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Sameer Jafri is one of my good friends at UCLA. We met freshman year and connected because of our mutual interest in entrepreneurship.
In 2014, Sameer started Twazer, an online marketplace for college students to buy and sell their items through a clean mobile interface.
In this interview, he shares a bit more into his startup, how to acquire users for mobile apps, as well as how to raise funds for your company.
Hey Sameer, thanks for joining us. Tell us a bit more about yourself!
Hey Alejandro! Thanks for having me. Well I’m a senior at UCLA studying Political Science, but really I feel that I’m an entrepreneur at heart. My dad has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years and so that’s all I’ve seen since I was a kid.
So I assume you always wanted to be an entrepreneur then?
Funny enough, I originally had every intention of going to med school – I know I know cliche – but that went out the door the minute that I jumped head on into the startup world. I absolutely love taking an idea in my head and turning that into a business. I think you’d agree that the creative entrepreneurial process is a an experience like no other. I’ve learned that while building a business is incredibly difficult, the minute that you see someone derive value from something you created… it just all becomes completely worth it.
Is Twazer (a digital college marketplace) the first business you’ve started?
Twazer is the first business I’ve started on the for-profit side. Before I jumped into Twazer I actually founded a non-profit foundation called Saving Hearts Foundation in 2014 — which provides free preventative heart screenings to youth to test for warning signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. I was 18 at the time and had no freaking clue what I was doing, and was lucky enough to have the right people guide me through the initial stages.
What would you say were the takeaways from the Saving Hearts Foundation that helped you take Twazer to where it is right now?
Mass heart screenings are highly controversial in the medical field (for a number of reasons that I won’t get into), so when my co-founders and I went and spoke to industry professionals and experts about the mission of the non-profit, we were consistently met with almost hostile resistance.
You have no idea how many times I heard “no your idea is stupid, or “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time on that,”. It took us over one year to get any kind of support and backing from industry professionals. Those 12 months consisted of me just grinding, listening to the criticism, finding ways to tweak my pitch to just maybeeee get the point through a bit better, and really the most important thing building my mental fortitude.
Now, 24 months after launching, we’ve built one of the best heart screening programs in the country that is backed by some of the leading pediatric cardiologist in Southern California. We’ve screened close to 2,000 youth in Los Angeles, screened underserved communities internationally, broke records for grant money provided, donated life saving equipment to communities that can’t afford to purchase them, and won national awards recognizing our success/efforts. Now we’re even working with politicians to draft legislation to reduce the incidence rate of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youth, and have an eye into expanding our non-profit to additional cities in the near future.
At the end of the day, Saving Hearts Foundation taught me to never let anything phase me. I never get too high or too low on anything. It taught me to be persistent and never ever give up – just always keep looking for a different angle. Maybe you can say that one word with a different intonation when pitching… maybe you can explain a concept in a simpler way, maybe you can wear different slack to a pitch to make yourself look more welcoming… WHO KNOWS? The point is I learned that if I believe in something, I’m never going to give up on it. I personally believe that Saving Hearts was the absolute best experience for me to go through prior to founding Twazer.
So to conclude way too long of an answer, I’ve parlayed all of that experience, and all of those lessons into getting Twazer to where it is today.
That is really impressive, not many people at your age have been able to help that many lives. I would love one day to be able to start a foundation just like yours.
Moving on, what was the initial idea for Twazer and how did you orchestrated its development?
I’ll give a brief overview of what Twazer is before I get into how we started.
The vision for Twazer is to disrupt the untapped $545 Billion college commerce market by becoming THE digital marketplace for college students to buy and sell anything.
In the process we will create the largest pure college commerce community in the world. The first sector of college commerce that we’re working to disrupt is peer-to-peer commerce, and we’ve done that successfully thus far.
Now, the initial idea was not as vast.
It all started in the summer of 2014 when my friends and I were sharing our experiences following our freshman year in college. The one thing that we all had in common despite attending schools of different sizes, in different parts of the country was that we ALL spent an exorbitant amount of money shopping for move-in supplies, and just generally throughout the year.
So from there the idea of Twazer was born.
I co-founded the company with a couple of my good friends from high school, and the first thing we did was extensive research on the P2P commerce space, the target demographics current behaviors, and whether they event want a solution such as Twazer.
Once we were confident that Twazer “in theory” would be well accepted, we created interactive wireframes and had college students play around with it (I’d recommend using Invision).
The feedback was great, and we knew it was time to develop the app and get it in the hands of users. So we went and brought a CTO on board (my very good family friend), and built the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version of the app.
