What began in 1999 as a couple of young, innovative minds developing simple web solutions has evolved into a relentless force of passion, creativity, and technology. Our team is all grown up now, but the learning never stops. Here are the biggest lessons that our co-founders Ali Reza Manouchehri and Robert J. Santos have picked up over 18 years of leading MetroStar Systems.
#1: In tech, timing is everything.
ALI: One of the lessons we’ve learned about technology is that the timing has to be right. You could have a great technology—whether it’s a product or a service—and you’re ready to sell it, but is there enough demand? Do you have the talent pool to support it? You always need to have one foot in the future and one in the present. The challenge is having perfect timing to step forward. Timing for your technology. Timing for your talent. Timing for the market.
#2: Behind the technology, it’s the people who push boundaries.
ROB: Timing puts you on the right footing, but it’s also about making sure that you’re able to keep up with the constant changes in technology so that you can attract the best and the brightest talent. One of the challenges MetroStar has faced over the years is that not every customer is ready and willing to adapt to cutting-edge technology, which results in the efforts of brilliant talent being directed at supporting older platforms. But we’ve been able to help them ease into modernization. The thing about having the best and the brightest on-board is that they always find a way to push boundaries and come up with game-changing ideas to turn something familiar into something better.
#3: Innovation is a constant.
ALI: Innovation will always be what you take from the present and mold into something better for the future. It’s what you make faster. Simpler. More attractive. That has always been the way we’ve seen it, and it has allowed us to keep moving forward. A few decades ago, Web 2.0 was an innovation, but now there are new things to be excited about. So we do more than create innovation; we innovate. It’s an action, and we’ve learned to just do it constantly.
#4: It gets harder as we grow.
ROB: Before, it was just Ali and I. There are certain philosophies and characteristics that co-founders put into place when they create an organization. However, as you grow, it gets harder to keep everyone on the same page. Right now, MetroStar is at about 200 people. We have people in Georgia, in New York—MetroStar is all over the place. It’s not easy to engage with all our employees who work very hard on-site, but we know that as executives, we need to make it a point to show them our appreciation and allow them to share our vision. There’s no silver bullet for that. Every growing company faces that struggle.
#5: Keeping the culture is a challenge.
ALI: How do you reinforce your culture as you evolve? That’s a challenge, too. The culture that we’ve built at MetroStar from the beginning has always been about pushing technology and having an environment where we can have fun while doing it. As more people come in, it takes more work to keep that going, especially since we’ve started to spread out geographically. But we have to do our part to keep the culture so strong that it goes beyond locations and differences. It’s not something that Rob and I can do alone. It takes a village to look after a culture.
#6: Find people with the right DNA.
ROB: One of the questions we ask ourselves when we hire people is: Do they have the right DNA? We try to make sure their ethos and outlook align with our own core beliefs. Sure, they have to be able to do their job, but they also need to carry those core values. And as the company grows, it matters now more than ever because it’s the thing that makes us come together to push forward with our vision.
#7: One vision; different points of view.
ALI: I see things one way. Rob sees things through another lens. While we have that unifying vision—that common DNA—it’s important to bring different people onboard to give us perspective. Everybody has a capacity and ideas. It’s a matter of finding passionate people who are willing to share them so that we can work towards the future together.
#8: It’s not easy to find diamonds…
ALI: If you put pressure on certain minerals, they turn into diamonds. But with other minerals, you put pressure on them and they just turn into rocks. For an organization to grow, you need to find people who can turn into diamonds under pressure, and oftentimes, you don’t get that. Some people don’t like that. Our job is to constantly look at our human capital and figure out a way to make sure they can handle the pressures of growth.
#9: …but people will always surprise you.
ROB: Sometimes, we challenge people, and someone we would not have thought to rise to the occasion are the people who go above and beyond our expectations. It works both ways, too. You don’t know who those diamonds are until an opportunity presents itself to challenge these individuals. I think over the 18 years, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of diamonds we’ve found here at MetroStar.
#10: Be proud of your story and share it.
ALI: Marketing has become so important for us. MetroStar has all these capabilities, innovations and people, and we want the world to know about it. We want our story told because we are proud of it. That’s been challenging for us over the last 18 years, but now we finally have a solid team for that. It’s also helped us reinforce our culture.
#11: An environment of freedom produces amazing results.
ROB: I think we’ve been successful in creating a company that provides leading technologies to the government, but at the same time, we’ve built this environment that you don’t see in our field a lot. What sets us apart in our business is the freedom that we give our employees to do research and development, to experiment, to push the boundaries, to fail, and to learn all sorts of new things. MetroStar has pushed it on that front.
#12: Our clients learn from our culture.
ROB: I’m sure there are a million cool things that we’ve done over the years, but the most interesting part of our journey is how we’ve been able to influence our government clients. With the way MetroStar does things differently, we show them that they can do things differently, too.
#13: There are as many challenges as there are celebrations.
ALI: These are the two ‘Cs’ that balance each other out, and it’s that tension that gives us the velocity to move forward. When we feel challenged, we think of new ways to accelerate. When we celebrate victories, we want more of that, so we keep going. The tension fuels us.
#14: Picking a mentor is key.
ALI: A good mentor can guide you when it comes to challenges and celebrations. Make sure that you pick your mentor carefully. You want someone who can not only challenge you intellectually, but also celebrate with you and motivate you to go forward. A mentor is not someone you just put on a shelf, like your accolades when you retire. You want a mentor that’s involved. Someone you can trust and someone who trusts you, too.
#15: We are not the same people we were from 18 years ago.
ALI: There are certain characteristics that we still have that make us who we are. But after 18 years, the people who have come and gone have added their own influence and characteristics into the mix, shaping MetroStar and how Rob and I see and do things. In a way, these people have become mentors to us, too.
#16: Keep everyone excited about what you do.
ROB: Because our people impact our culture so much, the challenge we face is this: How do we keep them excited about what we do? Continuous engagement breeds continuous change.
#17: How you work together influences how you power change.
ROB: We’ve been able to surround ourselves with people who inspire us—from the executives, to management, to our technical people, to people on the ground, and even interns and junior talent.
ALI: People are what make this organization tick. The type of people you integrate into your organization will help you define its values and how you’re going to create change.
#18: Powering change means redefining yourself.
ALI: When we started 18 years ago, we wanted our story to be that of a company admired in America for powering change through technology. We’ve brought in people who have helped us bring that story to life, and we have, but we’ve learned that the story is evolving. Today, when we talk about change, it’s no longer just about what we do, but how we do it. We are constantly adapting and reinventing ourselves.
For as long as we continue to redefine our vision, goals, and culture with new people and new technology, MetroStar will always be powering change.
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