Among his peers, Afrim Mustafa is known for his tireless work-ethic and goal-drive technology leadership. His interested in technology started as a kid growing up Kosova back in the 1990’s and followed him throughout his career in the United States. He is a certified computer forensic investigator and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice/Computer Forensics from the University of New Haven.
Prior to starting his own business, Afrim worked for leading companies such Deloitte & Touche, UBS Investment Bank, and Boehringer Pharmaceuticals. His professional expertise includes computer forensics, electronic discovery, data analytics, anti-money laundering, and cyber security. He is known for his ability to leverage technology to streamline and automate complex business processes.
NY Elite Interview with Entrepreneur Afrim Mustafa
NY Magazine: How did you get into Technology?
Afrim Mustafa: I have always been intrigued by technology – this goes back as far as I can remember. I always had a passion for it. Back in high school, I used to look for opportunities to fix computers, just for fun. It started as a hobby for me and very quickly I became popular with teachers and administrators. This was a time when the city was really struggling with their IT budget and there were many computers that needed attention. So say the least, they didn’t argue with my desire to work on computers and fix them up.
In fact, the IT department noticed the talent behind my hobby, and offered me a part time job working in all the 40 different schools in the city. So as a Junior in High School, I wound up traveling from one school to another fixing computers. Consequently, I was helping the city reshape their technology infrastructure. This was a great opportunity to learn and I certainly took advantage of it then as a part-time job, and then later in life in my entrepreneurial endeavors.
NY Magazine: Tell us a little bit more about your business?
StarAct is our accounting and financial advisory firm. It was incorporated in 2012 and serves clients across U.S. Our services including accounting, audit and assurance, tax consulting, bank financing, forensics and disputes, CFO services, and other CPA services. StarAct has seen tremendous growth the past few years and we are very proud of it.
LeoTech is our technology company. LeoTech provides a broad portfolio of reactive and proactive managed information technology services. It covers all elements of an IT organizations, including the people, technology, data analytics, and custom application development.
Yezerca is our insurance business. Our services include Workers’ Compensation, Businessowners, Homeowners, Commercial Auto, and Commercial General Liability insurance. We work closely with our clients to understand their business needs and offer them a tailored coverage that protects their business and operations.
NY Magazine: How do you balance work-life?
Afrim Mustafa: I hear my friends often talk about work-life balance, mostly those that work in consulting. They feel the demanding nature of this type of work affecting their personal lives and honestly, it does. I agree with them. Consulting work is very demanding, as is entrepreneurship and the truth is, the vision of the two requires a discipline that not everyone can hack.
Work-life balance – it is something that most entrepreneurs struggle with. Prioritizing and creating a balance between the competing worlds is often very difficult. It is difficult because there are different aspects of life that need your attention – work, family, friends, relationships, health, etc. – and to be able to equally and genuinely attend to all requires a serious discipline of time management. So with that said, time management is key to creating harmony between work and life. Managing your time well means knowing where you need to be and what requires your attention. And of course, you have to take care of yourself. Get enough rest, wake up early, exercise, watch your favorite shows, take some flying lessons, turn off social media notifications, i.e. make time for things that make you happy.
NY Magazine: How does the company innovate?
Afrim Mustafa: In the past decade or so, the world has seen technological innovation coming mainly from smaller companies–most often startups. These companies have figured out a way to dissolve the bureaucratic barriers that limit innovation and it has almost become a standard business requirement to think creatively. Learning from them, we have cultivated that model in all our businesses.
Here at RLN Advisors, innovation is a very big part of our corporate identity – and in the world of business and technology, it must be the biggest. We don’t see innovation as a single opportunity but rather as a continuous process that must be nurtured and integrated into our core competencies.
Most of our innovation comes from identifying our client’s specific needs and then leveraging our technological capabilities to create value for them. Every manual effort, be it from the client or our own internal processes, we have an eye for automation and we will in some way automate it. This is both to reduce the work effort and increase efficiency which then translates into increased productivity and reduction in client costs. We have two financial products in the pipeline that were born from these efforts which I’m very excited for and I think will create tremendous wins for our clients.
