Thrill-Seeking Serial Entrepreneur Tawheed Kader
For much of his life, Tawheed Kader has looked at the daily annoyances of life and said, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Back in the early ’90s, he used that mindset to help automate his father’s business. Today, he has used it to co-found and develop HipCal, an online calendar that minimizes the overhead it takes to get your life organized. With HipCal, users can ditch their dinky day planners and instead rely on a cutting-edge technology that ensures they always have their friends’ latest contact information and are updated on where they need to be. Soon after Tawheed, 24, and his fellow co-founders created HipCal, it was acquired by Plaxo, where Tawheed is now a product manager. Tawheed sees life as an adventure and is always working on side projects. Right now, he’s working on a Facebook application and a site that lets companies and bloggers get closer to their visitors. To learn more about this thrill-seeking entrepreneur who’s always up to something, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
Serial Entrepreneur and Thrill Seeker
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Grew up in Flushing, New York
Mountain View, California
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
B.S. in Computer Science
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
B.S. in Management (Double Degree)
Co-Founder and Developer
June 2005-June 2006
TIM Consultants, LLC
Co-Founder and Technology Architect
May 2005-June 2006
General Electric Water and Process Technologies
Information Management Leadership Program Intern
May 2004-August 2004
Internet and Telecom Consultant
September 2000-May 2004
What’s your story? What’s your background?
Tedious, repetitive work has always been a pet peeve of mine; working to eliminate that through the use of technology has always been my passion. This started back in the early days when I started working for my father’s business. I started off on the streets of Jackson Heights, NY, giving out flyers to help promote the family business. Pretty soon, I started designing those flyers, and then I started working on the product itself.
I was soon managing the network infrastructure of my father’s telecommunications business, which he started when we came to this country with only about a $1,000 in his bank account. The main reason I “rose through the ranks” was because I kept bugging him about how they did things. “It doesn’t have to be that hard,” I said, as my mother was printing out one label at a time using a small labeling machine to create one of the first pre-paid calling cards offered to the South Asian Community back in the early 90s.
By the end of the week, I had automated the whole card creation process using Avery labels and a $15 labeling software (that and putting my mom out of a job. Don’t worry, she moved on to more productive uses of her time). In all seriousness though, in our ever-complicated world, we take a lot of annoyances for granted. My job has always been to take a look at that and say “It doesn’t have to be this way.” And with that mindset, finding a technological solution that enriches everyones lives.
It’s this exact mindset that got me involved with HipCal. It had started off as a class project by one of the other Co-Founders (Garret Heaton). As we started using his prototype to manage our busy schedule composed of exams, projects, group meetings and fraternity events, we realized that this was starting to solve a problem that everyone had: the calendar problem. Most of us tend to be disorganized creatures, simply because there is just so much overhead in getting ourself organized. What would you rather do? Spend three hours sifting through your email and creating the perfect calendar that is up to date, or just go to your meetings and do the actual work?
The thing is, it shouldn’t have to be that way, your schedule should be up to date automatically, the party your friend is throwing next week should show up in your calendar automatically, the class syllabus you receive from your professor shouldn’t have a dinky table with the exam dates, those exam dates should show up in your calendar automatically, and you shouldn’t have to jot down your homework assignment, it should show up as a to-do item automatically as soon as your professor gives out the assignment. These are the problems we tried to tackle with HipCal, we didn’t fulfill our whole vision, but I’m not too worried, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
What was it like to be acquired by Plaxo?
Even looking back it now, it was just a surreal experience. We created HipCal because we wanted to solve a problem that we ourselves had. When people all over the world started using it, we thought it was really cool. At best, we expected HipCal to be a good resume builder. But there came a point when we looked at it and thought, you know, maybe we don’t have to get that mundane job and work for the “corporate machine.”
Soon after, came Plaxo. It started off with a quick conversation over Skype, and before we knew it, all five of us were flying out to California. Just a few conversations later, we found ourselves looking at contracts, figuring out indemnification clauses, preparing for press briefings, all while trying to get through classes so that we can graduate college. Overall, it was an amazing experience.
