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Cairn co-founder and CEO Ali Alami.
Cairn co-founder and CEO Ali Alami.

Ali Alami and his co-founder Tove Martin got the idea for Cairn after struggling to meet up for a hike. They didn’t have cell service and realized there wasn’t a good resource to point them in the direction of a signal.

As a lifelong outdoorsman, Alami saw this as both a safety concern and an opportunity.

Cairn is an app that allows hikers, like Alami, to send loved ones safety updates. It also has a signal map that relies on user-generated data to predict where hikers will get cell service.

“When it comes down to safety in the wilderness and getting rescued, it’s really two things. One is, did you let someone know where you’re going? That actually saves search and rescue hours if they have a general location that they can start from,” Alami said. “The other thing that’s important is being able to call 911. Most [wilderness] rescues in the last ten years have been initiated by a cell phone.”

Wilderness safety is a longtime passion of Alami’s. After graduating high school, he joined the Air Force where he taught wilderness survival to aircrew members. After the military, he worked in several tech roles in the Seattle-area, including Senior Product Manager for Expedia.

Cairn allows him to combine his experience in the tech world with his passion for the outdoors.

We caught up with Alami for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current Location: “I split my time between my home in Mukilteo (20 percent) my co-founder’s home office in Madrona (60 percent), and on the trail or mountain learning from our users, testing, and planning (20 percent).”

Computer types: “Mac Air, I’m pretty mobile and travel light.”

Mobile devices: “iPhone 5s (because it’s small), Apple Watch.”

Favorite apps: “Slack, Weather Underground, Expedia, Google Analytics, App Annie, Audible, Facebook, Washington Trails (WTA), NPR, and Cairn of course!”

Describe your workspace: “Views galore. At home, views of the Olympics and water, our Madrona office has lots of windows facing trees, and on the trail, you can’t beat the Pacific Northwest scenery, especially on sunny days.”


Your best advice for managing everyday work and life: “Block out time for work, play, and combined work play, then stay disciplined and focused. I usually wake up before the rest of the family check email and go for a run where I can think about the day’s priorities. Whenever possible, I find that mixing physical activity (short walk with team member), play, and work allow me to complete multiple objectives at once. I also make it a priority to tackle the important hard items first.”

Your preferred social network: “Linkedin for work and Facebook for both work and life.”

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox: “28.”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week: “Nine.”

How do you run meetings: “If at all possible limit to 30 minutes and only schedule if really needed. I send an agenda and goals in the meeting invite. Only invite those that are critical to the objective, stay focused on the topic, and send notes with action items shortly after. Designating a note-taker allows me to focus deeper on the topic, read body language, and give feedback.”

Everyday work uniform: “Jeans and button or polo shirt, trail clothes and Goretex on Fridays.”

How do you make time for family? “Cairn allows me to mix some work with play because we picked an industry that family and friends enjoy. Some of our best ideas and decisions have come from backpacking/camping with co-founders and our families around the campfire. On weekdays, I still try and have breakfast and dinner with the family and spend some time with my wife and son without devices in the mix.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Physical activity (exercise or chopping wood), Legos, and good wine.”

What are you listening to? “‘The River’ by Garth Brooks. I like Country, Rock, and Gaelic.”

Daily reads? “GeekWire, TechCrunch, NPR, CNN, Outside Online, and posts I find interesting on Facebook.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I split most of my reading between leadership, adventure non-fiction, and Dr. Seuss.”

Night owl or early riser? “Early riser.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “By talking to others (users, friends, my wife, and especially my co-founder Tove Martin), reviewing data and analytics, reading, then stitching good ideas or building on them.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Elon Musk, not only does he have the courage to dream big (on multiple fronts at once), he’s a resilient leader, learns from failures, and knows how to motivate his teams to execute quickly at a high-quality bar.”

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