Ali Ahmadi, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of AirZaar, had a corporate engineering career when he decided to get an MBA at Olin. “I was at a point in my life where my career had advanced as much as it could by being in a very technical, specialized field,” he said. “I wanted to expand on the commercial and business side. I decided to go to WashU because it is veteran-friendly, because of the activity and the reputation that it had built in the entrepreneurial business program.”
Ahmadi also holds a bachelor and master degree in aeronautical engineering. He earned his Executive MBA in 2015.
How did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I developed a passion for entrepreneurship in the Navy, which I joined right after high school. While I was in boot camp, I realized there was a pain-point with a lot of the recruits going through the program which was that they did not like ironing their uniform and shining their boots. During my free time on Sundays I started ironing uniforms and shining boots for other sailors.
The demand grew to a point where I brought in two other people from other divisions to keep up with it. I became very good at shining boots and ironing uniforms in a very rapid manner. The three of us ended up graduating boot camp with over $1200 each just by shining boots and ironing uniforms in our free time.
While you were taking classes during your EMBA, what did you appreciate the most about the program?
My two favorite and most applicable classes were finance and macroeconomics. Micro and macro. More specifically on the game theory side. I became fascinated by how to create an organization where, not only do you have a product you sell at a specific price, but you use game theory to come up with pricing models, product strategies, and markets to identify and target so that you understand and predict what your competition will do. For me that was an area where I realized that by thinking like that I could help my company to not only create a superior product and pricing strategy but also create the stickiness of having people and clients stay within our platform by applying game theory strategies.
What are you doing now?
In December of 2015, I co-founded AirZaar with Ravi Sahu, EMBA 42. We met while we were both in the program and together collaborated on this idea. AirZaar is an industrial tech startup software company that integrates the use of drones and the data that they collect with other data in mining and construction fields to create actionable intelligence for our clients. Our clients are surface mining and large construction companies.
What skills are you using that you picked up during your EMBA?
As COO I am responsible for business development and creating a sustainable infrastructure for growth. I use some of the negotiation skills I learned on a daily basis in the company, which is more often than I thought I would. I use this with customers as well as creating partnerships and alliances. One of the proudest wins that we have to date is securing a global mining company as not only a client but also a strategic partner in a joint development program.
The leadership challenges that are prevalent in a new business as founders are realized on a daily basis. Being able to navigate the challenge of attracting employees in an early startup company, not only attracting them, but managing them and motivating them to create a superior product, to deliver on their performance to meet client needs. In a startup you can’t always compensate people to their expectations which is challenging. The leadership skills that I was able to build within the EMBA program are things that I use on a daily basis to overcome these challenges.
AirZaar Awards and Recognition
AirZaar received the Accelerate St. Louis Bright Futures Export Award, Military Veteran-Founded Companies Category in 2016. AirZaar has completed its seed round ($600K) of fund raising with two venture capital firms in New York and San Antonio, Texas. Additionally, AirZaar won first place in the prestigious Techstars challenge at Patriot Bootcamp event.