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The Mill, a nonprofit center for coworking and entrepreneurship, hosts an annual event week, called Innovation Week, to showcase makers, innovators, and startups. MetroStar proudly participates in this annual event.
During the 2021 event, Elevate Ventures Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Cy Megnin, interviewed our CEO and Co-Founder Ali Reza Manouchehri, on how he and his friends grew MetroStar from a George Mason dorm room into a business with over 300 employees. The casual conversation, called a fireside chat, explored entrepreneurship and becoming a CEO of a leading technology company.
The in-person event happened at The Mill in Bloomington, Indiana, but below is a social visualization of the chat, as narrated by The Mill's tweets.
A virtual fire sat between the two speakers.
Manouchehri spoke about our capabilities, and the focus and importance we place on human-centered design.
Manouchehri pivoted to discuss how MetroStar was founded. The co-founders' visions have changed and evolved over the years. One thing has remained steadfast, though; a passion for people.
Talking about the company, and how it has grown in size, Manouchehri noted that having a diverse group of people work for MetroStar has always been important. He credited his strong mother for his passion for having a people-focused and diverse company culture.
Not only has MetroStar grown in size, but we added a second headquarters located in Bloomington, Indiana (where The Mill is located).
How did @MetroStarSystem decide to make Bloomington a second home? DC has a lot of power players... but Bloomington has a strong economic development team (shout out to Lynn Coyne!) "Bloomington has a lot of gravitas. It's hard not to fall in love with the community."— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
Surviving, and thriving, for twenty-two years in a competitive industry is an impressive accomplishment. Manouchehri credited our CSG and R&D for our stability and innovation.
How has @MetroStarSystem survived 22 years in tech? "We're not a giant company... we spend about $3m on R&D. The way that R&D works effectively is if you listen to your customers, think about their journey, their experience. Then you get clarity on your next great solution."— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
Being cross-functional across teams is one of the many reasons MetroStar has succeeded throughout the years.
How to get Sales & Engineering to have a great relationship? Build it around collaboration, bring them together to think about pipeline, go to market strategy, timeline. It doesn't matter if it's 3 of you or 300. If you do that, you survive. @MetroStarSystem #Firesidechat— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
With six core capabilities, multiple customers, and innovative subject matter experts, it can seem daunting to choose which awards or work to pursue next. Manouchehri credited listening to his people to know where to move forward as a company.
How do you decide what to work on next? Q to @MetroStarSystem CEO Ali Manouchehri... "If you have too many alphas in that conversation, it's not going to go well." Another way MetroStar thinks about diversity: make sure the team has varied personalities/aptitudes. #firesidechat— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
Manouchehri told the audience he is the tie-breaker when it comes to pursuing opportunities.
Manouchehri was a philosophy major at George Mason University, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his other passions of technology and sales. (Fun Fact: From pens to M&M's, he used to sell things door-to-door as a child.)
How did Ali get into entrepreneurship: "Little bit by accident, little bit by design." He jokes that immigrant parents are not into the concept of allowance. So he got into it through sales, which built confidence. (Poll: Who had to sell M&Ms door to door for school fundraiser?!)— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
Manouchehri once again credited his people for the reason MetroStar has been able to grow. He believes bringing in the next generation of entrepreneurs, early and often, is key to building long-term success. (Which, is why we have an awesome internship program).
He told the audience that building a strong culture is one of the reasons people will seek out your company over competitors.
"Talent is something we have to rethink, & reshape, & recreate to survive in this industry." Entrepreneurs have to really think about what kind of people you want to bring in, and how you'll keep them. Bc the big companies can always pay more. @MetroStarSystem #FiresideChat— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
"There's attrition across the industry. And you have to ask why?" That's @MetroStarSystem CEO Ali Reza Manouchehri says keeps him up at night. The solution?Talented people want to work with other talented people. Hire great people, they'll recruit for you. #firesidechat— The Mill (@dimension_mill) October 11, 2021
Manouchehri expressed there are a few things he would change from the start of the company, but a key strength across MetroStar has been our ability to reflect on changes and move forward. Reflection, and change, have allowed us to build non-stop for twenty-two years.
Manouchehri sees his people as people, not just employees or numbers. He takes pride in hiring creative and driven people, so when they succeed he feels excited. He wants the MetroStar people to be inventors and go-getters.
On top of people, Manouchehri commented that companies need to be careful not to let one or two customers change the journey for your people or your other customers. It is important, though, to always listen to customer feedback. That feedback can be used by marketing and culture teams to propel your company forward.
Manouchehri wrapped up the chat by discussing MetroStar's next customer and people pursuits (having contact-winning teams and DoD-focused teams).
Head over to The Mill to learn more, or reach out to MetroStar to hear how our people transforming government in the digital age.
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