Cloudflare TV

Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Soulaima Gourani

Presented by Amada Echeverría, Soulaima Gourani
Originally aired on 

Womenflare is celebrating International Women's Day, a global day commemorating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, by kicking off Women's Empowerment Month in March!

Join Cloudflare's Amada Echeverría and Soulaima Gourani, 7th-grade-drop-out and Happioh CEO, as they discuss the $1.1 trillion market that is AI enterprise software, post-pandemic mental hygiene, why you should never be afraid to ask for help, and why you should always ignore statistics!

Guest: Soulaima Gourani, CEO & Co-Founder,


Transcript (Beta)

Hello, Cloudflare TV and happy Women's Empowerment Month. My name is Amada Echeverría and I'm on the marketing team here at Cloudflare.

We are here with Soulaima Gourani.

Soulaima, thank you so much for being with us today. Oh, my goodness.

I'm so excited. I love Cloudflare. I love you guys. So, yeah, I'm so proud to be here.

Great. Thank you for making the time. So we're excited about this special Choose to Challenge edition of Unfiltered brought to you by Womenflare.

Cloudflare's employee resource group, the mission of which is to inspire and elevate all those who identify as women.

So in celebrating this month, Womenflare is hosting episodes of Unfiltered throughout March, where we'll be chatting with inspirational women like Soulaima about their insights and experiences and sharing how they forge a more inclusive and equitable world.

So without further ado, thank you so much for joining Unfiltered.

And where are you dialing in from?

I'm in Palo Alto, so not so far from San Francisco. So, yeah, Palo Alto.

Great. Great to hear. So let me briefly introduce you to give some context.

So you're the co-founder and CEO of Papio, an enterprise AI software platform that makes virtual and hybrid meetings more productive.

So this is too relevant.

And I can't wait to try this platform. And together with your team, you're disrupting a one point one trillion dollar market, and you're backed by one of the most prominent Silicon Valley, prominent Silicon Valley angels.

And among other things, you're also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, as is our president and CEO, Michelle.

And you're also a middle school dropout and a proud mom of two.

So before we dive further, a quick note for our viewers, if you have any questions, feel free to submit them by emailing us at LiveStudio at Cloudflare .TV.

And you can find that in the banner right below this video. So without further ado, we'll get started.

So tell us a little bit more about your life prior to Papio and then we'll we'll dig in to Papio, we have so much to cover.

Yeah, yeah.

I've been in the tech industry since the 90s. But prior to that, I was a seventh grade school dropout.

Yeah. And I lived in the streets. I was picked up by the police.

I was put in foster care. It really all the trauma, as you can even imagine.

So I went through all that. But I was picked up by HP and some other IT companies in the late 90s.

And they really put me on a path to where I am today in Silicon Valley, studying my own company.

So I think in many ways I have a very untraditional route into tech.

And that is through a lot of adversity and for sure not education.

That's that's not been my thing. Wow. I'm sure you've cultivated a huge amount of grit along the way and such an inspirational story.

So I'd like to dig into Papio.

So what made you start Papio? And why did you decide to go into the enterprise AI space?

So I've always been, you know, selling to enterprises. And given my my previous jobs, I have a global network actually in 40 countries.

So I've done enterprise sales most of my life.

So that's my unfair advantage, you would say. And that's really a segment I understand really well.

And when the pandemic hit, I was actually working on a different startup.

And we were fundraising for that one.

But we quickly pivoted and I decided, you know, we're going to you know, we're going to we have to improve the meetings.

It's not enough just to have a meeting like we are having a meeting.

It's really what is happening in the meeting that makes sense.

So really what we're doing is we are making sure that you go to your app and you open up your phone.

And regardless of whether you have your meeting on Zoom or Google or whatever, Hangouts or Cisco or whatever, you have your single point of contact and you can always access all your meetings.

What has been decided, the agendas.

You will never miss a deadline or forget a person ever again. Everything is in the platform.

So you don't have to sit with paper and pen and Google and search and look for resumes and documents.

It's all in one app. So so we're really disrupting and hopefully not only making the meetings more effective, but we are actually also taking off some of that cognitive load that you probably feel by being being in meetings all day.

And we are not only a online meeting platform. We will also help transform into hybrid meetings.

So if you bring happier to your meetings again, you will not have to sit with paper and pen and collect notes and share things.

You can do it all online in the meeting. So, yeah, it's a new working tool.

Fantastic. I think integration is something we all need more in our lives. So so what would problem would you say that that you're solving?

So I don't know about you, but I've spent most of my life in meetings.

Right. And in all those meetings, I've seen how meetings are very often dominated by one or two people.

