In early summer 2014, I was having a technical problem with my website. I visited some of the online freelancer sites to find someone who could solve the problem. Within minutes, after posting a paragraph describing the problem, I received a flood of proposals from people all over the world. Hourly rates ranged as low as $7 per hour. This is typical for freelancer sites. I reviewed the backgrounds, references, and descriptions of work the freelancers had performed. The common characteristic which stood out was poor English. One exception was a young man named Bilal Athar in Lahore, Pakistan.
Bilal was just 25 years old when I first knew him. His communications skills were excellent and he was highly competent technically. He solved my problem quickly, and then asked if I would take a look at a business idea he had been thinking about. I looked at a few slides, and was quite impressed. I offered some feedback and encouraged Bilal to pursue his vision. He, in turn, asked if I would be his mentor. I said yes. Subsequently, he asked if I would invest in his company. An unintended pattern was developing. Bilal continued to develop his idea, and I continued to invest. In the summer of 2016, Bilal was selected as one of ten Pakistani entrepreneurs to attend a three week technology conference in Austin, Texas. This was Bilal’s first visit to the U.S., and he was able to spend a few days at our home, meet family members, and visit New York City. My respect for him continued to increase.
This week was a special one for Bilal as he was selected, at age 27, by Forbes as a member of the 30 Under 30 Asia list – Class of 2017. The list includes the top 30 entrepreneurs under the age of 30. This is quite an honor for Bilal, and well deserved. Forbes sifted through thousands of nominations, and then convened what they described as, “the best panel of judges ever”. The Asian list (official hashtag #ForbesU30Asia) is a continuation of the global expansion of the Forbes 30 Under 30 franchise, a franchise that includes amazing alumni such as Palmer Luckey from Oculus, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy from Snapchat, basketball superstar LeBron James, and K-pop star G-Dragon.
It is likely the selection of Bilal to the 30/30 list will bring new investors to wifigen, the company Bilal founded back in 2014. Wifigen is an AI based customer retention platform which helps brick & mortar retailers retain customers using their WiFi network. Everyday, thousands of people are taking advantage of wifigen’s free WiFi service, and the providers of the WiFi are gaining new information about consumer habits. Wifigen’s solution is a win-win for the business and the consumer.