Iran, but also with every purchase we are shouting, “Yes, We’ve made it!” letting the world know that Iranians are a successful group.
Also, always, giving back to the community, the Hamzaboon MasterCard credit card helps generate donations to the Child Foundation to support their efforts in helping children stay in school. Their efforts provide educational needs, medical help, food and other services to talented, needy children.
We chose the name Hamzaboon to emphasize the fact that all one needs to participate in this site is to speak Persian or have interest in those who do. Whether you are an Iranian Muslim, Jew, Bahai, Zoroastrian, you speak Farsi. Whether you are for or against the Islamic regime, you speak Farsi. In fact, our language spans beyond Iran into Afghanistan, the old Soviet Republics and a small part of China.
So by focusing on the fact that we all have a common language, the site can be open to all, regardless of personal, religious and political beliefs. Hence, the freedom of speech is doubly meaningful as it allows people to exchange ideas that might be from opposite ends of the spectrum, as opposed to a unified message, aligned with the message of any given site.
Hamzaboon.com has no specific message, except to say, we are a community, we are as diverse as any community in the world and we now have a forum and a place to be recognized.
A Free Internet Center
At www.hamzaboon.com, members:
— Receive their own permanent email address
— Receive their own web based calendar, complete with public calendars, group access and more
— Can create their own mailing lists. These are email based discussion forums or broadcast lists allowing a member to communicate with their own private list with a single email
— Receive their own web based address book
— Have the ability to create a web site for themselves, family or their business in minutes using friendly web based forms.
— Can chat with their friends
— Can participate in various community wide mailing lists, discussion forums and more.
All of these are offered to Hamzaboons at no cost. We offer these at no cost in order to remove all barriers to entry. Every person who speaks Persian (Farsi) can become a member at Hamzaboon.com.
Following the sharp decline of the stock market, and the depressed technology market, what adjustments do companies like you need to make?
I think the technology bubble burst came primarily due to one big factor. Those who received money confused “expenditure” with “investment”. I guess at some other time and place, we can go into the details of that, but by and large, the biggest expenditure was hiring a large number of people, without the income to justify it.
Humans are the most expensive resource of any company. If you squander your human capital (by being inefficient) or if you squander your dollars on excess staff (throwing more humans at problems), well, chances are you won’t survive.
At InfoStreet we have had a saying since 1995 that is written on our office wall: “Only 10% of our employees are human, for the rest, we employ technology.”
At InfoStreet, we try to automate everything. In fact the product we sell is there to help other companies become more efficient and automate their internal and external group interaction. All of this has allowed us to be lean and successful and in arguably the worst year for technology companies (2001), we manage to be selected as one of the 500 fastest growing companies in America, by Inc. magazine.
Our recommendation to everyone is to look at any possible savings. Look for hidden ones, such as inefficient processes, too many employees, doing things on a one-off basis as opposed to following a system. Grow the company slowly in manpower. Where possible trim all the fat and even some of the muscle. The muscle will grow back out and the company will be successful.
Amazing things happen when the monthly burn rate lowers and companies can survive on less income. In a not-so-friendly economy, low human capital and automated processes are godsends.
What do you see as the hottest/most promising Internet software/application/web site/trend?
I would like to address a general, perhaps hidden technology trend. For technology as a whole, survival is dependent on the ability of being “second nature” and “invisible”. I will explain more:
In the olden days, folks were comfortable going through a learning curve, or doing things in a cumbersome way. Technology was novel; choices were limited, so folks lived with the pain to get the benefit.
Today, the most successful technologies are the ones you use all the time, yet you do not think about them. I feel that all technologies have to strive to be invisible. They automatically become an extension of people and no thought has to go into how the process works.
An example of becoming invisible is the technology in your automobile. In the first part of the century, you would have to manually crank the engine to start. You knew how the engine worked and what was needed. The next 50 years brought advancements, yet most folks knew how the engine works and could replace parts easily. Today, cars have a ton of “invisible” technologies in them. The transmission changes at the right time without you knowing, electronics control your suspension and your breaks, airbags sense when they should open and… All of these means that you spend no time thinking about the details of the process and instead your time is spent on what is more important to you, getting to your destination.
The same pattern is happening on the Internet, but a lot faster. More and more items are becoming second nature. For instance, in our company, we like to pass the product through what we call “The Grandma Test”. If grandma can pick up the mouse, and start using our solution without having to think how it works, we have made it.
So, I feel that anyone who is working towards making technology second nature to people will be wildly successful. This comment is true for any sector of technology.
Now, to answer your question directly, looking at individual sectors of the Internet, I feel the next few years will be spent on completing and perfecting “Anytime, Anywhere, Access”. The idea is that you place all your files, all your emails, your calendar appointments, your processes and workflow on secure computers on the Internet, and no matter where you are, you log on and have your own environment at your disposal.
This Anytime, Anywhere, Access combined with the price of bandwidth coming down due to the dot-com crash, has enabled many companies to offer their services as Application Service Providers (ASPs). ASP is substantially more streamlined for companies to run. They can maintain at a fraction of the cost of local installations of the software. Incidentally, ASP also work quite well with the concept of the technology being invisible as updates happen to the master server without the user having to do anything. The users just know that somewhere safe in the sky is their work environment and they can access it anytime they wish.
There are many companies that are working feverishly on offering their products in an ASP fashion. Those companies in my opinion will have an upper edge on their competition that uses the traditional, “let’s install this on your local computer” approach.