Sramana: First customers are critical to an entrepreneurs success. How did you find your first customers and sell to them? How did you know that you really understood their problem well enough to get them to wire you €5,000?
Tony Jamous: In our case our market is a commodity marketplace. The commodity I was selling, SMS, was highly needed in the market. I knew that from my previous experience, and I leveraged my previous experience and contacts. I was able to identify a list of five potential clients that I knew had a need for our commodity.
One by one, I emailed and called the clients on the list. I set up meetings with them, and one of the five said yes and decided to start. We sold to them and received the money before we even had the platform. At that time our architect worked day and night to deliver the first rudimentary platform. That platform did not have the ability to enforce prepaid messages, so if our clients decided to start sending messages like crazy, then we would have gone out of business. We took some calculated risks.
I had built a small SQL database and every hour we downloaded the logs to determine if a customer had reached their limit or not. By the time we added customers, we had built in prepay and had more controls over the business. Our first customer, however, did not operate under those controls.
Sramana: How did you tackle that early stage?
Tony Jamous: I did not sleep very much. I was controlling the platform to ensure that our customers did not exceed the volume they had paid us for. I very quickly identified the weak links in our platform so that we could begin to architect the solutions and get them in place.
Sramana: You are basically talking about a bulk traffic arbitrage business, right?
Tony Jamous: Yes, when we started the business it was purely arbitrage. We knew a carrier in Morocco that nobody really had access to. We had a contact with them and we struck a deal with them. We then took that connection to the market.
Sramana: When did you get started?
Tony Jamous: The first message was started in January 2011. I incorporated in May 2011.
Sramana: What did the rest of the year look like for you in terms of clients, revenue and understanding your strategy?
Tony Jamous: The first few months my architect focused on building the platform and I focused on getting clients. I also made some pitches to investors, trying to raise funds.
Sramana: Where did you make your investor pitches?
Tony Jamous: At that time I was in London. A few of the VCs I met thought I had a great model, but they pointed out that I did not have a team. They told me I needed a CTO, and one of the VCs told me he knew someone. He put me in touch with Eric Nadalin, our CTO. He joined us a few weeks after our first meeting, and he drove our platform and accelerated our technological roadmap.