Lyamen Savy of 321 Ignition: “The harder you work, the luckier you get”

Never say “no” to any opportunity — even when it’s helping someone for free. I try to say “yes” to everything and because of that, I have been given and uncovered so many opportunities! Even if you think that task is beneath you, don’t let your ego get in the way. Just do it. Every time I helped […]

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Never say “no” to any opportunity — even when it’s helping someone for free.

I try to say “yes” to everything and because of that, I have been given and uncovered so many opportunities! Even if you think that task is beneath you, don’t let your ego get in the way. Just do it. Every time I helped someone with anything, even if it was for free, somehow it always came back to me tenfold. I don’t do things because I expect something back, but somehow it always does come back to help me as well. Every opportunity is presented to us for a reason, so don’t be lazy, and say yes to everything. My company right now is a perfect example: I would have never discovered this opportunity in the automotive industry if I wasn’t helping my friend with marketing for free! So, even though I spent one Saturday at her dealership working for free, it came back to me ten times over! I now have an amazing company and I would have never discovered this opportunity if I didn’t invest some time consulting for free.

Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lyamen Savy.

Ms. Lyamen Savy is the CEO and founder of 321 Ignition, a Seattle-based startup focused on helping car dealerships evolve to meet the next generation of car buyers’ demands online and in the showroom. Previously, she was the Senior Global Marketing Manager at Microsoft, where she exceeded the company sales goals by 80% and scaled the footprint of Office 365 SMB Direct channel from 12 countries to 41 in one year’s time. This earned her the company’s coveted internal award of “Customer Obsessed Employee.” She brings over 18 years of sales and marketing expertise and her vast knowledge in the digital space coupled with her focus on customer experience to the automotive industry.

Her unique background has steered 321 Ignition’s mission to enhance the car buying journey for the next generation, while identifying ways to increase profitability and efficiency for car dealerships.

Together with her business partner and 321 Ignition Co-Founder, DJ Haddad, they have decades of combined experience leading successful campaigns for Fortune 100 brands and fast-growing retail and technology companies. They now bring these insights and proven approaches and analytical methodologies to car dealerships in order to help them engage customers online. With their focus on UX and mobile-first design, they are helping their clients see incredible lead generation.

As the daughter of a Russian refugee, Ms. Savy immigrated to America as a child and quickly adapted to a new language and culture while relying on government assistance during the transition. Her passion and drive to live fearlessly has continued be at the forefront of every decision she has made. Ms. Savy graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and previously attended Bellevue College specializing in Web Multimedia Authoring.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My twin sister and I grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan, former Russian republics under the Soviet Union. Our mom had us when she was 18, she was too young to raise kids, so our grandma raised us since the age of 1.

We grew up really poor. We lived in a studio apartment with our grandma and her best friend, so 2 adults and 2 kids in one studio apartment. We didn’t even have running water at home and our grandma had to get water from a well near our apartment and carry 2 buckets at a time, up 9 flights of stairs because the elevators were always broken. Imagine being around 40 years old, you’ve worked all day and now just to make dinner for your kids or give them a bath, you have to carry buckets of water up 9 flights of stairs.

The was a severe shortage of necessities in the country, so the Russian government distributed food based on a rationing coupon system. Imagine the government budgeting how much sugar, milk, meat, eggs, salt, butter, etc. each family could get. Even with coupons, it was hard to buy food because grocery stores shelves were all empty. Once people would hear that the local grocery store scheduled to have a delivery, everyone would rush to stand in line. I remember as a kid standing in line for 2 hours to buy bread and getting excited to see a truck pulling in. To this day, my twin sister refuses to stand in line to get into a popular restaurant because she says, “we’re not in the USSR and I’m not waiting in line to get food.” I think she has PTSD. I remember when my twin and I were 7 or 8 years old and we grabbed 3 small potatoes from home to bake them in the bonfire outside with our friends and our grandma got so mad at us because that was the last 3 potatoes, and our little brother was left hungry that day.

