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7 Questions on Leadership with Shayan Salehi

Name: Shayan Salehi

Title: Chief Commercial Officer

Organisation: Tonomy Foundation

Technology entrepreneur with a focus on leading enterprise marketing, sales, and product innovation

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Shayan's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The most challenging part of being a leader is the implementation of standardized processes that consistently generate the same good results. A good mix of planning, organizing, leadership, and control is needed to achieve this.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I started my first business 9 years ago when I was only 16 years old. I started digitizing small businesses and suddenly I became the youngest employee worldwide at Oracle. In the enterprise, I learned a lot about leadership. I also became certified by Harvard University in Leadership & Communication. However, my biggest learnings came after I left the enterprise again to start my own tech company. From developing the product to raising millions of dollars and managing cross-functional teams, this is what really made me excel in my leadership journey. However, I learned to stay very down to earth. I try to implement flat hierarchies and motivate teams that want to achieve the best result for the company. Other things that made me the leader I am today were my solo travels around the globe for two years whilst leading a start-up remotely. Leaving my comfort zone has always been the biggest accelerator in my life. Understanding people from different cultures also helps a lot in today’s environment.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I wake up at 9 AM, brush my teeth, have a small breakfast and immediately start working. I try to get the easy tasks done first until 11 AM and then I focus on the more intensive tasks until 15:00 with lunch in between. From 15:00-17:00, I try to do most of my meetings. However, I usually have meetings during the whole day. After my main work, I usually start working on other projects I have. I sometimes take a short nap and then I work again until 1 AM when I go to bed. This is my usual rhythm but sometimes I stop with all my work at 17:00 and go out with a friend or do something to relax.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

The customer is king. An old German saying recently enabled me to upsell a customer by 6x their contract value. We had a large conflict with the customer before and we decided to be the bigger guy and do some extra things to make sure they were satisfied.

Five hours later they called and gave us a much larger contract. I couldn’t believe it.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Steve Jobs’ Biography by Walter Isaacson really changed my point of view on the world. Understanding how Steve and the team at Apple went through many different chapters of glory and failure taught me a lot about leadership. I would recommend it to every young leader.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Never give up and use failures as stepping stones to the next chapter of your journey. Stay humble and all your experiences, especially the bad ones will convert to wisdom that will guide you to become the leader you envision to be.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

The most meaningful stories that come to my mind are the most painful ones. The first time I tried to build a technology product, I thought you could deliver a feature overload to customers to win a market. This made me fail very badly. However, it led me to understand that you need to create a solid value offering with just a few features that are unique in the market. I also learned a lot about leading teams during my journey. I started companies that are still active and well with their original teams, but also other companies that completely fell apart, even with the best team you could imagine on paper. I blame both the successes and failures on my leadership. I’d suggest taking accountability for failures and understanding why they happened so you can learn.

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