Seven years of LINKA: An interview with LINKA founder, Mo
This month, we’re celebrating the anniversary of LINKA! Seven years ago, our founder, developed the idea for LINKA. What you may not know, is that this was Mo’s 10th business idea. In 2015, he starred in SharkTank and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised an impressive $130,000USD. But, how did Mo begin this start-up and what has happened behind the scenes since LINKA’s official launch in 2015?
We caught up with Mo to talk about the most important lessons he’s learned as an entrepreneur, how LINKA has grown to become the go-to security brand in the micromobility industry and the question on everyone’s lips: fundraising. Read on for a frank discussion in our exclusive interview with entrepreneur and founder of LINKA, Mo.
LINKA's CEO, Mohamed Mohamed, pitching his idea on SharkTank in 2015. Credit: ABC Network.
It’s been seven years since the inception of LINKA and six years since you first starred on SharkTank. Where have you been Mo?! Tell us about your journey with LINKA since that TV premiere.
Our company has been continuously growing every year, moving from start-up phase into growth stage. We’ve had struggles along the way and investments to help our brand grow especially in the European market. Our team has grown from one person in 2015 to as high as up to a twenty person global team spanning three different continents. We went from shipping a Kickstarter product to now - shipping to 68 countries globally - so we’ve been pretty busy!
Over the past seven years, we’ve moved our HQ location to adapt to the business needs, moving from California to Hong Kong and returning back to our roots in 2018 to Oakland, California, where it all started. Moving back to the Bay Area has positioned us in close proximity to our Silicon Valley customers which has been pivotal to our growth and success. We made the decision to bring assembly of our product back to Oakland, California which coincidentally aligned with the global pandemic, enabling us to assemble product at our home base.
Finally, one of the big developments that helped us to grow our business is LTE products. We moved quickly from producing Bluetooth technology product to 4G LTE which has expanded our horizons and ability to serve fleet sharing and OEM brands.
As we continue to grow, we’re focused on reducing our costs so we can pass on the savings to our customers - all while we’ve always got our ears to the streets - ensuring we create and develop the very best product we can for our customers.
Tell us what your greatest successes have been?
Being able to learn from mistakes. The customer reviews and feedback from our products have helped us create our ultimate product, the best product we’ve ever offered - LEO 2 Pro. This product captures all the positives of our previous products, Original LINKA and LEO 1, while adding completely new features and improving on every detail like tripling the battery capacity, strengthening the motor, shrinking the form factor to better fit a wider range of bikes yet still increasing the lock’s functionality! Our patented TetherSense© plug-in system is a completely game-changing product that auto-locks LEO 2.
LEO 2 Pro with TetherSense© plug-in chain
What have been the toughest challenges since you started LINKA?
As a start-up, the biggest challenge is managing cash flow. On top of that, constantly adapting to the environment around you. We’ve survived the China bike-share boom and bust, the US bike-share boom and bust and the scooter-sharing explosion - these are all huge shifts in the market demands that we’ve had to pivot and adapt to. That said, managing where to direct our resources has been vital. It’s important that we stay focused, stay on track and don’t get distracted by shiny new objects!
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your entrepreneurial journey so far?
My journey will be different from every other entrepreneur’s journey so don’t judge me, or judge me!? Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Don’t just focus on the thing you think is the right thing to do. Take into consideration other stakeholders’ opinions - their experiences and opinions matter.
2) Trust your gut. Vet your ideas thoroughly, do proper analysis, be careful with your decisions, move fast but be cautious.
3) Be ready to put your pride away, especially when it comes to a sudden pivot in the market need. Listen to your customers and market demands - don’t make a product that people don’t want!
4) Work ethic trumps talent - any day! Focus on what fits into your company culture, people must believe in your mission, otherwise they won’t work with the ethic that you want. People don’t work long-term for money.
Mo with Director of Sales, Sophie
Where does your driving force come from and who has most influenced your working entrepreneurial spirit?
Being beaten by your brother on video games all your life, you gotta be better at something!
