🔊 Leonid: I've got Mu on the line here. You're an entrepreneur, you're a co-founder of a startup, SitEat, and you're also a multi-sport athlete.
🔊 Mu: Sure, I started off playing soccer.
🔊 Leonid: Let me ask you about your startup first. What do you guys do?
🔊 Mu: We're a mobile ordering platform for live events and live venues to help guests like you and me order in advance and skip long lines to save time, so you know when your food is ready to pick it up so you can enjoy the events right there.
🔊 Leonid: Sounds like if I go to a stadium and I'm watching an event and I want to get something to eat, normally I have to wait in line. There's an entire process with waiting in line. There are people who cut in front of you. You have to navigate a line, so you guys take that away and the end user downloads the mobile app. Correct?
🔊 Mu: Or they scan a QR code with their phone.
🔊 Leonid: Okay, And then the vendors, basically, have to install a point of sale system. How does that work?
🔊 Mu: No, we provide them with either a tablet or integrate them into the already existing point of sale system.
🔊 Leonid: Oh, really? Okay, so you integrate with their existing POS. That's really cool. And then how do you deal with finding people? Let's say I'm sitting somewhere. Do I know when to pick up food or does the food come to me? How does that work?
🔊 Mu: We'll text you when it's time for you to pick it up.
🔊 Leonid: Okay. So it's like you guys almost introduced a ticketing system, like the one that you have at the DMV. But now you make the ordering line go away, right?
🔊 Mu: Sure, we do that while waiting in line. This way, now you can wait, sit with your friends, with your family, and just have fun. When your food is ready, we will text you to come pick it up.
🔊 Leonid: Really cool. And how did you come up with that idea? Like, how did that come to you?
🔊 Mu: So me and my co-founder, who's also my best friend, met in middle school in Nigeria, back in boarding school. He was kind of working on the idea and I was kind of working on the idea, and we came together to join our ideas together and create SitEat. For me, I realized this was a problem when my mom came to watch me for the very first time to work and play basketball in person.
🔊 Mu: She missed most of the game after halftime, spending most of the time waiting in line trying to get food. So I was kind of worried. And after the game, I was like, "is whatever you are doing more important than watching my game?" And she was like, "Um, no."
🔊 Mu: But she was like, "It's just the lines in the toilet are long, the lines in the food space are long." And at that point in college, I was working for Aramark, so I used to do the football concessions as well. So I was like, "Yeah, that's really true." This line is a problem for people to order from their seat, and we just kind of started throwing ideas around, and you know, I called my friend, my best friend, who I know was a big-time product guy. And I was like, "What do you think about this idea?" And he said, "I'm working on it, too." So it was kind of like a match made in heaven for us. We just started working.
🔊 Leonid: So you had a sort of synchronicity in which you both independently discovered a need for it. Kind of like with calculus, right? It was discovered because it was time for it.
It was kind of like a match made in heaven for us. We just started working.
🔊 Leonid: Okay, so that's really cool, man. It's interesting because I was born in the Soviet Union and I'm very familiar with lines. My grandma used to take me to stand in line when I was a little kid to wait in line to get butter or something. So I remember being like, "Will this line ever end?"
🔊 Leonid: And so I think people, when they go to sporting events, experience what a line is. And, you know, nobody likes to wait in lines. No matter how cool the line is, nobody ever wants to wait in line, even if it's the coolest club in the world. People would much rather bypass that line. It makes sense.
🔊 Leonid: Here's the question I have. When you transitioned from being a soccer player to playing basketball. I mean, granted, they're both sports and you're in the same situation, but they're pretty different sports. right? Just in general how they work, and I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in that, but just my own understanding of going from doing different things, even if they're in the same wheelhouse, they're going to be difficult. How much of a change was it for you to go from being an athlete to being an entrepreneur? And what was it that stayed the same? What is the same about going from one sport to the other? Or from being an athlete to becoming an entrepreneur. What's the same? And what's different?
🔊 Mu: Obviously, what's different is that you're no longer in the gym and shooting hoops or having people come watch you. But I think the discipline that you learn from being an athlete is pretty much carried over to being an entrepreneur.
The discipline that you learn from being an athlete is pretty much carried over to being an entrepreneur.