The last three years in Azerbaijan were the worst. The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia started over a piece of land called Nagorno-Karabakh. We grew up accustomed to the regular presence of tanks and military force in the streets. The country was super corrupt and offered very few opportunities for a pair of young twin girls from a poor family. Had we stayed there long-term, it is likely that my twin sister and I would have very different lives today. I’m grateful for my time in Azerbaijan, and my humble beginnings, and feel so fortunate to live in the US. I became an American Citizen on the Fourth of July, and I always say, it’s truly my Independence Day!

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

Back in 1988, a war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a piece of land called Nagorno-Karabakh. It happened right after my mom married an Armenian man and was pregnant with his child. Since she was from Azerbaijan and her husband was Armenian, and our brother was half of each, we were in danger of getting killed. My mom and stepdad ran away to Moscow with our brother and applied for a political asylum visa to come to the US. Once they got accepted, my twin and I also left Azerbaijan, met our parents in Moscow and we came to the US together as a family. For us, coming to America was a dream come true. Based on the stories we’d always heard about America, the US was seen as a magical far away land.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

It was an interesting journey! There were bunch of things that transpired on our way to America that are pretty hilarious.

First off, my parents couldn’t afford a plane ticket for my baby brother, so they decided to just hold him in their lap the entire flight, but it’s a 16-hour flight from Moscow to Seattle. So, one of the flight attendants brought us a brown packaging box and my parents made a bed out of it for my baby brother (he was 1 at the time). To this day, I like to joke around and say he was shipped to America in a box.

Once we landed in Seattle, I remember my twin and I were so tired — we were 9 years old after a 16-hour flight — and we forgot 4 of our bags of luggage at the airport. Since we weren’t aware at the time that Americans enjoy a convenience known as the “lost & found department,” we never actually went back to the airport to pick it up.

Then, once we got to our apartment, there other Russian, Azerbaijan, Armenian families already waiting for our arrival and to welcome us to America. The apartment complex the American government placed us in had a lot of other refugees, so I guess the word got out that a new Azerbaijan/Armenian family is arriving and they wanted to greet us and were celebrating with our parents all night, drinking vodka, and partying.

While our parents were enjoying that first night in the US, my twin sister and I went to bed. The mattress we were sleeping on didn’t have bedframe, so it was just lying on the floor. When we finally fell asleep, we were moving around a lot (like most kids do), and our blanket fell on a heater and caught on fire. The fire alarm was going off, the fireman arrived and started banging on our bedroom door to get my sister and I to wake up, but we are super deep sleepers and continued to sleep. Somehow, they were able to wake us up and we were safe, but it was a lot of adventure on the first night in America.

The next day, the other refugee Azerbaijan and Armenian families took us to grocery stores to show us how to use food stamps and, to this day I remember feeling like doors to heaven had opened when the Albertson grocery store doors opened and we walked in. Considering we just arrived from the Soviet Union, where grocery stores shelves are empty and government issues vouchers to buy milk, butter, beef etc., I was shocked at the abundance of everything. It all looked so sparkling clean, and there was so much candy! I especially remember candy aisles because I was 9 years old at the time and really only cared about candy.

Even though the US government did everything they could for us, my parents still had to overcome some challenges with raising a family in a new country. My stepdad, my sister, and I spoke zero English. We were actually trying to learn a few words on the plane on our way to America. My mother took English classes in High School, so she spoke a few words and became the designated interpreter for the family. My stepdad had been an engineer in Azerbaijan, but in America, without fluent English and an accredited diploma from a US university, he couldn’t get a job as an engineer and took whatever job he could find, like working for a furniture company at their warehouse for a minimum wage. He and my mother often had multiple jobs at once and worked really long hours (from morning to night time) for much of our childhood.

The apartment complex the government provided was in Rainer, near Seattle, which was not in a safe part of town at that time. While there weren’t tanks roaming the streets, we had a lot of cockroaches in our apartment and the convenience store directly across from us was a hot spot for drug dealers and other criminal activities.

My mom and stepdad worked hard to provide for the family and within a year we moved to a more upscale neighborhood in Bellevue, Washington. My parents had an incredible work ethic and, because of their sacrifices, we were able to move to a place with better schools and opportunities for my sister and I.

