Payam Zamani (born February 12, 1971) is an Iranian-American tech entrepreneur, angel investor and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of One Planet, a hybrid tech firm that owns and operates a suite of online technology and media businesses, is an early stage investor in cutting edge technologies and businesses, and also serves as a startup business incubator.
Zamani was born in Tehran, Iran, the youngest of three children of Abdul and Mahboobeh Zamani. As followers of the Baha’i Faith, Zamani’s family faced religious persecution in Iran and relocated many times. As a child growing up in the town of Hashtgerd after the Islamic Revolution, Zamani was subjected to ongoing discriminations in school. One day his classmates attacked him and another Baha’i student after school. He was forced to walk the mile home while being beaten with sticks and stones and spit on by 100 classmates. Zamani was later expelled from school at 11 years-old.
During the 1980s, many Baha’is were arrested and hundreds executed . Young Baha’is were barred from attending university by a government policy that still exists today and were not permitted passports to leave the country.
In 1987 at the age of 16, Zamani’s parents used their life savings to pay smugglers to help him escape Iran through Pakistan.
He ultimately made his way to the United Nations (UNHCR) outpost in the deserts of Baluchistan and finally to the U.S embassy in Islamabad where he applied for asylum.
In his own words, he described having an American lawyer assigned to him to fight for his admittance to the United States, “I came to tears. I had just escaped human rights atrocities in my own country and here's a country that doesn't know me, doesn’t owe me anything and they're willing to stand by me and make a case, in order to get me accepted to enter their country and ensure I’m offered a real chance to live a productive life.”
Once in Pakistan, Zamani reunited with his older brother and sister, who escaped to Pakistan the previous year. They spent a year in Pakistan waiting on the outcome of their asylum application.
Zamani and his brother were granted asylum to the United States and arrived in San Francisco in June 1988 with $75 between the two of them.
Without his parents to support him, Zamani graduated from Fred C. Beyer High School in Modesto and enrolled at the University of California, Davis. In an interview with KTVU Fox 2 in 2019, he described being so poor while trying to support himself through college that he often only had enough money to buy potatoes for food while attending UC Davis .
Early business career
While at the University of California, Davis, Zamani took a summer internship at a house painting company, AAA Student Painters. The company offered students the chance to run a franchise for the summer: market, sell, manage painters and earn a profit from their business while the company offered mentorship, a business license and warranty. While he was still learning English, he managed to earn the title “Rookie Manager of the Year” and within his first summer with the company he generated $75,000 in revenue.
Zamani entered UC Davis as pre med and graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental toxicology in 1994, but his experience with AAA Student Painters turned Zamani’s interest to entrepreneurship.
At this time, his brother Frank Zamani had graduated from Chico State University and was working as a programmer on Microsoft, PowerPoint Division. In the summer of 1994, Frank attempted to buy a Honda and was surprised to find that Honda didn’t have a website at the time. In the early 1990s, most auto dealers had pretty entrenched traditional sales models and spent substantial marketing dollars on print or broadcast advertising, with little or no targeting. Few auto manufacturers and no dealerships had websites.
The brothers got together and developed Autoweb, an online car buying service. Zamani became the company’s first CEO and his brother CTO.
At 24 years-old, Zamani pitched Autoweb’s business model - signing up car dealers and selling leads on consumers looking for cars - to the Stevens Creek Auto Row Association in San Jose the day Netscape went public in 1995. All of the dealerships signed up .
Autoweb.com became a site where consumers could search the web and find the dealerships or submit a request on what vehicle they wanted to buy and that request would go directly to the dealerships. Consumers could examine different vehicle makes and models without having to visit dealerships. The Zamani brothers provided dealerships with their customized website as part of the Autoweb site, listing the dealers store hours, address, car inventory, etc. Autoweb was the first site to list automotive invoice prices and changed how people would buy cars.
The Zamani brothers received major investments, owned a combined 40 percent of the company and held the positions of Chair and Vice Chairman of the board of directors. Autoweb made its stock market debut on March 23, 1999, initially priced at $14 per share. At the end of the trading day, it rose to $40 per share. The next day Autoweb’s valuation reached $1.2 billion .
The brothers suggested the board hire an experienced CEO to run the now large, public company. The board, however, did not choose the brothers’ first choice CEO candidate and the brothers, unsatisfied with the new direction of the company, resigned from Autoweb three months later.
Two years later, Autoweb merged with its rival Autobytel. The combined company still exists and operates as Autoweb.com (NASDAQ: AUTO).
In 1999, Zamani raised funds and invested a significant amount of his own money earned from Autoweb’s IPO to launch his second company, PurpleTie, a company he designed to disrupt the dry cleaning industry and change the consumer experience by eliminating the possibility of lost clothes, botched cleaning jobs and any major inconvenience . The concept was for online customers to schedule a pickup and drop off window for their clothes at their home or office seven days a week. Zamani very quickly raised $10 million in seed funding and PurpleTie launched in late 2000. But the 90s tech bubble burst and was quickly followed by the financial meltdown of 2001. VCs looked for faster returns on investments and PurpleTie proved too costly to maintain the massive infrastructure without further investments. It shut down in 2001.
