I was able to sit down and interview Amir Farhand, entrepreneur and CEO of Soar. Farhand’s goal with his company is to build a world super-map — a unified global index of all types of images and maps for journalists and other people who need it.
Thank you for joining us Amir! What brought you to this specific career path? What happened, exactly?
Well, I was always fascinated by maps and geography, even as a small child. From the time I was 10 years old I’ve wanted to be involved in maps and earth science in some way, and when I went to college I did an undergraduate degree in earth science. I went from there to postgraduate work in satellite imagery and data analysis.
My family emigrated to Australia when I was young, and after university I was able to spend some time working with AusAID in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. We were investigating the air pollution problem in Beijing and trying to find out what was causing it through the use of satellite imagery analysis.
Through the process we found that overgrazing in the Inner Mongolian grasslands played a bigger part in pollution in the urban sprawls that had previously been blamed.
Through that work with China I realized that there are petabytes of data out there that only a small fraction of people get to see and use. I thought to myself, “imagine if we could unleash this to the masses and truly democratise its outputs?” That’s where I got the inspiration to build a mapping company.
Can you share a story in which you needed to rely upon grit to see success? Tell us a story about a time when things were hard when you first started out on your entrepreneurial journey.
I have certainly been lucky. I’ve been surrounded by a terrific team and had the support of very early investors that believed in the mission of the company and the problems were trying to solve. I think the biggest example is knowing what to put on the line and when to take a risk, sometimes managed, most of the time not.
Entrepreneurs need to realize that they can’t take yearly holidays, buy new cars, update home entertainment systems, go out partying every weekend…and as for paying off a mortgage? Think again. If you are one of the lucky few that have the financial stability to live the life of luxury and grow a company, that’s great. But if you are part of the majority, you need to strategize risk.
For me, and this was a personal decision, I decided to remortgage what I had saved into my home loan and sell off my assets. I walked into investor meetings knowing that they understood just how much I was focused on success, because I had risked all that I had.
Where did you find the courage to keep going? Especially when things were hardest …
For me, and my team (I always include my team because they are the nucleus of the journey), the courage to keep going has always sprung from our desire to build some great tech that has an impact. We want as many people in the world to use our products as possible. They’re too good just for a few people to know about it.
But of course, there are times when the journey gets really tough.
I could say something cliché here about courage, the human spirit and all that jazz, but I would be lying. You just need to put your head down, keep going, maintain momentum and be as stubborn as possible in your ambition and drive.
I would tell my friends jokingly that as an entrepreneur and innovator you almost have to be in denial just to convince yourself to keep going.
How are things going today? How did your grit lead you to eventual success?
We are barely on the second chapter of Soar and there is certainly a long journey ahead of us. I would not say that Soar has been successful so far.
I would say that we are certainly starting to get some traction and seeing useful and different applications of our technology. We have a few key metrics we watch closely and those have been hitting their targets month on month which means we are on the right track.
There are however two instances which have so far been highlights:
One was the on-boarding of access to the Chinese Space Agency’s Superview satellite imagery. This was an exceptional achievement as we had to showcase that our technology was solving a genuine problem first. But it also proved just how big the opportunity for Soar truly was.
The other was getting approached by other geospatial professionals and specialists wanting to get in on the Soar journey. Validation by peers and other innovators is very important, I think.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Could you share a story about that?
There are a lot of companies doing digital mapping, but Soar is different because we obtain amazing imagery and mapping content from everywhere. We aim to provide a living record of every place on Earth.
Google Maps is the big name for the average internet user. We love having access to Google Maps base layers, but we also pull from sources which the average person doesn’t even know exists. For example, we pull content from the Japanese Space Agency’s Himawari satellite that provides almost live imagery over eastern Asia and Australia.
But we are not just about having up-to-date imagery of places. Most of our content is also indexed via blockchain technology. Blockchain allows us to keep a decentralized ledger of all the maps and imagery that we’ve connected to.
