Sina Khanifar

Co-Founder of Waveform.com

Don’t spend quite so much energy thinking about and trying to meet other people’s expectations of you.

Sina is the co-founder and CEO of Waveform.com, the leading online seller of cell phone signal boosters and distributed antenna systems (DAS). Sina is also a co-founder at OpenSignal, and a Technology Fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Where did the idea for Waveform.com come from?

I started a company in college helping people unlock their phones online, so by the time I graduated I’d built up some seed capital to fund my next thing. My father turned me onto signal boosters – in his travels to South Korea he’d noticed that people used them everywhere. That’s what turned me onto the technology, and it seemed like it filled a real need. I recruited a couple of my closest college friends and we started working on launching a site to sell them online.

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

I don’t take meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so if it’s one of those two days, it means I have the whole day to focus on projects. That means writing web content, updating our website, and building new internal and customer-facing tools. I’m really a web developer at heart, so that’s what I really enjoy working on.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my days are generally filled with meetings, which are productive in their own way. I really like having a clear delineation between “meeting days” and “non-meeting days,” it makes my focus-time that much more productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m lucky to have an incredible team of 20 folks who are really the ones who bring things to life. That being said, I still love to get stuck in and get my hands dirty, particularly when it comes to launching new projects. It’s not the best role to be playing as CEO, but it helps keep me energized day-to-day, so it’s an important psychological component for me.

What’s one trend that excites you?

5G is hugely over-hyped by the carriers. I don’t honestly think it’s going to cause a whole technological revolution. That being said, it’s a meaningful incremental improvement over LTE, and I think it’s going to make low-latency technologies far more prevalent. Since 5G uses higher frequency bands, it means that signal boosters are critical to getting coverage indoors. I’m excited to see how things evolve and what kinds of use-cases people find. The rate of home broadband is already falling year on year in the US; more and more people are relying on their LTE connections. I think 5G will only accelerate that trend.

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

I try to start my day with one big thing that I’ve been putting off. I find that I have the highest “activation energy” in the mornings, so I try to use that extra energy to take on a project that I would put off later in the day. Often just getting started is enough for me to gain the momentum I need to finish that task.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t spend quite so much energy thinking about and trying to meet other people’s expectations of you.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think for true equality of opportunity, we should be taxed differently based on our height, race, zip code, gender, even intelligence level. Taller people make more money. White people make more money. Men make more money. Want to negate those biases? Easy – increase taxation on those groups.

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

I check in with my team nearly constantly. I spend more energy and time on this than almost anything else, and I think it’s critical. Having a happy and productive team is the single most important driver of business success.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We’ve seen a lot of success moving from eCommerce to a more service-oriented business. We now have a nationwide team of installers who deploy distributed antenna systems (DAS) in buildings of up to a million square feet, and that division is more profitable than our eCommerce business.

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

I’m naturally an introvert, so being the “public-facing” side of the company doesn’t come naturally to me. I think over time I’ve learned that you don’t need to be an extrovert to be CEO, and that being an introvert even gives me some advantages. So I don’t think I’ve really learned to overcome it, but rather to work around it.

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

I’d love to see a startup that does a significantly better job of running pre-hire personality tests for new employees. I think personality tests actually have huge potential to help you understand how a new team member will fit into your company, but the existing services have either terrible web interfaces or charge a ridiculous amount of money.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a Jabra Evolve 75 headset from eBay for right around $100. I’ve tried a lot of different headsets for work calls, and they’re by far the best. Audio quality for the other caller is consistently excellent, it pairs with both my phone and my laptop, and any background noise is completely filtered out.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use a combination of Superhuman and Sanebox for managing email, and I love both. Superhuman allows me to rely on keyboard shortcuts for processing email, while Sanebox filters out messages from anyone I haven’t emailed in the past.

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

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows. Every single process that you set up in your business is part of a complicated system, with inputs, outputs, controls, and feedback loops. Thinking in Systems helps get you thinking about everything in this way, and helps you build robust mental models as you think through problems.

What is your favorite quote?

“The mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right.” – Justice Learned Hand

Key Learnings:

  • Sina keeps a few days a week meeting-free to maximize your focus time – try it and see if it works for you.
  • Check in with your team regularly – their happiness is key to your success.
  • Services businesses can be very profitable, consider whether there is a service-based model for your company.
  • Being an introvert CEO isn’t easy, but it also has it’s upsides. Play to your strengths.