In 2001, the dot com bubble burst and two former rivals, iMotors and CarClub.com, went under. Zamani spent $117,000 to buy their assets and eager to make a return in the automotive industry.
To launch a successful locally targeted platform, simplifying the acquisition of consumer demand for both large and small companies, Zamani realized the key was to get customers to return to the site by combining multiple services under one umbrella . Reply.com added automotive, real estate, and home improvement categories. In 2008, Reply.com transitioned to a lead exchange and auction marketplace for the acquisition of locally targeted and category specific consumer demand, essentially giving businesses access to perfectly targeted consumers. The launch of the patented marketplace propelled Reply.com to significant growth and the company filed for IPO. The company later pulled out of the filing, because of financial conditions and instead made acquisitions.
In July 2014, Zamani resigned from Reply.com.
By the end of November 2014, Reply.com’s board of directors reached out to Zamani and asked him to return as CEO or the board would liquidate the assets. Zamani decided to buy the company instead and rebrand it as One Planet with a strong social impact agenda and focus on universal philanthropy.
One Planet Group
One Planet Group (formerly One Planet Ops) officially launched April 11, 2015. It became an umbrella company for several brands, including Reply.com, which rebranded to Buyerlink in October 2015.
The company is a unique hybrid tech firm combining operating technology and media companies, a socially-responsible early stage investor and a startup business incubator, all designed to build, run and invest in disruptive technology businesses and serve humanity in the process. One Planet’s owned brands include Buyerlink, Contractors.com, California.com and Quite Remarkable.
It grew into a global company with offices in San Francisco Bay, Toronto, Dnipro, Ukraine, and Yerevan, Armenia.
One Planet’s investment portfolio includes The RealReal, SoulPancake, Volans-i and Ironclad.
Zamani built One Planet with an ethos of sacrificial giving and universal philanthropy. The company donates up to 20 percent of its annual profits to charitable causes and employees receive as many as nine paid service days they can use in any way they choose to give back to their community .
Payam and Gouya Zamani founded BahaiTeachings.org in 2012, which discusses key issues affecting society today and shares the messages of the Baha’i faith. It is a platform for individuals to share their personal perspectives and insights on implementing the Baha’i teachings in their everyday lives. It does not present the official views of the Baha’i Faith and is not the official website of the Baha’i Faith. The official website of the Baha’i Faith is Bahai.org and the official website of the Baha’is of the United States is Bahai.us.
Zamani is a philanthropist with his wife, Gouya Zamani. The couple currently supports several charitable and volunteer organizations. The Tahirih Justice Center - where Zamani also serves on its national board of directors - became one of the primary charities of One Planet. The Tahirih Justice Center is a nonprofit that offers free legal services and advocacy to women and girls, who are fleeing gender based violence.
Having been denied an education in Iran, Zamani places a high value on education and the efforts to make it accessible to everyone. The Zamanis partnered with the Mona Foundation, which helps communities all over the world build schools and manage long-term sustainable educational projects.
In 2018, Zamani and his family traveled to Gambia, West Africa to volunteer at Starfish International, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Gambian girls by providing them with an advanced education that focuses on service to humanity.
Zamani and his wife also support the Equal Justice Initiative, which aims to help heal the wounds of racial injustices in the United States. They helped EJI build the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama that honors the lives of African-Americans who were the victims of lynching and racial segregation after the Civil War.
The Payam and Gouya Zamani Endowed Scholarship at the University of California, Davis is offered to students of Iranian heritage, who have established a financial need.
Honors and awards
- In 2016, Zamani was granted the Tahirih Justice Center’s Hope Award for his continuous support and for how his personal story of immigration serves as inspiration for those fleeing violence in search of new beginnings in the U.S .
- Iran Press Watch named Zamani has one of the 50 Iranian-Americans You Should Know in 2017 .
- In 2018, Zamani was honored with the Award of Distinction from his alma mater The University of California, Davis . It is the highest recognition presented to individuals whose contributions and achievements enrich the reputation of the college and enhance its ability to provide public service.
- In 2019, Zamani was a semi-finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The award celebrates game-changing business leaders who exemplify excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their companies and local communities.
- In 2020, Zamani was ranked as one of the Best CEOs for Diversity by Comparably.
Zamani married Gouya Movafagh in 2003. He has two daughters. His brother, Frank Zamani, is the president and CEO of Caspio, Inc .
Zamani has frequently posted on social media that he is an avid reader. He most often mentions Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, as inspiration on how he runs One Planet and its brands, guided by an infinite mindset with no definite period of time when you either win or lose. He posted on Instagram on December 31, 2019, “The Infinite Game will inspire you to think much more strategically about your journey and how business and individuals become the best version of themselves when they are inspired by a higher calling - when they embrace service to others as a core focus.”
Zamani has also promoted Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness on his social channels as a help to understanding how institutionalized racism continues to plague the U.S.
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