My Dad has been the most influential person to me. He had the will to leave his home nation, move to another country, be a foreigner, serve ice cream on the streets and survive until he got to where he wanted to be. I appreciate my parents for the move they made from Egypt to the States to give us better opportunities. I put my own pride aside and maintain this appreciation to my family for the sacrifices made.
When a family immigrates from a third world country, they tend to focus on a very conservative, risk averse manner so that was a hurdle to get over as entrepreneurship is very risky! I’m constantly striving to do better and innovate, I can’t be stagnant. Gotta keep moving forward and innovating!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Your first idea isn’t going to be your golden idea. Just because a few ideas don’t work as planned, don’t shut down yet, there are a lot of options. LINKA was my 10th idea. Don’t just quit.
Be comfortable with isolation. Before starting LINKA, I was very social, very outgoing, partying, all that good stuff, it can be challenging to transition from outgoing, to then feeling ‘FOMO’ when your friends are out partying because you’re focusing on business. You have to be able to get comfortable with isolation and people not being on the same page as you.
Think of all of the possible outcomes thoroughly in all the decisions you make whether it’s a new business idea or a business partnership. You’ve got to think where things can go wrong and where things can go well, so you have all the hypothetical planning in place to prevent a lot of heartaches, disagreements and missed expectations. Due diligence is important, make sure you have everything in writing!
Mo working out of the Hong Kong office before re-locating back to California
The burning question many spectators ask - what funding did you have to start with? And, have you raised more money to sustain and grow LINKA?
Firstly, I want to clarify fundraising is not my strong suit. I started LINKA because I really wanted to innovate and work on creating great products that people would be wowed by. But let’s be realistic, you do need money to start a business.
To begin with, I’d been saving my own cash for four years which helped start off the company. Growing up and studying in inner-city New York, we learned to be frugal. Our senior projects had a total budget of $0, in comparison to prestigious universities where budgets might be way more generous! This was one of the best learning experiences - to be frugally innovative! I started LINKA with my own cash - $80,000 USD - to get to a point where I was able to prototype, test and kick off the Kickstarter project. Kickstarter raised $130,000 USD which helped pay for tooling and production. After that, we were fortunate to get small investments by a few angel investors collecting $2m over 2 years.
Since then, we have maintained a frugal philosophy to keep the company up and running. Running a business requires balancing decisions between taking risks while remaining cautious. These conversations are always ongoing internally. We have been mindful not to hire prematurely. Manpower is the biggest company expense and the fundamental reason why your business continues to grow but you need the right people to help you get there. Our strategy has been not to hire based on projections, they’re not actual. We’re prepared to hire quickly when the time is right and when the talent is needed.
The reason we haven’t sought out more investment is because of the common thinking amongst investors and VCs that leans toward accelerated growth to appease investors. We prefer to grow organically which has helped us to become a profitable company in 2020! We can continue to grow, open more locations in more countries and diversify our product portfolio even further. We see our business as long-term relationships with manufacturers and customers to give them the best possible product they can dream of - if you can do that - you’re not going anywhere!
Mo accepts the TAIPEI CYCLE d&i Awards 2017: Gold Award - Young Enterprise
Super exciting to hear about your entrepreneurial story and the progress you’ve made so far. What’s coming up for the future of LINKA?
The reality of successful entrepreneurship is persistence, it’s not necessarily about the next great thing - most startups are not Apple. Successful companies run off their bread and butter - what they’re good at - small innovations move businesses forward. We will continue to do that. We’ll continue making our imprint in the micromobility market with the intention of seeing as many bikes as possible integrated with LINKA’s devices that serve the user’s needs.
We are consistently working with our customers, learning what they want, taking feedback and building a better product.
We’re all itching to travel again, tell us what your favorite bike trip is in the world that we should add to our bucket list?
For me personally, I miss my 5 am bike rides around the island of Hong Kong. It was a unique experience seeing an extremely tropical, densely populated city in the early hours of the morning without a single person in sight - it’s serene! Riding through reservoirs, overlooking the South China Sea and riding along beach coast lines to then arrive back to a bustling city that’s waking up for the day. It’s an interesting balance between the urban and tropical forest.