The Kindred Road Conversations have taken a backseat to some other projects as of late, but I have an awesome guest for you today: a young, ambitious entrepreneur named Sasha Eslami. Sasha’s been hard at work on his third tech startup, Wedding Snap, a photo sharing website dedicated to weddings that integrates with both iPhone and Android smartphones. Getting fun, candid photos from your wedding has never been so easy! I think Sasha’s idea definitely has some legs to it, and I have a good feeling that the third time around for Sasha is, indeed, going to be a charm.
Sasha and I had the chance to talk at length back at the end of March — just after his big move out to startup-central, Palo Alto, CA — and what resulted is the conversation below. I’ve included our full audio conversation, as well as a transcript of the conversation’s first 15 minutes. (If you decide to read the transcript, you can finish the conversation by listening to the audio file. If you don’t want to listen to the part of the conversation you’ve already read, go ahead and play the audio file, but then drag your audio player’s location-marking cursor to the 15-minute mark — or thereabouts.)
I’ve also included a table of contents to help you navigate the audio conversation — although I would recommend listening to the dialogue in full to really get the most out of the talk.
And when you’re finished listening, make sure you check out wedding-snap.com for the most recent happenings in Sasha’s world of Wedding Snap.
Now … enjoy this Kindred Road Conversation with Sasha Eslami!
Note: Each numbered heading 1) lists its respective location within the audio recording (time format — hh:mm:ss), and 2) provides a short description of the material covered within the section.
- Introduction - (00:00:00)
Get a short background on Sasha.
- Time to Minglle - (00:05:31)
Before there was Wedding Snap, there was Minglle, Sasha’s first startup … and where he met Davide, his fellow Wedding Snap cofounder.
- Why read when you can listen instead? - (00:11:23)
Startup #2: Convert Text to Speech.
- Putting an idea to the test - (00:14:34)
Wedding Snap finds its origins in an Atlanta startup competition.
- All in – (00:20:15)
Sasha and Davide decide to go to work full-time on Wedding Snap.
- Out to the public - (00:23:49)
The Wedding Snap smartphone app hits the iPhone app store and starts to build momentum.
- Division of labor – (00:28:03)
Who does what at Wedding Snap?
- It takes $ - (00:34:00)
How Wedding Snap has been able to survive its early days.
- Family - (00:39:13)
What it’s like being an entrepreneur in a more traditionally minded family.
- A unique relationship - (00:42:39)
As company cofounders, Sasha and Davide have a lot riding on each other.
- The pitch - (00:49:08)
Why Wedding Snap will be successful.
- In more detail - (00:53:40)
Sasha discusses Wedding Snap’s products at a finer level.
- Wrapping it up - (00:57:46)
Time to let the hustler go so he can get to work in the Valley!
(If you can’t play/see the audio file using the media player above, go here to play the file.)
RSS note: If you are reading this post with an RSS feed reader, you will most likely find the audio player attached to the very end of the post, beneath the social networking icons.
Audio length: 58 minutes, 43 seconds.
Audio size: 40.3 MB
Download: Right-click this link, and then select the menu option that lets you save the audio file to your computer/device.
Note: All text in square brackets (i.e. [ ]) was not part of the original conversation, but was added later for contextual clarification.
Mike: Welcome to Kindred Road Conversation #4. We are here today with Sasha Eslami, the cofounder of Wedding Snap, and it’s a pretty awesome site — especially in today’s age — focusing on weddings, iPhone and Android apps, and just sheer organization and efficiency of photos. Sasha’s doing some great things, and we’re going to put him on the Kindred Road Conversation today. Sasha, welcome.
Sasha: Thank you, thank you. I hope I can be valuable to your podcast.
Mike: You definitely can be valuable to the podcast, man! “Great education through simple conversation”: that’s the motto over here. A lot of great things can be learned just from conversing with other people. As far as I can see, you have a pretty cool story to tell. You’re out in Palo Alto now, is that correct?
Sasha: Yes, that’s correct. I just moved out here from Atlanta, GA after living in Atlanta for six years. I did my undergrad there — at Georgia Tech — and I just moved out of Atlanta to Palo Alto to get inside Silicon Valley, network with a lot of investors, and be able to get the knowledge that a lot of people have over here on technology startups.
