The real story

 
 

It all started when…

My parents decided to leave their lives behind in Iran due to the war in 1987 and seek refuge in Sweden. It was at that point I was blessed with an opportunity of a lifetime, and given just the right conditions to flourish and continue to develop the mindset that I would need to succeed later in life.

I grew up in a small town in Sweden called Tranås, and throughout my younger years I never felt like I belonged among my peers in the classroom. I just wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to be away from home too much, and didn’t see the point in reading a bunch of books just to pass a test. However, I’ve always been extremely creative, even from a young age, and truly interested in understanding people around me. I had a crazy and super vivid imagination, and could spend time alone for hours entertaining myself with video games and other problem solving tasks. I loved playing Caesar II on the computer and manage the financials of the game, the troops, and keep the people happy, while growing my empire. I could also stay home from school for a few days, just to explore the much more interesting world of Final Fantasy VII on my old PS1.

The so called “real world” that school offered was nothing for me. Not at that age, and not because I wasn’t smart, but because it was a one size fits all that just didn’t stimulate me enough. The problems weren’t real enough, and the solutions had no creativity. If you’d ask my teachers from 9th grade what they thought I would amount to, I’d guess they would have quite low expectations.

So, as far as school goes, I always felt constrained and out of place, until I was about 17. That’s when the subjects we studied actually became interesting to me for the first time. I discovered philosophy at age 15, and by 17 I had read a ton of books and been introduced to many of the classical philosophical questions and theories. We also started to study psychology around that time, which was something that I was extremely interested in. My last year in high-school was my best, and I aced pretty much all grades. I also gained some real confidence at this time in my learning abilities, and this was fundamental for my coming university years.

In 2004 I bid farewell to my small hometown, and set sight on a bigger challenge. I moved to Stockholm to study philosophy, and start my life for real. I had big hopes and ambitions, and I was super excited about studying at university. Studying philosophy however rarely produces happy and clear minded people. I became quite frustrated with my studies, and endless the nights of thoughts looping through my head had to stop. I had to part ways with philosophy to not drive myself crazy, and instead find something else that could actually help me fulfil my potential.

As the months went by, my time in Stockholm became grimmer and less hopeful. I was working in a fast food kitchen, taking random university classes, and not knowing what to do with my life. Uni wasn’t what I had expected, I was 20, soon to be 21, and had no positive outlook in life. In my mind I was a grown up, and supposed to have a proper job, or at least a life plan, but I had jack shit. I had nothing, and no idea what to do with myself.

The turning point came one day when I was working and picking up trash on the outside seating area at the fast food restaurant. I was wearing a corny company t-shirt, picking up dirty trays from screaming children all around me, and stressed out parents. I felt like I was at rock bottom, and as if nothing could get any worse. But as always in life, everything can always get worse. All of a sudden, I felt something warm on my shoulder, dripping down over my t-shirt. I looked up, and then at my shoulder, and noticed a seagull had taken a huge dump all over me. I was standing there with bird shit all over. That was it. Fuck this place. Fuck this job. Fuck my life.

The first thing I did after I quit was to call a childhood friend of mine that worked at an office. I had no idea what he did there, or what their product was, but I begged him to get me an interview with whoever had a position open there so I could get a chance at something. I was in complete desperation mode. He came through and got me a job interview with the Head of Sales, and I bullshitted my way through the whole thing. Oh yeah, I had great sales experience, and of course I had closed a ton of deals before, and solid references to back it up. Yeah right. I didn’t have shit. But hey, it was a job as a sales associate, and I passed the first sell, right?

I came in on a Monday in June 2006, signed the shitty contract for a 7 000 Swedish kronor base salary (roughly $1k at the time, even less now). The Head of Sales gave me a 5 minute intro-talk about what they do, then showed me a seat in an open floor landscape with a computer and a phone, and said “start selling”. Fuck.

I had no idea what their product was, or who the potential client was, or how the internet even worked. I had to go to my friend again and ask him for a crash course. After a couple of hours I had learned that the product was to sell Search Engine Optimization to random companies. It was probably easier to sell sand in Sahara at that time, than to sell SEO to small and medium sized businesses in Sweden.

I called a few leads up. They didn’t understand what I was selling. I didn’t understand what I was selling. We didn’t understand why we were talking. Finally, I called law firm, and my confidence was at an all time low from all the previous rejections. The man that picked up the phone said “Hello?” and my pitch started “Hi I’m Soheil I’m calling from…” and he cuts me off saying “Have I asked you to call here?”. I said “no” with a shaky voice, and thought that he was wondering if I had made an appointment, and then he said “well, don’t fucking call here then”. Fuuck.

I was broken. I went to the office kitchen, and sat down. I stared into the kitchen wall for a few hours. I knew I would get fired. Another failure. I was in over my head. Fuuuck.

I went home, thought maybe it would be best to don’t go in to the office anymore even. Just give up on it. But I manned up. I told myself that my friend had done me this huge favour, and I can’t just fuck it up like this. I went in the day after, and I started to pay attention to the couple of guys that actually sold anything. I noticed that one of the top sales guys was selling something different. He was working with online media, selling banner spots, and he had a much easier time closing the deals. So I said to myself to NOT mind intruding on his area or to step on his toes; if I make the company money they will be happy anyways.

In 2006 online poker was massive, and still legal in the US. I played quite a bit myself, and knew most of the poker rooms. So I put together a massive list with 300-400 leads, and I said to myself that NO ONE likes being called to. I hated being on the phone myself, and always preferred email or MSN (yeah, old days). So I figured I can collect all the leads in 2-3 days, and then e-mail them in just one day. It felt much more time efficient compared to calling.

I sent about 400 emails on a Monday, and then I sat back and waited. On the Friday I was leading the sales competition BY FAR, and I had closed sales close to $30 000. Without calling a single phone call. The guys around my cubicle was looking at me like they thought I was crazy. How the hell did I get to the top of the sales board when I had been sitting quiet all week? And whats even crazier, they all had 0 in sales still.

I talked to my head of sales, and I told him that we need to automate this whole process that I’m doing through some technical platform. He wasn’t feeling the idea though, so I said to myself as the naive 21 year old I was “fuckit, we’ll do this ourselves then”. I quit the job just after 3 months, and went into business with two of my ex-colleagues.

My confidence was quite high now and I saw a massive opportunity. I had learned a lot of new things in just a few months, and I put them all in practice. Problem was, the two guys I went into business with were super shady, and a few months later I learned that they had tried to withhold money from me that the business had made, while taking the majority of my sales. So luckily I could jump ship quickly, but now I had to re-think my whole plan.

I had to move in with my parents, live on a mattress for 9 months, with about $1000 to live off. Not the proudest moment in my life. But this time, I had my masterplan in my mind. I knew how I could make money, I just needed some new people to work with.

In order to have a plan b in life, I decided that while I was searching for the right team, I should go back to uni and get a degree. I decided to get away from Sweden, and applied for psychology programmes in the UK instead. I got accepted into a bunch of different universities, and finally decided to go to Southampton to study for 3 years. That turned out to be a great move as it completely isolated me in a student room, and gave me all the time I needed to build the foundation of the business.

In December 2007 I asked my cousin who was a developer if he could build a platform that could trade ads, serve them, and so on. He said “of course”, and that sparked the second version of the venture. Of course, he couldn’t code such as system, but that was a later problem. The important thing was that we now had something we could call a team. I also pulled together some other people I knew, to do account management, design work, and other tasks, and all of a sudden we had 7-8 hungry and driven guys and girls working on this vision.

By 2010 I had managed to work and study full time, and the business had a good foundation for growth. I graduated with the second highest grade, and moved back to Stockholm to set up our first office. We had shrunken to only 3-4 people by this time, so our first office was a small room of only 18 sqm.

From there we grew the business to a yearly revenue of $20-$25 million, and had a growth of nearly 20000% over 4-5 years. I later divorced my partners at the time, bought them out of the companies, and restructured the business to make it relevant again, divesting some parts and making my biggest exit to date.

Needless to say, it’s been a hell of a ride, and during all these years I’ve learned more about business, the human mind, negotiations, management, and all other aspects of life, than any University ever could teach me. My passion now is to use that experience to help budding entrepreneurs take their next step, and scaling my knowledge to make it useful to as many as possible.

Business wise I’m an investor in 10+ ventures, and stay active in several of them, while still managing some of the old companies to scale them even further.

I’m always keen on sharing my experience with other people, and exchanging insights, so don’t hesitate to reach out to me here or on any of the social platforms where I’m active if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help.