Immad Akhund is the Co-founder of HeyZap, an app that changes the way we play games together. Immad is an engineer and entrepreneur who studied Computer Science at Cambridge University and has co-founded three successful start-ups. He was previously Co-founder and the CTO of Clickpass.com.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “Stay hungry stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs click to tweet!
- “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt click to tweet!
- Immad has had three start-ups prior to HeyZap, so you better believe there were some VALUABLE failures along the way!
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Isn’t it strange how many light-bulb moments we have in the shower? Well, Immad’s was a game-changer. Listen close!
- HeyZap is about to go profitable, and for a start-up this young, that is EXCITING. Find out what Immad has in store for us!
- ZAP! These answers truly electrify!
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John Lee Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Immad Akhund. Immad, are you prepared to ignite?
Immad Akhund: Yes, I am.
John Lee Dumas: Alright! Immad is the cofounder of Heyzap, an app that changes the way we play games together. Immad is an engineer and entrepreneur. He studied Computer Science at Cambridge University and cofounded three successful startups. He was previously a cofounder and the CTO of Clickpass.com.
Immad, I’ve given a little overview of what you’ve done and who you are. Why don’t you give us a little more intel about what you’re doing right now?
Immad Akhund: Yes. I’m the CEO and cofounder of Heyzap. Heyzap is an app for gamers. We are on Android and iOS. We have about six million installs. We help people discover games and play games with their friends, etcetera. So that’s what I do kind of every day. I guess we found it in the end of 2009, so it’s kind of the longest company I’ve ever run.
John Lee Dumas: Very cool. Well, thank you for sharing that insight with us. So we’re going to transition now into our first topic of the day, which is the success quote. Here at EntrepreneurOnFire, we like to start every show off with our guest’s favorite success quote. It’s kind of our way of getting the motivational ball rolling and getting our listeners pumped up for the rest of the content that we’re about to share with them. So Immad, what do you have for us today?
Immad Akhund: Yes. This is a good question, actually. I really like quotes. There’s a bunch that are my favorite which are distinctly similar to each other. Two that I wanted to say, and I’m sure you’ve heard them before. There’s a Theodore Roosevelt one. It’s like “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Have you heard that one before?
John Lee Dumas: Wow! I’m sure I have heard it because I’ve read his biography. It must be in there, but I haven’t heard it for quite some time and you said it so eloquently. I’m inspired.
Immad Akhund: Yes. It’s a really good quote. The other one, I mean I’m saying one quote that’s just like the stay hungry, stay foolish quote, but the whole commencement speech from Steve Jobs. Like if anyone who’s listening hasn’t kind of watched that whole speech there, are like really missing out. Those both, I’m a big fan of.
The Steve Jobs speech I actually read way before I started my first company like – what was it? Like seven years ago or something like that, or six years ago. It was definitely one of the inspirations too that really kind of pushed me further to be an entrepreneur.
John Lee Dumas: So the Theodore Roosevelt quote obviously has a lot to it. How would you describe that you actually apply that quote to your everyday life?
Immad Akhund: I think the main thing is like it’s quite easy to kind of be scared of doing new things to not want to be different. I think for me it’s like I kind of use that as an inspiration to say, hey, it’s much more interesting even on a micro level to do something – like to do a feature in Heyzap that could fail than it is to just kind of stay with the status quo and don’t know the potential victory or the defeat that you could get from that. So it’s really an inspiration to like never stand still. It’s kind of similar to the Steve Jobs quote in that way.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. How would you say that you apply in a different way the Steve Jobs quote?
Immad Akhund: Yes. So I mean the interesting thing that the Steve Jobs quote – and if you watch the whole speech – it’s like all about kind of the struggles he had and how this – you know, like at some point not having food, being adopted, etcetera – like there were a lot of things that obviously like he had to get through in his life and it’s how those struggles kind of fuel his passion and his energy.
That’s why I like the stay hungry thought. Like it works well, right? I think if you have everything you ever wanted, it’s like you’re probably not going to push yourself to strive further. You kind of have to be the kind of person who’s like slightly disappointed even when you’re doing well because you want to be like doing even better kind of thing, if that makes sense?
