Neil Patel

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Mahmoud Abdelkader is a full-cycle startup founder who has been around the block more than once. His latest venture could massively change how businesses handle data. His venture, Very Good Security has recently raised over $100M from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz, GS Growth, Vertex Ventures, and Visa Ventures.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Cybersecurity
  • The future of data management
  • The role of founding CEO


For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

About Mahmoud Abdelkader :

Mahmoud and Marshall started Very Good Security to solve recurring data security and privacy challenges faced by organizations in regulated and/or compliant environments. Today’s modern organizations face ever-changing data security challenges in an evolving landscape and require an adaptive approach to cyber security to augment securityinfrastructure investments.

Mahmoud co-founded and served as the CTO of a a YCominbator W2011 company, Balanced Payments, a leading-edge developer friendly payments processor acquired in 2015. He is also an active angel investor, serves as an advisor to numerous FinTech startups, and is an avid fan of cryptography.

Mahmoud holds a BSc in Computer Engineering from University of Maryland: College Park. A fun fact is that actually learned to code by reverse engineering Age of Empires and Warcraft III.

Connect with Mahmoud Abdelkader:

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Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m very excited today about the guest that we have. We’re going to be talking a lot about building, scaling, the highs and the lows of building a company. He’s been through the full cycle, so we’re going to be learning quite a bit today. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today, Mahmoud Abdelkader. Welcome to the show.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here, Alejandro.

Alejandro: Originally born in Egypt, 60 kilometers away from Cairo. I’m sure that was definitely quite a different environment from what you see there in Palo Alto nowadays. How was life growing up there?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: I’m no longer in Palo Alto. I’ve moved to San Rafael, but still in the area.

Alejandro: There you go, but still a little bit different from what you saw there.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Egypt is a developing nation, but it’s a very historic country, so it has a lot of really important antiquities. It gives a view into the past. I’ve done my 23andme, and my family, generationally, has been very much located in that Fertile Crescent Region. Yeah, it’s definitely a lot different, of course. You don’t have the same opportunities that you have in the United States, but it’s changing. There’s entrepreneurship. I advise people now. I’m an investor in a company called Instabug. I think everything is working really well there. I’m very hopeful for the country today. I think when I was raised there, I did not live in Cairo, which is the capital of Egypt. I was raised in a small city called Ismailia, where the Suez Canal Authority. That’s where my family works, in the Suez Canal Authority. My uncle is a tugboat captain that takes the big ships in and out of the Suez Canal. That’s what my family has done, and that was really cool to know that played a big part in the economy of Egypt, and we have a small part in that. When I came here, it’s a lot different. It’s a lot greener in the United States. [Laughter] In Egypt, it’s a lot of sand. Obviously, it’s a very different country compared to the United States. They both have their pros and cons. Right?

Alejandro: Absolutely. In your case, you turned eight, and that was a pivotal moment in your life because your father was in finance, a CFO kind of role. Your mother was working for the government in the equivalent to the IRS there. But you turned eight, and they made the decision that it’s time to pack the bags and come for the American Dream. Tell us about this.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Yeah. Fundamentally, I’ve got to say that it was one of the most amazing things that a parent can do for their children. My parents realized that in order for them to be able to give us the best possible future, they had to make one of the most daunting exercises and sacrifices of their life where they had to leave family, their safety, their social circles, and their jobs behind and go in search of this American Dream in the United States so they could give us an opportunity. It was never a dream that they thought about. They just appeared and rematerialized, and they jumped at it. My dad was here for a long time. He came out here two times before we finally moved with him. He would leave my mom for long stretches of like four months and then come back. Then, the third time, my mom went, “Nope. I’m coming with you next time.” And that’s what happened. They definitely made this big sacrifice, and we are very thankful to this day – there’s nothing we can do to pay that back. I have three sisters, and two of them are physicians. One is a family medicine physician, and the other one is a pulmonologist. Obviously, with the COVID-19 situation, they’re helping. The third sister is a sales analyst at Blumberg. Nothing we can do, still to this day, can pay back my parents for that.

