In the field of innovation and technological advancement, few stories stand out as compelling narratives of perseverance, commitment, and unwavering belief in a mission. Robert Bagheri’s journey, from his roots in Iran to becoming a key player in the technology industry, reflects a tale of challenges, triumphs, and a relentless pursuit of making a positive impact on the world.
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Growing Up in Iran and Moving to the US
Born and raised in Iran, Robert embarked on his journey of exploration and education at the age of eighteen. He grew up in a city called Abadan, the site of the largest oil refinery in the world at the time.
A strong foundation in math and physics, coupled with cultural influences, led him to the path of engineering. His decision to pursue electrical engineering took him to Florida, where he enrolled at Miami Dade Community College, then Florida Atlantic University, marking the beginning of a remarkable career.
Early Career and Microchip Revolution
Robert entered the professional world in 1980 when he joined Monolithic Memories, Inc. (MMI), a chip company, as an electrical engineer. His passion for problem-solving and background in semiconductor device physics set the stage for a career defined by innovation.
Sometime in 1986, MMI was acquired by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in a $422M stock swap. Robert then moved to Microchip Technology Corporation. The pivotal moment in his career came with his involvement in microchip technology during the 1980s.
Little did he anticipate that this journey would lead to the initial public offering (IPO) of Microchip in 1993, proof of his foresight and technical prowess. Robert’s next stop was logic devices at IMP.
As he recalls, his biggest asset was his technical strength in semiconductor device physics, where he worked extensively in the early years of semiconductor yield enhancement. Eventually, the company also went on to go through an IPO.
Robert talks about being involved in companies that were consistently looking for disruptive ideas. For instance, Zoran was the earliest to work on JPEG and image processing. The high risk is always the biggest challenge, as is convincing customers that the new technology will work better and is more cost-effective.
As Robert noted, battling the inertia and resistance to adopting new ways of doing things is always a hurdle.
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Executive member of SiRF Technology and Zenverge Company
Robert has an interesting story to tell about the founding of SiRF Technology. He remembers working very closely with Dado Banatao, who was building his third startup. At the time, Dado was at the helm of producing graphic chips for PCs and gaming.
Robert ended up joining him and took on the role of VP of Operations and central engineering. At its peak, SiRF had a valuation of $480M, and for the first time, Robert moved from the employee seat to being an executive working closely with founding members of multiple startups, leading to an IPO.
Zenverge Company was Robert’s next project, where they did audio-video transcoding. In other words, they created the encryption and decryption capability for audio and video content. The key lesson Robert learned was timing the exit and selling the company at a time when it had the highest valuation.
He also talks about being realistic and pragmatic and accounting for macroeconomic and microeconomic factors. Robert emphasizes partnerships with the right people for building companies and knowing how to work with them. Eventually, they sold the company to Freescales.
Reuilding EoPlex Inc. involved relocation to Penang, Malaysia. The company’s focus was on 3D printing of lead frames for the thinnest semiconductor package. Its new owners invited Robert for his expertise in running Silicon Valley-style startups. He stepped up to rebuild and restart the company that had been on the verge of shutting down after a firesale.
Around 18 to 24 months down the line, they sold the company for $200M. Robert remembers closing on eight different accounts of the technology they had developed and commercialized.
Sakuu: Revolutionizing Energy Storage
Although he contemplated retirement, Robert’s entrepreneurial spirit did not wane, leading to his involvement in Sakuu, a startup committed to revolutionizing energy storage through additive Manufacturing (AM) 3D printing technology. With a focus on Lithium-ion Metal Anode technology, Sakuu aims to change manufacturing paradigms while addressing pressing energy storage issues.
Despite facing challenges and tough decisions, Robert emphasizes the importance of timing in startups. Sakuu’s business model revolves around providing a platform, the Kavian platform, to enable cell makers to produce superior batteries.
With a vision to impact the world positively, Sakuu monetizes its technology through Kavian Platform sales, software and services support, IP licensing, and offering best-in-class LIthiun Metal Anode battery technology for licensing. In addition, Sakuu also offers hardware services and yearly maintenance at 12% in the first two years and then a recurring 8% thereafter.
Sakuu also provides IP licensing to people on the product and process side and offers training on preparing the material for printability. Robert reveals how they used a page from their semiconductor industry to develop the concept.
They called their product Cypress, which is the best in class regarding energy density, life cycle, safety, and cost. Sakuu has raised a little over $110M in funding to date.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Robert Bagheri was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Leadership Philosophy and Employee-Centric Culture
Robert’s leadership philosophy centers on three principles: delighting employees, delighting customers, and delighting shareholders. Unlike conventional approaches, he prioritizes employee satisfaction as the foundation for success.
The interplay of employee contentment, customer satisfaction, and shareholder returns follows a deliberate order, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these elements.
The emphasis on building a family-like culture, where employees feel a sense of belonging, has resulted in a committed and dedicated team. Investing in a team that aligns with the company’s mission and values has proven to be a strategic decision.
Robert’s approach of acknowledging the privilege of leadership has resulted in a resilient team that excels even in challenging situations, showcasing the long-term benefits of conscious leadership.
Robert believes in hiring people with the right expertise and skills who are committed and motivated to change the world and make a difference. He also recruits people with a personal philosophy similar to the company’s mission and vision.
Insights for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Robert offers valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs, drawing from his extensive journey. He says that entrepreneurship requires unwavering belief and passion. If the endeavor does not align with a mission and passion, it may not be the right path.
When facing difficulties, innovate your way out of them. The ability to find solutions and navigate obstacles is crucial for long-term success. Robert also stresses that being at the right place and time matters. Entrepreneurs must adapt to changing circumstances and seize opportunities that align with their vision.
While financial success is essential, the impact on people’s lives and the world should be a driving force. Strive for a balance between return on investment and return on impact.
Robert suggests looking for team members who are on a mission rather than mercenaries motivated solely by financial gain. A shared commitment to a common cause fosters a resilient and motivated team.
Robert Bagheri’s journey from Iran to the forefront of technological innovation is a testament to the transformative power of perseverance, conscious leadership, and a commitment to making a positive impact.
As he continues to shape the future of clean energy through Sakuu, Robert’s story inspires aspiring entrepreneurs to navigate the dynamic landscape of technology and business.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Success in entrepreneurship comes from unwavering belief and passion for the mission, focusing on making a positive impact rather than just monetary gains.
- Success requires a commitment to change, innovation, and perseverance through challenges in the rapidly evolving clean energy and technology landscape.
- Building a successful team involves creating a culture where individuals feel a sense of belonging, commitment, and connection to a larger purpose, fostering an environment of loyalty and dedication.
- Entrepreneurial success often hinges on being at the right place and time; the convergence of societal awareness towards climate change and technological advancements presents a unique window of opportunity.
- Businesses should aim for both return on impact, positively affecting lives and the environment, and return on investment, ensuring financial success and growth.
- During tough times, the key is to innovate and find creative solutions, navigating through challenges with the mindset that every obstacle has a solution.
- Entrepreneurial journeys involve successes and failures; learning and adapting from failures is crucial for long-term success.