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Interview with Siamak Farah Bakhshian

August 27, 2012 by  

Founder and CEO of InfoStreet, Inc. – Shahrokh Ahkami
Tell us about your childhood, moving to America and your education.

I was born in Tehran on a snowy day in January. At the time, my father was simultaneously working full-time and obtaining his Master’s degree. As with everything in his life, he excelled so well in his studies that he was sent to the States for a second Master’s degree. During this time, he obtained his second Master’s and a PH.D. As a result, I actually lived in America from the age of 3 to 6.
Our family moved back to Iran just in time for me to attend first grade. Repatriation was never a question in our family. We had moved to America to complete a process and we were to go back to repay the country that afforded us that great education to begin with.
I attended the avant-garde Roya elementary school headed by the great late Dr. Parirokh Behnam whose philosophy in child education was focused on treating every child as unique and exceptional, not as entities going through the assembly line. Her approach fostered independent thinking; something that not only worked very well with my personality, but also was absolutely necessary for me. I am forever thankful to her for what she has done for me, for my schoolmates, and for the children of Iran.
After Roya, I attended Alborz high school headed by the outstanding Dr. Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi. Dr. Mojtahedi needs no introduction to any Iranian or to many scholars around the world. He singlehandedly created an unparalleled institution of excellence. What Alborz accomplished was to instill confidence, competitiveness, camaraderie, leadership, pursuit of exceptionalism, and the yearning to change the world in every one of its students. Some of these traits are orthogonal to one another; yet, Dr. Mojatahedi and the team of caring educators at Alborz managed to take students from all walks of life and produce graduates that would personify all these characteristics at the same time.
Alborz was so exceptional that foreign student advisors from many U.S. universities would visit it. One such advisor was Mr. Art Tichenor, the International Student Office director for Purdue University. He had seen the advanced education level at Alborz first-hand, and since Purdue is an engineering school he would admit Alborz students even prior to graduating from high school.
As such, I left Iran in the middle of my Junior year (sevvom nazary) and headed for West Lafayette, IN. Since Iran required everyone to have a high school degree or would consider their college degree void, I attended Purdue and West Lafayette high school simultaneously and graduated from high school at the end of my freshman year in college. I graduated from Purdue with a degree in Industrial Engineering. I could not be more honored to have attended all these first-class institutions.

Where did you start your professional career?

Graduating as an engineer in the early 80s had many challenges. There were definitely fewer jobs for engineers than there were number of engineers around. Thanks to a dare from one of my dearest friends while we were in college, I was fortunate enough to have minored in Computer Science.
As a result, I was able to land a job in the software field, which was growing in leaps and bounds. To this day, I have yet to make a dime from my engineering degree, although I would not trade the Purdue experience for the world.
I started at a company called Vertigo. Our company built computer animation software, which was at its very infancy. It was at this time that I made a decision that I would like to run a software company. I systematically chose jobs that would give me the training for my future goal, and at the same time gave my employers an employee that was eager and passionate to give it all. A true win-win situation.
At Vertigo, I had an opportunity to work as a Unix administrator, software developer, team leader, and head of customer support. When a much larger company was buying Vertigo, I moved to Microstat, a company that offered stock quotations via a modem dial up (boy, am I dating myself or what). The Web did not exist then and what we developed at Microstat was considered quite advanced. At Microstat, I started as a release coordinator and quickly rose to COO of this public company and sat on its board of directors. By this time, I pretty much knew how to run most of the facets of a software development firm – except for sales and marketing. I was fortunate enough to join NeXT (a company started by Steve Jobs after he left Apple) in a technical sales position; from technical sales I moved to developer partnerships, on to the dealer channel, and finally to full software sales.
In 1994, having been in the industry for 10+ years and with my goal of being familiar with the requirements of a software company realized, I started InfoStreet. I have been here ever since and could not be happier.
Tell us about your relationship with Steve Jobs.

