Of all the entrepreneurs I interviewed for this series, Yasmine Mustafa stands out the most, because she has struggled the hardest. Her story is the classic American Dream, the one that immigrants envision when they think about the promise and the potential of this nation.
In November 2011, Mustafa sold the online advertising business she developed, 123LinkIt, to another company for enough money to finally, give her a life of ease.
Until then, Mustafa had put every dime she had into building her business, living with her mother, never buying any clothes, never going out for with her 20-something friends. Her business' life was short, and full of drama. A key consultant quit at exactly the wrong time, leaving a mess. She ran out of money.
The beginning of this blog post will be a little bit about her business, but I strongly urge you to follow the links below to read the story of how her family fled from Kuwait, how her father abandoned their family in the U.S, leaving them to struggle with under-the-table, blue-collar jobs. Nothing came easy for Mustafa, who also had to endure sexual harassment and constant accusations of being a terrorist. Still she persevered, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen in April 2012. Her post about the day she became a citizen and another post about her background are inspiring!
Mustafa's business idea started when she was working as an intern, blogging about Dream and a Team, an organization that helped early-stage entrepreneurs build a business plan and get funding. In trying to find advertisers to support the blog, she realized how frustrating it was to link key words in the blog to advertising sites.
Bingo: The classic business development moment. Find a need and find out how to fix it. Mentored by Temple University's Innovation and Entrepreneurism Institute, Mustafa figured out a simpler way to make those links. When bloggers who enroll in 123LinkIt, it will automatically search their blogs for key words and then link them to advertisers. The blogger gets a commission when there is a sale and so does 123LinkIt. In addition, 123LinkIt spends a portion of its part of the commission marketing the blogger's blog to increase its reach and make it more likely to generate clicks.
She started her company in April 2009, while she was still at Temple. Because she qualified for student loans, she took them out, "when I didn't need them, and put them in the bank." At 4 percent, it was the lowest rate of available to borrow $20,000.
Then catastrophe struck. The consultant writing code for Mustafa quit and left the program in a mess. Mustafa's biggest problem was that she was starting a tech company, but she wasn't actually a techie. She had hoped she'd find a tech partner who would put in sweat equity coding in exchange for a piece of the business, but "no one wants to come in and clean up someone else's mess," she said.
She turned to her family and friends in desperation. They came through with $15,000 and she maxed out credit cards at $10,000, to pay another consultant. As the system improved, an adviser from became so intrigued by the company that he offered to buy it. His company, NetLine Corp., in California, acquired Mustafa's business in November, 2011, contingent on her staying on to help build the business.
"My biggest lesson learned," she said, "is that you have to know enough jargon to be able to talk to the developers."
These days, she has taken that as a mission, teaching non-tech women, in particular, how to code. She is one of the co-founders of GirlsDevelopIt, Philadelphia. "I want to carve out a niche of being a non-technical founder in a tech space," she said.