In other words, it’s like a family photo album of the whole earth. Nobody else is offering that. We can watch events like sudden lake formation or wildfires as they occur and see the before and after. That’s not something many people can say.
Which tips would you recommend to colleagues in your industry to help them not only see similar levels of success, but avoid “burnout,” as well?
Don’t get too impatient. Don’t get too excited.
Timing is everything, and you can have the best product on the market and fail if your timing’s wrong. Investors are the same. Sometimes they’re going to be willing to listen, sometimes they aren’t (most of the time they aren’t), and it all depends on whether the time is right or not.
Work hard, stay humble and wait for the timing to be right.
That’s difficult in a “startup tech” culture that prizes instant gratification, but it’s the only way to have sustainable long-term success. I hear often in Silicon Valley that if you stop growing, your business will die. But at the same time, you’ll burn out if you keep banging your head against the same closed door. Keep working and only strike when you know the opportunity’s there.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some kind of help along the way. Is there a specific person who helped you get to where you’re at today — somebody for whom you’re extremely grateful?
There’s absolutely no way I can be grateful to just one specific person. It wouldn’t be fair.
Honestly, from the very beginning, the love and support shown to me by my beautiful family, through to my teachers, friends, investors, staff, board members has kept me going. But even random strangers have been encouraging when they tell you to keep going or say they love what you are doing.
Sometimes people really surprise you with their generosity. Also, I am a believer that you need to try to put out positive energy and be good to people. Treat them how you expect to be treated. Remember you are not the center of the universe; you are just a part of it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Everything we do with Soar is aimed at making a big positive impact.
We offer journalists detailed maps that they can use to make their stories more accurate. Remote communities in Africa are getting medical supplies more frequently based on our mapping data.
Disaster relief agencies can see the scope of problems quicker and understand how to solve them. Ecologists can protect environments more effectively by understanding how they’ve changed. And long-term, we want to be a product that millions of people can use to make their lives easier.
That’s the real goal of Soar. Sure, we hope to make some money along the way — but that’s not the only goal. We want to transform digital maps into something that’s usable for everyone, from the biggest company to the average individual. As part of that, we’ve made sure that the majority of the Soar product remains free and accessible to as many people as possible.
What are five things you wish someone had told you before you started doing what you do today? The more detailed you can be, the more our leaders can learn from you.
Leaders have to have a finger on the pulse of everything in the organization, but nothing works without teamwork. There are a thousand moving parts at any one time and you can’t do everything yourself.
Focus on your strengths. Working together and focusing on strengths rather than trying to do things with a smaller number of non-specialized people is a key to success.
Adapt. Whether it’s language, technology or economy, you’re going to run into barriers. If you’re willing to adapt your plan to fit the circumstances you’ll succeed, but without that resourcefulness you’ll fail. And you probably won’t know why.
Be accountable and diligent, but be human. People need to both know that you’re capable and know that you care. Both matter.
And finally, make sure you’re solving a genuine problem. It’s one of the most emphatic phrases in business: “solve a problem for the consumer”. It’s easy to say, but there are people starting companies every day that don’t follow it. Fix people’s problems. They don’t care about you. They care about what you’re doing.
Undoubtedly, you are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’ve always been thinking big, from the time I was a little kid reading the National Geographic and pinning maps to the wall. I want people to understand how the world connects, and really, underneath it all, we are all the same.
When I was younger I worked on smaller mapping products for specific industries, but now with Soar I’m working on a solution that spans industries and countries and is really universal. We have to understand how much as humans we depend on each other, and I think everything flows from that.
In my first big project I realized that. Why do grasslands in Inner Mongolia affect Chinese cities a thousand kilometers away? On planet Earth, nothing happens in a vacuum, and the more we can make that clear to people the better off we’ll be.
Lastly, how can our readers best connect with you?
I love connecting with new people by learning and sharing experiences!
You can best find me on Twitter, but I’m also on LinkedIn. And if you want to connect with me and the rest of the team at Soar, there are plenty of options through Telegram, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.