Every now and then, someone comes along and transforms and disrupts an industry. On today’s show, Carrie Charles talks to one of those people, Iyad Tarazi. Iyad is the President and CEO of Federated Wireless, an American-based wireless communications company headquartered in Arlington County, Virginia. Federated Wireless is considered is a phenomenal place to call home by its employees. Today, Carrie chats with Iyad to find out how they create that special culture and the results it produces for the company. To find out more about Federated Wireless and the careers they are hiring for, listen in to this episode.
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An Innovator’s DNA: Federated Wireless’ Secret To Success With Iyad Tarazi
Every now and then, someone comes along and transforms and disrupts an industry. I’m talking to one of those people, Iyad Tarazi. He is a wireless industry visionary who empowers people to lead and innovate with passion. Iyad is the President, CEO and Cofounder of Federated Wireless. Thank you, Iyad, for being on the show with me.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Tell me about your journey in telecom. You’ve been in telecom for many years. You have quite the journey. Talk a little bit about the creation of Federated Wireless.
The time I joined Wireless, it was the growth years back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Everybody wanted to build a wireless network. Everybody wanted to figure out how to get a handset working on this brand-new world. I joined Nextel. I ran the R&D function for Sprint. At one point, I was sitting in a plane, in an airport somewhere in Asia and I said, “I need to do something different.” I went from a team that had a budget of a couple of billion a year, a couple of thousand people into let’s start from zero and figuring out how to do something completely different. I joined a couple of scientists who were beginning to rethink the entire spectrum model and how it changed the wireless industry. We started with two people. That was the beginning and that was back in 2014.
The story behind Federated is a couple of scientists who were working inside the Pentagon. They were experienced in telecommunications, quite published PhDs. They were trying to figure out a way how to create a software model for making spectrum available. The spectrum availability is limited because you either all have it or you don’t have it. They decided that if there’s an Airbnb model for spectrum, then everybody would win because everybody’s sitting on all these empty rooms in their house. They’ve created the idea, published some papers and said, “Can someone come help us make it real and find the right talent who want to create this new industry?” Certainly, I was the first one to join.
Tell me about your product, your service. Do you call it CaaS, Connectivity as a Service? That’s great.
Yes. It is a Spectrum-as-a-Service model. It is a cloud-based set of APIs that you can tap into to be able to get in under a second you can get access to spectrum and you can do with it whatever you want to do. It comes with all of these big open ecosystems, iPhones that work on the spectrum. It’s called CBRS, Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum by the FCC. We have equipment makers. We have over 200 companies participating in it including people like Google, Amazon, Dell, Verizon, Timo, Comcast, Charter and a whole bunch of others. Everybody’s after one thing, cheap spectrum that you can use to create new business models.
Tell me more about your partnership with AWS and Microsoft. How did that come about and the benefits?
The model that we’ve created from day one was an enablement model. Which means that let’s create a product that others can put inside their business plans to make their business plans better. If you’re a carrier, you can use it to get your network to be faster and cheaper. If you’re a cable company, you can give your customer access to services you don’t have. If you’re a small rural operator, you can use what we have to get into the same service level as carriers do, etc. At one point in time, we were trying to figure out all the different uses and we were trying to figure out how to prototype a high definition camera. We got in touch with the Amazon team a couple of years ago. They’re quite innovative.
[bctt tweet=”The most important thing for startups to do is to try things very fast and learn. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
The AWS team said, “Why don’t we create a training class in our next upcoming show in Vegas? Let’s see if we can convince about 100 engineers to take this high definition camera and run it on the spectrum and see if we can download videos and recognize images and do all that automation.” “It sounds good.” “How many weeks do we have to train people and get them to become network engineers?” They looked and they smiled and said, “We’re going to train them in the class so they walk in not knowing what they’re doing, by the time they walk out, the cameras are working and they become image processing and telecom experts. Can we do that?”
We went about. We were able to pull it off. From there, we started thinking, “There is something to combining all of this cloud automation, AI, high-definition cameras, and sensors with this simple spectrum model and all the equipment to go around it.” We announced earlier in 2020 the Connectivity as a Service model where you can buy it with one click on the marketplace. I describe it similar to buying shampoo from Amazon. In this case, you’re pivoting to help you to run your best business better. It’s early stages. There’s a lot of work to be done, but clearly a lot of bumps.
