What’s Going on Around You: Faris Sheikh and the Blimp

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Entrepreneurs of Bentley is an article series profiling the latest innovations and startups from the Bentley University community. Know someone who should be featured? Tell us about it at Bentley.edu/story

Entrepreneur: Faris Sheikh

Class: 2016

Hometown: Newton, MA

Major: Management with an entrepreneurship concentration

Service: iOS application The Blimp

“I’ve never been someone who’s wanted to play video games. I’ve always wanted to produce something, to create something. Even when I was 7 and bored, I’d find something productive to do. I just like to get things done. That self-starter attitude has served me well as an entrepreneur.”

 

Tell us about your app, Blimp.
Blimp helps students discover information in an extremely easy and accessible way. They get useful tips, alerts, event information and campus announcements in a single, centralized place.

This includes anything from a tip about discovering a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck on campus to, “Tomorrow is the last day you can drop classes.” It’s on-the-go information curated by the people on campus, so it’s all very authentic.

If you wake up in the morning and you want to plan your day, you can open up Blimp and see 200-character updates that will be useful for you. Those updates are voted on by other students, so you see what is actually important.

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How did you come up with the idea for Blimp?
About four years ago, my uncle and I discussed how we’re inundated by all of this information from around the world, but we don’t even know what our next-door neighbor is doing. I realized there was a lack of information about our local surroundings. I was really inspired by that.

In 2011, I visited Pakistan, my home country. I had to stay indoors because it was violent and dangerous outside, and I was really bored. I knew a bit of coding, so I coded up my own app that was very similar to Blimp. Users within an enclosed radius could post messages and their neighbors could see them.

It slowly transformed into a capstone project in my last year of high school. I joined with my uncle, who’s the CEO of a software company, and got mentorship from two other public companies. We decided to partner up and launch this as an actual business, including hiring an international team of people in Karachi, Pakistan. We ran into some bumps, so it was two years before we launched our first web application.

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How did Blimp evolve from a neighborhood-based app to a college-based one?
We launched in Newton, Massachusetts last year and got thousands of monthly visitors. People in the town knew me as the Blimp guy! But we didn’t get the amount of retention we wanted.

We realized that we needed to shift to a more engaged audience. And what better audience than college students? I’m a college student. I understand them the most. I know their interests.

 

Will Blimp be a nationwide app?
Our initial campus launch will be at Bentley. If all goes well, I want to expand it to about 10 more Boston campuses, and to eventually make it a nationwide application.

 

Do people pay a monthly fee to use it?
No, the app is free. Our goal is to hopefully get millions of users before we introduce common monetization strategies like advertising.

 

What sets Blimp apart from other websites like it?
Our competitor advantage is that we are a single, centralized source that’s primarily location-based, and that we are helpful for particular audiences. For the Bentley audience, it’s the number-one way to get useful, local information. Students can go on Facebook or Twitter to find out about an interesting event, or to Boston.com to get news. But those are so scattered, and they vary so much in the type of information they put out.

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Have you had any big challenges?
There have been plenty! I could go on for hours about them. But the number-one challenge has been the international collaboration. There’s a cultural barrier. I’m a big believer in extremely good communication. I pushed the managers in Karachi to get video cameras and good-quality microphones for their desks. We had a lot of video-chat conversations.

But even though the communication was almost daily, I couldn’t partake in day-to-day conversations, which would have helped me motivate, understand and push the team to their excellence.

 

How have you juggled working on Blimp with your schoolwork?
Blimp has been a constant part-time job. I spent four to five hours a day devoted to it during the first year. I work on it full-time in the summer, and during school I do it between my classes.  I also do a lot of my work after 9 pm—sometimes until 4 or 5 am. I’m a night owl. I don’t sleep much.

 

What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
I really love the direct, real-time impact that I’m making. I love the fast-paced environment. I can do something and immediately see how it serves a purpose in real life.

 

Have you always been interested in starting your own business?
Yes! In high school I created a technology YouTube series that got over 2 million views. I started a business selling iPhone accessories. I also sold $500 worth of candy bars to raise money for a 2011 earthquake in Pakistan.

 

Do you plan to work on Blimp full-time after you graduate?
If all goes well, yes. This is something that can revolutionize the American campus. It can help people change the way they make decisions in their daily lives.

 

What advice do you have for other young people who want to start a business?
Test your idea right away. It might be awesome, but 20 other people may have had the idea and acted upon it already. Almost every idea you’ve thought about has been done.

So go out there and test your idea in the simplest, cheapest, quickest way possible, before you start putting down an investment of energy, planning, time and resources. In today’s world, we can make something and test it within a week.

My second piece of advice is to really know and understand your users as much as you can. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. The best way to do that is by starting a business that pertains to something you’re familiar with. Don’t start a car washing business if you don’t have a car!

Get more entrepreneurial advice and find out 9 Things NOT to Do When Starting a Business.

 

What kind of feedback have you gotten so far about Blimp?
We did a prototype testing for a dozen people at Bentley during finals week and received wonderful feedback. I got to see a real person’s life be altered in a unique way. A girl was in the library studying and opened Blimp. She found out there was a library event at which students could de-stress themselves by petting puppies. She went to the event and left the library feeling so satisfied. I was really happy to hear that. It’s an amazing feeling!

Want to check it out for yourself? Download The Blimp app.

Presented By:

Jennifer Marino Walters is a Washington, D.C.-based writer whose work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Scholastic magazines, Care.com and more. She blogs at Double Duty Twins.