A visionary and globally focused executive and entrepreneur, Susan Akbarpour has 20 years of hands-on experience in building successful and innovative businesses in media, management consulting and investment.
As a journalist, editor, publisher, businesswoman, investor, social entrepreneur & political fundraiser, Susan has received multiple media, community and business awards and has been a speaker at various conferences and frequently featured by mainstream media outlets.
Susan co-founded Mavatar along with Dr. Brom Mahbod, former Oracle VP of e-business platform in January 2011. Brom runs the company as the CEO, while Susan is serving as the company’s president.
MO: What inspired you to launch Mavatar?
Susan: When I went back to graduate school at the age of 40, I was fascinated by the power of data and in my Data Modeling course, I found myself, like I always do, looking for the everyday scenarios where the analytical techniques could be applied. During my last semester, I came across a course called “Social Data Revolution” offered by Amazon’s former Chief Scientist and I enrolled in it and found two topics kept coming up: User Privacy and Qualified Data.
Coming from a media background, I was not seeing any differences between the new and old advertising models. It seemed the only difference was the new ones were in a digital format and the old ones were still based on the “Push” paradigm. So as a user myself, I was annoyed by data trackers, as they never have provided me anything valuable. Therefore, then why should I help them know more about me and my purchasing behavior! Their end-responses are not in real-time to my evolving needs.
A few years ago, just seeing banner ads for a Chanel bag that you were searching for seemed like a miracle, but given the affordability of “retargeting”, more advertisers now have access to cheap and redundant data. Hence, the reason why you see so many banner ads following you online for months after you have searched and probably even bought that Chanel bag!”
Marketers are currently spending millions of dollars to issue discounts and perks with a mediocre redemption rate of less than 3%. Why? Because these discounts don’t work, and they are definitely are not delivered to you when you need them. Does anyone wonder why with so many emails, discount codes, and endless fine print, who then is actually capable of finding the needle in the haystack?” That is why we created Mavatar — tools that can analyze data for the benefit of the CONSUMER!
MO: How has the founders’ past experience and impressive track record helped contribute to the vision and success of Mavatar so far?
Susan: Both Brom and I have vast networks and deep experience in managing teams and developing products in our respective fields. Having a co-founder with a complimentary skill set who believes in the vision as much as you do, is extremely important. We have a code between us, called “Vision Violation”. We religiously watch for anything that violates our preliminary vision which was to build a ground-breaking hassle free, smart and user centric shopping tool; however we are always open to trying and implementing great ideas, hearing different concepts that could help us to get to our final destination faster, better and cheaper not building a faster, cheaper and better product! First time entrepreneurs usually get too excited, distracted and sometimes fully diverged from their main vision. This usually doesn’t happen to seasoned entrepreneurs, product managers and executives like us.- OR – This usually doesn’t happen to seasoned entrepreneurs, product managers and executives — like ourselves.
MO: What aspect of Mavatar are you most proud of?
Susan: The Mavatar team!
The Mavatar founders have attracted a stellar team of engineers, marketers and designers who are very committed to the success of their respective role in the company, as well as highly-regarded investors and advisors from the retail, fashion, social media, user experience and big data industries. The board members and investors include Jerry Socol (former CEO, Filene’s), Jeffrey Moore (Scientist, retired senior lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Business; Susan’s professor in GSB), Paul Deneve (CEO, Yves Saint Laurent and former CEO of Lanvin & Nina Ricci ), Chris Kelly (former Chief Privacy Offer, Facebook), Ross Haghighat (Entrepreneur/VC, Chairman/CEO, Triton System), and Mitch Stein (User Experience Scientist at Apple, IBM Research, Oracle)
But what makes the Mavatar team truly unique is the fact that we are all on same page. Everyone knows that engineers and marketers mix like oil and water. Not at Mavatar! We constantly incorporate key marketing information into research and development to optimize our product and to address customer needs.
MO: How much did having a father who founded the first independent advertising agency in Iran help influence your entrepreneurial spirit?
Susan: Well, I have lived and breathed media and advertising since I was a child. My father was a journalist and later became a publisher. I clearly remember him advising advertisers on how to shape their messages and build their brands. I naturally followed his footstep by becoming a journalist and publisher, helping my advertisers to get the most out of their advertising money! However in Stanford when listening to these brilliant guest speakers talk about advertising as the sole business model to cash out their user data, I was shocked that their models only included a digital advertising format of my father’s time! If I had been new to this business, I wouldn’t have been able to see how there was something seriously wrong with this picture!
MO: What are some trends that you’re excited about or think that we should be paying attention to?
Susan: Dynamic pricing for non-commodity products. However, scientifically it’s called price discrimination, I don’t believe suppliers have to sell the same product to everyone at the same price! For instance, if I have a strong desire for a product, but not a deep pocket and have the ability to I wait a bit longer, I deserve a better price compared to someone who must have the product instantaneously regardless of the prices or the celebrity who claims never has worn the same outfit twice! The Mavatar platform allows for a real-time and direct negotiation channel between supplier and individual shopper, allowing them to purchase what they can afford. On the other hand, suppliers then don’t have to dilute their brands by selling off their inventories at the end of the season — Mavatar will completely disrupt the retail industry by introducing new ways to SHOP!
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Susan: I’ve decided to go back to school every decade of my life. As a mother I’m troubled that I can’t find an age appropriate program for my 8 year old that graduated from the PBS Channel Kids Program! In my 50s I want to go back to school, so I’ll be able to produce quality educational programs for teenagers. I hope I can do it wih my daughter’s help as she showing a talent for art at an early age.
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