Alejandro: I’m sure that for you that was very inspiring because you went from seeing your father putting on a suit and a tie, and your mother the same thing, to go to work in the corporate environment where they had very successful jobs to coming here, to the U.S., and literally working in restaurants.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Oh, yeah. My dad took whatever job he could do. He literally worked as a line person at a deli and worked his way up to become General Manager of that. That was very fortunate for us. My mom worked as a cashier at a dry cleaner’s. Again, in Egypt, she had a career in tax authority, and she worked her way to become a regional director at Sears when it was in its heyday. Then eventually, my mom went back to school when she was 45 and got her accounting degree equivalence in the United States and now works as a part-time tax person at H&R Block. My dad is retired now, but ultimately – when we were immigrants in New York, we went to a place called Bay Ridge. I went to PS 185, Eckert Heights Middle School. When we immigrated, just going into this foreign environment with a completely different school system and a completely different language was pretty tough for us.

Alejandro: Yeah.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: And my parents always instilled in us this work ethic that we have to basically be the best at whatever we’re going to do. My mom is very famously known for when we’d take an exam back in ’97 or ’98, “Why wasn’t it a 100.” Most people are happy with a 98, but she’d say, “Why didn’t you get a 100?” That was the environment I grew up in, which was pressure-heavy. We knew that the one thing that we had here in this country is education. So, that’s the ultimate sacrifice that my parents made sure that we excelled at and could compete with. In 2000, my parents moved again to Maryland, where I spent high school. I finished my last bits of middle school in Maryland, and I went to Dulaney High School – the founder of college humor. I also did that, too, from going to high school. I went to the University of Maryland and stayed another eight years in Maryland. I graduated, and I went to work on Wall Street, and that’s the first going from basically not making any money growing up – having to work at Home Depot, Lowes, or Two-Cheese Pizza – I used to like to make the pizza there. Then, all the way to working on a trading floor on Wall Street right out of college. That was an experience that I’ve got to tell you was phenomenal.

Alejandro: I can imagine. One thing, for sure, your experience either with Wall Street, because you experienced the Crash there, and also moving to a new country, I think that you developed that muscle of being able to deal with uncertainty to a certain extent. I’m sure that has helped you as well as a founder.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Oh, for sure. The values in our company today are authentic and resilient. What uncertainty helped me do was establish this attitude of resilience. It’s going to be better. It’s going to get better. Just keep going. Put your head down and keep executing. It’s a difficult thing to do because you can always give up, and it’s easy. One of the things we value here in the United States is freedom. You’re free to give up here. By being resilient, by keeping your head down, by staying true to your core, and making sure that you treat folks with respect and empathy, you can definitely have a really good shot at pursuing your vision and achieving the mission of life. That’s something that I learned as an immigrant entrepreneur. That work ethic and being able to look reality in the face and say, “No. It will not be like this. It will be the other way.” That resilience comes from having that struggle growing up. I’m not saying – again, I’m fortunate because I was able to have a job. I was able, and I was healthy. That’s a privilege we don’t talk about, but I’m very thankful and fortunate about that. At the end of the day, that allowed me to realize that uncertainty comes with the job. That’s what happens.

Alejandro: In your case, you go through this experience at Wall Street. Then the Crash happens. Then you make the decision of packing the bags and going to California, and getting into startups. What motivated that? What a shift.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: I’ve got to tell you that it was not very well received by my parents. They were like, “Oh, really? You worked for – you’re going to quit!” Because remember, I still was on Wall Street during the Crash, so a lot of people were getting laid off, but luckily, I was still there. I was building high-frequency trading systems there and getting paid a great salary. My parents looked at it and were like, “Wow. You struggled so hard. You’re going to leave and join this company called in Palo Alto. What’s the reason why?” I was like, “I just think I belong there. I like the culture. I like doing that.” It was very tough for them to swallow. They were like, “This doesn’t make any sense to us.” But I knew in my heart that it was the right way. It’s the pursuit of the resilience and being resilient to pursue your vision in America. That was going out to Palo Alto and joining as employee #4. That was a phenomenal experience for me. It literally shifted everything that I ever thought I knew, and I had to learn from scratch. I had a great leader, Jack Abraham, who was the CEO of Milo, and now he’s the CEO of Atomic and has taken companies public. I’m very proud to have worked under him. I saw how he built an organization, and I was inspired to do the same.

Alejandro: Funny enough, his co-founder Andy Dunn has been on the show.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: No way. That’s great.

Alejandro: Yeah. In your case, I think that with Milo, you had the opportunity to have the exposure to the full cycle. Employee #4, then the company sold for $75 million. Out of that experience, which was like what catapulted you to say, “I can do this. This is how it works.”

