From this week on, we are going to publish an interview with one of our mentors every week. This week we are so pleased to publish our interview with Kiyan Foroughi Managing Director at Garena and formerly Founder/CEO of Boticca (sold)
Avatech: Tell us about the field you’re working at and your background.
Kiyan: I’m currently part of the senior management team of Garena, a large diversified Internet business based in Singapore with operations all over South East Asia – and now, in Iran. I run the m-commerce operations (Shopee app), the New Markets team that takes care of international expansion for the group, and M&A/investments. Previously, I was the founder/CEO of Boticca, a curated marketplace for fashion accessories designers all over the world, which we sold to a retailer in the UK last year. I started my career in Investment Banking in New York and growth Private Equity investments later in London.
Avatech: What has been your biggest achievement and what are you most proud of?
Kiyan: My biggest professional achievement was learning what it takes to become a CEO: Chief “Enabling” Officer. Someone who builds the environment and platform for others to perform, succeed and grow as individuals. I put a lot of time into this at Boticca, and now at Garena. It definitely paid off but it takes a big personal leap to learn how to become this kind of leader.
Avatech: Have you had a mentor? If yes who was the most important and how was the experience with this mentor?
Kiyan: I never really had an official mentor to be honest. Perhaps that was a mistake. However, some of my board members and angel investors at Boticca helped me think through some tough challenges and overcome some tough times.
Avatech: What has been your biggest challenge and what have you learned?
Kiyan: A few years ago, with growth stalling, I took Boticca through a complete restructuring where I had to let go of 30% of staff in one day (to get the right people “on the bus”), rebranded the business and simplified the product drastically. It was very tough times initially as it affected company morale and culture, but in the end, we came out stronger and the business discovered “its formula”.
What I have learned is that before you’re about to go through something really “bad”, there is always a way through and things were not as scary as they seemed. As poet Robert Frost says: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
Avatech: What is your favorite productivity tool?
Kiyan: Trello. My whole life is one giant Kaban board! I use this methodology to track what teams in 7 different countries are doing at any point in time. Trello enables me to create all these boards and track what we’re working on and prioritise.
Avatech: What is your favorite startup book?
Kiyan: I read a book a week on average (which I manage to sneak in on commutes) so it’s really hard to pick just one. My favourites are Pixar’s founder Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. on how to create and sustain a creative working environment; Jim Collins’ classic Good to Great; Andy Grove’s (former CEO of Intel) High Output Management, a timeless handbook for any manager in technology; and Greg McKweon’s Essentialism which teaches you to focus on what really matters in life and at work.
Avatech: What did you choose entrepreneurship as a career?
Kiyan: I don’t think it was a conscious choice. I just wanted to go through the emotional rollercoaster of building a business and learning to constantly evolve as a professional (and a person) as the company evolves and grows, requiring different things from its founder every step along the way.
Avatech: Besides mentors what helped you through entrepreneur journey?
Kiyan: My soon-to-be wife, my parents and music from J Dilla, A Tribe Called Quest and Japanese producer Nujabes.
Which startup do you admire most?
Kiyan: I’m a student of branding and selling a lifestyle/experience. Therefore, the “startup” that I admire the most is Airbnb. Their branding, outlook on the world and attention to every small detail through their UI and UX is extremely impressive.
Avatech: Who has influenced you most?
Kiyan: To be honest, no one in particular. I look to different people for different things – and that ranges from successful entrepreneurs, friends, my soon-to-be wife and family.
Avatech: How do you spend most of your time?
Kiyan: The last few years, I learnt to balance my life. Previously, it was all work, work, work. But that is not healthy and building businesses is a marathon, not a sprint – so you need to learn to pace yourself.
I am an early morning person. I’m out for a run or at the gym for a quick workout at 6AM and in the office by 7.30AM so that I am alone in the office for a few hours and get my most productive work done. As mentioned, I sneak in a book once a week and like to spend time with my fiancé discovering Asia, having a good meal and learning to shut off my phone when I am with her to make the most of our time together – and find some balance.
Avatech: What should a team prepare for a mentorship session?
Kiyan: Be brave. Confront the brutal questions and facts about your business. It is impossible to make good decisions about where to take your business at that stage without an honest confrontation of the facts.
Once you have done that, ask those questions to the mentor. That’s what they are there for. They might not have the answers but they can show you the road you need to walk to get to your answers.
Avatech: How can teams define which mentors are good for them?
Kiyan: In my opinion, the best mentors are those who are not afraid to be brutally honest and direct about what they think about your business. If they think it’s terrible, they should say it. They are the type of people who tell you what you should be hearing but no one typically dares say to you.
Avatech: What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?
Kiyan: 4 pieces of advice:
- Be prepared for the emotional journey ahead
- Be ready to fail and accept it as part of the process towards success
- Always be learning – like your business, you’re never a finished product yourself
- Don’t forget to live your life and those around you
Entrepreneurship is different from everything else you have ever done. It is the one of the most challenging things in the world – and most rewarding.