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Bootstrapping to $8 Million: Sina Khanifar, CEO of Waveform (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Apr 7th 2020

Sramana Mitra: What was Waveform going to do in 2006?

Sina Khanifar: We graduated college and were trying to figure out which up and coming industry we could get started in.

My dad had just come back from South Korea. He mentioned that in South Korea, all the buildings had device repeaters that would help bring the signal from outdoors into the building. We had a bad signal at my parent’s house. It was a solution to a problem that we had.

We started off by manufacturing our own devices to sell. What we found was that manufacturing is really hard. A lot of logistics is involved. We were working with a South Korean OEM. The challenge wasn’t so much in getting the hardware; it was in getting the word out that this kind of solution exists.

A lot of people had cell phones, but not a lot of people knew that you can remedy bad reception at home or at work. We quickly moved into a pure e-commerce play and provided guidance on what kind of device to purchase.

Sramana Mitra: What was the business model?

Sina Khanifar: It was e-commerce. We would buy from vendors, and we ended up settling on a few vendors in the US. 

Sramana Mitra: I don’t understand your business. You said you provide guidance to people who are having difficulty getting good signals. You were providing awareness. What are you buying from vendors then? 

Sina Khanifar: We are selling a cell phone signal booster. These are the devices that amplify the cell phone signal from outside. It amplifies the cell signal coming from the tower. We broadcast it inside the building.

Sramana Mitra: Were you buying these components from other people?

Sina Khanifar: Initially, we designed and manufactured our own units. But the manufacturing side of things was hard. It was too much for us to take on. We decided that the better option was to stop the manufacturing side of things and really just focus on the e-commerce side.

Sramana Mitra: This is a product that the cell phone vendors had? It was in the market?

Sina Khanifar: There were a couple of companies in the US who were selling these devices. When we started, there was just one. Then another one popped up. 

Sramana Mitra: What was the business model? You were acquiring customers and then directing that traffic for vendors to fulfill?

Sina Khanifar: We bought and sold the devices. We would buy from US vendors. We’d ship out the product. 

Sramana Mitra: That was a traditional e-commerce retail model.

Sina Khanifar: Exactly.

Sramana Mitra: How big is the company? You started this in 2006. How long did it take you to settle into that model after you started with the idea of doing your own product?

Sina Khanifar: Within six months of manufacturing our own devices, we decided to start selling other people’s as well. We gradually phased out building our own. The company grew pretty quickly. Even in our first year, we had a few hundred thousand dollars in sales.

The second year, we had a million dollars in sales. It grew pretty quickly through 2010. I started another company, and I did some political advocacy work. Now the team is around 25 people. We also have a big services division. We have a nationwide install team that goes out and installs these types of systems in offices, hospitals, and hotels. 

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping to $8 Million: Sina Khanifar, CEO of Waveform
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