You’re only as good as the people around you, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve changed industries over the course of your career – you must keep your star staff working with you.
Issa Asad is founder and CEO of Q Link Wireless. The company supplies low-income individuals and families living in America with a free cell phone and free monthly service that includes free calling, free monthly data, and unlimited text messaging through the government-run Lifeline assistance program. The program was designed for Americans who might not otherwise have access to vital communication services, including the ability to make 9-1-1 calls. Asad has led Q Link Wireless from its founding. Today, Q Link is the third-largest Lifeline carrier in the country with more than 1.9 million customers. It is an “Inc. 1000” company.
Issa Asad started venturing into the telecommunications and technology industries in 1996 when he offered prepaid phone cards in his convenience stores and gas stations. Issa Asad knew that there was potential in phone cards, so using his retail background, he envisioned real-time PIN electronic delivery of prepaid phone services.
In 2000, Issa Asad joined Reliable Telecard and i-Prepay, Inc. to develop his concept for a PIN electronic delivery system for prepaid products. Now, the electronic prepaid industry nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Since then, he has focused his attention to the prepaid, technology and telecommunications industries and has spent time in various companies to increase sales and develop his innovative products and services. He has received numerous accolades from various industry publications, including Intelecard News and the Prepaid Press.
Issa continues to transform the telecom industry with novel customer acquisition strategies and unique approaches to grow customer affinity and loyalty.
Where did the idea for Q Link Wireless come from?
One day, after I had sold i-Prepay, I was waiting for my family on a bench at the mall. A woman sat down next to me, threw her hands in the air, and said “Government phone!” I had to know more, and I learned that the government was subsidizing wireless phones and plans for qualified individuals. I knew I could help, and that was the birth of Q Link.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days are always different, but there’s one constant – I’m busy! I’ve always been high-energy, so I’m here, there, and everywhere. A unique detail about our office is that we have everything under one roof. I can be in the shipping department, checking on our fulfillment numbers for the week, and then I can shoot back upstairs to meet with our internal marketing department. We don’t outsource, and everything is in-house. Come to think of it, I don’t see how anyone couldn’t be running around non-stop in this role (and in this building!).
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a lot of vision, and I love innovation and invention, so we’ve made our office an interactive space. We have glass doors on all of the private offices on the third floor, and we use them as white boards, with dry erase markers. It’s a fun way to have your ideas “speak” to you during the creative process.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Working in technology, it’s hard to pick just one. One thing that I find interesting is artificial intelligence, and its use in nearly every sector. It’s also in nearly every technology, and it’s shaping the customer experience, too.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I wasn’t afraid to keep trying. I have worked in a lot of fields, and I constantly revamped myself to stay ahead of the game. As a result, I have patents, have sold successful companies, and have stayed curious.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You’re only as good as the people around you, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve changed industries over the course of your career – you must keep your star staff working with you. I hire high performers, train them, and then make sure they stay on, no matter what business I have.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I struggled to convince the government that low-income families still used the internet regularly. 85 percent of Lifeline Program consumers use the internet, and that makes a huge difference in the functionality of their phones, as well as how we market to our customers.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I stay on top of the latest tech developments. I meet with experts, I read leading technology blogs, and I take classes about programming and development. No matter what your field, you should stay on top of what’s new. It’s the secret to success – it helps your company grow, and it can help you find new opportunities as well.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I think that, by being charitable, you will grow your business while helping your community in the process. As a Lifeline provider, I feel that I have an obligation to help others who need our service, and that in turn has helped me grow my business. For example, we recently made news for working with the FCC on a proposed mandate that would require Lifeline carriers to provide free airtime to their customers after a natural disaster. Yes, we were highlighted for our efforts, but that was a byproduct of supporting our customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My former company, i-Prepay, used a technology that I had developed. I didn’t formally hold the patent, however, and one day the biggest equity firm in the world came into the space and claimed I violated their patent. I managed to prove that I had been using the technology for years before they were granted a patent. The company ended up purchasing my company, but for an entrepreneur, a lawsuit can be distracting and disheartening.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Nobody wants to leave the house, so your business must be online. There are limitless opportunities when you plan your business around an ecommerce model.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent was on a white board for the office. It allows us all to visualize our ideas together and see the concept as they come to life.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Microsoft Outlook for iPhone – I use it to run my life.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Warren Buffet is someone I admire, but not because of his wealth. He’s a brilliant man, and his philanthropic vision could change our world. That’s why I recommend reading The Essays of Warren Buffet.
What is your favorite quote?
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Warren Buffett
- Study technology, like programming and development, even though it may be challenging.
- Remember to hire staff for the long run. Every business owner needs a capable team, and it’s important to train and incentivize them to stay with your company. High-performing employees are a boon to any business.
- It pays to take risks. Don’t be afraid to jump into something.
- It’s important to know what you want. Overthinking can be dangerous, so when you have a hunch, act or ask for advice. Be sure not to agonize over your options.
- Remember to give back whenever and however possible. No matter where you are in your business, you can find the time or the money to help others. While Q Link helps low-income individuals, giving back to the community must be encouraged at every level of the company. Give employees a day or two off a year to volunteer, and brainstorm challenges to do in-house to raise money and awareness as well.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.