Our family’s spirit of hard work and the willingness to do whatever it takes got us that and so much more. In me, it instilled a lifelong “never quit” philosophy that has helped me more than anything.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I’m grateful for many people in my life, but I’m probably the most grateful for my twin. As my counterpart throughout all of the twists and turns in this journey, it’s been great to have an identical twin sister who’s my exact age, looks like me, has same background as I do, and is going through it all together with me — she’s been my co-conspirator throughout.

I remember our first year in America, attending our first school here and kids would make fun of us for wearing the same clothes for a few days straight. That was normal in Russia! There, we wore uniforms to school and, back then in Russia, it was very normal for people to wear the exact same outfit for 4–5 days and then wash it. In the US, we didn’t have uniforms in public school and people wore a different outfit every day. It’s hard for me to imagine going through all the cultural changes by myself and feeling alone, because in reality I always had my identical twin sister to help me feel a little bit more normal. For me, it was always like looking at a mirror and having a reference point to check if I’m still sane and normal. Imagine if you were a nine-year-old kid who didn’t speak a word of English going to a brand-new school by yourself. It could be scary, but not if you have an identical twin sister by your side.

It was also great to have her with me to help with chores around the house and raising our little brothers. Because we were so poor and my parents worked multiple jobs, my sister and I had to help a lot with raising our two little brothers. If we wanted to go outside to play in the playground, we had to grab the strollers and bring them with us. It was so annoying because as 9-year-olds, we wanted to run around and play, but if our baby brother was with us, we had to do our part to take care of him.

A lot of people helped me along the way to get me to where I am today, but I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an identical twin sister.

So how are things going today?

Amazing! America gave me an opportunity to achieve everything I ever wanted and, if I didn’t achieve something, it’s only because I didn’t try hard enough. I’m the first women in my family to get a college degree, and I actually have 2. When I was 15, I used to drive by the Microsoft campus and say, “one day I’m going to work in that building.” 15 years later, I did just that. When I was 21 and got my first job in marketing, I set a goal for myself to be a VP of Marketing by the age of 30. I ended up missing that goal by 5 years, but I did become VP of Marketing at PipelineDeals.

And now, I’m a female CEO in the automotive industry and am proud to say that 321 Ignition is the only women owned website provider for car dealerships! The automotive industry is a male-dominated area, and we’re going up against major competitors, but my company is still kicking ass! What we’ve been able to accomplish in just a couple of years seems absolutely insane.

I’m very proud of my journey and where I come from. I don’t ever shy away from hard work and knowledge. If someone gave me an opportunity, without hesitation I will grab it and run! I got very lucky when I met DJ Haddad when I was 25 and worked at CapitalOne, where we would hire his agency for all of our digital creative. They were always one of the best to work with, so whenever I would change companies later on, I would always call him up to see if we can work with his group again. 13-or-so years later, I told him about my business idea and he believed in the opportunity enough to actually invest in the company, but primarily he was investing in me and I will forever be grateful to him for believing in me — even if I can be a bit of a workaholic maniac.

Today, I often think about what it would be like if I was in Azerbaijan right now. Would someone invest in my company? Would I be a CEO competing at the top of the automotive industry? The answer is “hell no!” America is one of very few countries where women can create opportunities equal to that of a man!

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

There’s a graveyard of startups that had great product but failed because they didn’t have a good sales and marketing team. Thanks to my marketing talent, I have helped so many startups stay in business, become publicly traded on NASDAQ, and get acquired. And now with 321 Ignition, my team and I are helping small businesses (aka car dealerships) go through a digital transformation, allowing them to compete against tech giants like Carvana and Vroom, plus protect them from fraudulent vendors.

One of my best friends used to work at a car dealership and because we were best friends, she used to come to me for marketing advice all the time. As I helped her, I discovered that her marketing agency was stealing from and lying to her, plus her website provider had really outdated technology, was too expensive and was preventing her dealership from growing. Almost every day, she would get calls from various vendors trying to sell her SEO services and they would lie to her about how SEO really works, seeking to charge her thousands for things that don’t work or trying to sell her website widgets that should have come standard with any site. I was shocked to see what was going on in the automotive industry and realized that not only was it a good business opportunity, but it would also give me an opportunity to fight for “the little guy.”