People are being interrupted or we forget that deadlines or we forget what was decided.

And there's a lot of things happening, even in real life meetings that really makes meetings.

Boring and not effective, actually up to 70 percent of all meetings are not effective.

And don't even get me started how expensive that is for not only you and your time, but for companies.

So by disrupting meetings, we can give you back your time and we can make companies more productive.

So I've always been obsessed about, you know, making things more efficient and productive as a woman.

I hate wasting time in meetings. So I rather want to spend time on deep work or even spend more time with my family.

So that was really my intention.

And luckily, I was able to convince the best engineers and the best tech founder in the world, I think, to join the team and built.

And it's it looks like our angels agree with us that we are onto something very special since we are well funded by those angels in Silicon Valley.

Fantastic. And it sounds like having a technical co-founder was helpful, very helpful.

No, you have to have that. I know everyone might not agree, but building software.

So as you know, this is the first time I am building software.

I'm used to sell software, but not build it myself.

And honestly, to have someone that has more than 25 years of experience building software run large tech teams is crucial because engineers are liquid, right?

Liquid gold. It's so they are so difficult to get your hands on and they're super expensive.

So really make sure that you have someone that knows exactly how to translate your vision into a solid product that consumers and enterprise will love.

A technical co-founder is absolutely crucial.

Right. So there are other meeting platforms out there.

We have Zoom, Google Hangouts, et cetera. So are you working together with big names or are you competing with them?

No, we're working with them.

We don't compete. We actually we think they love us. I mean, we have conversations with, you know, most of most of the parties and they kind of love us because we are improving the quality of the meeting.

Hence, people will prefer to stay online and not start traveling again and commute and all that that we don't want people to start doing again, both because it's time consuming.

It's unhealthy for people's work life balance and the climate.

So we are really helping those platforms to make people stay on them.

So, no, they love us. Oh, fantastic. OK, so I'm interested is well, this is clearly like post-pandemic software and something that that came out of of the pandemic.

So fantastic and very, very important.

And so it sounds like your platform really can help, you know, almost anyone who takes meetings.

So what markets or industries are you looking to break into first?

And how did you decide on that? And what regions are you targeting? Yeah, I mean, some meetings have been broken for, you know, for years, you know, for 20 years, for 30 years, for 40 years.

We've been sitting in meetings and really wanting to get out of the meetings.

Right. We just didn't know how. So meetings will stay around for a while.

So will the online meetings are not going to go away anytime soon.

And meetings are global. It doesn't matter if you are in Israel or Japan or in Denmark.

We all have meetings. So the pain is global. We are all feeling the pain of being stuck in meetings most of the day.

So we could actually go global, which we are because we are working closely with global partners.

So for a software company, it's very critical that you scale fast.

So we go global right away.

Of course, we have only the English version now, but quickly we will have to adapt to local markets and more languages languages.

But it's it's English for now. Fantastic.

So moving on to a more personal side of this, so I'd like to talk about fundraising, and this is something that everyone in Silicon Valley knows how to do.

So prior to Hapio, had you ever fundraised in Silicon Valley before? And if not, how did you learn to do it?

And I know you've been successful, so I want to hear your tips.

Oh, my God. Do you have three hours? Where to start? I think fundraising.

Yeah, everyone know how to fundraise in Silicon Valley. That's at least what you feel, right?

And everyone has either fundraised or or they are investing.

When I came to the Bay Area a few years ago, remember, I came from Denmark.

I was never taught to fundraise. It's not a thing people talk about. It was not something that I ever heard about.

So it's like learning Latin or, you know, a new language, really.

And so because I decided to start fundraising, I had to teach myself first how to do it.

And where do you go? Well, you know, YC has a startup school that's free.

It's online. It's really good, highly recommended. So I took the startup school.

I listened to podcasts. I signed up to newsletters. I started following, you know, the best investors on Twitter.

Now Clubhouse is around.

So I listen in every day and I still learn. And yeah, I taught myself how to fundraise.

Isn't that incredible from never, ever, ever have heard anything about fundraising before?

But even now, after being, you know, in this space for quite some time, I still feel, you know, sometimes I'm the dumbest entrepreneur ever.

Right. Because the thing is, when you are not a VC, if you're not an angel investor yourself, they do that all day long as an entrepreneur, you might fundraise maybe one, two, three, four or five times in your life, either because you do different rounds or because you do different startups.

When you are the first time founder and you're racing for the first time in your life, you have no idea what's going on.

Even if you have good legal advice, good advisors, good board, you are still the one in all those meetings with people who are massively you know, experienced.

