Imagine leaving your country to go to school and suddenly there’s a revolution that prevents you from going back home. How would you rebuild your life?
That’s what happened to Saeed Amidi after the Iranian revolution. This is the story of how he hustled and built himself up, and how he went on to help hundreds of tech startups grow, including PayPal, which leased office space from him and became one of his first angel investments.
Watch the FULL program
Saeed Amidi, PlugandPlayTechCenter
Saeed Amidi is the co-founder of PlugandPlayTechCenter.com, a community of over 280 technology startup companies in the areas of Web 2.0, software (SaaS), systems, semiconductor and telecomm verticals. Since its inception in January 2006 the center has helped the startups raise in excess of $400 million in venture funding. The start-up companies have created a cumulative value of 2 Billion Dollars.
Before we get started check out Visual Website Optimizer. Did you know it’s a dead simple way to do A/B testing on your site? Just enter your site’s URL and you’re ready to create variations of your current site’s design. Once you’re done, test it against your current layout and see which one increases conversions. VisualWebsiteOptimizer.com.
Next is Grasshopper. Did you know that in addition to being the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs love, Grasshopper.com has one of the most popular blogs on entrepreneurship? Even if you’re not ready to get a new phone number from Grasshopper.com, even if you’re not ready to add extensions to your phone, even if you’re not ready to get text-based voicemail and a toll free number and everything else that Grasshopper offers you, check out Grasshopper.com’s blog to learn about entrepreneurship.
Finally, who’s the lawyer that tech entrepreneurs trust? Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Scroll down to the bottom of his site and see what other entrepreneurs have said about him, including Jason Calacanis of Mahalo who says, “He’s great lawyer who loves startups.” WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Here’s your program.
Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and the place where entrepreneurs come to tell you their story, how they got here, what they learned along the way, and pass on their best ideas to you.
How do you go from working at an oriental rug store to helping startups like PayPal and Google grow? Joining me is Saeed Amidi. He discovered the world of tech startups when his father opened a rug store, which had venture capitalist as customers. In this interview you’ll hear the story of how he went on to help fund and support entrepreneurs through Amidzad, his investment company, and through Plug and Play, his technology community center, which has been home to more than 500 tech startups.
Saeed, welcome to Mixergy.
Saeed Amidi: Pleasure meeting you.
Andrew: So I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes or so going through your biography, but I’d like to start off with your proudest achievement. Out of everything you’ve done to date, what’s the one thing that stands out, professionally?
Saeed: Professionally, I believe [TD] something when I was 20 years old, when we had the Iranian revolution and from being an incredibly spoiled sort of kid at Menlo College, within 30 days I had to step up and start a business and create revenue and build my company. So it was sort of like shock therapy.
Andrew: What do you mean? Why did you have to make money within 30 days?
Saeed: Like similar to Tunisia or Egypt, I just, kind of for me, people see some videos on TV and they think what is happening, but there is actually right now an exodus of wealth out of Tunisia and Egypt, for, I would say, the people who are building companies, building manufacturing facilities, if they can take out money.
In the case of Iran, because it was such a fast revolution, we pretty much lost 98% of everything we owned and my father arrived initially temporary to California and within two weeks he said it could be not temporary. So he sat me down and he said, ‘I will pay for your tuition,’ this was as I was a sophomore in Menlo College, ‘But other than your tuition, you’re on your own.’ And I was not planning to work until I was at least 25. So after a few days I went to my mom and I said my dad is joking and she confirmed he’s not joking. So I started working from the following Monday at setting up an import export company in, what has become, ALPS, American Liquid Packaging System.
Andrew: What were you importing and exporting?
Saeed: Initially, it was very funny, we had the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. send us, sort of like, a magazine every week with requests from overseas, that I recall, was portable hospital. one was steel, the other one was plastics and chemicals. And I really didn’t have an expertise in any field, so I would try to reply and qualify the leads and one of these leads was for 400 metric ton high-density polyethylene to produce vegetable oil bottles from Saudi Arabia. And I responded to the inquiry. The buyer on the other side, this was his first ever purchase, his name is Adel Fakih [SP] from Savola, Saudi vegetable oil company, and I guess because it was his purchase, it was my first time supplying polyethylene, two fools kind of met and he purchased the product from me. And that somehow, kind of, guided me toward becoming an expert in polyethylene, in polypropylene, in PET, which is used for liquid packaging like Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola, and edible oil.
