AJ Esmailzadeh – CEO of Private.me

“I believe series of independent nonprofit organizations can be trusted to be steward people’s private data, if it’s done right of course!”

Private.me’s CEO and founder, A.J. Esmailzadeh is an entrepreneur and business leader who has extensive experience founding and managing companies. His current ventures include Standard Clouds, Inc. (which operates Private.me), EEMA Lighting Group and JOOJ Investment, LLC.

AJ founded Private.me in 2012 when he recognized a need for stronger forms of online privacy where individuals could have more control over their personal online data. As Private.me’s CEO, AJ is committed to creating a new kind of online experience where users’ privacy is valued and protected. As a result, Private.me has empowered individuals to take control of their personal data and protect their own privacy online.

The company has also developed a patent-pending process – a Dispersed Storage System that encrypts, fragments and distributes user data to nonprofit organizations with the specific mission of stewarding user data. This innovative solution allows for no single entity to access a user’s information without their explicit consent.

Private.me’s ‘forgetful’ platform brings consumers one-step closer to AJ’s personal goal of having the industry’s most private web experience.

A.J. currently resides in Los Angeles with his family. He is actively involved with charitable organizations including Angel Harvest, a non-profit organization that delivers free food to emergency feeding programs throughout Los Angeles.

Where did the idea for Private.me come from?

Data privacy issues and the related risks we all face as consumers and Internet users are prolific in our day-to-day life. I’ve always been aware of the data and privacy breaches, data mishandling and data security issues that plague us constantly, but for me, my perspective really changed when I had my family. Suddenly, the data privacy risks and issues held more weight for me, especially when it came to my children. The thought of their data being captured, sold, misused, or hacked is horrifying and I felt a need to help protect peoples’ privacy.

This is where the idea for Private.me came from. I had this concept of a general structure (Dispersed Storage System) that utilized non-profits to steward data, so that no single entity could access users’ data without their explicit consent. This creates a system for individuals to have control over the access and use of their own personal data. Once I vetted the idea for Private.me, the idea seemed to immediately excite other data privacy experts who also wanted to solve the same problems I was tackling. I was assured that I could assist a lot of people by bringing this to life.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I manage three very different companies, one in real estate, one in manufacturing, and of course Private.me. Each is in a different stage, a different industry, and has its own unique set of needs. The key to my productivity is to gather smart, talented, good people around me.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a very clear and formulaic process. I make sure to first keep my ideas to myself in order to be able to carefully think them through. I have a lot of new ideas every day, but plenty of them don’t get through my own vetting process. The first step for me is to look at how realistic an idea is, think it through and vet it on my own. Once I’m confident and excited about an idea, I put everything I have behind it. I’ll look at the idea from all different angles with the purpose of finding ways to tackle and simplify the perceived complexities. Once I have a good handle on it, I’ll talk to experts about it to get fresh perspectives and opinions about the idea. Then, I incorporate other people’s feedback into my own and vet it again to see if it still makes sense. If it does, I’ll invest in it and find the right talent to make the idea a reality.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited by technology and deeply interested in world news. I love making things efficient and automated; it’s the way my mind is wired and I really enjoy it. As a trend, I’d say the use of technology to innovate and bring efficiency really excites me.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I look for opportunities, and I see them everywhere. As an entrepreneur, business opportunities have to meet two criteria in order for me to pursue them. The first criteria, is that the business opportunity must be one that I can come out ahead, and be something I’ll be able to do really well. The second criteria for me, is that the outcome benefits and has a value for the greater good. It’s about giving back to the community. For me, any opportunity I pursue must meet both of these requirements.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I started my first business, I was both the president of the company, and the person responsible for sweeping the floors. Any given day, I’d be assembling items to fill orders while answering tech support questions. I had to do every job in the company; basically, I did everything that needed to get done. I felt what it takes to be in each role, what skills are needed to get things done, and what each day is like for every employee. It was great exposure and gave me great insights because I have personal experience of doing every job in the company.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