But I actually think it's a good thing. I don't I don't mind being the one who don't know necessarily all the terms and all, because in the end, it's all about, is this a market that is growing?

Do they think you have a solution?

And are you the right founder to fix that problem? And do you have a team? And if you can convince that in a normal language, then suddenly the term sheets and the valuation and all that becomes less of a discussion because then they want to get into your deal.

So I think if if anyone wants to raise money, first and foremost, you should really consider if you want investors because you sell your company and you have to deal with investors.

They are around and they want to talk to you.

They want to impact you and your decisions. But if you want to raise money, which I highly recommend, if you want to have a huge impact, if you want to scale, you need money.

Good money. If you want to raise money, then really sit down and think about what is your product market founder fit?

Because if you feel comfortable knowing that you can make this a success, then it's not that hard to get investors.

Fantastic. And you can tell your your investors if they want to talk to you, they have to talk to you on Hapio, so they need to keep the funding coming.

So there's an obvious business use case for Hapio.

What is a societal problem you're looking to solve?

I could talk for hours. You know, a lot of people don't get a seat at the table.

Hence, they are on the menu, right? Because they don't know how to interact in meetings.

They don't know to get how to get their voice heard. They don't know how to, you know, make people communicate.

They don't know how to make people agree.

So really meeting skills, to be frank, if you want to succeed in your life, that either being as an entrepreneur or an educator or whatever, it's all about being able to bring people in a room and facilitate that conversation and get the output.

Why do you put people in a room? Because you want things to change.

If you are not being taught how to facilitate or even participate in a meeting, how is that done professionally?

Then you are never going to accomplish what you want, what you want in life.

So I tell myself every morning that thanks to Hapio, I'm elevating all those good people who have ideas of businesses or projects that they want to get out in the world and going through skills of learning how to host meetings is just one of the many, many skills you need to be successful in your life.

Meetings, no matter what industry you're in, meetings are part of that.

Of your life, it really is. Absolutely. OK, fantastic. And what tips do you have for folks looking to join a technical company like ours, for example, with no experience or engineering background?

First and foremost, I will have to be honest, I think the tech industry is the most rewarding, exciting industry to be in.

And allow me to say, what is the tech industry?

Tech is everywhere. But let's just say tech industry. If you work hard, if you're willing to educate yourself, take extra classes, courses online and learn from others, there's really nothing you cannot accomplish in the tech industry.

Really, unlike many other industries where you have certain hierarchies and you have to go through things, the tech industry is not at all that glad.

You can actually come as an outsider and disrupt the whole industry, entirely disrupt an industry.

So it's really about learning and being humble. And by the way, there's nothing more humbling than starting a tech company in Silicon Valley.

It's very humbling. If you have an ego, you have to let it go because it's a very interesting journey.

I think for women, I can only really, really recommend to work in the tech industry because it's very often, not always, it's remote or online only.

Hence, you can work from home, you can be in your living room, you can still take care of your family or your parents or whatever you have, whoever you have to care for.

It's a very inclusive industry. Actually, the tech industry is yelling.

They want more women. So if you are a woman and if you like working hard and if you don't mind to study and learn extra new things all the time because it's such a disruptive industry.

It's an industry for you. Fantastic.

OK, I love that. I hope everyone's listening. So how do you think about mentorship?

Do you believe in mentorship and sorry, mentorship and teaching?

And how do you think about it? I believe more in teaching than mentorship. And let me explain.

So, you know, when you are when you are a first grader in elementary school, you get super excited if someone from fifth grade greets you.

At school.

Right. You can't get over it like, oh, a fifth grader saw me today. You know, you're super excited about it.

I often hear that people say, you know, oh, who am I to teach?

Who will learn from me? I'm nobody. I don't know. You know, I'm just a beginner.

But even if you have. So imagine you are a fifth grader. Right. The first the first grader is so impressive about what you can.

Right. But if you are a fifth grader and you go to someone in ninth grade, he or she is not impressed by you.

Right. But you are a fifth grader to someone. Right. So really stop up every year.

Stop up and think, who can I teach now? How can I give back and why? Why should you do that?

Well, not only will it make you more happy and healthy, there's a lot of research that shows if you give back to your community, it's good for your health.

But really, when you one thing is to learn things. When you start teaching it, that's really when you start mastering what you've learned.

So I teach at many different universities and I make sure that I have communities where I give back and teach what I've learned.

And I do a lot of, you know, Facebook lives and all those things.

I speak at Clubhouse. I give back because by putting thick by articulating what you have been going through, not only do you teach others, but you also digest and really start thinking and reflect about things you have done really well and things you should learn from.

