Hey Farhad, thanks for taking the time. What is your first encounter with entrepreneurship?
If I look back to my childhood, I have always had entrepreneurial ideas that I have started, but as you do when you are very young, following through is a problem. I have been involved in two young and start-ups prior to FAROSIAN, but this is my first real entrepreneurial exposure. Working for a start-up is very different to founding and running a start-up.
Can you tell us how would you introduce FAROSIAN? Do you have any favorite story you’d like to share about your company’s history?
A simple but very difficult question!
It has always been difficult to articulate who FAROSIAN is and what we do (without scaring people away). If I have to summarise our work, FAROSIAN has developed industry-leading sentiment analysis and risk scoring of people, utilizing social and digital media content and activity. Our innovation identifies red flags, hidden skills, and talents while establishing value/ culture matches. We are an essential HR and recruitment, data provider.
Two weeks ago while I was at the gym, I had a guy that I have spoken to on a few occasions came and chat with me and ask what work is that I do. I explained about FAROSIAN and our work. He replied that during November 2018 he was looking for employment and was struggling for interviews let alone offers. The one company he was shortlisted with has a process of conducting a social and digital media screening on shortlisted candidates.
After receiving the report, the employer saw various different facets to this young man. His interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes, his portrayal of his personal brand and professional image. The employer was initially going to make an offer to a different candidate, but after receiving the social and digital media screening report, opted to make an offer to the young man, based on the value/ culture match and the “get to know you” factor of the reporting.
When I told the young man the name of our company, he stopped in the middle of the gym and hugged me. We had completed the report on him, objectively, balanced and impartial.
Over the past 5 years, we have helped to identify red flags in individuals (racism, sexism, homophobia, drug use, drug distribution), while also playing our part in helping numerous people find gainful employment, and impacting their lives, and that of the families they support. To give you some numbers, 49,9% of FAROSIAN social media reporting results in a placement (when recruitment agencies utilize this).
What went into building your product?
Since roughly 2009 various individuals and companies have tried to accomplish what we have. For some years now, the next step in the vetting and background screening puzzle is known to be social and digital screening. Everyone who has tried has not quite figured out, until FAROSIAN.
We took a different approach compared to everyone else (including that of our international competitors). They all decided to build technology to conduct screening. This technology would need to perform specific tasks, but more importantly, to objectively and impartially get to know, learn, understand and comment on individuals. Individuals who are so similar but vastly different at the same time.
We decided to build the process, build the understanding, build the knowledge and product prior to building the technology.
When you are using technology relating to people, you need to first understand people, their drivers, hot buttons, etc. Once we built and tested the manual product, we then started building technology to automate this process. Our next-generation platform is due for completion during November 2019 and release in January 2020. Even with this highly intuitive and robust platform, we still have a human element in our process. You still need interventions by humans.
On a technical note, our new generation platform is being built by a company called Tangent Solution in Johannesburg. The team has been fantastic and has built something that is exactly what we wanted, with room for growth. We have built our own applications from scratch, without piggybacking off any external sources. This new solution will enable FAROSIAN reporting to be richer, faster and more accessible to our clients and their end-users.
We’ve also taken security extremely seriously, as we store data on people. For this, we are hosting our solution on Azure and working very closely with Microsoft to ensure this data remains private at all times.
How did you get your first customer? And what is your current growth strategy?
Our first client and in fact the very large majority of our clients are a direct result of good old fashioned cold calling. We started by delivering a 3 month unpaid proof of concept to them, as we also had to with a number of early clients. But over a course of 3 months, we proved our value and I am very pleased to say that almost 5 years later, we still have them a client. In fact, we have never lost a client.
In terms of growth, earlier in 2019, we had a situation that caused us to analyze certain aspects of the business. We identified that 96% of all our revenue was a result of our clients who are value-adding resellers, with 4% being the actual end-users. Because of this, we made the decision to change the sales and business model. We now supply VAR’s and work very closely with our VAR’s to secure new end-user clients for them.
Essentially we are present at the sales calls and meetings, we conduct the presentations and provide the technical support, knowledge, and expertise. A form of pre-sales.
We have identified various sectors where we can operate in the VAR model (being background screening providers, job boards and portals, consulting firms and credit bureaus). We are also fortunate to be located in South Africa where time zones allow us to cater to the vast majority of the international market, as well as with exchange rates, FAROSIAN and our products are highly attractive in a cost sense. One of our main focuses for the next 24 months is to grow our international partnerships and requests through VAR’s.
Can you paint a picture of what social media was like when you started in 2014, and how things have changed?
In the social and digital media landscape and technology as a whole, 5 years is a very long time with the innovations and landscape changing dramatically.
In 2014 the social media sector was not as evolved as it is now. At the time, the use of social media data for marketing purposes was just being uncovered, with very few people actually understanding this, people still felt that they were simply sharing aspects of their lives with those they are connected with. The individual platforms have also evolved and in some areas regressed.