Mahmoud Abdelkader: What I knew for sure was I did not want to go work at a big company after a year-and-a-half. I had just left a big company, and I had just joined Milo. A year-and-a-half wasn’t enough time for me to be in the school of hard knocks. Jack successfully exited that company, but I was watching from the sideline. I needed to feel what it was like, and I think the things in the values and the resilience that I learned as an immigrant are the things that are going to be very valuable to me. I had my share of companies I was looking at. An ex-college friend of mine was, “I’m joining Y Combinator. Would you like to join me as co-founder?” I was, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” So, we built this company together called Balanced Payments. I talked to one of my buddies, as well, who worked at Google, who had gone with me to college. He was like, “Yeah, take the Y Combinator position. You’re going to learn a lot there.” And I did. I learned a lot. That’s what made it seem feasible. Jack worked really hard. So, I want to be very clear. I did not walk away. I was like, yes, I want to do this someday, but I did not know how or where to start. Y Combinator gave me the discipline to understand the formula, the algorithm, and the holistic behind how to actually build something off the ground.

Alejandro: It’s interesting because Y Combinator, back then, was like the early years, like the new founders coming out, and now, Y Combinator is harder to get into than Harvard.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Yeah. It’s a new MBA. In my mind, it’s the new MBA. If you’re going to want to get an MBA, why would you go spend a year learning about it instead of doing it?

Alejandro: 100%

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Kudos to them: Paul Graham, Justin, and the rest of the team built a fantastic program that we learned a lot from. Luckily, these relationships have benefited me to this point.

Alejandro: What was the business model of Balanced Payments?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: It’s a per-transaction model. If you make $10, for example, I take 3% of that, so I make 30 cents.

Alejandro: Got it. Tell us about that journey. How was building Balanced Payments into essentially your first baby, your first exit? So, not bad.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Yeah. I’m very fortunate to be able to have built a great team and be able to land our customers in a really good spot there. We exited Stripe, which was a fantastic transition for us and our customers as well, which has now become, if not the most valuable U.S.-based startup right now. For us, being able to build the company, starting that, and then seeing what it was like to go to market was very beneficial for us. But I will tell you. It was not what I considered; like today, the VGS motion of very good security motion is completely different than it was at Balanced. It’s just a completely different go-to-market motion. Balanced was about winning that mindshare and then trying to get people to route their transactions through you. Your goal is to route the transactions to us so that we can make money. Then, eventually, it’s kind of like what a lot of the fintech startups are that you see today, and the fintech movement is effectively spearheaded by companies like Square and Stripe. We pay. We sold to Chase. Kickstarter, and Balanced. All these folks had come into play here and have shown how you can innovate in the financial space that before was considered too difficult to enter. That’s what I really love about it. That’s one of the things. Yes, exiting Stripe was a fantastic achievement, but it was not without its ups and downs. You have to be very resilient to be in that business.

Read More: Dhirendra Mahyavanshi On Raising $67 Million To Help You Identify The Most Appropriate Insurance Policy

Alejandro: Yeah, of course. One thing that is interesting is we were discussing the similarities between universities and Y Combinator. All the content that you can get from universities is all online. I think that now in Y Combinator, pretty much with startup school and things like that, they’re putting great content out there. But in your case, you ended up exiting your business to another alum of Y Combinator, which is the Stripe co-founders, [16:27]. How important is it to build as an entrepreneur the networks around you?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: When they tell you about who you know, that doesn’t make sense until you have the network. If you’re ultimately building your reputation – are you a reputable, trustworthy individual? And the only way to do this is to work with someone and deliver results. The network that you create is a network of like-minded individuals of all different backgrounds, all different types, and they all have this one thing in common, which is how do I bend reality to my will, my way? It’s interesting how that group of folks here – and they have very similar ups and downs. A lot of things that people don’t talk about is that it’s very lonely as founders. You are there, and if you aren’t comfortable being alone, it’s not a good job for you. It’s a real risk; it’s a real problem. Just being able to have that network, not only for support but to bounce ideas from, has been valuable to anybody who goes through this process by themselves.