At this stage, there isn’t anything I can say that I’d change. We have an incredible team with tremendous talent and expertise in the data privacy space, and we are working together to solve a huge problem. Private.me recently launched and already it’s clear that we’re helping so many individuals who have been craving a solution like ours. We get emails from people thanking us, and we have big plans and exciting new releases coming soon. I have to say I’m very happy with how everything is going.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The most routine thing I do is doing things un-routinely. I don’t work in repetition. Every day for me is different and each project is different. Routines are good and necessary, but I don’t strive to create routines for myself. My perspective is that if something I’m doing is routine, it means someone else can do it better than me and it’s likely something I should delegate.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I always stay focused on the customers: listening to them and being in touch with their needs and interests. I want to hear from our customers, to find out what they want, and to bring them valuable products and services. My attention and focus on this has been valuable in growth as well as in informing product and strategy decisions.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Probably the most common failure that we’ve all faced as entrepreneurs is to wait longer than we should to change strategy and direction once it becomes apparent that it is necessary to do so. You’ve just got to accept that something isn’t working out when you see it, then acknowledge it, and pivot quickly. The sooner you can do that, and go through that process, the more productive you can be.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I find quantum levitation and quantum locking and its potential application to transportation intriguing. If it could be applied to create new, high speed public transportation options for people commuting between cities that would be exciting.

When you think about traditional supersonic commuting, friction against the air molecules is one of its biggest challenges. This technology uses superconductors and magnets to elevate and lock in a vehicle, floating over a magnetic rail, which solves the friction problem from underneath very elegantly. However, we still have the friction issue against stagnate air molecules in the path of the fast moving vehicle. A vast amount of energy is spent to overcome it.

I envision the answer to be a hallow tube which can encapsulate the track and the vehicle snugly to minimize airflow bypass. The tighter the tube, the better it will work. So, imagine the vehicle is already levitated inside of this tube and by sucking out air on one side and/ or blowing out air from the opposite end, it will cause the vehicle to move in the desired direction. Naturally, any suspended object wants to be in harmony with the air molecules surrounding it (The friction issue we currently have with traditional supersonic trains). By manipulating air pressure around the object in the tube, we can produce the correct amount of thrust needed to control a vehicle’s velocity in either forward or in reverse motion.

Mechanically, it works very similar to blowing a ball of paper as a projectile out of a straw. The basic physics of it works by reducing overall friction caused by a vehicle’s diameter (in an open air environment) and distributing it into a much wider area.

I envision this could be very favorable for coastal areas where larger populations dwell. The sea is flat, and its coastal waters are shallow where waves are high and easier to build. The energy harvested from waves can be leveraged to pump air in/out and the cool sea water will only serve to help the levitation process. I see this as a good green solution for supersonic travel between major coastal cities.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was Chairman of Angel Harvest, a non-profit in Los Angeles, for about three years and over that period, we served 1.5 million meals to hungry men, women and children in need.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I love my browser; I can’t do anything without it. Browsers don’t seem to get a lot of respect these days, despite being able to do so much. I also use Private.me for my Internet searches, and I’m using a couple of privacy tools that we’ve developed but haven’t yet released publicly by Private.me. I’m already using and loving our new email service that keeps all of your emails and information completely private. I am really excited to release it and I want all my email contacts to be using it. It’s great.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend that people read something about data privacy, what happens with their information online, current practices, and how big the problem and lack of privacy for individuals has become. For anyone who doesn’t know much about this, I really recommend reading something that gives some perspective on how important it is that we find a way to protect ourselves. Glenn Greenwald’s book about Edward Snowden No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is a popular one that really gets people thinking about what’s going on and how big this problem is.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Ronald Reagan had a great quote and perspective that I’ve carried with me and has definitely influenced my thinking. He said, “trust, but verify.” I think this is a great, and effective mentality to have, and I’ve taken it to heart in personal and business relationships. Conversations should be held with trust; trust your opponents and adversaries, but also verify.


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