We are so pleased to publish an interview with one of our greatest mentors, Parsa Ghaffari, the CEO of Aylien.
Avatech: Tell us about the field you’re working at and your background.
Parsa: AYLIEN is a leading provider of Text Analytics solutions and technologies, and what that means is, we use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-related techniques to create technologies for extracting meaning and insights from textual content (e.g. news articles or tweets) and we provide these technologies to thousands of developers and data scientists globally.
As for me personally, I’ve primarily worked on software businesses my entire career, and over the last few years my main focus has been Artificial Intelligence and its subdomains such as Natural Language Processing, both as an entrepreneur and a rookie researcher.
Avatech: What has been your biggest achievement and what are you most proud of?
Parsa: I’m delighted and grateful that I’ve had a chance to work with some of the greatest minds, and the nicest and coolest people out there, on really interesting problems. Building a company that can sustain itself and build kickass products that create value for thousands of people, while pushing the boundaries of science and human knowledge is something I strive for.
Avatech: Have you had a mentor? If yes who was the most important and how was the experience with this mentor?
Parsa: Sure, as a solo founder I’ve had to surround myself with people who are better than me at certain things, work-related or personal, and I look at each and every one of them as my mentors and my support network. This includes our awesome team members, and our stellar advisory board which consists of tech and academia veterans such as Sean O’Sullivan, Cyril Ebersweiler, Bill Liao, Shawn Broderick and Dr. John Breslin.
Avatech: What has been your biggest challenge and what have you learned?
Parsa: I can’t single out one big challenge, but raising funding, relocating to a new country, keeping your team, investors and customers happy, maintaining focus, etc. can all pose challenges. Eventually you’ll learn how to cope with these challenges, and that’s right where you meet your new challenges 😉
As far as what I’ve learnt, well I guess perseverance, analytical thinking, being able to deal with messy complex problems while keeping an open mind, having a systematic approach towards doing things, and so on.
Avatech: What is your favorite productivity tool?
Parsa: Probably Slack with lots of integrations at this point. Apart from that, I pretty much live inside Google Apps, and I love Apple Reminders combined with Siri, and IFTTT.
Avatech: What is your favorite startup book?
Parsa: Without any doubt, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Every founder should read this, as it deals with the complexities of building and growing a company, rather than the serendipitous stuff.
Avatech: What did you choose entrepreneurship as a career?
Parsa: Entrepreneurship chose me 🙂 Kidding aside, the path was so smooth and natural that I can’t remember if I’ve ever made a conscious decision about becoming an entrepreneur. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful with this one.
Avatech: Besides mentors what helped you through entrepreneur journey?
Parsa: Reading, talking to other entrepreneurs, and the support from my family and friends.
Which startup do you admire most?
Parsa: I like Quora, and I also quite like Buffer’s openness and transparency.
Avatech: Who has influenced you most?
Parsa: I’ve always tried not to idolize people, and learn from anyone and everyone as much as I can, but my favorite “thought leaders” in the tech/startup world that I tend to agree with more often than others are Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel and Larry Page.
Avatech: How do you spend most of your time?
Parsa: As a solo founder you have to wear many hats, so for half an hour I could be an accountant, and for the next hour I might be a salesperson or a project manager, though this has changed a lot over the past year or so, and as our team has grown I can focus on more high level things.
Avatech: What should a team prepare for a mentorship session?
Parsa: A specific problem if possible, otherwise we’ll have to find one together 😉
Avatech: How can teams define which mentors are good for them?
Parsa: Aside from the general relevance considerations – from a domain/stage/background perspective – choose your mentors as you would choose your friends; these must be people whom you’ll immediately or eventually respect and trust deeply, and whom you can openly share with all the good and bad news about your company.
Avatech: What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?
– Find out what talent/problem/trait is unique to you as a person and try to build a company around that. If you don’t know what’s unique about you, follow your deepest passions that you’re almost obsessed with;
– A lot of things at a startup especially in the early days are very counterintuitive, so try to optimize for learning in the early days and don’t make too many commitments;
– Don’t celebrate failure! It’s okay to fail, but in the end you’re the one that has to make this work – make plans, and take responsibility when things go wrong;
– Startups are hard, learn to handle a level of stress that breaks most people, as early as you can.