I have long believed that Go BIG or Go HOME is complete BS. 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. Ultra Mobile Founder Rizwan Kassim 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, California, and lived there for about a decade
and then moved up to Victorville. 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. 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
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 doing this through high school and college. I was not old
enough to even walk onto the trade show floor.
Sramana Mitra: What
timeframe 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 in
order 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
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
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.
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.