Why you messin’ with my girlfriend? Your car has been hit! Your order of 20 pizzas is here! We’ve all heard some variation of these pranks in our lifetime and have unwittingly been duped into our most gullible selves.
Yup, we can blame our guy, Fahim Saleh, Founder of PrankDial and its parent company, KickBack Apps (formerly known as TapFury) and Founding Partner at HackHouse Dhaka, who never grew out of his childhood tendencies to pull others’ leg and successfully created the original Internet prank dial website.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Fahim moved quite a bit before settling in Rochester, New York. From a middle-class Bengali family with two sisters, he was extremely determined and was constantly seeking novel ways to earn money. While attending eighth grade in Poughkeepsie, NY, his interest in computers developed from researching websites and reading about the Google founders and other players in the relatively new tech industry. Did he inherit this computer interest from his father, a computer scientist? Nah, Fahim instead credits his knack for technology to the hours he spent playing video games.
Fahim’s first website was Salehfamily.com, hosted on AOL Hometown. When his parents threw family parties, his father would ask relatives to visit the website, bringing the total monthly visits to approximately five people! Not BuzzFeed numbers, but for someone who was trying the ropes, it was exciting and encouraging.
At the age of 15, Fahim began experimenting with programming and built teen-hangout.com, a too-early-for-its-time social network. After he asked all his friends to publish articles, it became a community-oriented blogging forum. Through a lot of site trial and error, he started making $2-$3 a month. “I just sat at my house in my pajamas, created something, placed some ads and generated revenue. That showed promise that it could actually be successful and I could make money off this.”
“Although I was an early adopter of the app industry, I missed out on a bunch of gold mines like the Facebook app market.”
By high school, Fahim was generating $100k-$150k in profit from websites that catered to a young demographic, such as AIMdude.com, iconfun.com, msndollz.com, icondude.com, and more. He recalls, “I would stay up super late, work on it and would be worried my Dad would catch me. He thought it would hinder my schoolwork, which it didn’t. Then, I got my first paycheck from Google for $500 as a teenager and showed it to my Dad. He was like, ‘Okay, let’s open an account.’ The same website was sold on eBay for $2,000.” During this time, Fahim serendipitously met Ohio native, Kyle Kapper, a young man as tech savvy and ambitious as Fahim, also building his own websites and selling them. Although very different culturally, they found a common ground in their passion for creating websites and decided to work together, remotely.
Who Says You Need To Be Social To Get Social?
“I was a very naughty kid and would go out with friends, even get rocks and scratch cars when I was young. The wake up call was when I got caught by the car owner and had to plea with my parents to help me. They ended up paying $500 for the damages, leaving only $1,000 in their savings account. I remember that night vividly; my Mom was crying because our only option would be to move back to Bangladesh. Luckily, the next day my Dad got an offer from a university to teach computer science. But, we could easily have been back in Bangladesh and it has been a slow progress ever since.”
This may be the reason for Fahim’s strong work ethic and humility, but his pursuit for success began at Bentley University, where he was studying computer information systems. “I was a loner in college, very shy, so I had a lot of time to work on side businesses and dig deep on how to make cool things that other people would enjoy.” His college gigs (while most of us were partying it up in Boston) included starting a customized t-shirt company (think Ed Hardy!) with his roommate and initiating menuvo, a Facebook application that students could use for food delivery. He remembers literally going to every restaurant in every nook and cranny of Boston to pick up their menu, then uploading them all to a server. To his dismay, the server crashed one day and rather than manually update it all over again, Fahim moved on.
“I am very lucky to get in before the app market was saturated…it would be much harder to get the word out for PrankDial now”
April Fool’s Day may only be once a year, but Fahim’s love for pulling pranks lives year round. Graduated in 2009, not able to land a job he cared for, Fahim was motivated to create something of his own. What better way to mesh his mischievous nature with his tech knowledge, than by automating the prank calling service?
PrankDial was the result of Fahim’s innate ability to manipulate in-person social experiences into fun and interactive activities online. Working with a contractor, he taught himself the nitty-gritty of the app business, including recording his own voice for some of the pranks (his most famous ones are still on the app, by the way). A mode to send personalized pranks to your friends, PrankDial has grown enormously and now reaches half a million active users on a monthly basis.
“When you’re doing really well and become very successful, the most valuable thing in your life becomes time”
With company headquarters in Chelsea, a beautiful apartment and constant travel plans, Fahim may seem like he is living the dream life. But the journey wasn’t easy. Along the way, he learned a thing or two about building app companies. He even admits, “I’m not a great leader. I am not the guy who walks into the room and motivates my employees to kick ass. As a CEO, the best thing to do is to have thinkers on the team, not employees, but partners who are co-sharing your vision and success.”
For those starting off in this space, he advises, “two things: (1) invent something really ingenious; don’t just improve an existing product, and (2) your user base depends on your focus. For example, PrankDial has no audience constraints. But for a social app like Tinder, you can’t expect to launch everywhere. Test the service in specific markets first. Understand how to get your customers to become evangelists for your product, all the way from customer support to quick turnover on bug fixes in real time.” His most expensive lesson? “It is very important to hire people that will take the time to concentrate on one product and treat it as their baby, 24/7. When I tried to do too many things at once is when I failed the most. Hire people if you want to grow!”
“I would like to create something that adds legitimate value to humanity”
Besides changing the way the world interacts via app design, Fahim is looking toward the next thing: “PrankDial is great because it makes people smile, but it still doesn’t have a huge impact. The real question is, how can I use my abilities to make humanity better than what it was before I created this product/service?”
Looking for a mentor, advisor or simply a friend to plan your next prank with? Fahim is your man and we promise he won’t disappoint. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected.