A personal account of the struggles and success of an entrepreneur

We recently attended a Fish On Toast Entrepreneur Society talk by Ali Saheli founder of Foro Technologies Inc. He talked about his journey from full time employment to the struggles of running a start-up company in America; a journey which took him on a personal voyage of comfortable living to being homeless and finally to selling his successful company three years later. We thought his interesting story and tips for success were well worth sharing.

Ali’s journey began back in 2011 when working as a software engineer at Recon Instruments. In a typical 9 to 5 job with all the traditional benefits and a stable salary, he began thinking about a product he wanted to develop: a selling and buying marketplace website for students in universities across the United States. He started to work on the product in the evenings and weekends whilst still employed, and the idea grew into a product which needed full focus and 100% commitment.

It is a tough call to decide whether to leave the comfort of a stable job and risk building a startup and no one can make that call for you; Ali says you have to go with your intuition and take the risk. But if you want the startup to be successful and move to the next level, then it is essential to put more hours into it than is normally possible alongside a full time job. So, Ali took the plunge..

At this point he and his co-founder Bio Cho (who had dropped out of university to commit to the start-up), worked in a government incubator alongside other new companies in the San Francisco area, where they had moved, to benefit from the talent and investment in the area. Struggling for money, Ali lived in the incubator for four months leaving at 10pm and coming back at 12pm when everyone else had left the building. He left again at 6am ready for the first person to come in at 6.30. After this, he lived in his car – until he crashed it one day whilst receiving a phone call from investors in which they told him they were rejecting his investment applicant. Four hours later he received another call saying that the investor was now back in! That week they ended upraising over $100,000 and going from rock bottom to feeling like they were on top of the world!

Ali explained that, throughout his low point, nothing but the product mattered as they believed that the product would work. By believing and having a vision working towards the end goal (to employ more engineers and designers whilst scaling the business slowly) he thinks you can create success.

After three years of growing the company to the point of success in a number of universities, Ali and his colleagues had the choice of continuing to expand it themselves, or take up one of the numerous buyer offers they had on the table. They all had other ideas and potential products in the pipeline so they decided to sell the company to pursue other passions, and did so in January 2015.

Ali is currently visiting cities around the world collecting new ideas before returning to the United States to grow his next idea into a reality. We wish him luck and in the meantime, we share some of his golden tips below.

Ali’s best tips:

  • Build a product which people want, even if they don’t realise they need it yet. By solving a problem, you can change peoples’ habits and lives.
  • Hire smarter people than yourself. For more on why you should do this, read our blog here: http://bit.ly/1JV8bl8
  • Encourage collaboration between colleagues: use walls, whiteboards, computers, anything! to brainstorm ideas.
  • Surround yourself constantly with smart people who want to change the world and who think big with crazy ideas!
  • Focus on the most important tasks by hiring people who can deal with other  areas such as legal, admin and accounting.
  • Focus on the customers, not financial gain.
  • Be prepared for what you could lose from your personal life when beginning a start-up (such as family events and birthdays, a social life and relationships).
  • Always think big and work outside your comfort zone!