It Passes the Mom Test

A former law student develops an online business that lets anyone -- even his tech-challenged mother -- create a website.
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3 min read

This story appears in the January 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

Haroon Mokhtarzada
Haroon Mokhtarzada
Photo© David Lang

When Haroon Mokhtarzada turned down a prestigious law firm's offer to be a summer intern a year before he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2005, his professors no doubt regarded it as career suicide. They probably reconsidered when he raised $12 million in funding for a business venture only a year later.

As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, Mokhtarzada and his two brothers, Zeki and Idris, were experimenting with a rudimentary web design business. But the first effort, he realized, was not scalable. The solution? Create something that would allow anyone (including his non-technical mother) to build a website. So Mokhtarzada turned a closet into an improvised web-hosting facility and $2,000 later, he (and family) launched what more than 50 million registered users now know as Webs.

Webs enables a person or business to create a website within a matter of minutes. Simply sign up, select a name, click publish and then choose elements to drag and drop into the site. The basic website is free but adding additional features, such as a custom domain name, premium templates and e-commerce tools, costs money.

Build It Right

Haroon Mokhtarzada's recommendations for creating a board of advisors:

1. Identify those who share your vision. You need people who are looking out for your best interests and not simply seeking the best profit margins.

2. Offer skin in the game. Give up a quarter point or a half point of equity to those who can provide valuable contacts and who can help educate you about the market.

3. Get the timing right. You want to bring in advisors when you're starting to raise money, scaling your business in a significant way, or when you're doing a lot of hiring.

By the time Mokhtarzada entered law school in 2002, Webs' customer base had already surpassed 1 million, giving him the win-win option to either cash out or expand further. That's when Mokhtarzada, out of his element in the realm of venture capitalism, took on his first advisory board member--who quickly posed a fortuitous question: "If you sell this company right now, what are you going to do tomorrow?"

The answer for Mokhtarzada seemed simple: "Start a new company."

"Why not make this that company?" the board member asked.

What followed was a crash course in capitalism. By the summer of 2006, Webs had raised $12 million in Series A funding. And the company's advisory board had grown, too, as did its ranks of investors, who now all had skin in the game. "That's one of the reasons you raise money," Mokhtarzada says, "because the people who give you the money will want you to be successful."

Webs is still a family affair: Mokhtarzada, 31, is CEO; Zeki, 32, is CTO; and Idris, 24, is senior engineer. The brothers continue to make sure that the complex technological web functions remain "mother compatible." Their bedroom-closet server is now a data center supported by 45 employees.. And it's a fair bet Mokhtarzada has never regretted passing up that internship.­­

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