Jan 28, 2011
Part I of II
MITER: Saadiq, what got you into entrepreneurship?
I was in the inaugural Entrepreneurship & Innovation track at MIT Sloan and I remember in one of our lectures Professor Edward Roberts mentioned that the chief indicator that someone was going to become an entrepreneur is what his or her father did. And, my father is an entrepreneur.
I’m from Jamaica and my father lives in Jamaica. He used to teach taekwondo, had a taekwondo school, then ran a taxi cab company, and then later he ran a computer hardware support company and was the only official Apple dealer in Jamaica. So that’s my dad’s story.
Myself, I went to Princeton undergrad, got a degree in computer science, worked for IBM and Major League Baseball. After MLB, I went to Sloan for MBA and graduated in 2008, worked for a year at Dailymotion, quit the job to start full-time the day after at Hot Potato, where I’ve been working on nights and weekends for a while up till then.
MITER: Tell more about your father’s influence on you.
I don’t know if I got any explicit guidance or instruction from my father in the area of entrepreneurship. It was more implicit, a part of the fabric of the family, specifically the notion of risk-taking. I remember my father telling a story, for example, about his transportation company. He accepted a contract to drop off and pick up the staff of Air Jamaica knowing that the contract required a certain amount of vehicles which he did not have yet. And he was going to commit himself to it and just figure it out, and he managed to do that. Hearing such stories normalized, and even glorified, risk-taking.
As an aside, this is also the value of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation program at MIT Sloan – that is, having people around you who do not think that taking entrepreneurial risks is crazy. I had a bunch of classmates who were not recruiting at all. You asked them about their plans and every one of them answered, “I’m gonna start a company.” Having them around made it feel more comfortable to just pass up all of these people who went, “Oh, you better get your resume and show up at this event and get ready to shake hands.”
I remember I almost wrote my cover letter for Bain & Co, because they were … nice – I mean, they come to campus, chat with you, wine and dine you. It’s a good time. But then I realized, “Hold on, I don’t want to be a consultant.”
So my father and the Sloan E&I program created an environment that was accepting and supporting of entrepreneurship.
MITER: Now onto Hot Potato. How did it feel to have it acquired by Facebook?
(Long pause. Saadiq had to take another call.) Sorry, that was actually my father calling from Jamaica. He wanted to put something in the paper in Jamaica about the Hot Potato acquisition and I sort of had to indulge him.
Anyway, the acquisition was surreal. In one way, I’ve been more successful than many of my friends who are also entrepreneurs. In another way, I’ve been doing the exact same thing as all of them this entire time. It’s constantly a grind, constantly a hustle, constantly selling it, constantly pitching it. So it’s surreal to even have you on the phone and writing a story about it.
MITER: How does it happen?
Doesn’t happen very often. When considering the potential that we could have, that was a logical acquisition. Among Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter, Facebook made the most sense considering what we’ve been working on. I would have loved to have more time to get Hot Potato to realize more of its potential. At the same time, I’m very happy about the outcome and very happy that our team is going to go on and really make this happen at Facebook.
How do you make this happen? I don’t know. Having only done this once, I can’t say there’s a formula. We had shared friends, we met them, we started talking. One of our advisors went to school with Mark Zuckerberg. Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook, is now in New York working on something else, our paths had crossed. There were a couple of vectors for that introduction. It was a completely organic thing. We didn’t set out to sell the company to Facebook. It just sort of developed that way on both sides.
To be continued…