Mike: That’s great. So you’re the cofounder of Wedding Snap. And your other cofounder is … Davide?
Sasha: Yeah, Davide. Davide did his Master’s at Georgia Tech. At that time [when we were at Georgia Tech], we didn’t know each other. But we did another startup before Wedding Snap, and we got to know each other through that. Then we started working on Wedding Snap together … and right now he’s actually in Italy. He’s living with his family until we get funding, and then he’s going to come over here.
Mike: That’s great. So you’re in Palo Alto now, and Davide’s in Italy … but you kind of had your roots back at Georgia Tech. Are you a Georgia native from your time before that?
Sasha: No. I used to live in Birmingham, AL before that — but my family’s from Iran — and we used to travel back and forth between Iran and Birmingham since I was a little kid.
Mike: Oh, wow. So were you born in the States, or over in Iran?
Sasha: I was born in Iran.
Mike: When did you come over to the States?
Sasha: The first time I came to the States was when I was six years old … or seven; in first grade, I was in the U.S.
Mike: And then back and forth.
Sasha: And then, yeah, back and forth. I was in the U.S. for parts of middle school; high school I was in Iran — three years of high school. And then after that, I came back to Birmingham and went to a community college. Then I went to Georgia Tech as a freshman and started doing a lot of things there. And now I’m here.
Mike: What did you study while you were at Georgia Tech?
Sasha: At Georgia Tech, I studied Industrial Engineering. In the beginning, I was studying Architecture and Industrial Engineering, but after the first semester, I dropped Architecture. People used to call it “Archi-torture” [Mike laughs] because it’s really hard. I could only do so many all-nighters during the week, and I knew architecture wasn’t the thing I really wanted to focus on — it wasn’t my passion. My passion was business — business strategy, business expansion … as they call it in Silicon Valley, being a “hustler.”
Mike: “Being a hustler” — I like that. Does industrial engineering fit in pretty well with what you’re doing right now, in the role that you have with your startup? Or was industrial engineering just what you chose, and now you’re kind of moving on from there?
Sasha: Looking back, I can see how it relates to my current role. Industrial Engineering gives you a very good background of both engineering and management. Industrial Engineering, overall, allowed me to take a lot of technical courses, as well as management courses, business courses … and lay down a very solid foundation on how to work efficiently and academically. How to think academically, how to plan better, how to forecast better — these things make the background of your thoughts a lot better to help you solve any problem. So Industrial Engineering gave me the foundation to be able to problem solve better.
Mike: That’s great. How long were you at Georgia Tech before you met Davide?
Sasha: I met Davide in my last year at Georgia Tech. Actually, I didn’t even meet him….
It was me and another cofounder on my last startup called “Minglle.” There were two of us: me and Daniel. We were looking for another person who would have some sort of smartphone application development skills, and we sent out an email to the Georgia Tech Computer Science email list. We said, Hey, we have a startup, and we’re looking for someone with these kinds of skills. Around 10-12 people responded, and of those people, one was Davide.
We started interviewing all these people, but at that time, Davide was in Brazil. He was working on his Ph.D. research project in Brazil. My first thought was “This will never work. This guy’s long distance … it’s not going to work.” I told Daniel, “Hey, stop wasting your time with him.” But Daniel kept on talking with him, and Davide started showing a lot of value. So we realized, OK, maybe this can work, and we brought him on to be part of the team with Minglle. That was in September 2010. And then in May 2011 — when I graduated — Davide went from Brazil to Italy to visit his family, and then from Italy to the U.S.
At that point, we were like, OK, we have six months to make this work. I had just graduated and had to say “no” to job offers; Davide could’ve gotten very good job offers, but he didn’t pursue a job. We said, “OK, we have a six-month runway to just do a startup.” It was a hard conversation to have with my parents. Not that many traditional parents know what tech startups are and how you should deal with them. So I had to have a conversation with them … and at the end of the day, they knew that it was my choice. But still, I needed their support financially, so I had to convince them to support me until December — from May to December — and then if I wasn’t making revenue by November, I would get a job. This was when I was working on Minglle, my last startup. So what happened after that was Davide came to the U.S., and we were both roommates. He also had a six-month runway because of his visa … and his own finances. Anyway, we kind of shut-down Minglle in August 2011 … a little bit earlier, actually — in July.
