“I want to get back to the core of what it means to connect to others, to meet and learn from their ideologies and the way they do things.”
Zealous Co-Founder and CEO Maryam A Hassani
Co-Founder and CEO of Zealous
During my time in management consulting, I found myself gravitating towards the startup and innovation space. I was fortunate enough to have multiple hats in the field, from designing and implementing startup programs to working closely with startups, helping them build their product and also scale to the UAE. I very much enjoy having conversations about globalization and what it means to address a new market, particularly a market like the UAE.
Zealous is a passion project turned tech startup. Rooted in the boundless opportunity of our emerging tech ecosystem and region, I set out to build an AI-powered networking tool for goal-driven individuals to find, meet and stay connected with their professional network at their preferred time and place.
During my time on the operating team of a prominent government-backed startup accelerator program, I came to know about a cleantech company setting a new standard in clean technology. The company, Hydro Wind Energy, uses offshore wind and deep sea water pressure for water desalination and energy generation and storage. I was drawn to the disruptive technology and mission of the startup which led me to join them as a co-founder, stepping into my first startup founder role.
THE QU & A
What are 3 values that you wish to mediate through your work?
The value of considering all the different nuances and cultural norms of a market. I think that there should be more focus on putting in the effort to understand the local context of where you are looking to develop a professional network.
The value that networking shouldn’t feel like a task but instead part of your day-to-day life.
As an overall goal, I want to get back to the core of what it means to connect to others, to meet and learn from their ideologies and the way they do things.
What are 3 relevant problems that you wish to solve through your work?
Addressing the challenges that make meeting people and staying connected difficult and going beyond the constraints of time and place associated with how we network today, whether it be events, communities or conventional platforms. The more successful a community is for being a good networking hub, the larger it gets and the less likely it is that you can leverage it and derive or provide value to it. Networking today is a probability game - it is generally accepted that a networking event will yield 2-3 relevant connections if you put in the work to find them and also nurture those connections over time.
THE TECH CONVERSATION
Free format conversation with Maryam A Hassani.
Zealous in English means to be driven or passionate towards achieving an objective. These are exactly the kind of people who we want to be using our platform. There are a lot of voices on other platforms, on LinkedIn for example, using it as a digital CV or PR platform, where many users don't actually end up getting to know each other. That I think is a shame for those that do come in wanting to meet and talk to people, only to be met with ignored messages. That’s where Zealous comes in, Zealous is an AI-powered networking tool that provides a suite of human-centric features to help goal-driven individuals to find and meet other professionals at their convenient time and place.
We are in a very interesting market that is emerging, the tech scene in the UAE. The UAE is home to almost 200 nationalities which is particularly interesting for us given our focus on leveraging technology to create meaningful professional connections in the space. We are excited to be building Zealous in the UAE given its strong support for new technologies and its diversity to offset any biases while we build and test our product. For example, in the west if you’re outspoken, extroverted and the loudest, then you are considered to be the most socially inclined in the room. This is not the case in many geographies and so we are being mindful in building Zealous for all.
Fostering meaningful connections in the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem begins with ensuring a welcoming environment for everyone, from founders and graphic designers to investors. Regardless of your role – be it a seasoned founder, a newcomer, someone with technical skills to offer, or an expert with resources to share – there's a place for you on Zealous.
What is the role of technology in culture vs. the role of culture in technology?
I think they are very much correlated. I believe technology’s sole purpose is to make human lives easier. With Zealous, it's about making the process of meeting and nurturing connections more efficient and meaningful, so that you can focus on what really matters, making a human connection.
But looking at it from a psychological perspective, disruptive technologies are actually changing human behavior, norms and what we consider as normal. I think it's fascinating.
What are the main sources of inspiration in technology?
Technology has to serve a purpose. I think that’s where I draw inspiration from, it’s in the human centered design and processes. That’s why user testing is so important. You need to get the user feedback and really understand the psychology behind the problem they are facing and how your product provides the solution.
The creative space will never be the same with ChatGPT and AI generation. I was talking to a friend of mine, he’s a graphic designer. He feels like his job is going more towards prompting and curating, taking it from 85% to 100% rather than creating from scratch.
What are existing ways to explore and connect various perspectives within and beyond the tech world?
Joining communities, going to relevant events. In the tech space you quickly realize that you can’t do it alone. It’s not just that you need a team, it’s that you need a team of people that have complementary skills to you that you’d probably never have met in your day-to-day routine life. Many struggled with this, they have an idea yet lack the technical expertise to bring it to life. They need to know someone who is technical.
The tech space is a very interesting use case to start with because there is this need to break the barrier on the first or second connection to get to the third and fourth. It is not just in the case where you want to work together or hire someone, it’s more so getting their input when it comes to making certain decisions or really understanding a field well.
Considering the rising opportunities and potential threats of emerging technologies, what are necessary conversations and new ways of connections that the tech world should establish within and the outside world?
There needs to be some accountability as a designer of a platform, as a builder of technology, you need to consider what you are setting in motion and what could be the result in five or ten years when today’s children mature. Understanding what is the effect of screen time and instantaneous gratification on children’s development needs to be considered before any new shiny feature is rolled out and becomes part of everyone's daily life.
Should the public be part of the conversation around technological innovations?
They play a very important role, they need to be a part of the conversation, especially concerning new technologies being developed. Everyday users need to understand what it means to share information, to share data, share their videos and pictures, and even audio online. And how it can be manipulated or stored to train other technologies.
So I do think people, not only should have a voice in the conversation but should also be educated to the extent where they understand what are the actual implications of using technology in a certain type of way. Educating yourself allows you to take agency in how you interact with technology. For example, I should be able to tweak the algorithm being used by the platforms I frequent or even disable the endless scroll before bed time. Why not have the opportunity for customization? That might just actually make you appreciate the platform more for giving you the option to customize the app to your needs and preferences.
Creative Leaders to look up to:
I admire Ray Dalio not just for his remarkable achievements as an investor and founder of the world's largest hedge fund, but also for his first principles thinking and profound insights into macro-economics, human psychology and history.
Zealous Co-Founder and CEO Maryam A Hassani
How does technology, while being a driving force for globalization, simultaneously create distinct divisions and borders, accentuating issues like the digital divide and geopolitical tensions?
This interview contributes to a new media format where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.
Conversation Led by Julia Horvath
Conversation Assisted by Julieta Flores
Image Courtesy of Maryam A Hassani
Unedited. Only Formatted.