Most notable milestones
It’s an amazing experience to see a product you are working on go from a dinky, ugly little prototype to a polished state. I think one of our most notable milestones was when Pete Curley (our graphics designer) took a lot of the stuff that we had been working on and put on the first paint job. Not only did we have a functional HipCal at that point, we also had a pretty Hippo to go along with it. That’s the point where you look around think: “You know, I think we’ve got something here.” Aside from that, it was a tremendous adrenaline rush after we got our first big blog push. We were running HipCal on a $40/yr web host, so we purposefully kept it on the down low and didn’t market it.
Yet, one fine morning, we found our stats to be showing nearly a 1,000 users. Our first reaction was panic, as in “holy s*#$, our server is going to crash.” But then it was, wow, people from over 10 different timezones are using HipCal. We even started seeing blogs with screenshots of HipCal and events and to-do lists showing in Chinese and Japanese. It was amazing.
What’s the niche?
I consider myself a conundrum. I always have a really tough time defining myself (and choosing an actual career track for that matter). Over the past ten years, I’ve served in roles that has involved building network infrastructure, programming and development, marketing, making strategic decisions, design, and most lately product and project management. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of those roles and have found that I can continue to pursue any one of them and probably have a very lucrative career.
However, I can’t say I’ve found my niche yet. Being able to code and think like an engineer, but also be able to grab a beer and forge business deals is a unique advantage that I have. For now, I am not letting it define my niche, I am spending most of my time in the details of one role. Eventually? I’d love to use the advantage that I have to become a venture capitalist.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Time. There are a million ideas that I have, and sometimes I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day, or there was a quicker substitute for sleep. If there is one thing that I could use a lot more of, it would be a lot more functional hours in the day.
What’s in store for the future?
Life should be treated as an adventure. For the past year, I’ve explored the role of Product Management. I’ve had the unique experience of working as a Product Manager in a startup but also get a lot of exposure to how Product Management works in a larger company (because of Plaxo’s strategic partnerships). I have learned a tremendous amount over the past year and change and I feel as though it has contributed greatly to the foundation I am trying to build for myself.
For my next adventure, I’m eying the finance industry, I’ve always been intrigued by it. I also just released two of my side projects into the wild, one is a site that helps companies and bloggers get closer to their visitors (Recommnd.com) and the other is a Facebook app that helps tell your friends about your upcoming Summer Plans.
What does a typical day look like for you?
9:45am-Start heading to the office. I don’t carpool because I enjoy the drive, I usually have my Rap/Hip-Hop album going in full blast during my 20 minute trek to the Plaxo offices in Mountain View, California.
10am to 7pm-These make up my hours at Plaxo. The job description of a Product Manager is pretty long at Plaxo. I check emails (twice a day only), attend a ton of meetings (most are conference calls with external partners), spend a good part of the day talking to developers (checking on development status and helping solve problems they come across), and finally, I get to doing my actual work (wire framing designs, helping with marketing, product messaging, and overall product strategy).
7pm to 8pm Depending on the day, I either go to the gym, or go for a run. This is a crucial part of the day because it helps reset my body so that I can actually stay up and work on side projects late at night.
8pm-Head back home. I usually use this part of my drive to call up family. I’m 24, but somehow my Mom can’t sleep at night unless she hears from me and knows that I indeed have had three meals through the day.
8:30pm to 9:30pm-Hang out, relax, have a light dinner, probably have a glass of red.
9:30pm to 1:00am-Work on side projects.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
You should have one thing each week that has you scared shitless. If you don’t have that, then you are not growing as a person, and you are losing your competitive edge. With most 9 to 5 jobs these days, it’s very easy to get into a routine and get so engulfed into the details, that you stop noticing the repetitive and mundane patterns that fill your weeks. You think you’re working hard, engaging yourself, but when you take a step back, you realize that it’s all the same and you’re not learning anything new; you’re just fighting the same fires over and over.
Go out of the norm: find a new function that you can expand your current job into, teach yourself a new skill, work on a side project, step back and imagine how you would change the company if you were the CEO and actually propose it. Do something scary.
Guiding principle in life
Aim for the stars, do something that has impact, think big, act iteratively.