John Lee Dumas: It does make sense. Thank you for that bonus quote and for the portrayal of how you utilize those quotes in your life. It’s really a great insight for us to see. We’ll use that to transition into our next topic. At EntrepreneurOnFire, we talk about the journey of the entrepreneur that we have spotlighted today, and that entrepreneur is you. You’re our spotlighted entrepreneur. We’re here to hear your story. Like all entrepreneurs, at some point in your journey, you’ve failed or you’ve come up and hit a challenge head on, or had an obstacle that you’ve had to overcome. Can you tell us about something that you’ve experienced in that realm? Can you share that story with us?
Immad Akhund: Sure. I think being an entrepreneur, at any given day, you probably have a bunch of challenges and things that are difficult, but one of the hardest, or was it the hardest? I don’t know. But one of the kind of more interesting story was probably when we first started Heyzap. So we started Heyzap in 2009 and we got into Y Combinator straight away. So that gave up – back then you only used to get like $15,000.00 from that.
So we started the company in September. We kind of felt that maybe around December we could raise some money because we needed to sort out our visas, we really – both of us – didn’t have that much savings. Then there was also the recession. So basically, all the investors – I don’t know if you remember. There was the whole kind of RIP Good Times from Sequoia, and basically end of 2009, like no one was investing in anything.
So we didn’t end raising any money, and then by the time we kind of launched the product and we were like fairly – the product was actually doing fairly well, so we launched the product and we managed to get – it was a slightly different product from what we do now, but we managed to get about 40,000 websites kind of using it, but me and Jude were both in pretty serious kind of credit card debt. Like I think we both had around $10,000.00, or maybe even more. Maybe $12,000.00. I remember just like every week, I was spending about $13.00 a week on food, and it was the exact same food every day. It was like rice and chicken [Laughs]. It was so boring.
John Lee Dumas: Yummy!
Immad Akhund: Yes. So that was quite a challenge. I mean we launched a product that wasn’t necessarily going to make money straight away. So by the time we got to March, we really needed to like either raise money or we would be kind of saddled with this debt and have to figure something out. Luckily, we did. Luckily, when we launched the product, it did quite well. I think we would have been in serious trouble if we had launched the product and it had cratered and not like had completely strong initial traction.
So yes, we went out there. We kind of raised money. We had a bunch of interest and we finally managed to close Union Square Ventures, who’s kind of been our VC to date. So that worked out well in the end, but it was definitely a challenge for a while.
John Lee Dumas: That does sound like a challenge, and you did share that very nice part of the journey of Heyzap. Can you just pull out an actual failure or an obstacle that you had? Like a real ground level obstacle that you just were scratching your head or really worried that, man, this is something that we may not be able to overcome?
Immad Akhund: I mean I can tell you something that I personally never overcame. Well, I didn’t overcome at the time. I mean my first startup, although it did well in the sense that we launched and it had some users, in the end it was – this was I guess in 2006. It was a startup. It was kind of like a Yelp for London. This was before Yelp was in London at all, actually. It was early on in my entrepreneurial career. I definitely didn’t know all the things that I know now about how to raise money and how to get users, etcetera.
So we worked on a pretty hard fall, again seven, eight months. I was in a fairly similar situation back then. Like a reasonable amount of debt. Not as bad as Heyzap. Then my cofounder, we weren’t really making that much progress. I still had a lot of ideas on how to kind of take it to the next level, but yes, my cofounder decided he wanted to get married and wanted to go back to a normal job. So I was kind of in this position where like that startup wasn’t working out. I had reasonable debt.
But I always think like those kind of changing points are opportunities. At that point, I took the opportunity to join another startup, which is my second startup that I just got into Y Combinator and moved to San Francisco. At that time obviously, it was like it was hard work because I was kind of showing down something, but it was a great opportunity. Like I’ve never regretted kind of moving to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
John Lee Dumas: It is great how those doors do seem to open at times when we are up against an inflection point.
Immad Akhund: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: So thank you for sharing that with us. Of all of these different challenges and obstacles you faced with your different startup companies that you’ve had and going through Y Combinator, what is a lesson that you could pull from these obstacles, from these challenges and failures that you’ve encountered that you can share with the listeners?
Immad Akhund: Yes. I think like you can kind of pull like a little bit more from the Theodore Roosevelt quote. I think it’s the challenges and obstacles and all the kind of downside stuff, I just think normally they’re all opportunities. So I think you can get something from them. I think there’s really not that much to fear from life. Especially living in the first world. Like you’re going to find a way to probably eat and stay somewhere, even if that’s got to be like back at your parents’ house or whatever it is.
