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Interview with Haroon Mokhtarzada – Co-Founder and CEO of Webs.com

By:     Topics: Entrepreneur Interviews

Haroon Mokhtarzada Co-founded Webs.com with his 2 brothers, 2 thousand dollars and a server in the closet. Webs.com now has over 55 million websites hosted and 20,000 new ones every day which brings in a annual earnings off over $5,000,000!

First off – can we have a little background information – Where you are based? How old you all are? What motivates you? Inspires you?

We are based in Silver Spring, MD just a few blocks from my old high school (Montgomery Blair).I’m 28 years old now. We started Webs (freewebs) back in 2001, so that makes it between six and seven years old.I’m motivated by building great products that are useful and easy to use.I’m inspired by the idea that one person can benefit the lives of a large number of people if they have the will to do so.

1) I understand Freewebs.com started in 2001 – just after the Dot Com Bubble Bust. What was it like starting a new internet business at that time? Did you seek investment or was it your own money that got you started?

We started with our own money for several reasons.First, neither of us had time to work on Freewebs full time.Second, we saw the .com crash and thought it might be better to start small and try to build a business model first.Finally, we had no idea how to even begin looking for investment.

2) I really like the image that this paragraph from your website conjures up:

“It all started in 2001, like any Internet fairy tale: 3 brothers, 2 thousand dollars and 1 server in the closet. The brothers Mokhtarzada figured everyone’s getting an email address… one day everyone will have a website, too. So they set out to create a site building service easy enough for their mother to use.”

Tell me — when you started, did you ever have a vision that it would be come as successful as it has become?

 

Probably not.I think our initial hope was to make a few thousand dollars a month and then grow from there.But, “success” is relative and as you grow, you start comparing yourself against larger sites or competitors so I would imagine you aren’t totally satisfied until a really great liquidity event.

3) There are a number of Free Hosting businesses around, including some that were started well before 2001. What do you consider made you stand out? What did you start offering that others did not?

Because the network ad market had dried up, we actually started with a free web hosting with no forced ads model.I believe we were one of the first to offer something so crazy and it probably led to early growth.As we grew and ad dollars came back (especially with the advent of google adsense) then we began advertising on sites.

4) What would you say to the people who say you should never go into business with family or friends?
I would say it depends on your relationships with those family and friends. For myself and Webs, it’s been an incredibly positive experience. But I have definitely had other interactions where I wished I hadn’t engaged with friends and family.

5) How many FREE websites do you now host and how many new websites are created every day on Webs.com?
About 20,000 new sites are created daily on Webs.Over 55 million signups have been created since inception.

6) I understand that you were born in Afghanistan and came to the USA as young children. A lot of successful entrepreneurs are immigrants or from the families of immigrants – why do you think this is the case?
A couple reasons.One, immigrant parents often don’t have a network to find a job and therefore end up starting their own businesses.That’s what my parents did when they arrived, so I grew up in a family business household.Being exposed to that growing up and never seeing my dad work for anyone but himself probably played a big role in my own desire to be an entrepreneur.

7) I have been reading about http://www.pagii.com – can you tell us what this site does and how it fits into the Webs.com family?

While Webs is really for more structured, professional websites, Pagii is a social expression tool that is completely drag and drop, unstructured, and unfettered.It’s targeted for youth who want to share pictures and other content in a completely new way.

8) If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what business related advice would you give yourself?

Setup business analytics earlier so you can track progress and see warning signs quickly.Also, “less is more”.

9) Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?

It’s definitely in my blood.I certainly never “learned” entrepreneurship, it’s just what I enjoyed.So I think some people are entrepreneurs and won’t enjoy other lines of work.But I don’t think that means people who enjoy other lines of work can’t be entrepreneurs.Meaning, the “genetic entrepreneurs” are only part of the total entrepreneur pool.

10) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one)

I think a lot of people look up to Steve Jobs.I also have a lot of respect for Max Levchin and Mark Zuckerburg.

11) Do you have any favorite business related, webmaster or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?

From good to great:Tipping Point, The Alchemist.

12) What is the best advice you have ever been given?

Trust your instincts.

13) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur setting up their first business?

Launch early and fast and get it in front of people.Don’t try to get everything right out the door.9 out of 10 times, people have ideas, start the project, work on it, and then abandon before ever hitting the market.You have to get something out there and get feedback from customers as cheaply and quickly as possible.Then assess your next step from there.Also, try to pick something that can scale, where you can serve a lot of people, without hiring a lot of people.

14) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?

Fundamentally, I’d like to spend my days doing public interest work, like running a charitable operation.I do feel a responsibility to give back to my community, as well as to Afghanistan.Things that scale, like micro-finance interest me the most.

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