🔊 Mu: Now in basketball, you have to strategize, you have to practice. You have to watch the film. The same with entrepreneurship. You have to do all these things. You have to just be a hustler. Everything you learn from being an athlete carries over to being an entrepreneur. You want to play? If it doesn't work out, the coach tells you to run another play, and we keep running plays till we find the one that works. Entrepreneurship, particularly at the startup level, is simply running plays to see which ones work and will continue to work in the future. So that's where I find similar synergy with basketball being an athlete.
🔊 Leonid: So let me see if I understand you correctly. There's an aspect of when you're playing the game, you're going to start trying, right? Like, when something is not working, you're not going to back down, right? You're going to lean in and you're going to start basically applying different approaches.
Entrepreneurship, particularly at the startup level, is simply running plays to see which ones work and will continue to work in the future.
🔊 Leonid: We know that's true in things like computer security, for example. Right? If I'm going to try to get in somewhere and it doesn't work, if I back down, that's how I lose. There are times to say, "This is just not going to work." For whatever that strategy is, I have to change the strategy drastically for it to work, but it doesn't mean I'll give up on the goal. It might seem like giving up, but it's really just a big readjustment.
🔊 Leonid: This is really insightful, man. Now, what about the transition from soccer to basketball? Did you ever doubt that you'd be able to make that transition, because that's a big transition?
🔊 Mu: No, I was discovered. I went with a friend of mine to a basketball camp. He was doing the camp and I was just there for moral support. So, along the way, I got bored of watching the game and wanted to go play soccer over at the field close to where my friend's camp was. And that's where a coach fell out of the camp and started talking to me about basketball and how I would be a good player. I just didn't understand the sport. I didn't see why it was necessary for people to bounce the ball. I was just a big soccer guy.
🔊 Leonid: Okay, and did you want to play soccer professionally, or was it just something you enjoyed doing as a kid?
🔊 Mu: I wanted to play professionally, but at that time I was also dealing with my dad and mom, who wanted me to go to medical school. Actually, I was admitted to medical school, and so I was sneaking around to play basketball. I really wanted to play professionally. I mean, I knew I could do it.
🔊 Leonid: That's really cool, man, because a lot of times, people don't think of athletes as people that have a choice to pursue other things, right?
I was sneaking around to play basketball. I really wanted to play professionally. I mean, I knew I could do it.
🔊 Leonid: So it's like you've been able to pursue being a doctor, which is probably one of the more difficult things a person could do. And to give props to people who succeed in sports. I mean, you're putting in work.
🔊 Leonid: I was reading that LeBron James became the first billionaire. Like, that's a basketball player, right? And I mean, that dude is impressive. To be honest, I hadn't watched that much basketball until I saw him play and I was just like, it's impossible to dislike the guy. I think people on the opposing team cheer for him. There's something about the way he plays. He just puts in work, and you have to respect that.
🔊 Leonid: So you went from a place where your parents wanted you to go to med school to a place where you wanted to play professional soccer. And then this opportunity came up, and you just knew it was the right thing to do. Is that what happened?
🔊 Mu: At first, when the opportunity came up, I just thought it was a waste of time for the coach and myself because, you know, in an African home, your parents have the final say on what you're going to be. I kind of saw, like, maybe that's where my future lies. I would go to school and graduate from college. So it was just about convincing my dad, and that took a while to convince my dad and mom. Little by little, with some stubbornness from me, I convinced my parents to say okay to me moving to the United States to start playing basketball.
🔊 Mu: The other thing was that I had to learn the game all first, because I didn't know what dribbling was or what traveling was. I just didn't know any of these things. I just knew I could jump rope as high as possible and dunk on people. That just come naturally to me. That's all I knew.
In an African home, your parents want you to be a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer.
🔊 Leonid: Okay, And you know, it's interesting that when you said your parents had to okay things. Was it a cultural thing? I lived in India for almost two years which is a very different culture, a different way. I mean, it's a beautiful culture. So if you can share some more about your culture, that would be awesome.
🔊 Mu: You know, in an African home, your parents want you to be a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer. Anything outside of these three professions is kind of useless to them.
🔊 Leonid: Okay.
🔊 Mu: I think it comes from education being expensive at that time, and so they wanted to make sure I could go to school. I would get a profession where you can get a good-paying job. But what they didn't realize was that everybody was going for the same thing. So by the time people graduated from school, there were limited job offers. At that age, I couldn't really pay my bills. I was still living under their roof, so I kind of had to fall in line with whatever they wanted.