Yardstick of success
A dotted picture of myself, front page, Wall Street Journal. In all seriousness, business is just business. I try to make sure I don’t measure myself by success in my career. The real yardstick of success is the end game, when you live to see your kids get married and have grandchildren, when you sit on the porch with your three oldest friends, look back at life and say “Yep, that was a good ride.” Until then, you have not succeeded.
Goal yet to be achieved
Have a four hour work-week.
Best practical advice
“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
Most practical advice I can give you is to stop seeking too much advice.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
I had turned down a summer internship at GE and JP Morgan to work on HipCal. I think just about everyone (especially family) thought that all of us were just crazy; especially since HipCal’s original name was MyPIMP (My Personal Information Management Portal). However, my parents have already been supportive with everything that I do, their stance has always been “do what you think is best.”
My father has taught me a tremendous amount ever since I started working with him at age 15. The amount of hands on experience and training I received from him has given me a head start that I cannot even begin to measure. Having a mentor that has started numerous successful businesses from nothing is a humbling experience and I am forever thankful for it.
My mother, because she is truly one of the most well rounded, loving and giving individuals that I have ever met. She has always made sure that even with all the work that I do, I kept sight of the more important things in life.
What motivated you to get started?
I think I already covered how HipCal got started in a previous question.
Like best about what you do?
What I do and the products that I help create changes people’s behavior and improves their lives.
HipCal was about helping groups of people get organized. It helped people ditch their dinky day planners and have something that they could access from any computer, through the web.
Plaxo is cutting edge technology that helps you get closer to the people you care about. It makes sure the contact information you care about is available everywhere and always up to date.
In a lot of ways, I love the fact that the products I help create solve every day problems that should not have existed in the first place.
Like least about what you do?
Bug reports. Software always has bugs and dealing with it is the worst thing ever.
What do you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Balls. If you want to be conservative or if you are reading books about entrepreneurship … entrepreneurship is not for you.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At age 10, my dream was to have my own business. Nothing too big, just a small outfit of 10 smart people, doing impactful things with technology. Yes, I was that big of a nerd. I’ve come pretty close to that dream, but not quite there yet.
What was your first job?
I worked at the local public library, stacking books. I quit after the second day, when I got sick of working in the Teen Favorites section, which mainly composed of The Babysitter’s Club.
My second job lasted a bit longer. I handed out marketing flyers, on 74th Street, in Jackson Heights, NY to help promote my Dad’s business.
Biggest pastime outside of work
It’s probably work. I do go on frequent mini-vacations (I like calling them adventures). My next adventure is in Chicago where I’ll be meeting up with five of my cousins to celebrate our niece’s first birthday.
Person most interested in meeting?
Bo Peabody, Founder of Tripod, Inc.
I read his book, “Lucky or Smart?” right around the time we were starting up HipCal. It was about how he ran with an idea and started Tripod, one of the original successes of the dot com boom. I’d like to meet him simply to say “Thanks.”
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I like to challenge myself every summer by trying something completely out of the norm for me. It started with Salsa Dancing classes for a summer. The following summer, I took up kickboxing. Last summer, I left everything I know and moved cross country to California. This summer? Jetskiing by the Atlantic and skydiving.
- I eat sushi three times a week.
- I’ve recently picked up an interest in Country music (don’t ask).
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
“Lucky or Smart?: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life” by Bo Peabody
“Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom
The Anokhi Foundation, mainly because I know the people behind it and wish them all the best.
If you can go back in time to change something professionally, what would it be?
What do you see yourself doing professionally 10 years from now?
I’m not really sure. Life is an adventure, I try not to have 10 year plans. Venture Capital does sound very interesting.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A lot of second generation South Asians are true rock stars. They have made the sacrifice their parents made by leaving their homeland truly worthwhile. I hope that by spotlighting the success of these individuals, it inspires those that take that sacrifice for granted.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
I have a tough time being starstruck. I am terrible at even remembering the names of “famous” people. I’m most interested in meeting like-minded driven individuals that are out there making things happen. If you’re a workaholic, if you’re trying to retire by 35, and are willing to put in 100 hour weeks to make a huge impact in the world, then you’re probably my type of person.
Interview by Sumaya Kazi
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez