By Fred Parvaneh Iranian-Americans Mahbod Moghadam and Sam Kazemian are the duo behind the fast-growing competitor to Wikipedia: Everipedia.
A serial entrepreneur, Moghadam – a Yale Fulbright Scholar to France and a Stanford Law School graduate – has been an angel investor in a number of successful startups. He is the founder of Genius.com (formerly RapGenius) and an early-stage investor in Bitcoin. After experiencing traumatic brain surgery and a forced resignation by the board of RapGenius, Moghadam has been lured out of retirement to be the co-founder of Everipedia.
Kayhan Life recently spoke to Mahbod Moghadam about his new company and his life experiences so far.
What is Everipedia and how is it different from Wikipedia? Where is the company based and how many employees do you have?
Everipedia has 14 employees and is based in Los Angeles. I think it is going to become a pillar of the Internet – one of the biggest sites in the world.
Everipedia is much easier to use than Wikipedia. We allow for a much broader range of articles, too. Eventually we will have many, many more articles than Wikipedia has; we already have 1 million more articles.
This year, Everipedia is moving to the blockchain, which means contributors will get compensated in the site’s tokens for their contributions. This is such an exciting development that the cofounder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has joined Everipedia as Chief Information Officer! He thinks adding the blockchain will fully realize the vision he originally had with Wikipedia.
How did you meet your co-founder Sam Kazemian and what attracted you to Everipedia?
My Everipedia co-founder is known as the “Persian Mark Zuckerberg” in tech circles, and it’s really not an exaggeration. It’s a compliment to Zuck! He is the smartest Persian I have ever met in my life . . . which is the same as saying he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met – hah!
I was giving a talk at UCLA in 2015, when Sam was a senior. He showed me my Everipedia page after the talk. The reason this struck such a nerve with me is that someone had made a Wikipedia page about me in 2013, and Wikipedia had deleted it, saying that I was not notable enough to merit a page. I thought to myself, if I want a Wiki page so badly, and Wikipedia is denying me one, then there must be a lot of people who are in the same position.
Brain surgery forced you into semi-retirement from ‘Genius,’ a company you founded. Why did you need surgery, and have you recuperated fully?
I had a meningioma removed from the right side of my head in October 2013. The tumor was making my left hand shake and had also paralyzed the left side of my face. Immediately after the surgery, I had a really intense period of work, because we were raising money – it was an exciting time, I got to go to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s engagement party three weeks after the surgery, for example – but I think it was overwhelming and led to me having a seizure disorder for about a year and a half after the surgery. For a long time, I didn’t think I would recover. Nowadays, though, I feel like I have it mostly under control.
Please tell us about your former venture, the hip-hop lyric site ‘Genius’ (Rap Genius). How did you come up with the idea for the site?
Genius was my cofounder Tom Lehman‘s idea. He was inspired after I explained the meaning of a somewhat obscure rap lyric to him. The explanation I gave him was incorrect, by the way, which shows you that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. He built the site, and I got involved by being one of the first people to start using it, annotating the meaning of 2Pac, Jay Z, etc.
Where does your passion for music stem from and what genre and artists do you like? Do you play any musical instruments yourself?
I’ve been playing piano since I was 15 years old. I had a teacher, Arjang Rad, who taught me to appreciate Glenn Gould and Bach. Bach and Beethoven are still my obsessions to this day – actually more so now than when I was a teenager. Back then, I would look into other stuff too, but now I think to myself, why bother? I’m actually learning the entirety of [Bach’s] “English Suite Number 2” right now, which I’ve been listening to since I was 15 years old. It feels crazy playing the notes after decades of hearing them.
You were asked to resign by the board of ‘Genius’ under some unpleasant circumstances. What happened?
I resigned after there was a major media furor over my annotations on the manifesto of a mass shooter at UC Santa Barbara. This was about six months after my brain surgery, and it was really traumatic, especially since I felt (and still feel) that I hadn’t done anything wrong and that reporters were picking on me for no reason.
Are you confrontational by nature? Your sparring with Uber Investor Jason Calacanis received a lot of press. What happened between the two of you, and how did the idea of “Stealing from Whole Foods” come about?
I love rap, and a lot of my public persona is rap inspired. A big part of rap is what is called “beef” – rivalries between rappers. So a lot of time I try to imitate beef in the startup world; it’s my running tasteless joke. Nobody thinks it’s funny, and it gets me into a lot of trouble. Why do I keep doing it? Because I like it.
You have had an entrepreneurial spirit from a very young age and have been involved in many startups, including Bitcoin. What attracted you to cryptocurrencies and in your opinion what is the future for companies like Bitcoin?
I decided to invest in cryptocurrency after meeting Balaji Srinivasan, a major crypto entrepreneur. Balaji has very beautiful eyes and he hypnotized me. I became even more involved after angel investing in Coinbase, which I think is going to be the Visa of the blockchain world.
My main initial attraction to the idea was that I always thought money should be electronic. It would be cool if God could somehow just keep track of how much we all have, and it was impossible to steal. But now that Everipedia is building its own token, I think another very important element of cryptocurrency is Internet micropayments. Cryptocurrency will allow millions and millions of people to make a living from the Internet – editing Everipedia for IQ tokens, for example. It is this egalitarian element of cryptocurrency that has the most appeal for me now.
Other than Everipedia, Bitcoin and Coinbase, what other companies or industries excite you and why?
I’m very excited about self-driving cars. I think it is the only advance currently happening that is comparable to cryptocurrency in terms of its potential for changing society. Much as with cryptocurrency, a big part of the appeal for me is that theft will become impossible. If money is electronic, and all transportation is trackable, it will become impossible to steal.
You have used social media in all of your businesses extensively. What is your take on social media in general?
I love social media! I hate it when people say bad things about it. I think social media has created a new architecture – parallel to the “real” world – and it is one in which intelligence is valued more than physical attributes such as height or good looks. As a smart, short, ugly guy, I am very grateful for this.
What is your background? Where were you born, raised and educated?
I’m from Los Angeles; my family came here from Iran four years before I was born. I grew up in Encino and attended Birmingham High School.
What is your relationship with Iran? Have you ever visited Iran and do you still have family there?
I have never been to the Motherland! I went to Istanbul once and it felt like how I imagined Iran would feel. I don’t have that much desire to go, because I have very little faith in the world outside of the U.S. I think the U.S. is the only country with rule of law, and the only place where it is possible to be an entrepreneur (unless you’re an aristocrat). I lived in France for about two years after college. That place is a total mess.
There is a reason why Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. are all American companies.
Do you have a particular message for Iranians in Iran and around the Globe?
The two most popular page titles on Wikipedia are “Ahmadabad” and “Aliabad.” There are more than 2,000 Iranian villages with these names that have pages on Wikipedia. This is because some Iranian guy made pages for every village in Iran right when Wikipedia started. As you can see, there is a strong cultural connection between Iranians and encyclopedias. This is what we do. If anyone reading this wants to join us in our mission, please reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. Everipedia is a really exciting project, started by an Iranian. It is a great idea to get involved.