And it’s interesting, Savola, Adel Fakih, till today is one of my best friends and that is what I would tell entrepreneurs, “Relationships is the center of your success.” And I did 20 years worth of business with Savola, which grew to be the largest consumer product manufacturing and distribution in the Middle East. And then Adel Fakih, in particular, was instrumental for me to get into the bottled water business, which through the packaging, I set up Delta bottled water company in a joint venture in Saudi Arabia.
Andrew: Saeed, if you don’t mind, let me pause the conversation. I want to make sure that I fully understand every part of this story, because you’ve given me a lot here so far. The first thing is, how did you even come across what he was looking for. You’re saying that the Chamber of Commerce would have a list of what people are looking for and you just jumped on that list and found an item that you can place?
Saeed: Yes, that is very interesting. I used to go through this, sort of, magazine. There were four line inquiries and a telephone number and fax, I’m sorry, telex at that time.
Saeed: Yes, it was the sort of yellow tape, yellow machine, very loud. And anything that I could understand I would reply to. And because of the family business in Iran, which was shoe manufacturing and polyvinyl chloride, PVC, I thought I understood something about plastics and packaging. So I replied to this little inquiry and then I found a source of supply, which happened to be . . .
Saeed: I was 20 years old, I said, “What is high-density polyethylene?” This is a by-product of petroleum and I said, “Who are the producers?” At that time it was Allied Signal, Chevron, Phillips. So then I would call the export manager and get a quotation. And then when I did get a quotation I sent an offer to Adel Fakih, who accepted my 400 metric ton offer mainly because I had made a mistake. I didn’t know the difference between CIF, which means insurance and freight, as well as cargo, compared to FOB, which is freight on board in Houston. So I made a 20% mistake and he bought on 20% cheaper than everybody else, and he bought my first shipment. And then luckily enough I was able to ship the cargo, because the commodity price came 20%.
Andrew: Ah, I see, okay. And in order to buy it, did you have the money to go and buy this stuff?
Saeed: Of course not. I mean you’re a startup in a 400 square foot office. I was even late on my rent payment on a regular basis, because I remember my payment was something like $450 a month, but what you do is you compromise. So when I received the LC, letter of credit, from Savola I had to section it off for the raw material and assign it to my supplier. And I did not have enough credit even for the freight, so I had to section of a portion of the LC for my freight. And then hopefully after you pay to material, you pay for the freight, there is a small slice left for you. But I had to assign the letter of credit in different portions to be able to ship that material.
Andrew: How would you even get a letter of credit? A foreigner in the country, a guy who doesn’t have much experience, a guy who doesn’t have a credit rating in the U.S., I can’t imagine at that point.
Saeed: I did have credit, but I had really bad credit.
Andrew: So how do you get money?
Saeed: It was very tough. You know, again, as I mentioned to you, if you’re an entrepreneur and you have the will to succeed. I tell you, when I realized I made a mistake between the FOB and the CIF, I was devastated for three days. And I went to my mentor at that time, which was my father. And I said this is the mistake I made and it’s my first order, it was I think after two to three months of sending replies to these inquiries, and he said, “Can anybody else ship at that price?” and I said no. And then he said, “Then talk to Adel Fakih. Tell him what mistake you made and compromise and you can do this shipment.” Because it was very important for me, it’s like your first customer. It’s really important to make him happy, get it done and build on top of that. So as soon as after I built enough guts to tell him the mistakes I made. He sent me a telex that morning, that I was going to tell him, and said the factory’s delayed and if I can delay the shipment, I think it was like four months. So I wrote to him, “Of course I can, but it’s going to cost you 15% more.”
So that is how I got into the packaging business, which is Chemtex and ALPS, which is today a $150 million company. And I still am like an active chairman at that company and it’s still what I call my day job.
Andrew: You know, you just said $150 million. I saw it too in the articles that read in preparation for this interview. $150 just seems so big that it’s hard for somebody to wrap their head around. Can you tell us about the first million? I think that’s a little more relatable.