So I highly recommend teaching more than mentoring.

Also, mentoring is very often only one to one. That's great. But the impact is so tiny.

Why don't you do one to many teaching? And we need many, many more real people teaching people how to get where they are.

If you can see, for instance, Michelle, right?

By looking at how she IPO'd Cloudflare, right? It inspired me to see, OK, in 10 years we could IPO as well.

Here, here's the step that we need to go through to make that happen.

So by having someone in your orbit who is doing what you really would like to do, that gives you kind of a recipe or at least inspiration to get there.

So make sure you have an eye on the long term vision.

But even more important, think about what skills you need six months from now or nine months from now.

Who cares about, you know, the long term skills you need?

You know, everything can be disrupted so quickly that you have no idea.

But really make a solid plan. What are you going to teach yourself over the next six months, especially if you are in the tech industry?

You have to be on your feet.

Things are happening so, so fast. It's true. I'm going to get started on my six month plan tonight.

Yeah, I'm sure you're doing well on that. But yeah, yeah, I hear you.

Yeah, you need to do that. And, you know, I love tech also because for the first time ever, there's so much content out there that is completely free.

Remember, I said to you, I took YC startup school.

Incredible content. I don't remember if it's a 10 or 12 weeks program.

Incredible. Completely free. That's amazing.

Yeah, I was just the other day browsing some some online MIT courses and I'm not sure which one I'll go with.

But yeah, it's great advice. And I know you've taught classes at Harvard and Cambridge and ISB in India.

So you're really it's not just you're not just saying this.

You're definitely teaching constantly. Yeah.

And remember, you know, as a school dropout, you know, to be invited to those universities and teach is incredible.

It's very it's very it's a huge honor. But I don't feel that I'm very well educated.

I know that I later on, of course, took some executive classes at at Kennedy School and Yale and whatnot.

But deep inside, I don't feel I'm very well educated.

I I really consider myself as a not so well educated hustler.

Right. But it gives me the muscle of being really very humble. But my brain is just like a I don't know, it's just sucking in all the knowledge.

Maybe maybe it's a previous trauma from not being allowed to go to school.

Remember, I'm a dropout.

Right. And so I think that gives me this extreme eager and hunger for learning new stuff.

And I don't mind to be the amateur in the room. I have zero need to be the smartest in the room as long as I learn the most.

You know, I just need to learn.

Can I just learn? Can I see what you do? That's all I need. And then I digest it and then I execute.

My skill is execution, not reading. It's execution. Right.

That's amazing. You went from seventh school, seventh school, excuse me, seventh grade dropout to, you know, not only finishing uni, but being invited back to speak at some of the most prestigious schools.

So that's super, super impressive.

And so you're a young global leader of the World Economic Forum. So tell us a little bit more about that.

Has it had a big impact on your life? And I'd love to hear more.

The World Economic Forum, they select 100 leaders from around the world every year.

Of course, they have Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sternberg, Marissa Mayer, you know, the usual suspects, the usual tech leaders.

But they also have politicians and Hollywood stars and royals and states.

I mean, yeah, everyone. Right. And but they'd select 100 every year and they bring us all together.

And then you do a five year program that you graduate from.

So they bring you to the best universities in the world and let you get access to all that knowledge.

And they, you know, bring you in front of an audience and they connect you guys from all over the world in the community as a wide deal community.

And it's a very, very strong community.

There's five things that has been really life changing for me. You know, being married, getting my MBA with a lot of struggle, but I got it.

Getting kids.

Why deals is absolutely on my top five. Absolutely. It's been life changing not only to learn from the best, but get to travel the world and get access to to all that network and knowledge.

And it's kind of funny. I was on a call the other day and and someone said we were like 40.

Why deals? I'm honored. Every Saturday I host the ideals worldwide in our virtual salon.

So that's a huge honor. And someone said, how is your book?

And everyone was like, my book, my book. Everyone published a book.

You know, it's just it's just one of those things that everyone is so accomplished that you don't have there's really no point to come and be a big shot.


Because someone in that room have the Nobel Prize or have written 20 books, or it's just not the point.

You come to learn and you throw away your titles. You don't use your royal highness title or anything.

It's just removed. It's stripped.

And in that room, you're just human beings. So it has been incredible. So World Economic Forum does take a chance and they do bring people to the room that you normally wouldn't see.

So activists and human rights, you know, every everyone is in the room.

So they don't they not only pick famous people at all, but of course, there are a lot of famous people.

I cannot open the the the the the newspaper.

I cannot watch the news without seeing one or two white girls every day. It's impossible because they're head of states or queen or kings.

