I have long believed that Go BIG or Go HOME is complete bullshit. I have seen entrepreneur after entrepreneur build a small but profitable, slower growth business as a first outing, followed by a much larger, higher growth business as a follow-on venture. Rizwan has done exactly that. Read on to learn more.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Rizwan Kassim: My mom is from East Africa. My father was born in Karachi. They both came here in the 70’s. I was born in Simi Valley and lived there for about a decade and then moved up to Victor-ville. I went to UCLA.
Sramana Mitra: You did your undergraduate in UCLA?
Rizwan Kassim: Yes, in Computer Science and Engineering.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after UCLA?
Rizwan Kassim: If you want to talk about entrepreneurship, there’s actually a couple of stories before that. My parents were entrepreneurs. They came here when I was born. We had a dry cleaners’ business. My first job as well as my first entrepreneurship exercise was with a trade show display company that my parents started when I was 12 years old. I remember being a 12-year-old in a suit at a trade show in Vegas trying to sell trade show displays to wholesalers.
Sramana Mitra: Oh my goodness.
Rizwan Kassim: I was the graphic designer. They would come and say, “We want a booth this long.” I would help create the materials. I’d be sitting with my parents who had no formal training in business. We’d talk about strategy and what it would cost to buy and sell. I worked for that through high school and college. I was not old enough to even walk into the trade show floor.
Sramana Mitra: What time-frame did you finish university?
Rizwan Kassim: I started in 1998. I didn’t finish until 2006. I left to work at three different startups as well as started my own startup doing trading in-game currencies for a game called Everquest. I kept stopping my studies because I found other things that were more interesting to me in the short term. I had to put all that aside to finish my undergraduate studies. I kept getting pulled in by the desire to do something different.
Sramana Mitra: These startups that you participated in, what kind of startups were they? Were they technology startups?
Rizwan Kassim: They were largely technology startups. There was a company called Comedy World which hired a bunch of comedians together and created a terrestrial and Internet broadcasting network. They got a lot of VC funding. It was very interesting. I also learned a lot of lessons about what happens when you get ahead of yourself in spending. I didn’t fully realize it then, but when I look back now, I realize what happens when the company isn’t built on core fundamentals – on a constant promise. You’re always reliant on someone who’s willing to invest more money.
There were two other small companies. One was a media company and the other a tech company. The really formative one was Comedy World.
Sramana Mitra: Were you programming for them? What did you do?
Rizwan Kassim: I had a lot of jobs. At Comedy World, I was a Broadcast Engineer. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to enter television broadcasting as an engineer or to do business. I spent some time working at a broadcast facility in Victorville and had come to run shows there. I put together an entire concept for a show, edited the scripts, and helped the other teams that I was a part of. It was a great education early on in trying to run an organization.
What was interesting to me is that I ended up being able to reproduce that at UCLA. We started a student-run broadcast TV station, which is still there. They’re producing content there. It’s a way for students to get involved in leadership and branch out their skills. I remember spending many more hours helping build out that TV station than I did in my own classes.