Saeed: Yes. When I got into the import export business, specifically polyethylene and packaging raw material, I focused, again, on the Middle East being of Iranian origin I thought I had a competitive advantage in Saudi Arabia, in the Emirates, in Egypt, and unfortunately, even until, today I cannot do any business with Iran. So even though I am Iranian there has been almost like a sanction ever since, 30 years with Iran. So Savola, which was my first customer, and the Clorox Saudi Arabia, which the Abudawood family, which was my second customer, they would buy raw material on a monthly or quarterly basis.
And I really liked this annuity. It means that if your material qualifies, if you have a good supplier backing and Allied Signal, who used to be my supplier, the factory was sold to Exxon/Mobil and I have worked with the same factory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana now for 30 years, even though it has changed hands twice, but I still buy $100 million worth of polyethylene from that factory. And in the raw material scheme of things $100 million or a $150 million is a supply of, I would say 50 edible oil companies per year. So each factory may buy $2 million to $3 million dollars worth of raw material per year.
Does that answer your question?
Andrew: It does. So you’re saying that these deals . . .
Saeed: Yeah, the average transaction is $200,000 to $300,000.
Andrew: I see. So then that happened pretty quickly. And when it did happen, as a guy who like, that had to make money and suddenly the first deal that you made almost went bad on you, and suddenly you bring in a million dollars, how does that feel? How does that change your life? How does it impact you?
Saeed: It really made the company stand on its own feet. I recall that single customer, which was Savola in Saudi Arabia, and I had one customer in El Salvador, because at that time I didn’t have a geographical focus. I didn’t have, you could say even, product focus. But I had also a customer in El Salvador who I used to supply polyurethane foam raw material from Olin to them. Olan in New York and Bayer in Pittsburgh. So I used to buy TDI and polyol, which are the two raw materials to make foam. And those two customers made my business.
If I didn’t not close those deals, my actually funded $3,000 a month for six months to, let’s say, make ends meet and get the company off the ground. But before I could turn a profit he cut me off. It’s almost like a VC, he said you have six runway to get some cash through the door and I told him. “I’m this close. This close to becoming cash flow positive.” He said, “Saeed, you’re on your own, good luck.” And it was very stuff the first year. And then by the end of the first year I had several customers, several transactions a month and I was, you could say, cash flow positive. I thought I was on top of the world.
Andrew: I want to get into the sexier tech companies, but before I do, I’ve got to find out. I would never know that there was this much money in, I’m writing the different words down that you’re mentioning, polypropylene and all the other stuff. I wouldn’t even know that I could enter them as an entrepreneur, let alone that there much business to be done. How do you identify that this is a big market, that you can get into it with nothing but a phone and couple of thousand dollars from your dad?
Saeed: To be frank, I didn’t know how big it is. Like right now when I work with Exxon/Mobil, Exxon Mobil in this category, which is polyethylene’s has a $6 billion business. So any business, let’s say, that I could recommend to entrepreneurs that if you want to get into, is that you have to see the magnitude of the business, you have to see who are the players, who are the customers, and what competitive advantage you have in between.
Andrew: So what competitive advantage did you have, as a guy with nothing that a phone and hustle?
Saeed: I’d say that when them a little about, I am from Middle East, they thought automatically I know Middle East. The second competitive advantage was, American companies in general are not export oriented so they kind of depend on export companies for that 10% of what they call extra material they have to be exported, so that was my second competitive advantage. And then when I did learn what is happening in Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Saudi as a customer was a growing customer. You could say their population was growing, their wealth was growing, there were new factories, like Saudi Vegetable Oil, that didn’t have existing suppliers. So they were looking for new suppliers like I was looking for new customers.
Andrew: What about this, all those countries speak Arabic, you clearly do not have an Arabic accent?
Saeed: Oh, clearly I don’t speak Arabic.
Saeed: And I, again, it’s like Judo, I think you’d have to turn a negative into a positive. And the first that I would say to anybody when I called them in Saudi Arabia, I would say, “I’m calling from California.” And usually the owner or the general manager is the only one who speaks English so you don’t waste time with the rest of the people.
