Junaid Shams – Co-Founder and CEO of Rooam

I think what makes the best entrepreneur is an entrepreneur that has failed previously. I have had my own failures, and even though I wouldn’t describe it as a “worst job,” I believe the pains and failures during previous ventures make you a stronger entrepreneur for future projects.

Junaid Shams is the co-founder and CEO at Rooam, a socially integrated, cashless mobile payment app that allows users to pay for a night out, explore events and find friends at bars and restaurants. In this role, Junaid spearheads the company’s overall operation by orchestrating and overseeing strategic partnerships, product development, visual design and business development efforts.

Junaid developed the idea for Rooam on a napkin after realizing how long it took to close his tab at a local bar in 2014. In 2015, Junaid put together a core team to finalize the concept and developed a first-of-its- kind app-based payment platform that can be seamlessly integrated into businesses’ point of sale (POS) systems with a single click. His vision for Rooam is to become a one-stop mobile app for the user’s nightlife with a quick payment solution and real-time social tools to explore local events and find friends at bars and restaurants. In April 2016, Rooam’s mobile app was initially launched in the Washington D.C. area, and the company plans to expand to other markets around the country.

Prior to Rooam, Junaid co-founded a telecom e-commerce company in 2010 with a vision to promote and encourage the U.S. wireless industry to shift away from signing customers into binding contracts.He successfully grew the company to one of the largest smart phone providers in the market with $100 million in sales. A serial entrepreneur, Junaid has received numerous national recognitions, including Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 entrepreneurs under 25” and Under30CEO’s “Top 30 Most Influential Entrepreneurs under 30.” His leadership, strength and understanding for steering e-commerce businesses toward greater growth and profitability have been recognized by his employees, peers and leaders within the technology industry.

Junaid received his M.D. from The George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences and a bachelor’s degree in public health from The George Washington University.

Where did the idea for Rooam come from?

Rooam is a very special personal project for myself and our team. The idea behind Rooam came from a general frustration of nightlife and being social. We always wondered what place is good on a given night. Often we don’t keep tabs open because we know how frustrating it is to get a card back at the end of the night and we all know someone who has left their credit card at the bar. A couple of years ago, a bar in DC lost my credit card and it took three hours for them to find it. I thought to myself why someone had not built a tool that made payments at bars, clubs, or restaurants easier. Instead of waiting on someone else, we decided to fix the problem and create a solution ourselves.

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

My typical day is very different from your average person. After four years in medical school, I’m programmed to work until you get tired and to start working again as soon as you wake up. I normally wake up around 10 a.m., review all emails, and head to the office by noon. During the afternoon my time is usually filled with meetings with our development team. Afterwards, since I’m extremely product-driven, I like to spend a lot of time with our creative director to review our platform, and discuss other new and innovative designs and concepts he is currently thinking. By 7/8p.m., as everyone else heads home, I usually grab dinner and watch ESPN at the office. Between 9p.m. and 3a.m. is my personal time to work alone at the office. I spend this time focusing on partnerships, researching potential hires to our development team and reviewing every aspect of the company. I’m very detail-oriented and I spend a lot of my evenings reviewing progress of every bug, open ticket, design update and new bar we’re contacting for strategic partnerships, etc. By 3/4 a.m. when I get tired, I’ll walk home, watch something on YouTube and head to bed and repeat at 10 a.m.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I believe the most important part to the puzzle is bringing the idea to life. If you don’t believe you can do something, it will never happen. I personally hate when people tell us that something can’t be done or bring hurdles to ideas. At Rooam, we take ideas, and even before talking to the development team, we immediately design them. This gives us a better idea of what we want to accomplish and allows us to refine the original idea. Once the design of the idea is completed, we then have a full discussion with our development team on how to move the idea forward. Fortunately, our team is filled with people who don’t take no for an answer and they pursue every avenue possible to bring the idea to life.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The mobile payments industry is an area that really excites me, and therefore excites me for the future of Rooam as a product. Even though its a massive industry, I think the mobile payments industry is now starting to gain traction and become more accepted. About 10-15 years ago, the issues e-commerce faced in terms of adjusting consumer habits, is similar to what the mobile payments industry is going through now. The mobile payments industry is such a massive space, but I believe Rooam is entering it at the right time and with the right model.

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

I make a list of every task or idea I have to accomplish. It is a growing list. Even if it is something that doesn’t need to get completed for another six months, I write it down. Every morning when I wake up, I review this list, and I move the items that I have to accomplish that day to the top of the list. Therefore, at 2a.m. when I feel that I’m done for the day or if I ever feel there’s nothing to do, I go back to my list to see what I can finish up. I add names of companies that I want to talk to, names of potential developers and designers that I want to reach out to, etc. It’s a personal roadmap.