Yeah. Wow. Sounds like you can get the news from from your Saturday salon meetings.

I have all the news I need here of our channels.

So usually we know things much prior most people, but that can also be very disturbing and actually very scary that you know what's going on between countries.

That's not always so nice. But it gives you a point of how fragile the world is.

But even better, it also gives you a view of how much people are helping.

Right. I remember when the pandemic started, it was incredible to see how the white deals came together and help nations transfer things.

And even now with the with the vaccine, white deals are helping out a lot.

So I think I mean, CalFed did a lot of things to Salesforce also. You know, it's just incredible to see how those white deals who run those companies.

Mark Binioff is one of them as well.

Come together and really step up and do stuff. So it's an incredible community to be part of.

But it does make you question, do I do enough?

You can't just sit in your couch and relax. You should probably be working on something that's changing people's life.

Right. So it's it's it's it can be tough to relax and just enjoy a Saturday night because you could be helping someone in Mongolia or in Burma.

Sorry, in Mongolia or somewhere else in the world. Well, yeah, it sounds like you're holding yourself to an incredibly high standard being surrounded by by this group of people.

It's fantastic. So I wanted to ask what career advice you have for women.

And you've kind of iterated this throughout the interview.

But, you know, we've spoken a little bit in the past. You mentioned you should never be shy to ask for help.

And I thought that was really powerful. And yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, there's so much to be said. I mean, in general, both to men and women, but women especially.

We I feel that women are less open to ask for help.

And I think that's very important. But even more important, make it easy for people to help you get make sure that you get a crisp ask, make it easy for people to, you know, share or forward your your what you need help with.

Write your blurbs, write your soundbites, you know, get your resume together.

You know, get your pitch together because people want to help you.

But some women, myself included, sometimes you use too many words, too long emails to people don't have the bandwidth for that.

So you have to make it easy for people to help you, because then you will get all the help in the world that you need.

So make your ask crisp so that people don't have to spend too much time on it.

They don't want a conversation necessarily about it, but they want to help you.

So just make it easy for people to help you.

I think that's that's very critical. That's where I see a lot of women fail.

But also, I think women, I don't want to go into the whole thing.

Women should help women. I'm supported by the most amazing women in the world.

I will say, though, I am helped by women who are very successful. I find it difficult to get help or even support, even moral support from women who see me as a competitor.

And so I think women should stop speaking of this much. Right. Don't compete with women just because I have success.

It doesn't mean that there's less success for you.

Right. So just understand every time a woman takes a win, she IPOs her company or she raise a ten million dollar in whatever she does.

Whenever a woman takes a win, get a seat at the table, get nominated, whatever, that's a win for you, too, because every time a woman breaks the glass ceiling, it's helpful for you.

So embrace women, endorse women and celebrate women. I mean, my Twitter feed is 80 percent celebration of my female friends when they do awesome things.

It's not a it's not about me highlighting my own stuff. It's about me yelling to the entire universe how awesome my friends are.

Amazing. And so we've only got two minutes, but I have one more question before we wrap up.

So do you want to motivate women to go and start their own businesses?

No, I cannot recommend it. I cannot recommend it.

It's so painful. No, I mean, yes. If you want an exciting life.

Yes. If you want a happy life. No, it's so tough. You need to make sure you have backup right from friends and families.

If you have kids, make sure you have their support as well.

If they're old enough to give you that. Don't expect a clean kitchen and everything.

You know, forget about being perfect. It doesn't exist.

If you go to raise a company, raise around or build a company and raise around.

Focus on that. Everything else has to suffer. And your friends will suffer. Your partner will suffer.

Your home will suffer. But it's so rewarding. So, yes, if you want an exciting life, if you want a happy life, necessarily.

No, don't start. Don't start a business.

Fantastic. And it sounds like at home you need very supportive people who understand you and your mission.

And that sounds great. I think you need if you if you're loved by just one.

And if that person loves you unconditionally, there's nothing you cannot accomplish.

So make sure you get support from just one.

Just one. Just one. That's enough. Great. So we've got some rapid fire questions.

What is the last show you binged? Ha ha. I don't remember. I'm on my phone all the time working.

I guess I have the time. I was I'm guilty of of spending quite too much time on Clubhouse.

I would say if that's OK. Favorite snack as next daily snacks daily.

And give us a concert you'll never forget. That was the last one I went to was a cure concert cure.

We just had a baby and I was so afraid of being late for the next breastfeeding that I left the concert like two hours too early.

So that was the last concert I went to. I have not been to anyone since.

Great. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Hope to speak to you again soon.

I'm very excited to follow the trajectory of happy. Oh, thank you so much.

Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me.

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