Andrew: I see.
Saeed: You almost go straight to the top, and then as you may know, I am not very shy. So when I get to speak to the owner, I would get my message across, which is, I am dependable, I know manufacturing. I would share with them my father’s experience of having 8,000 employees in 14 factories. Automatically using, even though it was a challenge we through in Iran with the revolution, as a competitive advantage. And the factory owner and the factory purchasing manager would say, “You know how critical is raw material.” Because if you shut off the raw material the whole factory shuts down. So it’s like a critical part of any factory is the consistent high quality raw material.
Andrew: Okay. So if you’re dependable then you’re golden with them?
Saeed: That’s right.
Andrew: All right. You got into the tech space through real estate.
Saeed: That’s right.
Andrew: When you bought, as I understand it, a building for $1 million, for some reason you ended up paying $1.2 million, we’ll find out about that, but what was the plan for this building that you wanted to buy?
Saeed: As a Iranian or a Middle Easterner we are brought up that you should own your home, you should own the location of your business. In fact we still own the little store in the bazaar in Tehran, that my father started his business 65 years ago. So we believe in you should be permanent and when you’re permanent you own where you work.
Andrew: I see.
Saeed: So this 165 University Avenue, I mentioned to Mr. Papin [SP] that if you ever want to sell the building, you know I made a little money, I made I recall $20,000 a month, and soon as had $100,000 in the bank I bought a little house in Palo Alto that I used as my office. And then I went to Mr. Papin and I said, “I want you to promise me if you ever want to sell 165 University Avenue, you have to call me. I want to buy it.” And that is the story that, he had it for sell for $1 million, but when I wanted to buy it he told me I have to pay $1.2 million.
Saeed: And I said, “Why?” And he says, “Because you’re not a credit worthy buyer.” And he asked me to deposit $50,000 that day that I signed the buy and sell contract. And that is the building where I started my business and I really wanted to go back to that building, and I did. And that is actually how, by coincidence, Logic Tech, Pierluigi Zappacosta was my next door neighbor. Mr. Gupta from Gupta Software was in the same building. So I even though I was not in technology, I had a kind of front seat of a lot of great technology entrepreneurs. And actually you could say I was an extremely slow learner to getting to technology late as I did. You know, if somebody was smart enough they would say, “My God, you’re in Silicon Valley’s the center of the world for innovation and technology, why did you wait 20 years to get into technology?” So even though I may have had some success, but I could say that is one of my biggest mistakes, because when I did those cutouts I exported the first Apple computer to Italy.
Andrew: Because it just happened to come in on the telex?
Saeed: That’s right. And the gentleman from Italy told me, “Apple doesn’t have an export department. Can you export this for me?” But coincidently the raw material was a bigger dollars, I made more money so I went toward packaging and bottled water business than electronics. If I would have made the same mistake, as I made in the material, in electronics I might have been bigger in electronics and technology than this.
Andrew: I see. Well seem to have done very well for yourself. All these companies that you mentioned ended up being your tenants at first. How did you go from having them as tenants to having shares in their businesses?
Saeed: There has been sort of a roller coaster ride in Silicon Valley and there is times where the is shortage of even real estate, like during the bubble ’99, 2000, people thought we’re going to run out of real estate in the bay area and they would sign long term leases. So there is some sort of cache’ in having your company in Palo Alto, in Silicon Valley. So when people used to come to us, even Facebook came to us, that wanted our building for five years when they wanted to be downtown Palo Alto. So you have a little leverage, saying that, “If you want to be here, we would like to be in the next round of funding.” And sometimes, like in the cash of PayPal, my brother, Rahim, who handled the transaction, he actually asked PayPal for advanced payment for a year and invested some of the money in PayPal.
But it really all has to do with the connection you make to the entrepreneur and we don’t ask for anything unreasonable. We ask to invested side-by-side with venture capitalist and angels. Everything of the entrepreneur is really interesting, and like PayPal was almost 15 years ago. We recently did the same thing with Milo, Jack Abraham, who started Milo at 165 and within two years he sold the company for $75 million, again to eBay. If you know PayPal was sold to eBay then Milo, which started at 165 University Avenue, was also sold to eBay just less than six months ago, and Jack, I think, is less than 25 years old.
