Haroon Mokhtarzada – Co-founder of Webs

[quote style=”boxed”]Launch and get your first customer. The vast majority of businesses fail because they never get a customer.[/quote]

Haroon Mokhtarzada is the co-founder and vice president of innovation for Webs. Haroon has a passion for technology startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship. In addition to his current role at Webs, he continues to engage with startups as an advisor and angel investor to a variety of consumer web and mobile technology companies. Haroon also serves on American Express Open’s Digital Advisory Board and is a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council.

As an undergraduate student in 2001, Haroon and his two brothers created and launched Freewebs – a free, do-it-yourself website building product. After earning his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2006, Haroon turned down a legal career to become the full-time CEO of Freewebs, which was later renamed to Webs.

As CEO of Webs, Haroon led several key product launches including the creation of the Social Gaming Network, which was spun out of Webs in 2008, and Pagemodo, a social marketing suite for small businesses.

Where did the idea for Webs come from?

My brothers and I had gotten into web design and started having a lot of people ask us if we could build websites for them. It was clear to us that a LOT of people would need websites and we didn’t like the idea of managing a large company that manually built out websites for people. So we decided instead to build a product that would help people build professional-looking websites for themselves.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

This changes a lot day to day. My favorite days are those where I’m actively engaging with the Webs and Pagemodo designers, product managers, and engineers to plan out and execute on new products. I find that my days are most productive when I can stay out of meetings and out on the floor with the team.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a very visual thinker. If I can’t “see” the idea in my head, I have a hard time getting excited about it. So often I’ll try as early as possible to create a visual representation of the idea, whether it’s wireframes or screen designs, or flow charts or even a logo. Software or media that allows people to see the physical manifestation of a concept brings an idea to life.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The mobile phone as the remote control for your life. We are already seeing this with so many exploding on-demand products like Uber (taxi/car service), Instacart (groceries), Homejoy (home cleaning), Washio (laundry), Sprig (on-demand meals), and many more. I love the idea of being able to command the world around us via the little rectangle in our pockets.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I use “Things” to meticulously manage my to-do list. I’ve tried a lot of different solutions and it’s the only one I’ve continued to use consistently.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was young, I had to manually enter in and code all of the transactions for my dad’s home business into the computer one by one. It took forever but I learned a lot of efficiency and automation techniques and I’m also now able to type numbers pretty darn fast on a number pad.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

We got distracted with several different offshoots and side projects and should have remained laser-focused on our core business.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Launch and get your first customer. The vast majority of businesses fail because they never get a customer.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

The “freemium” model. Basically, give your product (or the vast majority of it) away for free to introduce users to your offerings and then fund the business via optional premium services. This approach enabled Webs to accumulate tens of millions of users with zero dollars spent in paid marketing early on.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Our original investment thesis was to go after a media business / advertising model for the company. We would put ads on people’s sites and make money from the millions of views we would get. Turns out, people hate ads on their sites, and advertisers didn’t like the idea of being on a million different user-generated websites at once. Shifting our business model was a very difficult thing and required a lot of guts. Once the decision was made, we had to close down the ad sales office, wean ourselves off ads, and focus exclusively on premium subscriptions. We lost a lot of time on the wrong model but fortunately pivoted in time to turn around the business.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We have toasters, coffee makers, waffle makers, smoothie makers, and more. Where is the omelet machine? I’d like a smart omelet maker that could keep eggs and ingredients refrigerated inside, then prepare an amazing omelet when I push a button on the accompanying iPhone app.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I second-guess myself all the time.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Amazon Web Services – if only it was that easy to spin up servers when we first started Webs! I also really like Mixpanel for tracking metrics, and Stripe is an amazingly simple way to accept and manage credit cards.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. I think it’s good to sometimes take a step back and think about why you are here and where you are going in life.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement really helped me better understand the concept of validating products, failing early, and pivoting until one reaches a scalable product market fit.


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