Tuesdays with T4A: Bayan Towfiq (03/11/14)

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Bayan Towfiq
Founder & CEO | Flowroute
Bayan is the CEO & Founder of Flowroute. Flowroute, founded in 2007, provides voice and messaging services to businesses and developers. Bayan has a strong entrepreneurial background with expertise in telecom regulation, software architecture, information security, vulnerability development, and telephony. In 2013, Flowroute was ranked the fastest growing tech company in telecom on Deloitte’s 2013 Fast 500.
Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I was born and grew up in Southern California, my parents having immigrated from Iran at the time of the Iranian revolution. I remember my dad instilling a sense of curiosity in me and getting me to question everyday things from a young age. One specific time, when I was 8, I remember him asking me to figure out why sunrise to sunset was more than 12 hours for both equinoxes.
What was your first job?
My first job wasn’t a typical one. When I was 18, I discovered a remotely exploitable vulnerability in Asterisk, a widely used open source framework for communications applications. This vulnerability allowed full access to phone call content, authentication, and even the underlying server. With the publicity I received, tech companies approached me for consulting work and I became financially independent while I was in college.
What is your first political memory?
January 20th, 1993. My first political memory was on my 8th birthday. I was in the 3rd grade and my teacher took the whole class to watch Bill Clinton’s inauguration. It’s more of a vague memory now, but I remember the excitement that I saw on TV that day.
What is your favorite book?
The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin. It explores a vibration theory of scent that exploits quantum biology to describe and predict what makes one molecule smell of garlic and another of rose. This book appeals to my backgrounds as a physicist as well as a perfume collector.
I know you’re very interested in FCC policy and have some ideas about potential reforms. I am sure you could write a LOT (and feel free if so inclined), but tell me what the number one reform you wish would just happen is!
Net neutrality. The Open Internet fosters innovation. The selective prioritization and throttling of internet traffic ultimately hurts the public.
At 29, you are the youngest member of our Convening Board. What advice would you give to a young aspiring entrepreneur who wants to be as successful as you by the time he or she is 29?
Be curious and embrace frustration. Find problems that have never been seen before. Innovation emerges from striving to understand the world inside and out.
Who is your role model and why?
Richard Feynman is one of my role models. That’s not to say I want to emulate every aspect of his behavior, but that I admire particular traits. Feynman embraced in-depth learning as a Physicist, which he also adopted to become a proficient drummer and safe cracker. His approach to learning has always fascinated me. I’ve always liked his quote from The Pleasure of Finding things out: “I don’t know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”
As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our government and democracy?
Involvement in government and community while avoiding the conflict and contention of present-day politics is necessary. Great change will come from simple acts that are within everyone’s reach, not philosophizing.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a country. Why do you think that is? What do you think can be done to close that gap?
We need entrepreneurial leaders who can innovate in the way that government operates and create a strong foundation for growth. But, that alone is not enough. Money and partisanship prevent even well-intentioned politicians from serving their constituents well. To move forward with action, beyond philosophical deadlocks, we need leaders who are independent and selfless.

In 1912, with the bitterly partisan Hoover and FDR election at hand, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while visiting the United States, was asked to comment on the election. Rather than commenting, he did offer his views on the kind of individual who should be President, which is still relevant.

“The president must be a man who does not insistently seek the presidency. He should be a person free from all thoughts of name and rank; rather, he should say, ‘I am unworthy and incapable of this position and cannot bear this great burden.’ Such persons deserve the presidency. If the object is to promote the public good, then the president must be a well-wisher of all and not a self-seeking person. If the object, however, is to promote personal interests, then such a position will be injurious to humanity and not beneficial to the public.” –‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Are political parties becoming less relevant today, particularly for young adults? Whatever your answer, why do you think that is?
Yes. The exigencies of society vary with time. Partisan politics, with its relatively fixed views cannot address the ever-changing issues we face. With 42% of Americans identifying as independents as of 2014, individuals increasingly vote for candidates by considering their character and stance on specific issues, rather than party affiliation.

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