Andrew: Saeed, for someone who invests in raw materials, who invests in real estate, an investment in technology, especially at the height of the Internet bubble, doesn’t seem to fit in with your investment style. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
Saeed: You’re absolutely right. If you say I do real estate, everything is planned, here is the land, here is the building, replacement costs, even a bank can evaluate and appraise a real estate. Were as in technology you cannot, you don’t know how big is the market, you don’t know good is the entrepreneur or the idea, and then most importantly you don’t how is the execution of that team or entrepreneur.
I think it helped us, because it was not our primary business. So when we invested in technology, we wanted to not be left out. I wanted to have a lunch conversation piece, because when you go out to eat around here everybody talks about technology and there is not a lot happening in the bottled water business and the packaging business that, sort of, changes every day. So I actually felt quite a bit left out. And doing three or four investments a year in startups was side business, but after our success in PayPal we said, “This is a really good side business.”
Saeed: So then we became more interested and we learned more and now I spend 90% of my time helping entrepreneurs.
Andrew: And the day job is what you consider to be the bottled water business?
Saeed: Yes, but realistically it is, I have great management, great partners who run that. And Plug and Play which I have been running now for five years, it’s sort of like my passion. Even this morning, I don’t know many people who would be glad to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and have a 6:30 phone conference call with George Washington University about how to help startups out of Washington D.C.
Andrew: I wanted to ask you about that. You and I, people are going to watching the recorded version of this at whatever time of day they want to, they may not understand that you came here at 7:00 a.m. to do this interview with me and you were on the phone at 6:30 a.m. with George Washington University before this call. Why? Why start the day so early? Why not start at 9:00 maybe even 10:00, let the managers run the show for an hour or two and then come in and continue?
Saeed: One is, just to give you a little more, I meet my core team at 8:15 every morning.
Andrew: So 8:15 today you’re going to have a conversation with your core team?
Saeed: Every morning.
Andrew: Every morning.
Saeed: And we meet 30 minutes to just make sure we are around. But I believe in working early and working hard. I am not very smart, as you could probably tell, so I really like to see my colleagues, my team members to work 10, 12 hours a day. And not that I don’t want them to work smart, I love them to work smart, but I really think nothing replaces hard work and dedication.
And going back to my day job, my ALPS company, it took me 30 years to build the successful company. I have great managers in Spain, in Austria, in Mexico that I hope they work as hard as I do, but it took me 30 years. In technology you want to squeeze that 30 years into 3 years and no matter how smart or how leveraged you are via internet, via mobile devices, you still have to work 10 to 12 hours a day. And I am not willing or enjoy working I cannot expect my team to work that much.
Andrew: You said you weren’t smart so you work hard, I disagree with it and the track record proves otherwise, but when you say that you work hard to compensate for any lack of intelligence that you fell you have, can you give me an example of that? How does hard work get you much farther ahead?
Saeed: When I started Plug and Play here in January, 2006, it was a big building, 175,000 square feet and was the first person in the building every morning and I had about three or four people helping me to build Plug and Play. And, again, I try to reach out to universities, to venture capitalists, any venture capitalist I know I try to have lunch with every week, as well as to entrepreneurs. I used to have a policy to make 20 new initiative calls or emails per day toward my goal, and actually ask everyone of my colleagues to do the same. Because the telex I sent to Savola, it was because I was at that time sending 20 replies per day and one of the replies happened to build my packaging business. So my idea is, again, if you know who to target and you could target two or three, what I call a not a shotgun approach, but a direct approach is better. But sometimes I ‘m not that smart so I also like to have multiple choices. Like with the universities, I have a relationship with Stanford, Berkeley, Santa Clara, but George Washington is a little farther away, Cornell in I theca is a little farther away, but I learned that universities that are not in my neighborhood actually need us more to work with us, to accelerate their entrepreneur’s journey through us. But I believe in working smart, but also I believe in having depth as well as focus.
Andrew: I see. So Plug and Play is a place that gives new entrepreneurs both a place to work and the nurturing environment where other entrepreneurs can give them feedback and mentor and them and help them grow their business. What you need is new young entrepreneurs to come in and build incredible companies at Plug and Play. Some people would say, “Hey, I’ve got this track record. I’ve got this experience, I’ll hire some people. All of that will lure in the right entrepreneurs.” What you’re saying is, by working hard, you’re going to make 20 phone calls a day. You’re going to have your people make 20 phones calls. You’re going to call the universities that most people wouldn’t want to think when it comes to technology. I heard you say you’re talking to George Washington University and I said, “That’s great if you want to bring politicians in, or future politicians in.” But I didn’t realize, you’re saying, “There might be some entrepreneurs in there too, who aren’t courted by other programs. I’m going to talk to them. I’ll nurture them as entrepreneurs, give them feedback.” I think I overheard you on the conversation, I think you said that you were going to give them advice or something, and that you’re going to speak to them, I forget what it was, but it was, “I’m going to teach them and be in front of them with the hope that when they’re thinking of where they should bring their new companies, they’ll bring it to Plug and Play.”
Saeed: That’s right. I think, again, it is not only me. What I consider the Plug and Play, platform lately we call it, rather than the technology center, I think it’s 10% physical so there is a real estate. Just like a cell phone or a computer. There is a hardware, I believe you have to be housed somewhere. Then we have an operating system that how we work with universities, how they benefit, how we benefit, and how the entrepreneurs who participate in the business plan competition have somewhere to go afterward. And how do we engage with the entrepreneurs or with the head of entrepreneurship on the faculty side as well as on the student side in the club.
Then I consider how we work with our mentors and our angels. I have about 400 angels and mentors that we work with. You have to have an operating system and an application in how do you work with them. Then the biggest asset we have is our 100 plus VC’s that co-invest with us. They have to get great value from us when they visit us. And let’s say a venture capitalist say’s, “Saeed, if we find one good company per year from Plug and Play, you’ll be my best friend forever.” But you have to have an operating system and I would say an application in how do you interact with the VCs to have them feel satisfied from this time.
Then the thing that surprised me at Plug and Play, this week we have had Johnson and Johnson here, we have had NTT Docomo here, we had Google here, we had about half a dozen Fortune 1000 here. State Farm is coming.
Saeed: They are feeling that if they want to be innovative, if they want to collaborate with entrepreneurs, as their businesses change this is the best place to interact with them. And in some cases, like the Japanese and Samsung from Korea, I can’t believe how often they come here and they bring 12 of their VP’s here to interact with our startups.
Andrew: And the startups get a potential entrance into these big companies like Docomo, if they ever need to work with them they now have a contact. And the big companies get knowledge from the startups? Get what, a potential partner too?
Saeed: Exactly. So we have Sing Tel, Vodafone, Verizon, T-Mobile, they all come, because let’s say we have about 100 companies that do mobile platforms, mobile applications. So if you wanted to launch your mobile app on top of the carriers, which used to be impossible. If you wanted to be on-deck, on the top of the carriers’ applications, it used to be, like, a two year process to get approved. Now the two year process has to happen in 30 days or else the application would launch on other stores and the carriers would miss the revenue share. So now a majority of the carriers in the world visit me here, once every two months, and we have Vodafone day that 20 of my startups meet Vodafone and if everything works, Vodafone benefits, my entrepreneur benefits, and then third, Plug and Play benefits.
Again, so you have to see that everything the entrepreneur needs to touch, we try to squeeze it inside Plug and Play. At a faster pace, more friendly pace, and more impact.
Andrew: The reason a lot of these companies want to come to be at Plug and Play is, because you’ve picked the right entrepreneurs to be a part of the program. Am I right?
Saeed: I think that is a stretch, to be frank.
Andrew: You don’t think so. Okay.
Saeed: I mean, I try to pick it right. I try to, let’s say as much as possible, meet every entrepreneur who wants to be here. I like to be passionate. I like them to be smart. If I was born again, I would try to go to the best university that I possibly could get into. I think I could have got into Stanford, or Harvard, or MIT, but I didn’t value education as much as I should. Now I really respect an entrepreneur out of MIT, because they’ve been handpicked, they’ve been working hard, a lot of the same elements that’s make an entrepreneur successful. You have to be successful to get into MIT.