Alejandro: Got it. Then, the acquisition happens with Stripe, and obviously, this opened the door to what’s next, and as they say: once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. In your case, the bus with another idea came into place, and that bus ended up being Very Good Security. Tell us about how you came up with the idea and how you brought it to life.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: The idea actually approached us. As I was building Balanced, the first thing I took a look at was to get started in that company, there’s no VGS at the time, and AWS was new to use. It took us about a year and a million dollars of investment just so that you can build a security posture so that you can start building your payments business. Then, you have to maintain that security posture every single year. Balanced was five years in business, and we had to maintain it for five years. That took three months of our time, plus it took three full-time people that are dedicating that three months, and it took money to support auditing and business disruptions. It almost felt like you were racking your own datacenter all the time. You just switch from a datacenter to now cloud, but it felt like you were building your own primitives to do data security in this cloud so you can go to market with your product. It felt like it was undifferentiated heavy lifting. So, I had to do this. But it was weird when I kept watching these companies get breached on the internet or the news. Breaches happen. Somebody gets broken into. Large retailers, hackers go into and steal hundreds of millions of payment information. I’m like, “Wow. I think security is an obstacle to usability.” I’ve always thought about it, and I was like, “There’s got to be some way to solve this. Somebody’s going to come out with the real solution.” Funny enough, when we had the exit to Stripe, folks reached out to us on LinkedIn, text message, or via the network that we talked about and asked, “Hey, we need to do this. We need to achieve a business goal.” I think one of the first customers was a company called LendUp, which has rebranded to Mission Lane now. They were like, “We need to issue a card.” Today, you have many cards. I think Marketo might go public soon. Galileo just sold to SoFi. But I want you to think about it. Before that happened and before that existed, you had to do all that yourself. To issue a card, you had to connect to legacy players. These legacy players required you to have a data security posture because that’s what they expected all the other big companies to do. It was mandated, not by them, but it was mandated by the banks, all the risk supply chain mandates for you to be able to satisfy four three-letter acronyms, more than you can think of. That’s only for data security, not even talking about moving money, for example. That has its own U.S.-based – if you’re in the United States, you have U.S.-based like Office of Financial Asset Control OFAC. Know Your Customer, [20:56], which happened after the United States Patriot Acts I and II that were passed after the September 11 attacks. The big problem that you have to think about: it’s very difficult to start a business in a regulated industry because you have to spend time doing data security. You have to comply with all these laws. And not only that, it’s just undifferentiated heavy lifting for me to start building my business. Companies reached out to us, and I was like, “I don’t want the payments piece. I want what you did, the undifferentiated piece, so I can go to market quickly to connect to whoever I need to connect to.” Why couldn’t all these other players do it? We can’t use them. They don’t do what we want to do here, so we have to do this ourselves. That’s the only other way.” I was like, “Oh, wow.” I was just reading something about Jeff Bezos, and that was something like, “This is a market. Somebody says your margin is my opportunity.” I just shrugged it off as something really interesting. But after we were able to successfully get this company to not only be a keynote speaker at Money20/20 but let them go live in under a month, where previously, it would have taken them a year. That was when we realized the a-ha moment. Their own auditor started referring customers to us. They started referring customers to us. People started hearing, and folks started reaching out to us. We were thinking that we would do something else for developers or whatever. That’s what we built at Balanced. We had no idea that this was what companies wanted. They just wanted to be able to do their business outcome and achieve their business goals without having to worry about sensitive data. That’s the astounding story about Very Good Security, VGS. It was a really interesting conversation because this was an opportunity. There wasn’t anybody doing it, and the only solution is doing it yourself. You have to stitch together half-baked solutions, and that’s why people got breached. That’s why these retailers would get breached because it’s not a core competency of them. It’s just something that they had to do, and they do it because they need to achieve a business goal: accept payments, issue a card, do something, run a background check. It’s all about doing that. So, that’s what VGS is. Every company is a data company.

Alejandro: Yeah.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: That’s the astounding story about Very Good Security, VGS. It was a really interesting conversation because this was an opportunity. There wasn’t anybody doing it, and the only solution is doing it yourself. You have to stitch together half-baked solutions, and that’s why people got breached. That’s why these retailers would get breached because it’s not a core competency of them. It’s just something that they had to do, and they do it because they need to achieve a business goal: accept payments, issue a card, do something, run a background check. It’s all about doing that. So, that’s what VGS is. Every company is a data company.

