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  • December 26, 2011

top 5 postsOne of the things I miss most since the acquisition is working from coffee shops. It’s quite fitting that I’m sitting in Starbucks right now with a chai tea latte to my right and my headphones on blaring Lana Del Rey. I’m not accustomed to not having things to work on during the Holidays. I used to spend breaks like this to catch up or “bypass” the competition as I would tell myself. I’ve decided to use the time for “self-improvement” (can you tell I’m big on that by now?).

At the end of every year, I look over the list of goals I’ve put together the year before and compile a “What Went Well” and an “Even Better If” column. This blog goes in the former category. I had invested so much time in my old one that I put off creating a new personal blog and I’m glad I finally got around to it in April. Below, you’ll find a list of the most trafficked posts. Enjoy!

  1. Notepad of Startup Ideas – I transferred my “idea book” into this blog post one weekend and it skyrocketed to the top of Hacker News, blowing all the other posts out of the water. You’ll find a variety of ideas I’ve had since I was in high school, some good ones that ended up being built and others that I probably shouldn’t have included.
  2. 10 Years Ago (Or a Brief Back Story) – I was surprised to discover this ranked second, especially since it was posted nine days ago. This entry was produced after seeing something of my past that made me reflect upon how my life has changed over the last ten years. I’m still receiving nice emails and comments on it.
  3. Being My Own Worst Enemy – This was another surprise. In this post, I highlighted my dissatisfaction from winning First Place at Temple’s Business Plan Competition to showcase my self-deprecating behavior, how it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy, and how I would like to combat it.
  4. Finding Interns in Philadelphia – I’m a huge advocate of utilizing interns and after constantly being asked where to find them, I compiled a list of local universities that offered internship programs with their contact information.
  5. 123LinkIt has been Acquired by Netline – This one doesn’t need an explanation :-).

I’m going to finish up my annual review list. You can help by leaving a comment on how you would like this blog to improve or provide ideas of topics you’d like me to write about. Thanks in advance.

red hyundai accent

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.

facebook_timeline - me signing the final acquisition paperwork

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.

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  • December 7, 2011

Note: This post was started on Monday, December 5th and completed on Wednesday, December 7th.

I just came back from TD Bank and I’m sitting in front of my computer at work wondering why I wasn’t reveling in what just transpired.

The day started simply enough. I woke up at 6am, caught the 7am train, and arrived at work around 8:30am. I created a to-do list for the day and made a mental note to run to the bank during lunchtime. I had received my check from the 123LinkIt acquisition on the 28th and I had yet to deposit it into my account.

Why the wait?

I told my family I would get to it when I had the time, that I had just been busy getting acclimated to my new position. After all, there are a lot of adjustments. This is my first full-time job, I’m now getting up early (My friends know this is a substantial shift. I’m a die-hard night-owl), I have a boss, I have co-workers in the same physical space, I went from a commute of a few steps from my bed to my desk to a three-hour daily commute and the list goes on.

My response was partially the truth. The actual reason is because I knew it would be the final step of the acquisition process and I wasn’t mentally ready to put the stamp on it. I didn’t realize the extent of this feeling until I stood at the bank counter. I looked at the check for a good five minutes. This was without a doubt the biggest check I had ever seen AND IT WAS MADE OUT TO ME! What the heck was I doing holding on to it?!

My fingers grazed the numbers on the check as if I was making love to it. I looked at the back and turned it around to the front. I put it down, then picked it up. I’m thankful the bank was empty or else people would have wondered what the strange woman in black was doing. A gamut of emotions went through me, everything from sadness to happiness. A carousel of thoughts going back two years slowly rolled through my mind. My Company had been a partner AND a child to me. I had consumed and nurtured it for more than two years. There had been bad times, so-so moments and fantastic highs. Here I was holding on to what was left, a standard check-size piece of paper.

This past year had been especially challenging. My CTO and I had departed in December and I had run the Company using contractors. I raised a F&F loan and maxed out my credit cards to support it. I was living like a pauper, counting every dollar as it was spent. I had a challenging summer. There were a couple of times when I contemplated folding. Yet, here I was. I pushed through with the support of my wonderful advisers, PhilaDev and family to make it to this unforgettable point.

iphone message exchangeThis was really it, I remember thinking. I was finalizing the deal and there wasn’t going to be any turning back. (In actuality, everything had already gone through). I texted a couple of friends while I stood there like an idiot. The photo on the side is from one exchange. The lock button on my iPhone isn’t working so I asked him to take a screenshot (A new iPhone will be one of the first purchases I make this week!.).

I flipped the check over and moved my pen to the Signature line. My right hand shook as I signed it. I tried to use my best penmanship but it was fruitless. I thought the tasking part was over until I turned to face the tellers. I wanted to walk over but my legs stood planted firmly on the carpeted floor. My eyes accidentally locked with the teller who was open. I took a deep breath and hesitantly walked over.  Just when I reached him, I realized I had not filled out a deposit form.

Oh jeez, here we go again!

It’s been a couple of days since I wrote the above. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m not happy with the acquisition. I’m beyond thrilled. Words can’t rightfully describe how elated I am. 123LinkIt is going to move to new heights with resources I had not possessed. It’s part of a full-time team and it is being integrated with an existing product that has a substantial user base. It’s also led by an incredible management team with 50+ employees that generated over $10M in revenue last year and growing.

123LinkIt is moving forward. It may not be my baby anymore but it’s going to flourish faster with an extended family that I am lucky and proud to be a part of.

Netline Acquires 123LinkIt
Goal: Sell first Company before turning 30.

*checks off list*

I’m elated to announce one of my dreams has come true this past month. NetLine, the #1 B2B content syndication network, has acquired 123LinkIt. The deal officially closed on November 18, 2011.

From the announcement on the 123Linkit blog:

We have been working hard to help bloggers make money from what they are already doing since early 2010. We believe by seamlessly transforming product and brand keywords into money-making opportunities, we enable bloggers to effortlessly build passive income from their published content.

After integrating our software with tens of thousands of blogs, we believe now is the best time to expand our efforts with another team that shares our vision of enhancing the online advertising process. We’re excited to announce that we have been acquired by NetLine and will be joining their RevResponse team to continue creating an enriching and unobtrusive advertising experience on the web.

What happens now? 123LinkIt will continue to live on under its own brand. We’ll be integrating our technology with NetLine’s to enable them to provide in-text advertising to their B2B ad network, RevResponse. I have joined their East Coast team in Lansdale full-time as the Product Marketing Manager to help with the move as well as other exciting initiatives.

Before signing off I’d like to thank my team, my family, my friends (especially Jeff Brelsford), my advisers – Anthony Gold, CH Low, Skip Shuda, Dave Fortino (of NetLine), Donna McCarthy and Scott Jangro – as well as PhilaDev (which includes Phil Ives & Chris Myers), a startup accelerator in Philadelphia.

Last but not least, a huge thanks to our 123LinkIt users (with a special shout-out to Stephen Belyea) and partners who have supported us along the way. This would not have happened without you!

Update: The official press release can be found here.

Stay tuned as I post what I’ve learned during this experience in the coming weeks.