Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Arash Tayebi (AT): I was born in a small town in northern Iran and moved to a bigger city called Shiraz in my native country to get my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.
Being an adventurous person eager to experience new things and challenge myself, I decided to move to Melbourne, Australia, study abroad, and get my Master’s degree. In 2013 I moved to Auckland, New Zealand, to study for my Ph.D. in Telecommunications. When I arrived to New Zealand I immediately fell in love with its people and land, and have stayed here since then.
MB: What led you to start Kara Technologies?
AT: I have always been interested in startups and their ecosystems. I established a startup in the business intelligence and software development sector while doing my Ph.D. at the University of Auckland. However, in 2016 I diagnosed with an inner ear disease that caused me to go deaf in one ear. It was then that I started learning about the barriers facing the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. With a good team, and my enthusiasm for technology, I started looking for solutions to provide greater sign language accessibility.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
AT: At Kara Technologies, we utilise technology to make various media content such as video, audio, or text accessible to sign language users, which is the first language of the Deaf community.
Our first pilot project was done in collaboration with Kelston & Van Asch Deaf Education Centers and supported by the New Zealand Sign Language Board. We translated children’s books to New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) using our avatar called “Niki.” The positive feedback we received encouraged us to keep moving forward.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
AT: To make sign language accessibility the norm for everything. Our biggest challenge, and our biggest goal, is to cooperate with different organisations such as banks, healthcare entities, and education centers to raise their awareness and responsibility towards the Deaf community.
Every business needs to acknowledge the importance of sign language. It is the first language of the Deaf community, and businesses should provide their service in sign language. In some countries, including New Zealand, sign language is considered an official language of the country. Therefore it is of paramount importance to have it included in all information that needs to be shared.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
AT: Our vision is to normalise sign language, making it as accessible as other languages in all media. I get disappointed when I see a new movie being translated into different spoken languages (such as English, Spanish, French, etc.,) and not sign language.
Many people assume that closed captions are enough for Deaf and hard of hearing people, which is not true. For instance, American Sign Language (ASL) is the first language of many Deaf individuals in the United States, and it is completely different from English. It has its own rules for grammar, structure, and other linguistic aspects that makes a language unique. Therefore, when Deaf people see closed captions, they are forced to switch from their primary language to a secondary language, where the fast pace of dialogue can see many things get lost in translation.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
AT: I see profit and purpose as two sides of the same coin. It is important that a business is sustainable so that it can continue to meet its purpose over many years. For most, that means generating enough income to be able to pay the wages of those enabling it, and of course pay its bills. Ideally, over time, profit will enable businesses to scale and increase their positive impact.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
AT – Never create a product for a target group or community unless you include them in every step you take and every decision you make.
MB – Who inspires you?
AT – My team has always inspired me to move forward and not give up. As a startup founder, you have to deal with various problems and challenges throughout the product development process. Without having a devoted team, it is impossible to overcome those difficulties.
MB – How do you define success?
AT – For me, real success is solving problems that positively impacts people’s lives.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
AT – Learning new languages.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
AT – “Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It is the book I’ve truly enjoyed reading and keep recommending to others.
MB – What do you do to relax?
AT – Depending on my mood, I enjoy spending time running, hiking and playing football, or staying indoors reading books.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.