Mike: What was Minglle?
Sasha: Minglle — good question. If you go to a conference or networking event right now, there are a lot of people around you, but you don’t know who they are … and you want to know who they are because you want to network — you want to maximize your networking. So we made an iPhone / smartphone application that basically shows you a list of all the people at a conference, with their names, pictures, company profiles, backgrounds, common connections [with other people at the conference], etc. The application works by getting the attendee list from the organizer, and then it pulls out all the attendees’ information from LinkedIn.
Sasha: We would put the information into a smartphone, enter an event code, and then everyone inside the event with a smartphone could access the information and be able to maximize their networking.
Mike: Nice. So back to where you were [in your story] with Minglle…
Sasha: So we were working on Minglle — it was me, Davide, and Daniel. I think Minglle is still an idea that can solve a market pain. Every day you go to a conference, you wonder, “Hey, how many frogs can I kiss to be able to meet that person who’s very useful to my business?”
Sasha: And Minglle kind of solved that problem. But the problem was that the solution we had was a B2B solution — business-to-business. That means we had to partner-up with event planners and event organizers. The thing is — especially in Atlanta — if you show up knocking on event organizers’ doors and you’re like, “Hey, I have this great solution for you,” the first questions they ask are “Who are you? What makes you qualified?” And besides that, they’re not even that technology-savvy. They have to decide whether they should stop their lives and listen to us, or just continue as if nothing has happened.
Another problem was that Minglle would benefit the attendees directly. You could say that by benefiting the attendees, the conference organizer would also benefit … but that’s more of an indirect benefit. So it [Minglle] didn’t have an immediate direct benefit for the organizers and planners, making it a little bit harder to convince them to let us do this [run Minglle at an event]. So in July we decided to stop working on Minglle.
Then we were wondering, “What can we do?” We didn’t have any other projects, so we turned to one of the big startup gurus in Silicon Valley, Paul Graham. We started reading one of his essays that talks about how your idea is much better if solves a pain that you’re having; if you’re solving a pain that you’re having yourself, you have a lot better chance of succeeding with your idea.
I was really big into audio books and podcasts, because I was a slow reader. Ever since the time I discovered audio books, I was able to finish a hundred-times more books than before. So I noticed that was a problem I had [reading slowly]. I was relying on audio sources to be able to gain my knowledge. A lot of times I wanted to read a PDF [document], but I didn’t have time for it … but with an audio version of it, I could finish it within an hour while commuting to work, doing laundry — whatever.
We did some research, and we found that there’s a huge market opportunity for converting text to audio. Converting-text-to-audio keywords are very successful keywords in Google search; they get almost two million hits a month. It’s a big business — and there are a lot of players in it — but we noticed that in the converting-text-to-audio market, all the solutions are software…. They’re either all software where some robotic sound comes out that no one wants to listen to unless they have to, or there’s a very high-end voiceover artist that costs $500-600 dollars an hour to get a recording.
We noticed that there was nothing in the middle…. I’m just going to pay some native guy — and he’s going to read this 14-page PDF for me — and I’m going to pay him $20 an hour…. He could be a college student. So we started a business called “Convert Text to Speech.” The goal was to hire students — voiceover artist students — and be able to run a business to satisfy that need [for converting text to speech].
We noticed that the audio market was booming. Nowadays, since smartphones are getting in more and more people’s hands, and since people are commuting a lot more, commuters are the biggest fans of audio — audio and podcasts. So we got into that business, and we were working on it for one month, when we happened to stumble upon a startup competition.
Mike: And this is still the three of you, or this is only you and Davide at this point [working on Convert Text to Speech]?
Sasha: It was only Davide and I at this point.
Sasha: Daniel was going back to school — back to Georgia Tech — to finish is second degree. Daniel studied Industrial Engineering … but his second degree was [going to be] in Computer Science…
To enjoy the rest of this Kindred Road Conversation, please listen to the audio file embedded earlier in this post. If you don’t want to listen to the part of the conversation you’ve already read, go ahead and play the audio file, but then drag your audio player’s position-marking cursor to the 15-minute mark — or thereabouts. (Note: After dragging your cursor to your chosen position, you might need to wait a few moments before the conversation begins to play, as the audio file will need to load up until the chosen point of playback.)
Thanks for reading and listening!
See you on the Road,