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Payam Zamani is the Founder and CEO of One Planet Group, a hybrid tech firm that embodies his principles of combining business with a life of service. He is an Iranian-born entrepreneur, investor, and author who fled his homeland as a teen due to religious persecution. Payam co-founded AutoWeb, one of the first online car marketplaces, which went public in 1999. He is also the author of Crossing The Desert, an autobiography reflecting on his experiences of perseverance and embracing life’s demanding journeys. Payam is a mission-driven individual who has invested in numerous companies while committed to improving the world.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [4:46] Payam’s harrowing experiences as a Baha’i in the fundamentalist climate of Iran
  • [8:39] How persecution at school led to a pivotal moment in Payam’s life
  • [13:02] Payam explains the conversion of his family to the Baha’i faith in a predominantly Muslim country
  • [15:52] The trajectory from Payam’s escape to his arrival in the US with only $75
  • [23:37] Payam’s initial struggles and triumphs in America striving for financial independence
  • [25:56] The inception of AutoWeb and the challenges of pitching to car dealerships
  • [36:03] The complexities and ethical considerations of taking a company public and the One Planet Group
  • [42:53] Payam discusses the recent reacquisition of AutoWeb and its shift in profitability

In this episode…

Imagine fleeing your country at the age of 16, escaping religious persecution, and embarking on a perilous journey. Now, fast-forward a decade to find yourself at the helm of a publicly traded company worth millions.

Serial entrepreneur Payam Zamani explores his powerful story, from leaving Iran to his tremendous success and challenges in the business world. He shares the emotional backstory of his early days in Iran, his culture shock upon arriving in the US, and his potent entrepreneurial spirit, which led to the creation of AutoWeb and his tech firm One Planet Group. Payam’s testament to surviving and thriving shows a relentless pursuit of a business that benefits humanity.

In this episode of Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz interviews Payam Zamani, Founder and CEO of One Planet Group, about his journey from a refugee to a tech magnate and philanthropist. Payam opens up about the moments that shaped him, the core philosophies that drive his investments and business decisions, and how he’s leveraging his vast experience to create a better world through One Planet Group.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “I love the US. And one of the reasons is that it gives hope to the planet.”
  • “Life is cheap in the Middle East. But living there, life moments happen to all of us. Sometimes we take advantage of them, sometimes we don’t.”
  • “Business touches humans, business touches the most noble creation on the planet. It’s not just business.”
  • “If you are Snapchat, and you’re going to make it possible for your users to rate their friends — is that good for the world, is that good for your users?”
  • “I like to run and build profitable companies.”

Action Steps:

  1. Embrace your difficult journeys and use them to propel you forward: Hearing Payam’s powerful story of overcoming hardship can inspire us to see challenges as stepping stones.
  2. Combine your personal values with your business endeavors: Payam’s One Planet Group is a testament to the impact of aligning professional practice with ethical beliefs.
  3. Invest in people and companies that prioritize intention alongside innovation: Payam’s strict investment philosophy can guide us to make more conscious business decisions.
  4. Always consider the global and human implications of your business decisions: Payam’s stance against detrimental growth practices show how ethical considerations can benefit both business and society.
  5. Keep evolving and adapting in business to stay relevant and profitable: As seen with the reacquisition of AutoWeb, Payam’s adaptability turned a struggling company back into a profitable one.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz 0:22

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here founder where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I’ve got Payam Zamani of Also you can check out his book at And Payam before I formally introduce you I always like to point out other episodes, people should check out the podcast. Since Payam has an amazing journey career in a lot of respects. So growing companies, one that sticks out is I’d Sujan Patel who started Mailshake and grew it to I think over 70,000 users and he talked about how he’s acquiring business SaaS companies along the way.

That was an interesting one, John Warrillow. He wrote Built to Sell he’s got the Built to Sell podcast. Payam was actually on John Warrillow podcast, a great episode. So I encourage people to check that one out. Payam’s journey is kind of similar to Stephanie Shirley, time on the podcast, she wrote the book, Let It Go. And she documented her life starting. She was an unaccompanied child refugee at age five, where her parents wanted to protect her from the Holocaust. So they put her on a train at age five to go to strangers at the end. Crazy. She started one of UK’s for software companies, startups in 96. They went on the London Stock Exchange.

