Wissam Yafi is the founder of TIDWIT, a US-based tech company expanding the reach of global organizations with a cutting-edge ecosystem platform. TIDWIT serves several large companies including Microsoft, IBM, Accenture, Dell, HPE, and Vodafone. Prior to TIDWIT, Wissam founded INTeNT, a knowledge management and e-commerce computer software and services company, which he then sold while continuing to serve as an advisor and on its board. He graduated from Harvard Kennedy School in 2002, where he did his Master of Public Administration, Development Economics and International Development, specializing in ICT.
1- If you had a rewind button, what would you change about your journey?
I would consider working for a larger tech company at the outset of my career, preferably a Microsoft or a Cisco. Professionally, when you’re an entrepreneur, and I have been one my entire life, you’re learning on your own dime from day one. When you work for larger companies, you learn on their dime, and you get to see how business is conducted. Young entrepreneurs should accept this as part of the learning process. Unless you have an endowment that you can rely on, you have to start from scratch and your startup capital raising options become more limited, forcing you to give up more equity. If you had more savings and experience from a first job, that would allow you to embark on your entrepreneurial journey with more time and less stress.
2- What are the top three goals you’re looking to achieve at your company now?
Deliver the best platform products for our customers through unmatched innovation, become the global leader in ecosystem enablement, and serve my shareholders and employees.
3- What’s the biggest challenge you faced while starting your first then your second company?
The biggest challenge of my first startup was to hire great people, which the company could barely afford. When you’re starting from scratch you need to convince people to join. Fortunately, people are attracted to passion and vision. So, you quickly realize that a key part of your role as an entrepreneur and leader is to influence them with honesty and conviction. The biggest challenge of my second startup was to convince global tech companies to adopt a unique technology that no one else had. For that, I learned that you must have patience, persistence, and resilience because you will get a lot of rejections. But if you have the proper team and product, the market will eventually emerge, and you could create a lot of value.
4- What leadership advice do you have for the younger generation of founders?
Love what you do and always learn. Be patient, thrifty and resilient. Have fun and create memories along the way. In one of the earliest deals we signed, we were a team of 16 people trying to sell our product against IBM, to a bank that received all their technology from IBM. We were very passionate but some on the team were skeptical of our chances. However, after all the hard work, we ended up winning the deal and many years later IBM became our customer. Another advice would be for students to work in the summer, any kind of a job. I worked in a shoe store when I was 17 years old. I learned things there that still affect me today. One lesson I learned was to never be arrogant with the customer, and to never come back to the customer without a box of shoes (solution) in your hand, and to offer the best customer service you can. Ultimately, that’s what drives revenue.
5- How did surrounding yourself with a good support system help you advance in your career?
Teachers and mentors are key, so are partners and associates. Choose them well because without a team you won’t get far. If you’re an entrepreneur, every mistake you make goes out of your own purse. Wouldn't it be great to pick up the phone and call someone for advice to avoid unnecessary mistakes? Customers are also excellent teachers because they will always guide you to what the market expects.
6- What is one habit you worked hard on breaking to improve your life or career?
A leader’s ability to listen is as, if not more, important than their ability to speak. No one has all the answers. Those who filter the signal from the noise will do much better. The second required ability is to ask the right questions. I’m still working at both!
7- What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Associate yourself with colleagues, people who care for what you are doing and would like to help you; and do not be swayed by those who don’t.
8- What constitutes a good team in your opinion?
Mutual respect, complementary experience, differing viewpoints, and trust. No matter how smart an entrepreneur is, they cannot know everything and must rely on their team. Surrounding oneself with a qualified team that shares a common passion is not only the smarter approach, but also makes work more enjoyable in good times, and more tolerable in difficult ones.
9- What is the most exciting part about your job?
Working closely with the dev teams inventing new technology, introducing it to the market, and serving it to customers.
10- Can you describe your proudest achievement?
As an immigrant to the US, whose tech journey started literally at the bottom rung of the ladder, I consider helping make TIDWIT an ecosystem thought leader one of my tech career’s crowning achievements. Empowering technology giants like Microsoft and IBM, two founding icons in our industry, to use our unique technology is a testament to years of hard work. I must say, I am also very proud of being I believe the first Lebanese American to write a science fiction book about my homeland. Among other things, Fina aims to show what future technology means for a place like Lebanon. And last but certainly not least as it pertains to my homeland, I am proud to have been involved in an initiative to digitize Lebanon’s educational curriculum and being invited to TedX Beirut to share experiences.