This post was written on November 18th.

Costa Rica sunset

I’m on my first leg of my flight to Costa Rica, what I’ve determined to be my first vacation in 10 years (and first international trip since I became a U.S. citizen). I’m thinking about how it’s been a long time since I didn’t have a startup to run. I can unplug and enjoy myself without a never ending todo list running through my head. I actually set an out of office message on my work and personal email, something I’ve never imagined doing.

Coincidentally, it’s been a year since the acquisition paperwork for 123LinkIt was signed. The anniversary of my first full-time job is approaching (less than 2 weeks). I have undergone many changes, both personally and professionally. As I’m reflecting, I marvel at the roller-coaster ride that’s transpired – from the initial excitement at having a dream come true to the gut-wrenching feelings as I let the company go to the postpartum depression of coming to face with the realization its path is now determined by others.

Acquisitions appear to be rosy looking in from the outside. We read the stories, congratulate the entrepreneurs, and envy them from a distance. I know because I was one of those people.

What you don’t hear about is what occurs next, the loss of identity and control, the broken promises you make yourself believe, and the surprising and varying levels of sadness.

My Company and I were one person. I’m not a mother but sometimes I imagine the acquisition is equivalent to selling a first born. Letting go has not been easy. I went through an identity crisis, trying to determine who I was now that I was no longer consumed by my Company. It’s as if I checked myself into a prison, got released, then walked out to be blinded by the bright sun.

I learned about the processes at NetLine and RevResponse, took on my role as Product Marketing Manager, and tackled some challenging projects within the Company. I no longer work or make decisions on my own. My responsibilities for 123LinkIt dwindled. I fell into a routine that was closer to a 9 to 5 schedule. I found myself with free time, a social life even. I started making new friends and dating more. As time went on, I spent less and less of it on 123LinkIt where I would miss even the most mundane tasks.

As always, time helps, allowing you to let things go. And I’m getting there. It helps that I have coworkers I love, a fun office environment and a boss that puts up with my never-ending flow of ideas and wild antics.

What can you take away from this post? All entrepreneurs become obsessive with their startups. I definitely overdid it. If I can go back in time, I would try to make more of a distinction between my personal & professional life.

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.

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.

No evidence will convince you on the truth of what you do not want – Anonymous

I just came back from a Philosophy meetup and that quote resonated with me more than anything else we discussed in the hour and a half I was there. Not just because it applies to our everyday lives, but because it has significant implications on us as entrepreneurs starting our own businesses.

How often do we fall in love with our own idea that we get tunnel vision?

Are we building the minimum viable product according to our own eyes or what the customer needs?

Do we ignore certain user feedback for the sake of others because we like that particular suggestion better?

When we’re cursing a VC for not getting “it”, is it because they insulted our ego or did they really not understand our concept?

Is our unique selling proposition truly that or is it a facade to differentiate ourselves from our competitors?

Was our marketing strategy unsuccessful because it wasn’t executed properly or was it tainted to begin with?

As I’m constantly learning, it’s extremely difficult to take a step back in your own startup and analyze things objectively. I would argue it’s damn near impossible. I live, breathe and sleep thinking about my Company and I’m sure you do the same. We can’t help becoming attached and emotionally tied to our concept. For me, when my Company is on the down slope of that rollercoaster ride, I have a bad day as well.

So how do we know if we’re basing a decision out of something we want to believe or what’s needed? Obviously, some of it is necessary trial and error. There are also ways to test our assumptions to ensure our decisions leave less room for speculation. Regardless, I bet a little bit of that quote rings true for all of us.