Discuss the applications for enterprise. Do you provide Wi-Fi? Are you competing with the carriers?
We help everybody and we don’t compete with everybody. That’s the good news. We’re an enablement company. The best way to describe the model that we created is that for a lot of customers, especially enterprise customers, they’d like to get to this private wireless business. They’ve heard much about private 5G and how it works. I would describe it all these ads where robots are taking care of other robots using 5G networks and they want some of that. It comes with a specific requirement for them. They want it to be secure. They want it to be under their control. They want it to be truly private. They want to be able to do the programming in it. What we went about creating is a simple connectivity model that anybody can use and embed in their solutions.
It doesn’t run across from Wi-Fi. It runs separate from it. If you have a big warehouse, you have a lot of Wi-Fi in it, but you want to get some high definition cameras. You don’t want to mess up your Wi-Fi. You can use our solution to get brand new spectrum. That’s simple, that’s cheap. You can run the cameras. You don’t have to disrupt your business, but you’re not replacing the carrier and you’re still using carrier services for handsets and so on. We’re focused on automation, IoT, simplicity and cloud integration. We think there’s a lot of room for IoT-driven private networks that enterprises can control.
How are you keeping the network secure for your customers? You mentioned security.
The number one rule of security is that if you don’t let anybody else touch it, probably it’s secure. What CBRS does is that the spectrum is yours as an enterprise. It’s completely your spectrum and you don’t have to connect to any other network. You don’t have to borrow a spectrum that’s used by Wi-Fi, by other users, or by a carrier. You get your own little private protected spectrum and you get equipment that only works on it. You can decide not to connect it to anything outside of the factory or the warehouse. On top of that, you get all of the security layer that come with 4G and 5G, which is highly secure. The combination is an isolated network that’s under your control, but you’re the only one that managed the software for it. It has all the security built-in. That is as private and secure as you get with private networks.
Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about Federated Wireless. I was looking online and I found some reviews from your employees and your team members. It was shocking because they were all amazing. I wanted to talk about one in particular that said, “I simply love working at Federated Wireless. Everyone makes an impact. The team is intelligent and creative. Everyone is passionate about changing the wireless market by applying the shared resource concept to spectrum.” This is something to be proud of and I know that you’ve created such a special culture at Federated. Can you talk a little bit more about that culture?
That is my true passion. It’s not creating the products and services. It’s creating an environment I want to work in. That’s probably the best way to describe it. When we started the company, we looked and said, “A lot of us are quite experienced. We come from years and years of different diverse backgrounds. The first thing I wanted to do is make sure that the team is diverse in terms of knowledge, carrier enterprise, different backgrounds, different styles of working, different thinking models, different geography. After that we asked ourselves, “What is the right environment for that? How do you preserve that knowledge?” To change the world, if that’s what your goal is, you have to start with knowing as much about it as you can. To simplify, you have to know too much. You have to bring a lot of diverse knowledge to simplify. The ability to attract different knowledge was important.
The first thing we did is said, “We must be fully transparent.” We take transparency to death. There are no levels in terms of access to information. There’s almost no information in the company that every employee doesn’t have access to it. Every decision gets shared at least once a week in a town hall. We treat everybody as same level. I haven’t seen the org chart since I started. There is no org chart. We all are one level of people. We all get to see the same information. We all get to weigh in equally in all decisions and we all get to do whatever we want to do to steer the company where we want to go.
We end up having incredible debates back and forth and some of it feels like, “What did I get into?” These people are way too honest with each other. Part of it is a detailed, focus on conflict management in a healthy way and that’s done through a lot of 360 reviews. A lot of open dialogue, surveys, a lot of what we call coffee shop chatter sessions where every employee attend one of these at least every 3, 4 weeks. It gets to us whatever on their mind and all of us are accessible. You all have to be a leader. As leaders, you have to be open for all of that criticism and all of the input that you can get. I describe almost every staff meeting like a board meeting in terms of the of openness and discussion. That’s what it has to be like. It is not easy, but it’s what creates the environment. That’s what keeps us going. You have to set goals that are real. It’s life-changing and you also have to create an environment where everybody’s the boss.
Creating that environment, what results does that produce for the company?