And I think they employed 8500 people, she gave away 67 million pounds of her personal wealth to different projects. And Payam is all about that. Steve Sarowitz was a good episode. I know you know Steve as well, talking about combining religion, business and philanthropy. And he started Paylocity out with three people in a 600-square-foot office, turned it into a billion-dollar company. So check those out. And there’s also a good conversation I think on the internet with Payam and Steve out there somewhere. This episode is brought to you byRise25. At Rise25, we help businesses give to and connect to their dream relationships and partnerships.

How do we do that? We do that by helping you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast we do the strategy, the kind of building the full execution. Payam, we call ourselves a magic elves that run in the background and make it look easy for the host and the company. So they can create amazing relationships and great content and most importantly, run their business. For me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. And I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships. And I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire on this planet and share with the world what they’re working on. So you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, go to or email us at

I am really excited about today’s interview and everyone should check out Crossing The Desert, the book and we’re going to talk about in a second. But Payam Zamani is an entrepreneur investor, the founder of One Planet Group. He’s the author, as I mentioned, of Crossing The Desert, which is the power of embracing life’s difficult journeys. And Payam was actually born in Iran and was forced to flee at age 16 due to his religious beliefs. And he and his brother eventually founded AutoWeb, one the first online car marketplaces and they took it public in 1999.

Now, he’s built and currently owns multiple technology media businesses, they’ve invested in over 50 companies, but it wasn’t always like that. Okay, 10 years after arriving in the US, this was a teenager, Uffizi, so picture yourself at 16 they’ve $75 between the two of them, and they create a company that IPOs called AutoWeb, amazing story. Right now he’s on a mission: they have One Planet Group, which is a people-first culture and they own multiple companies under the One Planet Group. Payam, thanks for joining me.

Payam Zamani 4:25

Absolutely. Thank you. Glad to be here.

Jeremy Weisz 4:28

I want to start with that, it’s a really crazy, crazy story, and that’s why people should check out Crossing The Desert to get the full story but your mother thought you’re better off as smugglers.

Payam Zamani 4:46

Yes. So, I talked about it in my book that growing up in Iran as a Bahai being my religion was no walk in the park, and particularly if you did not live in Tehran, Big City. And so waking up every morning and getting our windows broken was pretty common or getting beaten up in school, getting kicked out of school, which I was ultimately at the age of 11, expelled from school. And then it was in 1987, that my parents decided that look, you’re better off leaving us than staying here. So they paid smugglers to get me out of the country, which makes you wonder how good law-abiding people find a smuggler to get you out of the country.

And but there’s this moment in my life, that will always be etched in my memory. And usually, I have a hard time talking about it without getting emotional. But it’s the moment that my mom had to let me go, which is a moment that that there, her and I were on a bus ride for 24 hours to get to this border town in Iran called Zaha Don, and the smugglers that asked me to get off the bus, not say goodbye to my mom, because people go to that town often to leave the country illegally. So don’t make a scene, get off the bus, go to the side of the road, somebody will pick you up.

And I do that, and this car stopped by and says get in, I get in the car seats away. And I just look back through the rear window of the car, and I see my mom. And I feel like our eyes are locked. But through the glare of the window, she probably cannot see me. And all I can think is She is crying out loud inside. But there’s nothing she can do. And this is the right path. But it’s an unfortunate path. We didn’t think we’re going to ever see each other again. But luckily we were able to; she passed away seven years ago.

But it’s one of those moments that, and of course, the journey I had, frankly, was a journey that there was better than 10% chance that I will not survive it. So, it’s a tough path forward. But then again, that country imagine has done so much to a minority group that the mother feels like this is a safer path.

Jeremy Weisz 7:16

Hearing that story, I’m scared. Okay, but what are you feeling in that moment where they basically just say, car comes up get in?

Payam Zamani 7:28

Well, I mean, you have all watched the news from the Middle East. And I feel like it’s weird to say this. But living in that part of the world, life is cheap. That’s unfortunate. But life is cheap. And I’ve always wondered, when you are a soldier in the trenches during a major war, are you ready to die. And I feel like having lived in the Middle East and having been in some of those difficult situations. I feel like you are kind of accepting your destiny, if that turns out to be the destiny. So there are moments now I talk in my book about two moments in my life two experiences that I thought there’s a good chance I’m not going to get out of it alive. And in both of those situations, I was content.

Jeremy Weisz 8:22

I don’t know if one of them was this one. But there was a point when you’re in school. Yeah. And the teacher, it wasn’t a student, the teacher kind of invoked violence. Do you want to talk about that for a second?

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