Andrew: What are those elements? What is it that you think makes a successful entrepreneur?
Saeed: I think, let’s say if you are at a very high level school, you have deadlines, you have projects, you have exams. Even though everything is not transferable to a startup, but when you’re running a startup you have, like the social gaming show right now in San Francisco. So if you want to finish your game before presenting it at the show, you have to rally your team to build it. So I like the smarts, I like the execution capability, and the project management. Or even an exam. If you can study for an exam and ace an exam, it’s almost preparing for a meeting with Microsoft and acing that meeting.
You still have to have a passion of execution and building something special, which sometimes it doesn’t transfer from academia to an entrepreneurial life, but that is where I am good, I hope, judge. I can look at somebody in the eye and say, ‘Do they have the energy? Do they have the hard work ethics, that when things get stuff they’re going to get tougher and go through it?’
Andrew: All right. Let me finish off with this, what’s one thing that the guy or girl listening to us right now can work on if they wanted to build a successful company?
Saeed: It’s very hard to specify it in one thing, but I would say the best projects I have seen like Google, like PayPal is that they had a need themselves and then they could crystallize and articulate what that need is and then find a solution to solve that need. And, again, it’s much harder for us, especially in the software business, to know what the need is of a banker or a financial institution. So that why this is, sort of, like a new revolution, because the consumer need is now getting attention than the corporate need and actually the social networking and this mobile mobility is much powerful on the consumer side, traveling to the corporate side. This is a new activity.
Andrew: It used to be that computers would go to corporations and then eventually work their way into the home. You’re saying now it’s the other way around. The iPhone goes to consumers and then eventually someone demands it in the company too?
Saeed: That’s right, and what iPhone and what applications are capable of. They save your time, they save you a lot of energy. And if I had one thing to say is, you have to find a problem that it’s must have, not good to have, and then you have to have enough smarts to build it and launch it.
Andrew: And I’m going to say this too, this is something that I wrote down in my notes here that might seem a little too basic or too tactical, but I think it’s very helpful. The idea of making 20 initiative phone calls a day. That if there’s something you want to do, even if you don’t know anyone in this space, if you make 20 calls a day, one of them will end up being your, is the guys name Adelie? Adal?
Saeed: Adel, Adel Fakih.
Andrew: Adel. I wrote it down and I didn’t spell it phonetically. Adel.
Saeed: Yeah. I believe you could do the 20 calls toward you goal. Let’s say that if I want to build Plug and Play Washington D.C., and I don’t have time to do 20 phone calls on that subject any more, but if it only takes two hours to do productive calls, I’m not saying just calls, toward your goal, toward the individuals that want to help you execute your objective. So right now I am trying to build a bridge with the top ten universities in the U.S. and my colleagues who handle my university relationships make 20 calls a day toward that goal.
Andrew: I love that. That’s one of the things that’s going to stick in my mind, it’s something that anyone can do.
Saeed: I appreciate the opportunity to be talking to your audience.
Andrew: Thank you.
Saeed: And I’d like to open invitation to all of them to visit Plug and Play, because the energy here, you have to feel it. It’s hard to see it on the virtual world.
Andrew: And somebody listening to us, if they happen to be in one of the, I guess you’ve got three locations, in any of those neighborhoods, can they just come in with a laptop and work for the day and get a sense of the atmosphere?
Saeed: And have lunch, on me.
Andrew: And have lunch on Saeed. All right. That sounds like a great invitation, thank you.
Saeed: Thank you so much.
Andrew: All right thanks for doing the interview. And thank you all for watching. Bye.
Saeed: Thank you. Thanks.
Please tell me if we’re taking too long to post it here for you.
Visual Website Optimizer – It’s a dead-easy way to create A/B tests.
Grasshopper – Don’t make the mistake of comparing Grasshopper with other phone services. Check out their features and you’ll see why Grasshopper isn’t just a phone number, it’s the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs (like me) love.
Walker Corporate Law – Scott Edward Walker is the lawyer entrepreneurs turn to when they want to raise money or sell their companies, but if you’re just getting started, his firm will help you launch properly. Watch this video to learn about him.