Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Amihai Miron, the co-founder and CEO of User1st, a provider of advanced web and mobile accessibility solutions for testing, remediation, monitoring and compliance. A user experience designer by training, Miron co-founded User1st in Israel in 2012 to find a better way for designing and maintaining websites with accessibility for people with disabilities. Miron’s desire to help people in need stemmed from being the son of a Holocaust survivor, which made him sensitive to other people’s feelings and perspectives. While in his twenties, Miron worked and volunteered for organizations that helped disadvantaged children, directly managing more than 40 students across 15 schools throughout Jerusalem. His fulfilling work with children led him to pursue a career helping people, and his Buddhist belief of giving back to his community also contributed to his decision.
User1st expanded to the U.S. in 2014. Today, the company offers a set of advanced web and mobile accessibility solutions for achieving the highest level of compliance, the international specifications of the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. Used by a variety of industries worldwide, User1st’s solutions have been deployed to more than six million users who have remediated more than 650 internet sites comprised of more than 700,000 webpages. In 2014, Miron was awarded Israel’s Prime Minister Prize for Entrepreneurship, which recognizes innovative thinking, imagination and creativity as a vehicle for social, environmental, scientific and technological change.
Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
About 25 years ago I was teaching at a school in Jerusalem. While there, I worked with deaf teenagers and one of them had overcome many obstacles to receive an education. I remember one situation in particular where I was asked to serve as an interpreter for the boy and his mother over the phone. Over the course of the conversation, it was evident the mother was blaming her son for his disability and didn’t want to see him for the holidays. That conversation was heartbreaking to experience, let alone live in the boy’s case. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that boy and other people who are not seen and are often neglected by society.
While I developed my career in the technology market as an experience designer, I continued volunteering for organizations that worked with children of neglect. It was there when I was made aware of the global web accessibility issue and asked myself “why can’t disability, accessibility and technology co-exist?” I decided to launch User1st in 2012 and accessibility is now my life passion.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first starting User1st? What lesson did you learn from that experience?
When launching User1st and meeting with investors, it was challenging to raise money for the cause. To put it bluntly, I was often overlooked or ignored. Many venture capitalists are looking to invest in the next “sexy” or fun technology product. I learned early on to rely on quality over quantity. If I wanted to succeed, I would need to do my research and seek out open-minded investors who not only understood the disability market, but could see the need for this type of technology and the immense impact this technology would have on our world.
What are some of the key factors that have led to your professional success?
Key factors to my professional success include:
- Trust in the people you work with
- Surrounded yourself with people smarter than yourself, and look to hire managers that have different skill sets than yours. In doing this, you will learn more about yourself and your company as well as make more informed decisions.
- Surround yourself with people who are willing to disagree with you. Disagreements can often lead to better understanding and more comprehensive insights.
- Trust in the mission at all times. After all, millions of users are now leveraging User1st’s technology worldwide every year.
What 5 things do you wish someone told you before becoming a CEO?
- Get to the market as quickly as possible with a minimum viable product. By its nature, the market will drive you to create a better iteration of your product. Additionally, planning is important, but you need to start generating some form of revenue if you want your company to eventually take off.
- When you don’t know something — and it’s ok to not know everything — don’t be afraid to consult your colleagues for advice.
- Your company is only as good as its people. Trust their expertise, give them authority and a sense of responsibility, and make sure they understand the mission and believe it can be achieved.
- Having a true life partner (i.e. my wife) is an invaluable asset to launching and growing a company.
- Finally, it’s hard. Everyone tells you about the late nights and long hours but many neglect to tell you about the sleepless nights. As CEO, you are always concerned about the company, your employees, your investors and also your family. Everyone around you is trusting you, that’s a lot of weight to carry on one’s shoulders at all times.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Two life lessons come to mind:
- “Work to live, not live to work”
- Inject a sense of humor into every occasion and circumstance.
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? Can you share a story?
Every day I am grateful for my wife. We’ve been married for 13 years and she is a constant source of unrivaled support, reliance and trust in my life.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Like Derek Zoolander says, “I want to turn left.” It’s easy to stay on the same track (or fashion runway, in Derek’s case) your entire life, doing the same things year after year, and never venturing outside of your comfort zone. I want to keep learning and challenging myself to try new things.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Accessibility is just one life milestone in a longer road of inclusion. To create employment opportunities for people with disabilities, you need websites and applications and digital environments ready for their use, and you need laws and mandates for people to be hired. Hiring a person with a disability is a challenging concept for many until they are educated about it, and education requires a carrot and a stick. It is this combination that will create an environment for actual inclusion of all people regardless of ability. I want my company’s legacy to be part of helping make that kind of inclusion possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
We need to live our lives with more compassion for each other, and it should be everyone’s duty to help our fellow man or woman. I am constantly inspired by how disabled people overcome the societal barriers they encounter on a daily basis. I hope one day that all people with disabilities will be seen and heard, and that all societies will begin to take on their accessibility challenges as their own.