We took the MVP and raised a Friends and Family Round, which was followed by a pre-seed Angel Round post-launch. The Angel Round had some notable names such as the Director of Wireless @ Apple, and the COO of Project Fi @ Google (one of the largest projects at Google).
And here we are today!
What got you off the ground and created the initial traction?
Aside from testing the product, the most important thing we did during our beta-test in the Fall of 2015 was to test marketing strategies. I’m a BIG believer in A/B testing, and just think it is the best way to figure out what really works. So before we went out and tried to prove out the concept at a university, we tested as many strategies as possible – aggregating what worked into what we call a “college rollout plan”. I’m not going to get into the specifics of what we do to get traction because it’s quite unique how we market to students on campus.
What I can say is that if you want to successfully market to the college demographic, YOU MUST figure out a way to integrate your product/service into a student’s daily life. You have to figure out how to make it a part of the campus’ culture.
That’s something that we’ve been able to do with Twazer at our first major campus, and I’m very confident we can scale our “college rollout plan” when the time is right.
What are your favorite (most effective) methods for acquiring app users?
My favorite methods for acquiring app users are anything that takes advantage of network effects. I think the most capital and overall resource efficient way to acquire users is by executive marketing strategies that show the value of your product/service to a large number of people at one time. I normally accomplish this through strategic partnerships, and a variety of digital marketing tactics such as social influencers (Alejandro you understand the power of this with YoungSlacker!).
Have you read any books that were valuable throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
This is going to sound extremely cliche, but I HIGHLY recommend the Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki to anyone thinking about starting their own business.
Let’s move onto fundraising. Where do you find potential investors and do you do cold introductions?
The first place that I look for potential investors is within my own network, which I’ve built through extensive networking.
Other than that I’m always looking on Angel List and Linkedin for investors that like to invest in our sector. In addition, there are funding platform such as Fundable, Angel Investment Network USA, and F6s, and Gust that I’ve had positive experiences with.
I think the most important thing that I can say regarding fundraising is that you have to be tenacious. Cast your net as wide as possible by targeting as many investors as you can that whose investment criteria matches your company.
I rarely do cold introductions.
I’ve found them to be successful a very low percentage of the time.
The most successful way to get connected with investors is by finding a mutual connection to introduce you. I always look on Linkedin to see if the investor is a second degree connection, and if they are I ask the mutual contact if they’d be willing to introduce me.
Most entrepreneurs are concerned with getting a high valuation for their startups. How do you ensure that the round you are raising is adequate?
In my opinion, valuations are a very inexact science. Honestly, the wrong valuation can ruin your company via a future “down round” if the valuation you’re given is too high.
When you start planning out your capital raise, you need to be confident that the amount of money you intend to raise will get you to a meaningful milestone that will raise the value of your company. If you’re unable to reach those milestones, then you’re likely going to undergo a “down round”, which would be detrimental to all of the company’s existing shareholders.
I always urge founders to go after “fair” valuations that make you feel like you could’ve gotten a little bit more. Having that contingency built in is always a good idea since it allows you to better protect your shareholders – which at the end of the day is the most important thing.
What is the plan for Twazer in the next few months and years?
The next few months for Twazer are going to be extremely busy, but at the same time extremely exciting. We’ve proved out a scalable model, and are quickly approaching the right time to scale the app to universities across the country. I’m currently focused on raising our Seed Round, and after that closes I look forward to building out our team and expanding the apps coverage!
Our initial success has garnered us some incredible Board of Directors and advisors such as Kevin Harrington who are working with us week in and week out to scale the app. We’ve developed a great long term plan to make Twazer THE college commerce platform for students across the U.S. and we even have plans for international expansion.
That’s BAUS. Got any last remarks that you’d like to make?
First, Alejandro – I want to thank you for allowing me to reflect on my entrepreneurial journey thus far.
I think the last thing I want to say is that if any of you have an idea for a business that you really want to follow through with… JUST DO IT.
I understand that at times a variety of circumstances make it difficult to do so, But if you are able, then I highly recommend that you just dive into it. You never know, it could be the absolute best of experience of your life… and at the worst you learn a hell of a lot.
I know that deciding to get involved with startups has been the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’m so excited for what the remainder of my hopefully long entrepreneurial journey has in store for me.
So there you have it, Sameer Jafri sharing his journey thus far. I must say I’ve used Twazer to sell the Flux Charger with great success and I love the simple and bold interface that beats any Buy&Sell group on Facebook any day.
I am very excited to see Twazer roll out at every campus in 2017.
You can download Twazer for iOS here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/twazer-buy-sell-on-your-college/id1028076997?mt=8
Android version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sd858.twazer&hl=en
Got any questions for Sameer? Leave them in the comments!
Hit me up if you’d like to be interviewed!