When looking for the right co-founder, you want to go ride or die with them.
🔊 Leonid: Okay, cool, man. Thank you.
🔊 Leonid: So one last question. Could you give other entrepreneurs advice, specifically on how to pick a co-founder? What recommendations would you give as far as which attributes you look for in a co-founder?
🔊 Mu: I would say, you look out for somebody that compliments you skill-wise.
🔊 Mu: Look for someone that complements you skill-wise and bring them on board, but at the same time, you kind of have to figure out, do I like this person? Do I like working with them? Is this going to cause trouble? Do our egos clash and stuff like that? Trying to have two big egos in the room, it's kind of difficult to get stuff done. I kind of want to know if this guy invested as much as possible in the business. I mean, when you find those kinds of guys, you kind of want to go ride or die with them.
🔊 Mu: When we first started up, I was still a professional player, and we just kind of had similar stuff like, "Hey, we need somebody on the ground to push this thing over." And so I called my team in Spain and told them, "I'm not coming." I quit basketball. I'm okay. I trust you. You can actually do this. But it's just finding that right fit. Like, does this person really work?
🔊 Mu: Find someone you enjoy working with because some days you want to check them and other days you want to be best friends. You guys argue like hell, going at each other. For me, when I was picking a co-founder or when we were picking co-founders, I wanted somebody that no matter how bad the argument got, we never put the company at risk. We usually talk about it as a marriage, as if this is a marriage. These days, co-founder separation is more acrimonious. So you kind of want to be careful. You want to be someone that has your best interests at heart.
Finding the right co-founder is hard and can take time. You have to feel that “click” with the other person. You have to take some time to get to know them, have a few fights with them to see if this can last. Like Mu said, it’s like a marriage and divorces are all too common.
What Mu did here by sticking to his guns and getting his folks to let him do his things is fantastic. I wish more kids would have his drive and determination. Nothing should stop you if you want something badly. Just don’t stop until you get it! No one can stop you unless you quit. No one! It’s up to all of us to do what needs to be done and push ourselves out of our safe spots, comfort zones and become a better version of ourselves.
I so wish more parents would just support their kids in whatever it is THEY want to be and not just try to push doctor/lawyer on them. Don’t we have enough unhappy adults in the world? Some of them are that because they were forced by their parents to become something they had no interest in becoming. I know that some push back like Mu here but most don’t and in some cases, they end up wasting their potential and life.
If we’d only learn (once and for all) that pushing our own desires and agenda onto other people (whether it’s our kids, family, coworkers, etc) is never the right thing to do… Just let everyone do what they love because the world needs people that do what they love, what makes them come alive. This world is filled with people with broken dreams, working in jobs they hate or barely like. How would planet earth look like with 90% people working in jobs they love? Can you imagine?
This is an awesome concept! I have been to concerts and the woman's line to the bathroom is a mile long..and by the time you are done intermission is almost over. I love being able to order my food through an app and have it ready to pickup! It is awesome that you are able to work together to put this together, Best of luck!
Those lines are always there, aren't they? So cool to hear someone is actually doing something to help us watch the game instead of having to wait in line for food. Could they do this for the bathroom lines as well? Joking but could they ;)?
Loved the interview and looking forward to more of these! I always like hearing from entrepreneurs, to hear them think, about their background and to see how it all started. It always brings up ideas of my own.
It goes to show you that opportunities can present themselves unexpectedly. You need to be ready to move when the time is right. It sounds like Mu has excellent judgment and discipline and a good understanding of how to use his skills and experience to grow new opportunities. Very inspirational - I wish him all the best!
Such an insightful and easy to digest interview!
As a mom who has also spent so much precious time standing in lines at her sons games, hearing about SitEat made me so excited! What an awesome way to make the most of waiting time.
I really enjoyed hearing about the back story of how all of these things come together. Learning about the hurdles, the thought processes, and the work ethic of these entrepreneurs makes me that much more interested in the work they're doing.
The advice Mu gave on picking a good business partner is setting in to marinate in my mind.
Well worth the listen/read. Thanks!
Thank you for all of the great advice in this interview. SitEat is such a great idea and it is always interesting to see how different apps and companies started. I specifically liked the advice on choosing a co-partner. Running a business with others can be hard, but I fill like Mu's advice was right on. Thanks again for a great listen!