We operate at a speed that I’ve never seen. Every week for us is a month or a year for other companies that are maybe in a more stable business environment. We can reiterate quickly. The most important thing to start up to do is to try things fast and learn. We’re in the business of learning. All startups are in the business of learning because whatever you get into, you don’t know the answer until you try it. If you knew the answer, if you’re just coming in to replicate what a big company is doing, then you’re not going to win. You don’t have any of the advantages. You have to come up with new ideas, you have to find out what the dual spectrum model is going to do and how to use it. How do you create an 80% drop in unit costs? How do you speed up deployment? How do you create new access to new people? How do you adopt new technologies? All that requires fast learning.
Ultimately, speed is the most important piece and speed in a productive way. We’re able to learn quickly. We’re able to forget quickly what didn’t work. We’re able to debate quickly. That is the wheel you want to ride. In six months, you’re better. At twelve months, you’re better, you’re using limited resources. You’re using them incredibly, efficiently and fast. Your partners look at you as an innovator. You’re like, “We can learn from them. They’re an advisor and a helper. Please come every other month and tell me what you learned.” We’re happy to do it because you learned in two months what we can’t find everywhere else. That’s great. That gives us access. That gives us support. That gives us a network.
You have to move fast and you have to be able to learn quickly. You have to be able to forget quickly. You can’t do that if you don’t have transparency, you don’t have the thick skin to deal with all of the feedback. You don’t put the tools in place, which is educate people what environment you’re in. Educate people how to debate. Educate people how to get feedback. Educate people what good is bad. All of those are required but you end up with a wonderful environment. You’re always exhausted, but you’re always thrilled. I think that’s my goal.
It sounds like the secret sauce to your success has been culture and your team. What do you look for when hiring in the way of soft skills, let’s say?
There are three predictors of success for us. Let me also mention that we have a very low churn rate even for a startup. Ultimately every employee, we best send them day one and we want them to be around forever. There are few people that end up coming in and maybe not connecting with us. We don’t subscribe to the model of try and then if you don’t like start over because that’s expensive and unproductive. It is in our culture. We start by hiring someone who is, number one, able to have mental agility. If you love learning and love learning means you’re not the expert. That is expert is not really important, to be honest, but you’re able to learn and you’re able to adapt.
Every month you have to learn something new. There’s never a status quo ever. We get paid for learning. Number two, the ability to have the proper emotion and intelligence to read the crowd around you, be able to make the mental connections and the social connections. In this model, no decisions get made through hierarchy or level. When everybody’s on the same level, you have to build coalitions nonstop. You’re always building coalition. You’re always recruiting people to support your ideas. You’re always defending your ideas. You’re always on the defensive. If you think it’s my job to do X, but somebody doesn’t like it, you’ll never win that argument ever. We don’t allow that to happen. That’s complacency. You have to be able to build the networks to support your ideas and explain them.
[bctt tweet=”When you love learning, it means you’re not the expert. Being an expert is not important; you must be able to learn and adapt.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
The last piece is you must have systems thinking to simplify the world, you have to understand all the complexity. You have to understand the seven things it took when you build the first electric car. To make it much simpler, you have to understand everything that goes into a gas car so you know which pieces to take out. That’s no different than the business we’re in. We have to understand everything that an enterprise, a carrier, Wi-Fi, a spectrum provider and all of the pieces that come into building these complex networks that we’re taking and removing about 80% of it and putting it back together. You have to understand all the pieces in order to figure out what to take out. These are the three most predictors of success for us.
Has anything changed in your plans for 2020 or even 2021 due to COVID-19?
Everybody else is dealing with it. For us, the strategy has not changed. The direction has not changed. The customer has not changed, but every one of our customers is dealing with different ways of handling COVID-19 and we’re reacting to it in different ways. It’s putting different weights on different customers and different models. What I would say, the three big things that are happening because of COVID-19 that we’re seeing them across the board is, number one, broadband is becoming valuable. It’s a much better understanding that there’s not enough broadband in the US. Thirty percent of the US doesn’t have proper broadband. Many areas don’t have enough competition. This spectrum is valuable for broadband services. That’s showing up in all the deployments we’re doing. A lot of them are broadband and a lot of future broadband, number one.
