“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death” from N.Y. State of Mind. To me, this represents keeping the momentum in your business going. As a startup founder, I’ve realised that if you want to scale, you need to keep things fast-paced. We’re constantly experimenting, learning and growing.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pedram Afshar, an entrepreneur specializing in creating innovative technology solutions across several industries. Most recently, he started Amaka, a tech startup specializing in accounting integrations and business automation. After almost six years, Amaka now has a customer base all over the world and has grown to a team of 30+.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for having me! Before I dived into entrepreneurship, I started a career in commercial banking, credit risk and portfolio management. Working in these fields helped me gain invaluable experience in the SME landscape which I then used as a startup founder. I specialize in creating innovative technology solutions across several industries and have successfully run several related businesses.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I had my “Aha Moment” when I realized my skill set was better suited to entrepreneurship than banking. The products I’ve decided to build have been based on a mixture of personal experience and customer validation. For example, I knew there was a need for better integrations that could automate the accounting function. This idea was further validated when Revel, a POS system, approached us to build our first accounting integration.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Starting a company is always hard at the beginning. We had no resources, no idea how to approach things and no time to slow down. When cash flow was low and customers were minimal, it was hard to find the drive to continue. I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship, however, I definitely considered giving up on ideas that weren’t working out. What really got me through was the ability to keep things in perspective. I reminded myself that I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to launch my own startup. It was a massive privilege to be able to take a risk this huge. This mindset helped me learn from my mistakes and pivot when I needed to.
How are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to eventual success?
My entrepreneurial journey has been long, and as expected, filled with a bunch of losses amongst the wins. Having a growth mindset through the years has really kept my grit and resilience high. Today, multiple companies that I’ve co-founded are doing well. At the moment, my main priority is Amaka where I’m currently the CEO and Managing Director. After achieving amazing results in 2020, we’re looking to scale in 2021 and the prospects look great!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Over the years, we’ve been flexible enough to take calculated risks and change our business model. On top of developing accounting integrations, we maintain them and provide unlimited support. This has enabled us to work with world-class players in the industry, without having to compromise on professionalism, execution or delivery.
For example, Vend, a POS system, came to us after seeing how well we worked with other partners. We built an integration that allows their customers to sync data with their accounting solution. Then, we provide their customers with onboarding and ongoing support, allowing Vend to focus on their core product.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
About 6 years ago, right at the beginning of my journey, I committed to a software project without any developers or any technical experience of my own. Looking back, it was probably one of the riskiest things I’ve done. The mistake put me in a difficult position, but it pushed me to work harder. Fortunately, I was able to deliver the project in the end. The key takeaway for me was that I needed to take action in order to learn and grow.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
This is a great question! As a business owner, you inevitably get advice coming from every direction. I’ve had to learn how to filter out advice that isn’t relevant to my unique situation. For example, I was once told by a high-level team member to focus on enterprise deals. To do so, I’d have to break the team in two and deliver on two separate business models. This ended up being a disaster. The diluted focus led to diluted cohesion among the team.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Resilience: I have failed in many aspects of the business. Having the resilience to keep going is the biggest part of success. We once launched a product that we had spent 6 months building and ended up almost no sales. I hadn’t done enough research on the implementation and the go-to market strategy. Fortunately, I was able to learn from the disaster.
- Itchy feet: The desire to move from place to place in business is crucial. Always look at the next potential opportunity rather than resting on your last one. Generally, whenever we close a deal, I’m already thinking about how to execute the next 10 in the pipeline.
- Humility: If you’re not humble, no one will follow you. At the beginning of my journey, I let the very little success I was seeing get to my head. It wasn’t until I was ready to let go of my ego and become humble that I was finally in a position to lead.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As I mentioned a bit earlier, you’re bound to get all different kinds of advice when you’re leading a company. In saying that, the one tip that I would give to help prevent burnout is to actually avoid trying to implement everything. Remember that you have the most intimate understanding of your business and you have every right to pass on any advice that you don’t think is right for you. People offer their opinions based on their own experience, which is completely fair, but likely different to yours.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There are three main mistakes I see founders make, particularly at the beginning. First, I’ve seen many people dive into a business idea without doing enough research. It’s important to have a full understanding of how your solution solves a problem, where your solution fits on the market and how it compares to other options.
On the flip side, spending too much time on market research can be a downfall too. Planning and talking to customers is important, however, these are things that can be done along the way. You need to be jumping out of a plane and building a parachute on the way down. Every day counts and you need to keep an eye on your cash before it runs out. Time is not on your side.
Lastly, a common mistake I’ve seen and have definitely made myself is looking for the big whale. Looking for that massive deal that could make you successful is super common among B2B businesses. However, I’ve learned the hard way that when you’re starting out, you want to avoid the whales. Catch a bunch of salmon instead. It’s much more sustainable! 😉
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
This might be a little biased considering Amaka focuses on accounting integrations and business automation, however, I do believe people underestimate the importance of accounting processes. Not only does staying on top of everything help to save you a lot of time, it helps to keep your records accurate. As a result, you, or the accounting professionals you work with, can spend more time drawing insights from the numbers and using them to improve your business. Often, your books should be an underlying factor in decision-making.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Along the way, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of lessons from them. Here are five things I wish someone told me before I began leading my company, but told with references to 90’s rap classics.
First and foremost, Eminem’s Without Me talks about coming back to the rap game because it isn’t the same without him. Early on, I lost a lot of potential clients and partnerships because I didn’t fight hard enough for them. I’ve learned that if I know I can make a difference, I won’t leave the fight. I’ll try to win them over and convey how things wouldn’t be the same without me.
Next, leading a team was a lot harder than expected. I had to learn the hard way that you have to keep your team accountable if you want to build a healthy team culture. Just like in Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me, the “It wasn’t me!” culture will tear relationships apart.
We can’t talk about rap classics without talking about The Notorious B.I.G! One of my absolute favourite lyrics is Juicy’s “Don’t let ’em hold you down, reach for the stars.” When I first dipped into entrepreneurship, I let too many opinions bring me down. This lyric serves as a reminder to see doubters and haters as motivation rather than discouragement.
The last two lessons I’ve had to learn both come from Nas songs. In Suspect, he says, “We roll wit’ no regrets.” I heard this cliché my entire life but didn’t really understand how to implement it until I started a business. There were constantly fires burning and I had to get used to learning from them quickly and moving on without dwelling too much.
Finally, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death” from N.Y. State of Mind. To me, this represents keeping the momentum in your business going. As a startup founder, I’ve realized that if you want to scale, you need to keep things fast-paced. We’re constantly experimenting, learning and growing.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I have been working on a charity concept over the past 6 months. It would be utilizing the new economic opportunity and enabling participants to donate their time and money, in an effective and efficient manner.
Can’t give away the secret sauce, but it is at the implementation stage.
How can our readers further follow you online?
As expected, you can follow me on LinkedIn! I’ve just started posting articles about my experience as a startup founder and I definitely will be posting more in the near future. You can also follow Amaka on LinkedIn and Facebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!