Sramana Mitra: In 2006 you finally graduated. What happened after that?
Rizwan Kassim: I worked at a couple of companies. I did some technology consulting. I worked at a restaurant startup that was started by Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari. I was the Director of Engineering there. I was there for a few years. Then the iPhone came out and redefined how people looked at touch screens. The business never recovered from that.
Restauranting is also a very difficult business. While I was working there, I met a man named David Glickman who is now one of my business partners. He needed someone to manage the servers for a telephony startup they were working on. I did that as a part-time gig. I bought into the company and became a partner. When I left, I went on to work full-time at that company.
Sramana Mitra: I don’t fully get how it came to be your company.
Rizwan Kassim: I was with Nolan at uWink. At the same time, I had a contracting gig to install some servers and to help out with a technology for another company that was called IndiaLD. When I left uWink, I went ahead and moved on to work full-time at Free Call Planet.
Sramana Mitra: What was Free Call Planet?
Rizwan Kassim: It was an international calling card that could only be bought online. You could call a number of countries although we always resonated best with Indians in the US who could call their families back in India. The business moved along. It was very interesting. I met my fabulous partners. We’ve stayed together since. I got to spend some time learning the basics of telecom, including how much of a volume business it is. If you make one-tenth of a penny per call made, you have to move a lot of minutes in order to pay the salary, much less make a profit.
That all came to a head when we launched a business called IndiaLD, which is due to the fact that the India rates were falling. The wholesale rates for calling India were falling much faster than other calling cards were reducing their rates. We were able to jump in and set a low rate to begin with. We forward-priced and also took advantage of what was considered a new technology there, which is Google search. We were actually one of Google’s top spenders in telecom for 2007 and 2008 as we launched the brand. CPAs are much higher now than back then. We were able to get quite a lot of customers who were Indians in the US. I managed the infrastructure there. I helped with business development internally. It was a company of five people.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of scale did you get to with that?
Rizwan Kassim: In 2008, we were Inc’s 81st fastest-growing company in America. I think that business peaked out at $8 million in revenue.