NY Magazine: What would you say is the most important component of your business?
Afrim Mustafa: You have to surround yourself with great people who share the same vision as you. We spend an enormous amount of time at work and it’s extremely important that we surround ourselves with those that are just as passionate about the vision, whatever that may be. I’ve been blessed with two outstanding partners and an amazing team.
I work with Roland who’s a Certified Public Accountant and has an incredible background in professional services. He’s the founder of StarAct and the champion behind its growth. He has lead numerous projects for Big 4 consulting firms and Wall Street banks in various industries such as financial services, retail, manufacturing, healthcare and all of the above.
Easily just as valuable, Aferdita, my other partner has impressive experience and comes with a wealth of knowledge in financial advisory, forensics, compliance, audit, risk management, accounting and finance. She has worked for leading Wall Street firms and serves as a role model for those around her.
Our extended team is phenomenal, we have hired the best to showcase and innovate and we only take on those players that believe in our vision. They were all handpicked to join us to help drive the success of our organization. The synergy between all of us is what really makes us a great team.
NY Magazine: What creative strategies do you execute that lead to successful outcomes?
Afrim Mustafa: There are three key components to achieving a successful outcome: collaboration, communication, and management. You must collaborate to get the most out of everyone and involve everyone’s creativity into the project both. One must communicate so to engage effectively ensuring all stakeholders are being satisfied measurably. Lastly, manage well to deliver a project on time that meets client expectations.
NY Magazine: How do you measure success?
Afrim Mustafa: There are different ways to measure business success. Our success lies in the partnership we have with our clients. I think client satisfaction is certainly a great indicator of success. A creative marketing strategy can drive business growth but that can only mean success if business is retained and clients are satisfied with the work product.
We often conduct surveys, reviews, and even one-on-one sessions with our clients to given them a platform for feedback. This feedback is crucial in better understanding our client base and keeping them satisfied with our services. I think client satisfaction is an indicator of successful business model. As an example, our accounting practice has seen exceptional client retention rates and referrals. We have seen on average a 300% growth each year. A direct correlation between client satisfaction and revenue growth.
NY Magazine: What type of culture has the leadership put in place at the company?
Afrim Mustafa: We have always focused on creating a customer-centric culture. This means investing in our talent, technology, and processes so that the deliverable is exactly what the client needs. My partners and I are all aligned in this principle. We have made great investments in our new office to expand our footprint and get closer to our clients. We have invested in applications that help bring clients into our workflows and allow them to collaborate with our project managers. We have tweaked our internal processes to allow for flexibility and scalability for each unique client, i.e. always catering to customization and personalization. These are the principles that we’ll continue to embrace in fostering a customer-centric culture.
NY Magazine: What projects have been your favorite that you have been part of and why?
Afrim Mustafa: My favorite story is this mid-sized company based out of New York that needed serious help in revamping their accounting department. The company generated approximately $25M in revenue with a workforce of about 300 but their pain-points included process improvement of technology and accounting standards. We encourage our clients to focus on what they do best and leave the technology and accounting to us.
We gathered a seven-member project team and created a plan of action. In a matter of few weeks, StarAct cleaned up their financials and made them complaint with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and designed and implemented internal controls. LeoTech re-built their IT infrastructure to support network servers, active directory, virtualization, data back up, and business contingency. Our consulting team worked with the banks to approve the company for business loans that enabled the company to pursue new opportunities and expand their footprint.
I loved this project because it allowed us to display the full potential of our one-stop-shop approach. We were able to use all of our service offerings to help this company pursue new opportunities and expand their footprint. Very rewarding.
NY Magazine: What is the best advice you received recently, and that you still follow?
Afrim Mustafa: A few years ago, I read a book written by Colin Powell, a retired four-star US Army general, called “My American Journey,” and in his book, he talks about how you should always go into a meeting with an agenda emphasizing the importance of preparation. This was a metaphor for me. My takeaway was that you have to plan effectively, research and be prepared, show up with a point of view, and that is one way you can add tremendous value in everything you do.