So like given that that’s the downside, like you just have to really be focused on like doing big things so that like you can potentially capture a really big upside.
John Lee Dumas: That’s exciting. I love that because it is so true. We do have safety nets below us in most cases. I mean the worst case scenario for most people really isn’t that bad when you really break it down.
Immad Akhund: Yes. If you have like maybe even like a good education and a degree, like you’re always going to get a job. Like getting a job is not necessarily that hard either. So there are just so many options on the downside case.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. Let’s use that to transition to our next topic because we’re going to continue the journey that you’ve had, and thank you for sharing some of the more difficult times that you’ve had. But now let’s move into a bright time, and that’s that moment when a light bulb really just came on and you said, “Wow! This is something that is just going to resonate and is going to click so well with my clients.” Now obviously, throughout this journey, you’ve had little aha moments and little light bulbs that have continued to push you forward and inspire you. Can you pinpoint one big, bright aha moment that you’ve had that was really inspiring?
Immad Akhund: Yes. It’s definitely a case I think with doing a startup that it’s definitely a continuation of aha moments. I was kind of on that side before I really did this. I always assumed there was like one aha moment and that was it. The initial product that Heyzap launched, which was kind of a distributed network of games, we basically made it easy for anybody to embed games anywhere on the Internet.
That one definitely had like a big aha moment. So initially, what we were going to do is we were going to do a startup where we were going to take games and make an engine to recommend games to people. We were going to make a standalone website where people would come to and we would recommend games to them to play.
That was the initial idea, and kind of what we started off with, but I think with most people that probably had experience with startups it’s like after you kind of do something for two months, you end up changing it slightly. I think after – it was fairly close. Maybe after maybe a month or something, I was probably in the shower or something like that. I think I was in the shower. I had this idea to combine kind of what we were working on at Heyzap with my previous startup idea. So with my previous startup, it was called Clickpass. It was a distributed single sign on system. So we made it easy to log in to any website.
One of the things that I learned from that is if you can make a distributed network, it’s much, much easier to get a lot of users. As you can imagine, it’s much harder to try to get users to kind of come directly to your website than it is to make something where people are doing something across the Internet. We can leverage other people’s brands and other people’s traffic.
So that was kind of the aha moment where I was like, hey, I can combine these two kind of pieces of knowledge together instead of making a kind of central website where you can play games. We could distribute a website where you could play games on 100,000 websites instead of one website.
John Lee Dumas: Now had you at that point launched to the public?
Immad Akhund: No. That was before we launched. That was kind of like one month into it we came up with that.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, because I don’t know if you’ve read The Lean Startup with Eric Ries, but that is just one thing that they stress so much in that book and in that way of thinking, is you really need to launch with a barely viable product so you can start getting feedback as quickly as possible because I can definitely see where had you launched, you would have gotten that feedback from customers pretty quickly or from clients pretty quickly wanting that feature. Luckily, you were still in such an early stage when you came up with it yourself or were able to offer that.
That aha moment is really interesting, and I do love that you shared that you were in the shower when you had that moment because it is so funny. You hear that more often than not, surprisingly, because it’s actually called the “shower aha moment” and they actually talk about it with psychology that when you’re distracted in some way, shape or form and you’re not just solely trying to focus on something is often when inspiration hits.
It can be if you were walking the dog and bouncing a ball on the sidewalk or just in some way, shape or form distracted, that lightning ball can hit you. So that was very interesting.
Immad Akhund: Yes. One of the things I do that like other people try to avoid is like whenever I’m going to sleep, I always think a lot about Heyzap and like startups. I don’t know why I can still sleep. Maybe other people would get like too distracted, but I always find that like I get a lot of – just like kind of doing background thinking while I’m going to sleep like gives me a lot of kind of processing power.
John Lee Dumas: Do you ever sit up and you’re just like, “Yes! I got it!” and then write something down on your bedside notepad?
Immad Akhund: Yes. I have my iPad next to me so I just send myself an email so I remember in the morning.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Immad, have you had an I’ve made it moment yet?
Immad Akhund: No. I don’t know. I mean, there’s some little moments I guess that’s some level of success, but until like I have maybe like a few hundred million in my bank, I’m not going to probably have – and even then I’ll probably be like, “Oh, I can do it. I need to go further” kind of thing [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: So Y Combinator is such an intriguing subject for so many people and it’s kind of one of those things where it has a mystery and allure that surrounds it. Can you share with us a little bit about Y Combinator in as far as your experiences you had with that and how that process cultivated your company?