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

I think what makes the best entrepreneur is an entrepreneur that has failed previously. I have had my own failures, and even though I wouldn’t describe it as a “worst job,” I believe the pains and failures during previous ventures make you a stronger entrepreneur for future projects.

In terms of what I learned, I believe respect and how you treat others is one of the most important skills to have as a leader and entrepreneur. I learned that you can’t keep a company operating if you don’t respect individuals.

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

To be very frank, I’m not sure if I would change anything if I were to start Rooam again. I think our team individually and as a whole has learned a lot from previous ventures. We have taken all of the “things we would do differently” from those ventures and implemented them in Rooam. I’m extremely proud of the journey our team has taken over the past 18 months.

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

Self-reflection. I believe there is room for improvement in every aspect of our personal and business life. I self-reflect daily on how I am doing as a leader, how we can improve as a company, if I am treating others with respect and if there is something I can do to make things more efficient, etc. Literally, I self-reflect and analyze every aspect of my life. Recently, I read an article which discussed how saying “thanks” in emails could come off the wrong way and how saying “thank you” is politer and more respectful. Every email that I end now, I end with “thank you” to show appreciation and respect. By fixing small minute things, I believe over time these things add up, and make you a better person, leader and entrepreneur.

I like doing weekly feedback sessions with team members where I provide them with feedback and vice versa on how to improve things. A company cannot grow if one person is growing and developing, but everyone else still stagnant or maintaining poor habits. The strength of a company will come when everyone is self-reflecting and improving themselves daily. This theme of self-reflection is something I always ask our team to do, and something I would recommend everyone else to do.

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

I’m not sure if this is a strategy or more of a philosophy. With each member of our team, I analyze what their strengths and weaknesses are. Based on that, it’s my duty and responsibility to create an environment which allows them to work with their strengths only. This allows the team member to remain micro-focused on tasks with their strengths, and not get distracted by their weaknesses. For example, if a team member gets distracted while being around others, I ask them to work from home during sprints. I’ll do development meetings with only the developers so I don’t waste time for members of other areas of the company. If someone is good at design but not business, I’ll only have them focus on the design aspect of the company and nothing else. And vice-versa. Creating an environment for each individual based on their strengths and weaknesses has helped Rooam grow.

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

I had a previous venture where I was just not enjoying the day-to-day operations of it anymore. For a year in the position, I felt like my life was not moving forward. Because of the role, it was impacting the business and my growth as an entrepreneur. I think I had this fear of the unknown; What would I do if I left the company? Eventually, I knew I had to overcome this fear, and the confidence that I had in myself as a person, leader and as an entrepreneur to drive me to move past the prior failed venture and to start something new. My advice to other entrepreneurs would be to not stick around with a business when you know it is not going anywhere. Life is short; don’t spend some of the prime years of your life working on projects that you know will not succeed.

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

A business idea that someone once mentioned to me was having surge pricing at nightlife establishments. At popular locations, people want to avoid lines. Customers will spend time hovering around the bouncer dropping names or try to tip them for entrance. What if the establishment had a platform which notified users of “surge pricing” for entrance? This would allow users to pay the price to get in, and avoid the inefficient process of trying to get in. For example, popular club, line is long, you are willing to pay extra to get in, establishment increases pricing to $50 dollars to get in, you pay through the app, and walk to the front of the line.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $59.99 I have spent recently was signing up for LinkedIn. Personally, I’m not a big fan of social media, and always resisted joining LinkedIn. As Rooam continues to grow exponentially, it became necessary that I had a profile on LinkedIn for several reasons. One of the most important being finding and recruiting talent. I spend a lot of my evenings researching and finding potential hires for our team. LinkedIn has made it so easy to find people that I would have never otherwise been able to find. I already have a list of 10 iOS developers that I will be reaching out to in the near future.

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

The important web services we use are JIRA and Hipchat. Both products increase efficiency and transparency for our team. JIRA allows us to put all of our ideas down in one platform. Additionally, it allows everyone to follow the progress of each ticket, keeping things transparent among the team as a whole. It is an excellent tool for a team which has remote team members, and for teams that are growing exponentially to have a platform where you can track the progress of ideas and tasks.

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

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a product-driven leader. Rooam is a product, and its growth as a product are the most important things to me. But the product doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get users to use it. The one book that I would recommend would be “Hooked” by Nir Eyal. “Hooked” provides excellent case-studies on how to have your user WANT to use your product and use it consistently. “Hooked” has made us re-think our designs and product development. We have made improvements due to it, and I strongly recommend every entrepreneur read it.

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

John Rampton is a specific writer that I follow. He has excellent entrepreneurial insight. Inc. Magazine and TechCrunch are two specific websites where I read articles on daily basis.


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