Privacy was something people knew of but did not practice. Since the incidents of Cambridge Analytica (and as a personal recommendation, I encourage everyone to watch the documentary “The Great Hack”) the global public has become more aware, more informed and educated regarding the conduct and privacy and privacy settings. We have seen that some social media platforms have taken privacy more seriously in some ways, others have remained resolute in their founding structures, and others are now moving into cryptocurrency.
The influence and power of social media are now more evident than ever, as we see brands spending enormous amounts of money on marketing products and services, with influencers and micro-influencers cashing in due to this. Social media at the moment can be a place that can cause people to lose faith in the human race, it can be a toxic and insipid place where horrible paradigms such as hate and intolerance can be amplified BUT it can also be a place of enlightenment, where ideas are shared, true value-adding collaboration takes place and essential information can be found in a split second.
Over the coming years, I see social media evolving greatly. Platforms such as Facebook will diversify (as they have shown with the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, along with launching Libra), others will specialize further (as LinkedIn is seen to be doing). Some platforms may die (as Myspace has) while we anticipate that very few new platforms will become more popular. With the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and perhaps Pinterest, entry to the social media platform market is quite monopolized. We foresee that some platforms will lose users, and others will gain users.
What we know will happen, is that social media’s influence and reach is now impossible to ignore. Since Barak Obama’s use and election, the impact on the world is immense. Social media will shape and shift our world, economy, and lives for the foreseeable future.
FAROSIAN is B-BBEE compliant, can you explain to us what it means?
This can be a complex one to verbalize.
As most people know, South Africa has a well-documented and tumultuous history, filled with some tragic occurrences. With the implementation of apartheid, a vastly unequal society was created over many years. With democracy prevailing, various strategies were implemented for the growth of the country as well as to address the economic imbalances created by apartheid. The main economic policy is that of B-BBEE or Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment.
This is a structure put in place by the government to hold businesses accountable for the transformation of the business and economic climate, with the purpose of creating earnings and potential for wealth for those people who were excluded during the years of apartheid.
B-BBEE seeks to encourage businesses to trade with “black” owned businesses, employ individuals from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and have ownership of businesses be transformed into being more inclusive and representative of the demographics of the country.
FAROSIAN is a level 2 B-BBEE business (there are 8 levels with 1 being the highest and 8 being the lowest, or second lowest. The lowest level is “non-compliant”). 70% of FAROSIAN is owned by previously disadvantaged people, with 75% of our staff count being that of previously disadvantaged people. We also have a 50/50 split between male and female ratio in the business.
I must though say, that we have not consciously strived to have the staff structure in terms of previously disadvantaged persons or a gender split. We have simply hired individuals whom we feel are the best for the positions. B-BBEE compliance has been a by-product of this philosophy.
How would you describe your company culture?
For us, the culture of the company has been build based on myself and my co-founders (Sinéad Frampton) principals. It is something we thought long and hard on in the very early days when it was just the two of us.
We encourage ideas, free-thinking, and free speaking. We are a very collaborative organization, where everyone’s voice is heard (we have ensured that everyone has a channel to speak out or up, of any issue they feel is present or for any inputs they have for the growth of the company).
We have a few simple rules that dictate the culture. When we go through the cycle of being exceptionally busy (our work is “seasonal” and that is even on a monthly and weekly basis) everyone, without instruction or asking, puts in the hours. We have the most amazing people in our team and business, who will work at 11, 12 at night into the early hours of the morning on a regular basis.
Our main culture driving aspect is also a main value, which is honesty and transparency. We are always open and honest with everyone, from everyone knowing the direction of the company to have the freedom to ask how much money is the bank account.
We have no problem in showing the team this. We have a closeness that makes everyone feel they are truly a part of something special and are working towards a shared common goal. And at the end of it, FAROSIAN belongs to all of our team. We have people who will go to the ends of the earth for one another. But most of all, we have a culture and a team of courageous and brave individuals. Being a part of and invested in a start-up is brave decision, one that we all are in together.
I know its clichéd, but the FAROSIAN culture is a family culture, the team members even joke about by calling me “dad” from time to time.
What simple thing still blows your mind?
When Sinéad and I started this entrepreneurial journey, we knew that it would be difficult. How difficult, that we could have never expected. No training, reading, research or speaking to other entrepreneurs can prepare you for the mammoth task ahead. To this day, it is something that I still not comprehend.
The challenges and obstacles change as time goes on (as the business evolves the difficulties also evolve). It still shocks me, but in a positive way, as it is something that I find motivating
Also, we seem to always be amazed at the types of content that people will post on social media, we have seen people checking into the police station for being arrested (drug and drinking and driving), people advertising working as escorts and applying for jobs at banks or government, and even people showcasing their “stock” of cocaine or heroin for sale. That still amazes me.