Immad Akhund: Yes, that’s a good question. So I think the biggest things on a personal level that I’ve got from it is just meeting a lot of great entrepreneurs. So every week, Y Combinator has dinners where someone great like – I’ve listened to probably Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams, [Margaret Grayson]. Pretty much everyone you can think of has like at some point spoken there.
It’s kind of different because there’s only – well right now there’s maybe 150 people. Back when I did it, there was like 60 people in the room or less. So it’s very organic. It’s not necessarily set up. Then because it’s kind of a closed environment, they’re very open about their experiences. That’s just been like listening to a very large set of success stories. Seeing how human their success stories are has always been an inspiration for me.
Then also, at the same time, a lot of the ways like great people think, I feel like over time I’ve tried to incorporate in my own thinking. Although I can’t necessarily like name one thing that’s like been the biggest kind of win from that. It’s just like a whole series of things and the way you think that’s being impacted. That, for me, personally has been the biggest kind of win.
The other thing is obviously the program is really well-structured to where it’s kind of making fairly successful startups in the sense that it kind of pushes you to build something in the first three months, build something that users want. Then it kind of presents you to investors in a good light such that you can kind of maximize your chances of raising money, which is one of the best ways today obviously to run our money.
John Lee Dumas: I love Y Combinator because to me it embodies everything that’s great about living in an entrepreneurial time. I just love the different stakes that they have involved and what they just completely bring to the equation. I think it’s very inspiring. In fact, that definitely is a dream of mine to potentially be able to create something like a Y Combinator sometime in the future to cultivate younger entrepreneurs to just create magic. That’s what you were able to do through Y Combinator and they’re continuing to do so on a recurring basis, and it really is a thing of beauty.
Immad Akhund: Yes, yes. I love it.
John Lee Dumas: So Immad, we’re going to move now into the next topic, which is your current business. You have a lot of things going on at HeyZap. A lot of cool things. I was on the website earlier. Just a lot of stuff is going on. If you had to break it down to one thing that is really exciting you about your business today, what would that be?
Immad Akhund: Well, there’s a few things, but one thing would be like as of this year, we’ve started making pretty good money and we’re pretty close to being profitable. Then having done this for like six years, being at a point where your business is actually making like a ton of money is kind of exciting [Laughs]. So that’s definitely the most exciting thing probably.
John Lee Dumas: Well, you did mention a couple of things, and since you were so brief with your answer, I’ll let you expound a little bit.
Immad Akhund: I mean the second thing is on the product side. Like it’s really exciting that me or someone in the team could come up with an idea that we launch and like hundreds of thousands of people use it. Like getting that kind of immediate feedback, getting like real users interacting on like a fairly massive scale, that’s really exciting, right?
Lot of people, including me, have done startups where like very few people interact with it. Like we have more signups on Heyzap in like maybe five hours than I did like in all time with my first startup [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: That is exciting.
Immad Akhund: Yes. At the end of the day, like money is not obviously everything. That’s why I was a bit hesitant to just talk about money. One of my aims is obviously to like make an impact on the world, and I feel like Heyzap is a good platform for that.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, but let’s be very blunt about the reality of the situation. If you’re not at some point and at some level making money, you’re not going to be able to make the impact that you want to. So those two really do go together.
Immad Akhund: Yes, they go together, but I think there are some things – like I would never personally do like a gambling startup just because I feel like there are ways of making money that don’t necessarily have positive impacts.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. It’s definitely good to differentiate the two. So Immad, the word “entrepreneur” is really a mysterious word for a lot of people, and our listeners love when we’re able to pull the curtain back and kind of expose you. By exposing you I mean, give us a little insight into your day. Obviously, no day is the same for you. You have different tasks throughout every day of the week. But if you had to break down to two tasks that do seem to occupy a good portion of your day consistently, what would those two tasks be?
Immad Akhund: Being kind of the CEO and the cofounder, like I end up spending a lot of time probably on hiring. I mean obviously, change is based on like what the current company’s objectives are. Like right now we’re trying to hire a few engineers. So that maybe takes up like a couple of hours every day, amortized. Like sometimes more, sometimes less.