Alejandro: How do you guys make money at VGS? What ended up being the business model?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: There have been a couple of iterations on that, so VGS charges you based on – we have this thing called Zero Data. This is the idea of: can you use your data in a way where you can maximize its value to the fullest extent without physically storing the data itself? Think about it like a credit card. If you and I are sending money to each other, it’s not like I physically hop on a plane or drive to you where you are and give this physical currency. I use Venmo. I PayPal to you, or I go to a bank account. I can use networks to move instructions that will effectively, basically, virtually, without touching any of the money exchange the value of money without physically exchanging money itself. This is a very nuanced and very important concept. We do it today, but we don’t actually realize that before we did it, we literally physically moved gold bullions to a destination, and that’s how we exchanged value alongside currency. But when you digitize money, what is the equivalent of moving data safely? How do you move the value of data from physical data exchanges itself? To do that, there are a variety of ways today that people exchange this data on the internet. What VGS does from a pricing model is, it basically says if you’re exchanging it in this manner – for example, lots of systems have very large legacy batch processes. You’ll hear about them. Big files come in at the end of the day. That’s why it always takes 24 hours to get something or 48 hours to get something in a bank or whatever, and you realize that people have to exchange data using these big FTP or large batch file processing, and they do it. What we do – you can pay a particular fee for this protocol to access the data exchange through that. It will literally just sit in front of your destination that you’re connecting to. Then, it will charge you based on how often we create or interact with sensitive data as you’re exchanging that data. Then, over time, as you get to a particular threshold of volume, it might make sense for you to negotiate more of a fixed-rate than a pro-transaction. This pro-transaction is more of a per-data transaction. Does that make sense?

Alejandro: Yeah.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: That’s how VGS charges today.

Alejandro: So, in your case, this was quite a move, quite a change, because, on Balanced Payments, you were the CTO. Now, here, you’re taking the reins as the CEO. Was that a challenging shift or change in your journey?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: It still is. As a CTO, a founding CTO – Bounced never got to above 25 or 30 people. So, being a CTO of a company where your engineers may have been 15 engineers is a completely different organization than being a CTO. My co-founder right now – actually, he was my VP of engineering at Balanced, and you could start to see he was hitting his limits of managing the organization. That’s really the job of a CTO. You hit the limits, and you bring in a stellar VP of engineering to run it. We’re almost 200 people right now, so that’s the difference. We have it to scale. He was able to do that orders of magnitude better than me, but what I’m doing as a CTO to CEO transition, being able to communicate effectively has been quite a challenge because when you communicate with a computer, or you communicate when you talk about technical, it’s typically facts.

Alejandro: Yeah.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: You exchange facts, and the way you communicate is the difference. But when you’re a CEO, you have to be a jack of all trades to the point where it’s like finance doesn’t know what the data looks like or the data is wrong, so you have to get in there and be a data engineer at the time. Or you have to go in there and be like, “What are the questions that we need to ask for the answer?” Or law. We have to negotiate contracts. “Why do I have to negotiate contracts? I just write code. That doesn’t make any sense to me.” I have to know what these contracts are saying now, so I have to know what we’re agreeing to and what we’re committing to contractually. Being a CEO is now a risk-management game. It’s like how do you minimize the risk while continuing to try shareholder value and achieving the mission that you set out to build the company for? That’s what a company is. The CEO is the captain of the ship. The company is the ship. The CEO is like the captain, and they’re trying to get the ship from Europe to the United States, and you have to figure out a way to do it in a way where everybody stays alive. The end goal is to get it to the new world. That’s my vision. My vision is the way I see the world, and my mission is to get this ship from Point A to Point B. That is a completely different skillset because now, I have to work with human beings, not computers. A CEO is also organizational work that you have to do as well. So, how do you work with organization and systems thinking, which actually is a good skill set for a CTO, but you have to translate that to working with human beings, and they have to translate that one level down. That’s a very difficult thing to do, and that’s the hardest thing I still am learning to do that. I would say the transition isn’t fully done yet.

Alejandro: That’s good. You were alluding to shareholder value and to investors. How much money have you guys raised to date?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: We’ve raised $105 million.

