High school reunions have been known to inspire nostalgia, excitement, dread, apathy, and a shocking number of Hollywood movies. For Aynul Habib, it inspired a startup.
Habib’s 10th reunion at Durham’s North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was held last year. He didn’t even hear about it until a month before it was scheduled, but once he got the word, he was overcome by nostalgia for the “most effortless, highest-reward” affinity group he’s a part of: “This tribe has really shaped my life.”
He signed up and attended, but felt he would have wanted to do much more to re-connect with his classmates and even NCSSM alums from other classes well beyond the reunion itself—if there was an easy and engaging way to do so.
“Nine months prior to the reunion,” says Habib, “I should be able to buy a school T-shirt, RSVP, and see who else is going. I want to find alumni near me when I move, contract with an alumni vendor, reminisce about old pictures, keep up with alumni news, support an alumni startup—all in one place.”
So he set out to build that place. Thus Alum was born.
Habib did all the coding himself (for both mobile and web) over the past year and Alum has already landed its first paying customer: his alma mater, NCSSM. Alum will roll out its product to Science & Math alums within the next month or so. The company is laser-focused for now on the 350 or so boarding high schools in the U.S., like NCSSM, that tend to have smaller but more engaged alumni bases, and Habib says he’s engaged in 5-6 “later-stage” sales conversations with other schools.
Habib left his fulltime job at tech company Delighted (see below) just last month to make Alum his fulltime gig, moving back to the Triangle from New York to base the company in Durham, in part to be very hands-on with his first customer. He specifically didn’t “tap out” from his previous job to go all-in on Alum until he secured his first revenue: “You don’t have something until you sell something.”
Alum is currently a one-person shop, and while that’s obviously not the plan for the long haul, Habib isn’t in a rush to hire. He’s currently seeking funding, ideally from an angel with domain expertise who’s “not just a check,” but also feels he can grow organically by adding paying customers on annual contracts while staying extremely lean.
From Waiting Tables to Citrix
The 29-year-old native of Fayetteville, N.C., has long known that he wanted to start a company, with his high school days—the school has turned out successful entrepreneurs such as three-time founder Jud Bowman, most recently of Sift Media—particularly opening his eyes. Still, his decade from NCSSM student to NCSSM contractor took some interesting turns.
He started college at N.C. State before putting that on hold to spend nearly six years as a waiter at the high-end An Cuisines in Cary, which was owned by Ann Goodnight, whose husband Jim Goodnight co-founded SAS. (An closed in 2017.) Says Habib of his An experience, “Lots of grit was built there.”
He went from waiting tables to a sales job at Citrix in Raleigh, where it turned out he had a knack for closing deals—and his technical expertise proved a real asset. After two successful years at Citrix, he worked as an account exec at several more stops, including the last two years as the one-man sales team at Delighted, a Palo Alto-based customer experience measurement and rating company that was purchased by Qualtrics in April.
All along, Habib kicked around ideas for a company of his own, including a site called TruckOut (“AirBnB for food trucks”) and a social network for remote workers. But he found he didn’t quite have the passion to dedicate potentially a decade or more of his life to any of those ideas, until he (finally) heard about his high school reunion.
While Habib has been coding since he was a kid, he believes the fact that his professional experience has primarily been in sales can give him an edge. In fact, that path was a conscious choice. “Sales is usually the biggest constraint of the technical founder. I thought if I was good at it, I’d have a higher chance at survival, and also enjoy it more.”
If it works out like Habib hopes, then NCSSM alums will be able to use Alum to connect with one more successful startup founder among their fellow grads.