Strive to touch base with staff members on a daily basis. It’s easy to avoid problems by sticking people in corners. Don’t give yourself the chance. Be open to criticism by facing it head-on and in-person. Don’t hide behind a screen.
Marwan Forzley is the co-founder and CEO of Veem, a global payments company helping small businesses transfer money internationally, and author of “Small Business in a Big World: A Comprehensive Guide to Doing International Business”. Formerly of Western Union and eBillMe, Forzley is a thought leader in global finance, innovating the space through disruptive technology like blockchain. Veem is revolutionizing global business payments and wire transfer systems to help small businesses grow at home and abroad.
Thank you for joining us Marwan! What is your “backstory”?
Being an entrepreneur runs in my family. I grew up with small business owners around my family, who all built their businesses from nothing. Working day in, day out to make ends meet and grow their businesses to become larger ones. Having been brought up in an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and running businesses, I started my own company and sold it to Western Union. I have a soft spot for small businesses and I was always looking for a way to help them.
In the last decade, the world has changed as well. Small businesses can’t just open up a shop in a high traffic area and hope people walk in and make purchases. The landscape is now competitive. More people want to live the “American Dream”, which means more businesses are competing for customers. With the advent of the internet, supplier markets like Alibaba, and the e-commerce boom, sourcing your goods and service locally is just as easy as doing it within the U.S.
For a business to be able to take advantage of the global market, things have to be seamless. Global payments were made for big companies. Small businesses faced a bureaucratic maze, with layers upon layers of regulations, middlemen, and banks who were taking cuts of payments, and cutting further into the razor-thin margins these small businesses need to survive. Small business owners had none of the negotiating power that these big companies had, and it was almost as if the entire system was designed to stop their business from going global. That issue is what made me start Veem.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I had dinner in China with an important partner. The translator did not show up. We had the meeting and went out for dinner, conducting the conversation all on WeChat.
This is a great example of how tech can improve life by making the world smaller and reducing boundaries, even if the language is a little tough.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is balancing work life and personal life, with a business that is servicing the globe. Juggling completely different audiences, markets, and cultures, with one brand and product is challenging. Payments and global transfers of funds seem like a universal language. It’s far from it.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Being a CEO means finding the most innovative and intelligent ways to move your company forward. It doesn’t mean all of those ideas should come from the CEO. I encourage everyone at my company to submit ideas for how we can improve, from our internal processes to our customer support, to our product itself. This not only allows every member of my team to contribute and have a say in the progression and development of the company but it also lets us keep up to date on the unique issues in each business unit. As a CEO I want to foster an open, transparent and team-building environment and showing my team that great ideas don’t always come from the top or from product managers. Ideas come from every employee of the company
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family, for the support they provide as I grow my business. It takes a lot of time and effort and that support is crucial and very important both personally, and on the job. As a CEO, it’s hard to leave the job at the door. Thankfully, my family is understanding, caring, and proud of the work we’re doing here.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career? How did you do that?
Absolutely. Especially in an early-stage business — you’re constantly working. Finding investors, building the product, finding talent, it all seems like it won’t stop. As my companies grew, I found more time, and found better ways to balance life with work. When I leave the house, I might as well be at work. I do my very best not to work when I’m with my family, so I need every opportunity to mold my day-to-day tasks around home time. It’s tough, but you ALWAYS find away.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
I think it’s impossible to avoid. Of course, life becomes more difficult and stressful the more you pack into it, ut, working in the startup/ VC space for as long as I have, I’ve learned to balance things a bit better. Of course, some days are harder than others, but it all evens out in the end, so I can find time to enjoy myself outside of the office.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to create a healthy work environment?
1. Strive to touch base with staff members on a daily basis. It’s easy to avoid problems by sticking people in corners. Don’t give yourself the chance. Be open to criticism by facing it head-on and in-person. Don’t hide behind a screen.
2. Problem solves together. One of the things that I like doing is gathering staff from different functions to solve a particular issue. It is amazing the feedback on an issue when different participants bring different angles on ways to solve an issue. It makes the problem solving more interesting and exciting.
3. Read every day, and share what you read with your team. Whether it’s the news or industry-specific articles, it keeps me up to date on what’s going on around us, and inspires innovation. An industry leader can’t work in a vacuum; be open to new ideas by actively seeking them out.
4. Give an idea 24 hours to marinate. It’s easy to get excited about a plan or project you think will be fantastic, and even easier to send a quick email or Slack message to get the ball rolling on it. Entrepreneurs love to say “move fast, apologize later.” If you’re smart, you should never have to.
5. Have a beer with your team. Walking around the office and surveying your team’s progress, while informative for you, can be intimidating for everyone else. Make yourself approachable by making out of office, relaxed get-togethers at least a monthly occurrence.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
I love seeing how industries are changing under the power of small businesses. Businesses have been taking advantage of their customers for a long time. But as we build tools to help small businesses take back control we’re forcing large industries to take them more seriously. Seeing the impact on business owners’ lives and bottom lines makes me very proud.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think the more connected we are, the fewer barriers there will be between people. Technology can connect people and businesses on the planet so that distance, time zones, and differences are removed. When people start working together, collaborating and sharing the knowledge you can make a measurable impact on the world as a whole. I think we need more connections right now.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
LinkedIn is always the best way to reach me. I connect with everyone I met and I find it a great way to keep in touch with people.