Posted on Wednesday, Jun 22nd 2022
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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. When we spoke in 2017, Ultra Mobile Co-founder Rizwan Kassim had done exactly that.
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 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 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 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.
Our conversation continues
here. This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to an Exit . Why is Bootstrapping Important? . How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently? . Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings . Excess is NOT Required for Success . Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later . Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit . Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to Unicorns More »» . Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million . Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue . Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million . Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy . How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million . Bootstrapping with a Paycheck . How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses . How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million . Bootstrapping with Services . How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million . How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana . How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million . Death by Overfunding . How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+ . How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage . The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance . BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania . Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million . SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida . Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Ownership Matters . Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado . Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada . Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia . Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand . PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina . Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits . Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M . Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million? . Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M . Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success . From a Small Town to $12 Million . Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A . Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million . Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million . Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later . Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US . English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company . Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee . Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US . 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Bootstrapping LittleThings First, Raising Money Later . Bootstrapping eMazzanti Technologies Using Services . Reltio Founder Bootstrapped Using Services . Co-founders Bootstrapped Ateb Using Services from North Carolina . Bootstrapped HireVue While in School, Raised Money Later, All in Utah . Bootstrapping the First Venture, Raising Money for the Second . Co-founders Bootstrapped BeenVerified with Angel Money . Bootstrapping a Significant Software Company from Australia . Bootstrapping Meltwater to $200 Million . Bootstrapping Casewise from London and Scaling in the US . Bootstrapping Lessons Learned by FairWarning Founder Kurt Long . Abacus Group Founder Bootstrapped a Virtualization Services Company . Seismic Audio CEO Bootstrapped a $10 Million E-Commerce Business . PhishMe was Bootstrapped Using Services First, Raised Money Later . Firmex Scaled with Angel Money in Canada . Wrike Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later . Bay Dynamics Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services . Building an AI Software Company from Dallas . RJMetrics Co-founders Bootstrapped First, Raised $22M Later . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Business BuyAutoParts to Exit . TemplateMonster was Bootstrapped to $15 Million . Bootstrapping Edge Hosting to $18 Million . Bootstrapping, Fund Raising and Exiting with Sefaira . Bootstrapping IdeaScale to $5M from Scratch . Bootstrapping to $10M from Finland . Happy Grasshopper CEO Dan Stewart Bootstrapped to Inflection . Bootstrapping Gravity Pro Using Services . Founder Builds Multiple Bootstrapped Education Software Companies . Bootstrapping to $10M from Australia, Raising $25M from the US . Bootstrapped Y Soft to $30M from the Czech Republic . Bootstrapped from Belarus, Raised Money from Silicon Valley . Bootstrapped SproutLoud to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapped 2600Hz Using Services . A Serial Bootstrapping Entrepreneur’s Journey . 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Master Bootstrappers with $1+ Billion in Exits . Bootstrapped Ultra Mobile to Over $100 Million . Bootstrapping a 2-Sided Marketplace to $10M