I was driving to work this morning when a red sedan in the opposing intersection made a right at the same street I was about to turn on. I instantly knew the year, make and model. It was a 1998 red Hyundai Accent. I’m not a car expert by any means but that particular vehicle holds a special place in my heart. It was an exact replica of my first car.
I was nineteen years old when I acquired my driver’s license. I had purchased it with my life savings, exactly five thousand dollars. I remember handing the envelope full of cash over to the car salesmen and holding on to it just a little too long, reluctant to part with it. I thought of the hours of hosting it took for me to make its equivalent (I was earning $5/hr at the time). I cherished that car like it was my child. In fact, I had a weekly ritual where I washed and detailed it every Sunday. I used to joke with my family and friends that I wanted to be buried in it.
Why did it mean so much to me? I had worked exhaustively to get it. The year before, my siblings and I had discovered we weren’t eligible for college scholarships nor could we attain legitimate jobs. My parents had not filed the proper immigration paperwork when we migrated to the U.S. in 1991. To make a long story short, we are refugees from the Persian Gulf War. My siblings and I were born in Kuwait except for the youngest and we were living there when Saddam Hussein invaded our Country in 1990. Because my little brother is American, a couple of U.S. Ambassadors came to collect us and we were whisked away onto a plane where we ended up in Philadelphia.
Even before I bought my first car, I had picked up two jobs under the table at local restaurants and I was trying to figure out how I was going to put myself through school. My Father, a mechanical engineer, had given up on his first son following in his footsteps. Having possessed the best grades in my family, he forced me to enroll as a Mechanical Engineering student at a local Community College. When I decided to switch majors after one semester, he stopped paying my tuition.
One warm summer day the same year, he packed a suitcase and hopped on a one-way flight to Jordan with my 13-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother. He took all of the family’s savings with him, leaving my Mom and his remaining four children to fend for ourselves.
As if that wasn’t enough, 9/11 happened and our lives were further turned upside down. Citizenship applications were delayed, and then completely halted. I walked into one of my jobs the next day and the Manager exclaimed, “Yasmine, you don’t know how to fly planes, do you?” in an employee meeting where everyone laughed half-heartily. Some of the regular customers stopped speaking to me, as if I was a terrorist by association. I was let go a couple of weeks later for not following a rule everyone broke on a daily basis.
It took me a little over seven years to finally graduate college. To be fair, going back and forth from working part-time, going to school full-time and vice versa wasn’t fully to blame. I switched majors four times and more than twenty of my credits didn’t transfer when I decided to pursue my Entrepreneurship degree at Temple University. I knew I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss, I just didn’t know what I wanted to pursue. As you can see from this previous post, I had a plethora of startup ideas. I finished in late 2006 and instantly started working at Team and a Dream (now Philly Marketing Labs), where I had interned during my last semester. It’s where I became submerged in tech startups. I worked with early-stage entrepreneurs helping them get their ideas off the ground and their products/services to market.
Most of you know the rest of the story. I worked my butt off for almost 3 years, eventually climbing up to Partner. However, I had an incessant itch to be on the other side of the table and to build my own Company. When the idea for 123LinkIt arose out of a personal need I had, I gave my three months notice and embarked on my journey.
That wasn’t an easy road either. I had a lot going against me. For one, I was a non-techie trying to build a tech Company. I started without a CTO. I found one halfway around the world. I bootstrapped the Company with money I’d put away from the consulting business. I lived at my Mom’s house to save money. My CTO departed in December and I contemplated throwing in the towel right around my birthday. My advisers and I thought long and hard about it and decided the opportunity was too big. I had trouble recruiting another CTO candidate because of the state of the software so I raised a small friends & family round and hired contractors to fix it. I eventually brought someone on board. I hired a team of four interns during the summer to help me recruit bloggers to our platform. The new CTO didn’t work out and it was getting really hard to keep pushing. Thanks to some smart preparation, my advisers at PhilaDev and I were able to turn a potential partnership into an acquisition.
Signing the final paperwork at FedEx on November 18th
What’s my point in this story? I worked hard, scratch that, EXTREMELY hard, to get to where I’ve ended up. I’ve hustled relentlessly for years and even that is an understatement. I know what’s like to be treated like a lower-class citizen, to be told I’ll “never amount to anything”, to have to swallow my pride, to stretch every dollar, to not have enough for my first fill-up at the gas station (yes, I’m referring to the Hyundai), to forgo college parties because I was too exhausted or had to get up early for work the next day, to go out with friends and order a glass of water instead of a drink…basically, to not lead a “normal” life.
Yet I would not take it back for anything. It has been ten years and I’m now 29 years old. As cliche as it sounds, I recognize where I am because of those struggles and hardships. I didn’t covet that red 1998 Hyundai Accent because it was my first car. I appreciated and took care of it because I had attained it with my hard-earned money. [Let's do the math for a second. At the $5 an hour I was making as a hostess, it's one thousand hours. To put it in context, that's over six months of working forty hours a week.] Seeing it today made me think about what has transpired since and the long, bumpy, often hilly road I’ve had to go through, around and climb since. It has not been easy, but then again, they say nothing worthwhile ever is. I’m not going to forget where I came from because I’ve been at the bottom, I’ve worked my way up, and I don’t want to go back.
People have been coming up to me and either asking how much I’ve made from the acquisition or joking about being able to live an extravagant lifestyle. Yes, I have been on a spending spree the last couple of weeks. That’s because for now, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Update: I finally became an America citizen in 2012. I expanded upon this with a new post titled “Living the American Dream.“
Note: I grabbed that picture online because I couldn’t find any digital ones in my laptop. You probably don’t even care anyway.