Featured on Dec 01, 2011
Anna Akbari, PhD
"Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing. - Yeats"
I feel a bit schizophrenic when it comes to answering the "what do you do?" question. On any given day, I move between NYU professor, tech entrepreneur, social interaction designer, writer, guest speaker.... My PhD is in sociology, but I've always preferred to work and live in an inter-disciplinary way -- it's exciting when my various projects, networks, and interests can cross-pollinate. I'm most passionate about relationships and how people connect, and I like to think about things like our digital identities, our engagement with technology, and how we move between embodied and virtual realities. This led me to start Splice, a social business engine that identifies organizational affinities and offers actionable recommendations, as well as Bricoler Social Interaction Design, which uses social software and interaction strategies to make organizations more collaborative and innovative. In other words, I’m obsessed with creating meaningful relationships and happier spaces. When I’m not working to build relationships, I can be found singing karaoke and rollerskating (not necessarily at the same time): I co-founded the New York Tech Karaoke Meetup -- because technologists and karaoke are a natural duo -- and you may have seen me in Central Park, getting my groove on with the disco roller skaters (truly the happiest place in New York).
- Title: CEO and Co-Founder at Splice; Co-Founder at Bricoler Social Innovation
- Age: 33
- Location: Hell's Kitchen
- Contact: @annaakbari
Building the right team when starting a company is difficult. How did you go about assembling your teams for Splice and Bicoler Social Innovation?
Putting a solid team together is a mix of two things: pulling from your existing network and having good instincts about new people. My Splice co-founder, Jamil, and I have been friends for 13 years – whereas I met my Bricoler partners, Nicole and Joe, in the past year (and Joe is also partnering with me on Splice), but that time difference doesn’t affect our level of trust or commitment. Sometimes people don’t realize that business partnerships are marriages. You don’t want to marry yourself, but rather you need someone who complements you; and you need to know that your “spouses” will go into the trenches to support you, no matter what. Even if you disagree or argue, you’re 100% committed to each other and the project. I guess that makes us one, big, polygamous tech family.
You’ve held a number of karaoke meetups since starting the group back in June. Who is the best karaoke singer in New York tech that you’ve found so far? What are some of your “must sing” songs when you go to karaoke?
Ooooh, that is a tough question. We have several great performers: there’s my co-host, Jamil, who sings Michael Jackson by channeling James Brown (I’ve heard him hundreds of times and I still get chills); there’s Monica, who sings sweet ballads in Chinese (she is not Asian), and repeatedly stuns everyone; there’s Virginia, who has an amazing talent for rapping every song she sings, regardless of the genre – she’s a real show-stopper. As for my “must sing” list, as any karaoke enthusiast will tell you, it all depends on the time of night, the crowd, your level of intoxication, etc. But my signature songs are probably “Elviria” by the Oakridge Boys (I’m yet to hear anyone else sing this song), anything by Linda Ronstadt, “Oh! Darling” by the Beatles, and Jamil and I do killer duets to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love.” Every night is different – you really just have to come and experience it.
You are currently co-founder of two companies, a professor at NYU, have a fashion consultancy named Closet Catharsis, and co-founded The Women’s Collaborative networking group. How do you balance your time and priorities? Any tricks for others that are equally busy and looking for ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed?
Simultaneous entrepreneurship is challenging, and there are times when I feel overwhelmed and stressed by it all, but I’ve developed some personal “rules to live by” that guide my decisions and keep me sane:
- Socialize with people you want to work with, and work with people you want to socialize with.
- Know what and when to delegate – and use it as an opportunity to mentor.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Only do things you’re passionate about.
- Avoid compartmentalization and instead see the points of connection between projects and look for opportunities for them to feed and fuel one another.
- Make time for play. Put exercise and social outlets on your calendar and treat them with the same level of commitment as your work.
- Know when to get out of the city, isolate, and go off-grid.
These rules will be different for everyone, but I think it’s important to develop some tenets that guide your work as an entrepreneur. We generally don’t have a larger company dictating the rules, so we need to be mindful of what matters to us and what keeps us going.