In the US, there are about 17,000 franchise dealerships and over 40,000 independent dealerships. Out of the 40,000 independent dealerships, 93% of them sell less than 20 cars per month. So, the majority of car dealerships are super small, family-owned businesses that likely don’t have a marketing department. So, as you can imagine, anyone can call them and try to sell them all kinds of marketing stuff that don’t work and they won’t even know that’s a scam because they don’t have marketing experts working with them. Since I started 321 Ignition, I have spent so many hours doing free consulting and education for car dealerships about digital marketing. Nothing gets me more excited than helping businesses increase sales and profit! I’m a numbers person so spreadsheets and I are tight, like BFFs.

You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

I’m not sure. I came to US when I was 9 years old, so my parents dealt with the immigration system. I don’t know how complicated things are or exactly how they can be improved. I know when we came to America, we immediately got food stamps, housing, and clothes and the American government put us in a community with other Russian refuge families that helped us get on our feet. I don’t know how we would have survived without help from the US immigration system, yet I’m also not sure exactly what it took to get all that set up or what it was like to deal with the American embassy because I was just too young.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

Absolutely, I’d love to share 5 things that stand out as influential for me.

  1. Never say “no” to any opportunity — even when it’s helping someone for free.

I try to say “yes” to everything and because of that, I have been given and uncovered so many opportunities! Even if you think that task is beneath you, don’t let your ego get in the way. Just do it. Every time I helped someone with anything, even if it was for free, somehow it always came back to me tenfold. I don’t do things because I expect something back, but somehow it always does come back to help me as well. Every opportunity is presented to us for a reason, so don’t be lazy, and say yes to everything. My company right now is a perfect example: I would have never discovered this opportunity in the automotive industry if I wasn’t helping my friend with marketing for free! So, even though I spent one Saturday at her dealership working for free, it came back to me ten times over! I now have an amazing company and I would have never discovered this opportunity if I didn’t invest some time consulting for free.

2. The biggest source of power is who you know, not what you know.

When I was at University of Washington, one of my professors invited his father to speak at our class. His dad wrote on the board in the classroom what he believed is the biggest sources of power, as well as how to get it and how to keep it. Among others, he listed the key sources of power as who you know and what you know. He asked the class which of these do we think is the biggest source of power. Since I was in college, I naturally assumed it’s what you know. He argued, the biggest source of power is actually who you know. To this day, I remember that presentation and it was the one of the most valuable things I learned in school. I spent all my life studying, but now that I’m 39, when I look back at my career and life until now, it’s so much about who I knew and when that got me here. Our ability to form long-lasting relationships and our “likability” is the biggest source of power we have. Whether you want a job or to get help with a business introduction, you might have all the right information and knowledge about why someone should hire you or take a meeting with you, but if you know someone who can make that call for you, that is a huge advantage you should use.

3. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

When I was 16 years old, one of my Polish friends worked at K-Mart and introduced me to the hiring manager. She immediately hired me for the summer as a cashier. That summer, he left to go to Poland for 2 months and when he got back, I already got promoted to a “Supervisor of Front Checkout”. He was so upset that he’s been there for almost a year and he was still a cashier and I was now a Supervisor. I remember thinking “oh, little grasshopper!”

4. Make sure you have a board of advisors — a life coach, career coach, therapist, nutritionist, and mentor — they are your team!

I believe in outsourcing every part of my life to subject matter experts. Nobody can be an expert at everything. There are only so many hours in a day, so a therapist will know how to help you overcome trauma or whatever you’re going through because that’s what they spent their life studying and practicing to helping others with. I’m shocked by how many people are against therapists and I believe it’s their ego. There’s a famous book called, “Ego is the Enemy”. Many people, especially Europeans, believe if you’re seeing a therapist that means you’re weak or not intelligent, but that’s not the case at all. Same with a career coach. My parents didn’t climb the American corporate ladder, so they couldn’t have taught me how to get to the executive level. I set a goal for myself to become a VP of Marketing by the age of 30, so I hired a career coach to help me get there. Same with a nutritionist. I’m 39 years old and I’m significantly healthier now than when I was 21. I have learned so much about micronutrition and there’s no way I would have learned that in school or from my parents, because they were unhealthy and didn’t know any of that stuff. I can’t imagine my life without my personal board of advisors.

