Susan Akbarpour: “I Want to Change the Way People Shop”
The founder of online tool Mavatar discusses consumer behavior, persistence, and the value of transparency.
Susan Akbarpour is the founder and CEO of Mavatar, an online tool that allows consumers to buy products from multiple websites, compare prices, and buy with coupons. Its technology is also used to power other enterprise large-scale marketplaces. Akbarpour was a journalist in Iran until she immigrated to the United States in 1997 at the age of 29. She started three small businesses before deciding to get a business degree to learn to build a sustainable enterprise. In 2007, at the age of 39 and with a 3-year-old toddler at home, Akbarpour enrolled at Stanford. She graduated with her master’s degree in management from Stanford Graduate School of Business and founded Mavatar in 2011. The product launched publicly in June 2015.
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
Democratizing e-commerce and creating an ecosystem for consumers, influencers, and retailers.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Stanford’s Irving Grousbeck said, “Don’t recreate the wheel and try to build your entire product from scratch.” I believe in building products, and it’s important to have a strong engineering team, but every time we want to create something I spend ample time to see if it’s already created.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
Letting some balls drop. My mother died when I was 12 and my father died when I was 20, so I helped raise my brothers. After that kind of experience, you always assume the ball is in your court. It can be hard to trust others when you were raised that way, but once you do it, it is a great relief to build trust in the capabilities of your team.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Persistence. I can’t accept “No.” Whenever I hear that I want to prove them wrong.
How do you come up with your best ideas?
I talk to many people and test my ideas on others. It helps to hear their thought process, and then I add my own dimension to it. You need to let go of the idea that someone is trying to steal your idea. No one wants your idea. They probably have thousands of their own. Execution is what’s important.
What is your greatest achievement?
Stanford. Applying and going through as a mom and graduating at 42.
What values are important to you in business?
Transparency. If you have to hide something, you are doing it wrong.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I want to change the way people shop. Creating a consumer-centric e-commerce platform, which narrows down consumer choices instead of widening them and making them feel overwhelmed!
Why are you an entrepreneur?
Politics is not second nature to me. It takes away from innovation and creativity. I am a straight-shooter, and find that the environment of a startup is better suited to my entrepreneurial spirit than the bureaucratic atmosphere that you tend to encounter in most corporate structures. Plus, I am faster at a startup.
What was your first paying job?
When I was 12 I drew cartoon birthday cards. I sold about 100 of them to a gift shop. My business was shut down by my father who was afraid its hyper growth was hammering my grades!
What is the best business book you have read?
The Filter Bubble. It’s all about what is hidden from you as a result of the personalized search. That book was instrumental in creating Mavatar and even inspired me in designing Mavatar’s logo.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
It taught me how to learn on my own.
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