This post is in acknowledgement of my very dear friend Aslam Najeebdeen.
Why? — because we must acknowledge and support people in our lives — for no reason at all. Love and help others and good things will happen.
I met Aslam in early 2011 via a Ruby on Rails IRC chat room while trying to find software development help. I was one of the founders of a startup called Feedgen, which we were incubating at SF-based Angelpad. We had just raised a little money, but not enough to hire engineering help in Silicon Valley so we went offshore — Aslam was based in Sri Lanka. At first I didn’t interact much with Aslam because he was doing mostly front-end CSS, HTML, etc — and my co-founders were handling that stuff. I do remember our Skype interview and couldn’t help but feel that this guy was special.
We were about 8-9 weeks into going full-time into building Feedgen and participating in Angelpad. We were having a tough time finding our MVP and I found myself having to keep us focused while frustration was building. However the one bright spot was our front-end guy Aslam in Sri Lanka.
Demo day eventually came and passed and after a series of atrocious VC meetings, things were looking grim and time was running out for most of us on the team. My two co-founders decided to pursue more stable work situations which I completely understood that they needed. I on the other hand was not going to give up without giving it my absolute all. After my co-founders left I was struggling to figure out the next move towards saving Feedgen. I had no money to pay Aslam anymore and was trying to salvage the great work that he did on the front-end — so I scheduled a Skype call with him.
That call was life changing — it solidified a friendship that is still alive and kicking to this day. During the call I mentioned that my co-founders were moving on and that I had no money to pay him, but that if he believed in me that I promised good things would happen.
I asked him to be my cofounder, take equity, and completely redesign the UI/UX to make it his vision, while I find a back-end guy to help us build. Aslam accepted. And we began working. Over the next several months Aslam and I went through hell and back. I was working full-time to survive and pay contractors to help Aslam. Of course, we kept getting ripped off by offshore contractors, who when they did deliver on time it was always buggy, not to scope, or frankly didn’t work. We spent nearly every night connected to each other via Skype. We shared in each other’s joys and sorrows. We learned about each other’s culture. We virtually met each others families.
I learned about his Muslim traditions around payers and fasting, and he tolerated my emotional and philosophical rants on life and meaning. Eventually, no matter how much we tried, Feedgen ended up failing and the first year or so after that was very hard on both of us. Our courageous attempt at building our business left us broke financially and at very low levels of sadness. Luckily Aslam had a loving and supportive wife who was there for him and I had my family and a great friend named Jim Payne who gave me a gig at MoPub, which saved me in more ways than one. It’s been 5 years now since we were first met and Aslam has become a distant brother. We both kept fighting in the game of life.
I went on to have an exit with MoPub to Twitter, built an organization called Sales4StartUps, which allowed me to stay connected the the world of startups, sales, and innovation, and now launched my latest product called Dashtab — which by the way was inspired heavily by Feedgen. We overcame some very tough years and made it through as better men. Aslam went on to grow Frontcube, one of the most innovative web consultancies outside of the Silicon Valley while being based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Frontcube works with companies ranging from large media organizations like Al Jazeera to hot Silicon Valley startups like Mobile Action — and of course I’m a lifelong client.
However, there are very few weeks that pass that we don’t communicate. Aside of never having met before, Aslam and I share a very real connection and understanding of each other. My friendship with Aslam transcends business. It’s who were are as basic humans.
Our friendship represents something special in the world today. It’s a space where a 33 year old Cuban-Filipino entrepreneur, who was raised Roman Catholic in Miami, FL bonds with a 30 year entrepreneur from Kandy, Sri Lanka, who is a Muslim, and lives so close to nature that I can hear the animals sing during calls at times.
We represent what’s beautiful about the human experience. That despite all the darkness that exists in the world, promoted in the media, seen in everyday life, you have two guys who on paper are so different and in some cases suppose to fear each other, who are connected and don’t see religion, race, or distance, but are bonded by being who they are, just human.
In fact, Aslam reminds me of the goodness that exists in the world. He reminds me that the spirit of entrepreneurship is a human thing not an American thing or even Silicon Valley thing. It doesn’t see race, religion, location, or academic background. It’s a beautiful representation of our desire to dream and belief that we can change our lives and live the lives that we want to live.
To my good friend Aslam Najeebdeen, thanks for your support, loyalty, friendship, and love. You’re a brilliant entrepreneur and I am so happy to see Frontcube continue to be great.