Number two, which is a bit surprising for me. It’s true is that we’re evolving as a country into an industrial policy type business model for 5G. The government is helping either in funding telehealth or in promoting specific 5G technologies or participation from the Navy, Army, and DOD in creating innovation around 5G and being early adopters, or infrastructure funding that might come in. The government is helpful in promoting innovation. That’s a change from 4 or 5 years ago or 10 years ago when we would discuss policies. There wouldn’t be the active engagement into day to day funding. The government has moved from being an R&D shop into a pilot enterprise customer for 5G. That’s a big change in the environment that we’re all dealing with and that government doesn’t have to be just DOD. It is local municipalities, school districts and hospitals. All of the public sector has become a leader in technology and that’s a big deal.
The third piece that happens in anytime there’s a big disruption is whatever the trends are, they move faster. There’s definitely a trend to move to the cloud. We’re seeing that now move much more aggressively, cloud automation. A lot of components are moving to the cloud. A lot of edge boxes moving to the cloud because it’s simpler and cheaper. A year ago, people would say, “I want to be a more risk averse. I want to take my time.” Now it’s like, “I need to do this. Let me move forward. I need to save the costs. I want to provide automation. I want to make sure that my retail store can handle half the employees. I want to make sure that I automate more of my warehouse. I want to make sure I move my security job automation with cameras so if nobody’s in the store I can watch what’s going on.” All of these trends are beginning to happen for sure.
It’s full steam ahead. What type of roles are you as Federated Wireless hiring for, let’s say 2020, 2021 and beyond? What types of skillsets?
By far the number one skillset we continue to need is cloud development engineers, software developers that work on cloud technologies, work on AWS or Azure, or do dev ops or any of these buzzwords. That’s by far is the most important to us and we’ll continue to work hard to attract the best talent we can. Some of the newer things that are beginning to change is that the sales models changing, product models are changing. You used to talk about things, people that are called sales engineering and product development, all of that. Now, you describe things that are called solutions engineers. You describe things like customer success engineers, architecture developers. What’s happening in the sales and product and marketing is these skills have become far more technical in the world. You’re beginning to look for blends. I am a good engineer that understand how mocks has come together.
I like to work with customers where probably our best sales engineer and we’ll call you a solution architect and we’ll let you go ahead of the sales team and some of them. We have some in these cutting-edge areas we’re working in. Customers don’t return calls sometimes for salespeople, but it’s incredible. I would call it the new sales model we’re hiring for which is technical/product technical/marketing technical/sales, and technical/architecture. That will be a big driver for us and we will also continue to look for people that do operations roles. We differentiate ourselves by having carrier-type operations support for cloud technology. The combination of the two is powerful. I want carrier support, but I want to buy cloud. We continue to look for people that are good at running ops, doing support and performance management and logistics and all of that. That’s still quite valuable and we look for that.
It sounds like Federated Wireless is a phenomenal place to call home. I’m sure there are quite a few of our audiences and viewers who want to know how do I find out more about Federated Wireless and the careers. Where do I go?
On our website, we have all the links you need and we have all the listings. Don’t worry about the listings. Reach out to me if you want as well. Anybody from the Federated Wireless team, the best way to reach us is LinkedIn. Search for Federated Wireless LinkedIn and any of us will be more than happy to talk to you anytime. I’m always there and so is my entire team. As a matter of fact, I do more communications and liking through LinkedIn than I do through email.
You’re right because that’s how I reached you and you were responsive. You say that some customers don’t get back, you get back to people and Federated is different. Thank you for that. That’s why we have you on the show and I truly appreciate you coming on. It has been not just informative, but exciting to hear what’s coming ahead. Thank you for all you’re doing in the wireless industry to take us to the next level.
Thank you. I appreciate the time.
You too. Thanks a lot.
About Iyad Tarazi
Chief executive officer with experience in successful commercialization of disruption cloud native SaaS technology. Expertise in team building, product, business development and fundraising.
Developed and launched large marketing alliances and open ecosystems with strategic partners including Google, Qualcomm, Intel, Ericsson, Nokia and others.
Large-scale R&D and Technology Integration executive of cloud software, machine learning, spectrum, wireless radio, transport, applications, and subscriber devices.
Fiscal management responsibility of over hundreds of millions in annual investments. Deployed more than $10 billions in assets. Lead and organized large teams of more than 800 engineers as well as small start-up teams.
Publicist and technologist with in-depth knowledge of industry trends. Extensive experience in handling media forums, public policy agencies, and financial analysts. Business development and product development experience.
Experience with leading and executing large mergers including integrating Sprint with Clearwire and Softbank. Business transformation and process development skills.
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