5. Get a professional job while you’re in college and immediately start working

When I was going to college, I was working full time during the day and going to school at night. It might sound hard, but it was the best decision of my life! It allowed me to graduate with 0 dollar student loan debt, plus the experience I gained is a hundred times more valuable than just education alone. I remember when I was in a Global Business Strategy class reading business case studies, all I could think about at the time was wondering, “how are students who never had a professional job grasping the information we’re learning right now?” By the time I graduated, most of my peers were looking for their first professional job and I already had years of experience under my belt and a high paying career.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

There are so many great things happening across the country right now. While we regularly hear on the news or social media about how bad things are or can be, I don’t think most people really believe all of that too much.

I know first-hand what it’s like to live in a country where you can bribe and pay off anyone for absolutely anything. Imagine you can’t even leave your house or not knowing you will be okay on any given day. Living in a country like that would probably feel hopeless. It could feel like it doesn’t matter what you do, unless you were lucky enough to be born in a family with power and money, it’s tough to imagine succeeding in life.

We have problems in America, but I never feel hopeless. I feel optimistic about our new President and our first women of color Vice President. In general, the amount of progress we’ve made with women holding executive roles, and powerful positions, and how much support and various programs we have to offer women fulfilling careers and still be able to have a family is incredible and fills me with hope for the future.

The number of opportunities women have available today compared to just 30–40 years ago is startling. I feel so blessed to be in a country that supports women to be independent and self-sufficient. In many countries today, that’s not the case at all.

We have so many more areas of abundance, innovation, and opportunity at our fingertips than ever before. In nearly every possible way, the people of this country get up and go out every day to make their lives and the lives of those around the world better.

I love seeing the early morning traffic in the Seattle area and imagining the impact that so many of those people are making in the lives and communities we cherish. There’s so many big thinkers and doers here that it’s an inspiring place to live for anyone willing to take risks and work hard.

In the late 80s, when I arrived here, technology companies looked very different from today. Here in the Seattle area alone, we’ve seen the tremendous power that innovation and creation that can come from domestic hearts and minds.

This is all made possible by local, state, and federal governments operating under the constant notion that democracy is at the core of this nation. There will always be someone ready to challenge an incumbent candidate with fresh new ideas looking to take the seat of officials high-and-low, and that natural force drives us forward with legislation that promotes innovation and inclusivity, while continually making life better for the average American.

I guess to summarize, the three things that make me the most optimistic about the future for the United States are:

  1. The inspiration I see in the people hard at work around me everyday
  2. Democracy at work; always flexible to meet the challenges of the next generation head-on
  3. The opportunities available for women and marginalized communities to help shape a future that is better than the world of today

We are very blessed that 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 see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk — not only is he a fellow computer and data nerd (Tesla is not just an automotive company; they are a data company), but he is also obsessed with consumer experience. His work at Tesla didn’t just bring about another electric vehicle, they created a unique experience for their customers. There were other electric vehicles before Tesla and none of them took off until that innovation was brought into the mix.

I think Elon clearly sees that whenever you’re building a product, unless it’s drastically different, you’re basically just a commodity. So, you as the innovator have to be drastically different. Different enough that it’s undeniable that yours is a significantly superior product. That’s the same spirit that motivates us to continually innovate at 321 Ignition, as we don’t want to be just another website provider.

Like Elon, I’m obsessed with imagining the consumer experience. We consider every aspect of buying a car in the 21st century and strive to create the undeniably best car shopping experience possible on a mobile device.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

It’s easy to find me online. I’m the only Lyamen Savy in America. 😊

They can find me on LinkedIn:

Or my company website:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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