Then the second thing is kind of everything to do with the product management side of things. Either managing specific people in terms of what they’re doing or kind of thinking about the product as a whole, and then coming up with like the next month’s roadmap, etcetera. Those things really add up, but as I said, it does vary based on like what the current objectives are. So if we’re trying to get a big release out, I tend to be very focused on that release as well.
John Lee Dumas: How many employees does Heyzap currently have?
Immad Akhund: Seventeen altogether.
John Lee Dumas: Very cool! So I’m going to move into another question. What vision do you have for the future of Heyzap?
Immad Akhund: Yes. I mean we want to make it the biggest network for gamers on mobile. So my ultimate vision would be that everyone who plays games on mobile uses Heyzap to talk to people in games, find new games and find people to play with.
John Lee Dumas: We’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round where I’ll provide you with a series of questions, and then you come back at us with some amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Immad Akhund: Okay. I can’t promise mind-blowing, but I’ll try.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] All you can do is try. What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Immad Akhund: Not knowing that it was an option. I knew that at some point I wanted to start a company, but I really had not met – especially in London, I had met probably no one who’d like done it when they were young. So I just really didn’t even think that was an option for me. Like that was probably the biggest thing holding me back. I think that’s why Silicon Valley is so powerful. Like you see a lot of other like 22 year olds starting companies that’s like previously when I was in London, it seemed like such a foreign world.
John Lee Dumas: So true. What was the best business advice you ever received?
Immad Akhund: One of the common advice that I picked up from all the kind of dinners in Y Combinator is that on the inside, it often feels like everything is breaking all the time, but if you’re kind of positioned in a market that’s growing with a good product like a lot of things that – especially as like a first time or early entrepreneur – like a lot of things that you’re like, “Ah, it’s all falling apart!” where like you can overcome them if you’re positioned in [Unintelligible].
John Lee Dumas: You definitely have to avoid “the sky is falling Chicken Little syndrome.”
Immad Akhund: Yes. And it always feels like that, to be honest [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] What is something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Immad Akhund: I think I took kind of this question as more like for me. I’ve heard this advice from a few people, but like don’t let kind of fear hold you back. Like basically like if you think something is [correct] for you, like not doing it because like you fear something. Like you fear an emotional conflict or you fear like potentially failing, etcetera. Like you should just do whatever you fear. I think that would be the biggest kind of personal thing that’s working for me.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best business book that you’ve read in the last six months?
Immad Akhund: So I’m more of a fan of like autobiographies than business books. So I, probably like everyone, has read the Steve Jobs book, which I thought was like a really interesting read. But in general, I think autobiographies from like great entrepreneurs are like really interesting insight.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. That is a classic already. So this last question is my favorite, but it’s kind of a tricky one. So you can take your time, digest it, and then come back at us with an answer. If you woke up tomorrow morning and you still had all of the experience, knowledge and money that you currently have right now, but your business had completely disappeared, leaving you essentially with a clean slate, which is how many of our listeners find themselves right now, what would you do in the next seven days?
Immad Akhund: I think the most important thing that sometimes people underestimate is like the idea and the market. I would spend a long time thinking and talking to people about kind of different ideas and different markets and really coming up with something that I was like truly passionate about. I’m assuming I can’t just restart Heyzap here [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Immad Akhund: I would really come up with something I felt like truly passionate about that I felt that I could do something and I would like really – it’s kind of cliché, but like change the world. I don’t think even maybe seven days is enough time to really think about it. I mean the other take is obviously just like go out there and like start doing something, but I’m much more a fan of like thinking for a long time and coming up with something that’s like really going to like have a massive impact. At the end of the day, there’s only like one $10 billion company a year. So it clearly is like fairly idea-dependent.
John Lee Dumas: You probably take a lot of showers.
Immad Akhund: Yes. I’ll just be in a bathtub all day or something.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] So thank you for being so specific on that answer, Immad, and thank you for joining us today because you’ve just given us some great actionable advice, and we are all better for it. Give Fire Nation one last piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Immad Akhund: One last piece of guidance? Well, I think the theme of this whole thing has been if you’re holding back from doing something, just do it. I’m always happy to kind of give advice personally. Just like my first name at Heyzap.com. You can kind of get to me and like I can help out or try helping.
Then a personal plug, go down to Heyzap, I guess [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely! That’s exactly what it’s for. So listen, Immad. Thank you one more time. We really appreciate it, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Immad Akhund: Yes. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. So go ignite, world!