SM: What was your next step after HyperOffice?
SP: I became the founding president of Webs. My first hire at WebOS was a really young Afghan-Turkish immigrant named Zeki Mokhtarzada. He was super smart. I sent an email to all of my alumni from the magnet program telling them I was hiring and was looking for smart, high-IQ people. One of my friends from the program said, “My brother is really smart!”, and when my co-founder and I interviewed him we knew right away he was it. We hired him on the spot. He had no money at the time and had a really messed up car with no air conditioner.
After WebOS he started something that he was mulling over, which was FreeWebs. At the time of the crash, services like GeoCities were shut down. Zeki thought it would be interesting to keep something like that going based on micro transactions; if you ran out of space you had to pay a dollar for more. That just took off.
A year later I was at a coffee shop with them as an advisor. They already had two million users. They were operating out of a garage and Zeki’s brother Haroon, who was his partner, had gotten into Harvard law. He deferred entrance for a year to help Zeki, but they kept coming back to me asking for help because it was growing so fast. At first it was making $5,000 a month, then it was making $50,000 a month, at which point we realized it was a real business.
I came in to help them turn it into a real business. We took it out of the garage and I became the COO. That business was started with $2,000 of their own money. They bought servers from WebOS from the auction, so it was built on the ashes of my old company! I joined and we opened the first office. It is now cash flow positive with 30 million users and is one of the biggest sites on the web.
SM: Did you have any outside investors?
SP: We raised a little bit of money so we could cash out a little bit. They had been doing it for five years, so that allowed them to have a little bit of an exit. We raised $11 million in the Series A. I helped do that whole process. We scaled the team to 35 people.
SM: Are you still involved there?
SP: I am on the board of directors. Zeki is the CTO and Haroon is the CEO.
SM: While you were doing Webs, you were also incubating SGN?
SP: Yes, I did that at the same time. I met Matt Kohler at a conference called Dialogue, which is an invitation-only thing where people get together and think about the world and what we can do to make it a better place. We were on a closed panel together, and I was saying that Facebook is a social operating system which needed to become a platform with applications built in. We started talking, and he told me that was exactly what they were planning. He invited me into their first app launch and we launched some apps there.