Alejandro: Got it. It’s a lot of money and a lot of expectations.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Remember, I came from Egypt. I think my family’s entire worth was like $200. So, we came here with maybe $200 in our pocket, which is a lot of money still. But my point is, you get to a situation where it’s like, “Now, I’ve raised as this immigrant from Egypt, 25 years ago, I now have raised $105 million from arguably some of the most prestigious folks in the world.” I’m very humbled and fortunate that I’m able to do that because I’ve won their trust. So, I just want to take a moment here and reflect on – we started the story with, you were born in Egypt, and now in San Francisco in the Bay Area, and we have raised $105 million. So, America is amazing. Right? You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Alejandro: America is amazing, and I’m an immigrant, just like you, so definitely, it’s the Land of Opportunity.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Where are you from?

Alejandro: From Spain, from Madrid.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: I love Spain. We had a company retreat in Barcelona. It was really amazing.

Alejandro: I always say that the best combination in the world is the people from Madrid in the City of Barcelona. It’s because with Catalans, you need a special patience, even though I love Catalans, and I have many friends from Catalonia. I don’t understand why they want to get independent but still live from the government’s budget. Anyway, that’s probably a different discussion.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: That doesn’t get into the [30:36], for sure.

Alejandro: Absolutely. So, going back to the investors, obviously, they were really enrolled in the vision in what you guys are creating at VGS, so imagine you go to sleep tonight, and you wake up five or seven years later, or whatever that is, in a world where the vision of the business is fully realized. What does that world look like?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: That’s amazing. I appreciate it. What does that world look like for us? The world has gotten used to the fact that they can achieve business outcomes and build their entire day-to-day business workflows without having to hold the data. I think that’s the biggest challenge right now for Very Good Security, which is how do you change your mindset? How do you start to realize that you don’t have to download software, install it, and maintain it? That’s what Salesforce did. The fast model – how do you do it with data, too? How do I basically view data maximization as a service? That’s the real value. Five to ten years from now, hopefully, we’re a public company. I’m talking a lot about the vision, and I’m making sure that the world realizes that you do not need your data in order to maximize its value. Here’s where we have built a world without the occurrences of breaches at the rate that they currently occur. Like, the frequency is alarming. The amount of personal privacy violations is alarming. I think as a company, this is something we’re looking at very clearly. How do you protect the average user, whether American or not, and protect their privacy, which is a fundamental human right, from using companies online that potentially are going to leak their data, leak their metadata, leak everything about their day-to-day? Identity becomes a very important thing to think about. This is what VGS looks like in the world. We’ve achieved our vision. We have shifted the conversation to, let’s talk about identity. Does that make sense?

Alejandro: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And now, when we’re talking about privacy, today, without going further, the news of what’s up moving forward with the changes. We don’t have to get into that, but I thought it was interesting. I actually read it on Hacker News, which is, obviously, part of Y Combinator, too. Let’s say, Mahmoud, that we have the opportunity of putting you in a time machine, and we bring you back in time. We bring you back to that moment where you are at Milo thinking about starting your own thing, on your own, wondering what that world is going to look like, and essentially, you have the chance to have a chat with your younger self. And you are able to give that younger self, that is thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, one piece of advice before launching a company. What would that be, and why, given what you know now?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: I have a joking answer, and I have a real answer. Can I give you the joking answer?

Alejandro: Let’s hear both.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: I will tell my younger self to buy game stock.
[Laughter] Hold it and hold Bitcoin, too.

Alejandro: Okay.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: But, let’s say that’s not the case. I think the thing I would say is, invest in relationships early because you don’t know – that’s the thing. I thought it was all about you and what you can do, but to do what we do today – that’s why I never say I – what we do today as a company requires organization of a lot of folks, and it took me time to realize that to build the network that we mentioned earlier, that I needed to be able to execute on my vision was something that should have started five years ago. That’s the thing that I would tell myself. “Don’t underestimate the value of your friends, who they are, and how you judge them.” I think that is the thing that I would tell myself. “Make sure you surround yourself with the people that you want to work for and work with.”

Alejandro: Absolutely. That’s very profound. So, Mahmoud, for the people that are listening and watching, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Our Twitter handle is @getVGS. My Twitter handle is @mahmoudimus. Just reach me on Twitter, or you can always email me. My website:, actually shows you my New York-based apartment that had a tower of Coke Zeros that I was Building and coding in. And it has my email, which is [email protected]. Feel free to reach out to me there, and I’ll be able to respond to you right away. I love mentoring, and I’m also an investor. I’m very proud of some of the investments that I made, so I love to hear ideas or just people stopping in to say hello.

Alejandro: Amazing. Mahmoud, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.

Mahmoud Abdelkader: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

* * *
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