Culture is key. Culture should not happen “accidentally” — just as with your vision, you need to spend time defining and cultivating the culture of your organization.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amir Moussavian. Amir is the founder of Eturi Corp. — a San Diego-based software company that develops the popular family screen time management app, OurPact. Moussavian has led a number of innovative technology companies; most recently MIR3, an intelligent notification system.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been wired to think about how technology can tackle problems and inefficiencies.
When I was spearheading my last company, MIR3, I would come home after long days excited to spend quality time with my family. The problem was, my children weren’t ‘present’ — they were texting at the dinner table and scrolling through Instagram during conversations. It felt like every family moment was being hijacked by screens, or by arguments about screens.
I decided to write up a ‘pact’ that positioned device use as a privilege and outlined my expectations for that privilege to continue: no screens during family meals, for an hour before bed, during homework time. No more arguments.
We made great progress, but our system still lacked accountability. I’d tell my daughters: “only fifteen more minutes,” then come back to them still on their device over an hour later. One morning, I found myself looking at the contracts taped to our fridge and had an ‘Aha’ moment. I realized that technology is the problem, but it can also be the solution. From that day, I set out to develop an app that would help families limit screen time, without the arguments. They say necessity is the mother of all inventions; OurPact was born!
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I learned early in my career to never rush a release to market without thorough testing.
When there’s a legitimate need for your product and the market is hungry, it’s easy to ship a product before it’s ready. But the quality you nod to directly reflects the effectiveness of your organizations’ processes. Negative press and brand impressions are difficult to come back from — much harder than the temporary disappointment from missing an internal deadline or not rising to investors’ satisfaction. Always cross your T’s and dot your I’s.
Last but not least: prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
In my opinion, the most important component of my success has been my teams.
It’s one thing to create a vision behind a successful company. Once that vision — and the strategy behind that vision — is clear, you need the right people executing it. I’ve had amazing people by my side. In the absence of their support, hard work, and sheer talent, I would not be where I am today.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Your vision needs to be crystal clear. You need to know your company’s vision inside and out, and you need to believe it wholeheartedly. From there, that vision needs to be shared with and understood by the rest of your team. If your team doesn’t have a clear path, you will get lost very quickly.
- Have a realistic understanding of the capital needed to execute on your vision. This may seem obvious, but it’s trickier than it sounds. The first crucial step to building a successful company is having a very clear, pragmatic understanding of how much capital is required to get your product off the ground, the right way. Don’t cut corners, and account for lessons learned along the way (also known as mistakes!).
- Prioritize capitalization. How you manage your organization’s funds — especially in its early stages of growth — is imperative to long term success. You need to know where all of your money is going, and continually vet your budget and expenses with an eye for detail. Whenever and wherever there is room to cut back on unnecessary expenses, do so. Then, allocate that money directly towards compensating your team.
- Culture is key. Culture should not happen “accidentally” — just as with your vision, you need to spend time defining and cultivating the culture of your organization.
- Skip the company events. This point could be seen as controversial, but it’s one I’ve come to truly stand behind over the years. Company events tend to be very expensive (see point three!) and, frankly, they’re just another work obligation that can even be uncomfortable for a lot of people. We do regular catered lunches during office hours and the occasional happy hour. Aside from that, I want my team to spend their time outside of work as they please.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
When I was young, work stayed at work. For that reason, it was really easy to draw a line between today and tomorrow; work and home.
Now, everything is mobile. You literally bring the office home with you in your back pocket. Taking time to consistently relax and unplug from work is crucial to bringing your best self to the office every day.
Separately, I think we need to be conscious of information overload. Time and energy are not infinite. Be very judicious about how you allocate these resources — both personally and professionally.
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?
Early in my career, a prominent entrepreneur invested in one of my companies and ended up spending a lot of time mentoring me. He always encouraged me to look at mistakes as investments and to think outside of the box — especially when solving problems and making important decisions.
At one point in time, we had a distribution that was delaying payment, and my CFO recommended a layoff. After talking to my mentor, he encouraged me to identify every other possible option available to avoid a layoff. Ultimately, we arranged a temporary pay cut for the most expensive team members and executives in the company. When we re-stabilized, we were able to pay back the individuals who took a pay cut, and ultimately keep our entire team intact. Had I taken the initial advice I was given, a lot of people would have been unnecessarily impacted and the company would have been at a major loss. We went on to have great success, and I see that moment as a key turning point in our journey.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I am really excited to grow OurPact and Eturi’s product portfolio in the coming year. I’m very interested in AI and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to employ AI technology to improve OurPact’s existing functionality. We also have an exciting new parenting control solution that will launch later this year.
On the personal front, I want to dedicate more time to my family and to philanthropy. My daughters no longer live at home, so I need to be intentional in carving out time for us all to spend together. Those are my happiest moments… as long as screens are out of the picture!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I was fortunate to start my career at a really exciting inflection point for technology. I’ve developed a number of solutions over the years that are easily scalable: from emergency notification systems, to business communications solutions, to OurPact, which helps families unplug to connect. I see these tools as foundations to be built on — who knows where they will be twenty, forty years from now.
Separately, I’ve always been of the belief that if you are in a position to help people grow professionally and build talent, you should do so. When I identify individuals with high potential, I’ll do my best to create opportunities for them to grow.
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!
I think a very powerful movement is afoot with digital wellness, and OurPact is certainly a part of that.
You wouldn’t believe some of the emails we receive from parents, expressing gratitude for OurPact’s software. When I read these statements from parents, I know the work we do is coming full circle — this endeavor is not about money, it’s about solving a problem, changing people’s lives, and creating more time for moments that matter.
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