Ahva Sadeghi of Symba: “People should be better off because they come into contact with you or your startup”

The first words of advice that come to mind is that “people should be better off because they come into contact with you or your startup.” My mentor Lawdan taught me that the startup should always be a vehicle for me and others to grow, gain new skills and experiences. As a part of our […]

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The first words of advice that come to mind is that “people should be better off because they come into contact with you or your startup.” My mentor Lawdan taught me that the startup should always be a vehicle for me and others to grow, gain new skills and experiences.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ahva Sadeghi from Symba.

Ahva Sadeghi is a passionate social entrepreneur and co-founder of an all-female founded social impact tech startup, Symba. Ahva’s mission is to address economic inequality and remove barriers to the workforce using technology as a force for good. She was recently named Forbes 30 Under 30, a Halcyon Fellow, a Global Entrepreneur Scholar by the U.S. Department of State, and a John Lewis Fellow for Civil and Human Rights.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My family is from Iran, and I developed my passion for human rights and women’s rights at a very early age. In college, I studied philosophy, political science, economics and law, and aspired to become a human rights activist. At the University of Arizona, I became the U.S. Department of State’s very first remote intern working within the Human Rights Bureau. That’s when I learned the power of remote jobs to unlock potential in the workforce, and I became passionate about remote internships as a vehicle for economic opportunity.

In 2016, I was named a fellow with Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta, Georgia. In this fellowship, I co-founded Symba as my action project to address inequality. Today, Symba is on a mission to open up the workforce and change the landscape of economic opportunity so that it is inclusive to all people.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Creating an equitable workforce starts at the entry, ensuring that all people have access when finding their first job. At Symba, we empower students from all socioeconomic backgrounds and regions around the globe with key career opportunities through paid remote internships. With the power of remote work, we can now offer more opportunities for students everywhere. Symba’s platform helps companies adopt virtual operations and scale their programs by over 600%. Scaling these programs means more paid opportunities for more students, everywhere.

Today, Symba has been recognized as a social enterprise by SEED Spot, Halcyon and Target for the important work and mission to empower students from all backgrounds. Symba has also designed key partnerships with social impact organizations like Pay Our Interns and INROADS.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s not all that funny, but one of the biggest mistakes we made early on with Symba was not charging for our product. Without charging, people might undervalue or not even use your product. You need to build something people need and are willing to pay for.

Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Congressman John Lewis has been one of my key mentors and role models from a very early stage in my career. During my fellowship with Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta, I found my purpose and was inspired to create Symba. He taught me to always be in the “quest for good trouble” and to tap into the power of social entrepreneurship to make meaningful social impact. I continue to lead my life and work by following many of his guiding principles to stand up against inequality and be an agent for change.

After founding Symba, I met my key startup mentor, Lawdan Shojaee, the CEO of a tech company called Gitkraken based in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, I knew very little about startups or how to launch a software business from scratch. She welcomed me to her own company and helped me lay the foundation for my early success. She gave me a desk at her company to work on my startup and encouraged her entire team — from marketing and sales to customer support — to be a resource for me. It was a dream come true to incubate Symba within the office of a successful startup and learn the ropes firsthand. Lawdan taught me how to lead and inspire others as I built my startup team. I hope to become a mentor like her to female founders in the near future.

After building the foundation and core team of Symba, I met Ryan Kuder, the Managing Director of Techstars Anywhere. Ryan has been a pivotal mentor for me and our entire team as we fundraise and scale. He believes in our mission to open up the workforce and create opportunities for millions of students. He encouraged us to persist through our original vision of Symba, even when other investors said that we should pivot. Ryan embodies the Techstars #givefirst mentality and is a true mentor in every sense of the word. Ryan always finds a way to carve out time for our team. When problems with the startup feel like they might have no solution, Ryan always provides a sense of clarity. Mentors like Ryan, who have a great deal of experience working with startups, are so important to founders.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I believe that industries that have potential to evolve to become more equitable and create more value for people should be disrupted. For that reason, we must work collectively to change and rebuild the workforce to foster diversity and inclusion. Other great examples of spaces that require disruption include access to education and climate change.

At the same time, disruption can also have negative effects, especially when the consequences are not fully understood or realized in advance. For example, some inventions in nuclear energy and chemicals have had damaging effects on people and our planet, which are still be understood today. We must be cautious with any disruption that has the potential to pose harmful effects. When disrupting, I believe it is important to weigh benefits and understand the potential repercussions.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first words of advice that come to mind is that “people should be better off because they come into contact with you or your startup.” My mentor Lawdan taught me that the startup should always be a vehicle for me and others to grow, gain new skills and experiences.

The second piece of advice is that a true leader shows appreciation and lifts their team. I’m so grateful for my amazing co-founder, Nikita Gupta, and my entire team. It takes a passionate and driven team to bring an idea to life — not one individual person. Always remember that!

And finally, always give first and pay it forward. I encourage people to try to look for ways to give to and support others. Much of my success is from others making time to mentor me, and I am actively on a mission to support others when I can.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Symba is a B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution and building relationships are key to our success. One of the best forms of meeting new customers and generating qualified leads for us is partnership development. We work with many industry partners in human resources and early talent development who have been champions for us. As a startup, the key to success is finding the right people and organizations to team up with.

In addition, our team has focused on creating meaningful content for our prospective customers including e-books, guides, blog posts, webinars and more. We gate this content on our website so we can understand who is downloading the material and reach out to them directly. By creating value for people before initiating the sales process, you can start off on the right foot to begin a meaningful business opportunity.

Lastly, your customers can be a great resource for you! Once you can establish a meaningful relationship and make your customers happy, your early customers can become your champions! Remember that customer success is EVERYTHING! We are proud to say that many of our customers have referred us to others organically.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Our team at Symba is in a very exciting stage of our startup and just closed a round of financing to scale our team and impact. During this year’s 36|86 Festival, I spoke on a panel with other founders about navigating uncertainty and pivoting quickly. During this discussion, I shared my own personal experience of scaling my startup during the most unprecedented times.

But remember, founders are problem solvers and always on the hunt to shake things up. Next up, Symba is going global and we are ready to create access for international students, transcending geographical boundaries. We are proud to be an international team from all over the world and are fueled by a powerful mission to level the playing field. To follow our startup journey and check out what’s next on our roadmap, you can check out symba.io.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it resonated with you?

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Suess is an amazing story. It teaches you that life is a roller

coaster and you must persevere. It’s often read to children, but I encourage you to read it as

an adult and draw new meaning from its important lessons.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We have “a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble” — Congressman John Lewis.

In 2016, I was a fellow with Congressman John Lewis and this experience had a profound impact on my life. “The quest for good trouble” is my motto as a founder and social entrepreneur.

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

In order to fulfill basic human rights, our global community needs to address economic inequality. I would inspire a movement that creates access to economic empowerment and opportunities for all people globally — that is the ultimate goal and foundation for Symba’s creation.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m very active on LinkedIn @ahvasadeghi, and you can also find me on Twitter using @ahva_sadeghi.

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