For starters, I am forever indebted to him. He was an amazing person. In addition to the experience of working for Steve, NeXT had an exponential factor for all employees. Steve being who he was attracted the top talent of the Industry. As a result, we not only learned from him, but also from all the exceptional people that worked at NeXT. Today, most of my colleagues are either running companies or are clearly in the upper echelons of the industry. NeXT was like a club for future hardware, software, and Internet leaders, and it’s all thanks to Steve.
I admired his desire to produce perfection and loved the fact that although many criticized him for it, he would still have a hand in actual product development. It truly reinforced the lesson I had learned from my amazing mom and dad that if something has your name on it, it better be exceptional.
Contrary to public belief, Steve truly enjoyed those who spoke their mind and did not like “yes men”. As a result, on the personal level we got along great, as I don’t know any other way.
I am proud to call him a friend and not just a boss. His passing was very hard for me. I did not expect my own reaction since I was well aware of the severity of his illness, yet I was in no way prepared for it. To this day, I don’t like seeing his pictures from the time of his illness, since I would like to remember that keen eye for perfection, that smile that only conquerors can boast, and his zest for winning. Steve was a vegan and would not eat any product that came from animals. To me, Persian food is synonymous with meat. Yet, my wonderful wife and I had the honor of having Steve and Laurene (then Steve’s finance) at our house for dinner. Our Persian food which consisted of Addass Polo with dates and raisons, Aash Reshteh (without Kashk), and my mom’s famous recipe of khoresh artichoke nanaa jafari was so enjoyed that they took some home with them.

Tell us about InfoStreet.

InfoStreet is a Cloud App Provider. We have a number of patent-pending products that bring all the benefits of the Cloud to small businesses. The Cloud is the great democratizer. It provides everyone with solutions that at one time were only available to large businesses. In the old days it may have taken two million dollars to build, let’s say, a Sales Force Automation system and was therefore out of reach of most. Yet, today many small businesses can use such software for as little as $5/month. This is truly a paradigm shift in the use of software and has already changed the way business is done in all industries – and will continue to do so.
InfoStreet delivers a Cloud-based Desktop that is similar to the desktop or laptop you use on a daily basis, yet it lives in the Cloud. Anywhere in the world you have access to the Internet, you can access your apps, your files and your entire environment. InfoStreet also offers an app market, where you can purchase Cloud apps that suit you best. This market includes apps from InfoStreet as well as other Cloud companies, giving our clients a wide breadth of choice.

How do you find the success of Iranian-Americans in Silicon Valley?

Simply amazing. I could not be more proud. During the hostage crisis many Iranians had a great shame factor and would not readily identify themselves as Iranian. That shame factor has now been replaced with a great sense of pride that almost every company in Silicon Valley or Telecom has a CxO (CEO, COO, CTO, CIO, CMO, CSO) that is of Persian origin. The innovations are numerous and Iranians as a group have been quite sought after in our Industry.

How do you feel about your Persian Heritage?

Even though I have only lived in Iran for less than one-third of my life, most of those years were formative years. I believe I am who I am, for good or for bad, based on the investment that both Iran and the US have put in me. While I am very happy that I do my small bit in creating jobs and advancing technology in the United States, I have a great guilt that I have not been able to ever work in Iran and help further its people. My goal is that if I can ever retire, I go to Iran and teach a course on entrepreneurship.
I have a love for Iran that is inexplicable to many of my friends. I look at Iran as my birth mother and the U.S. as my adoptive mother. While I love my adoptive mom, I always long for my birth mom as well. My awesome wife and I have done everything in our power to ensure our children know our culture. Thinking about it, in many ways, this is both for their benefit and for ours.
As a parent, if you find something great, you want to share it with your children. We find the Persian culture amazing. This is why my wife and I try to speak Persian with our sons and make sure we celebrate Persian events. Even though born in America, our kids know their heritage and are proud to call themselves Persian.
In addition, we already have a generation gap with our children. The last thing we need is to have a cultural gap with them as well. So, teaching children our culture will ensure that we can all relate to one another.

What message do you have for the other generations, those before and after you?

When it comes to the older generation, many have not been back to Iran since the revolution, and justifiably so almost all of them are saddened by that. I would like to reach out to them and assure them that “They can take the person out of Iran, but can’t take Iran out of the person.” Be an Iranian wherever you are. Spread the culture! Help the next generation and non-Iranians who aren’t familiar with Iran to get to know this great country.
To the younger generation, I would like to let them know that when people go to college, they join fraternities. When they work, they join professional societies. All of this is to help them further their life. You have a pre-made society with thousands of years of history. Learn it and take advantage of it. There isn’t a day of my life that I don’t use a Persian proverb to help me solve business problems, and this may just be why so many Persians excel in business. It’s there for your taking, you benefit from it, and it could be quite fun, so don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

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