So you had a full time job and ran a business on the side. How did you manage that?
The reason I have a corporate job is because the business structure and operations of my Hookah Lounges are from 6PM – 2AM which leaves the entire day to continue to be productive. I have an office job where I network and market with young professionals while getting paid near to six figures a year. So its icing on the cake, I make money network during the day and pull my co-workers in for happy hour beer and hookah after work.
You mentioned previously you attended Ashford University and now work for them. How did you go from Wells Fargo to Ashford?
Expecting a promotion to become a Business Banker that went sour because of several politics within the company, a friend of mine spoke to me about Ashford University, a for-profit University that is owned and publicly traded by Bridgepoint Education. He said he lasted three months at Wells Fargo and now makes almost six figures at Ashford and knew I could be successful as well.
Since my salary wasn’t cutting it, I made the move to Ashford. Within six months I was making twice as much, six months later promoted to Management tripling my income along with a free education where I completed my MBA in Organizational Management.
This increase in salary and the money I had saved up from the previous business allowed me to open my own Hookah Lounge in a College city of San Marcos where I was the only one allowed and currently grandfathered in.
You mentioned you and your partner didn’t see eye to eye which ultimately lead to your exit from your first hookah lounge. What did you learn from that incident?
I can go for days on this topic. Never involve business and money with family and friends. I come from a middle eastern culture and unfortunately we tend to not like to see one another become successful and tensions build up.
Responsibility was a key factor, I could not rely on my partner. I worked for Wells Fargo 9AM – 6PM and came straight to the lounge only to see a mess and my partner hanging out with his friends instead of paying attention to sales and customer needs. He wasn’t a business savvy individual and I only got into partnership with him because it was my last option to get more capital to start up.
We butted heads a lot. I wanted to operate a certain way and he wanted his way. That was a major issue. Opportunity cost was also an issue, if I left the lounge he would complain he worked more than I did and vice versa. Legal responsibility fell on me. Majority of licensing, permits, lease agreement was all in my name.
How do you manage your business and the day to day operations with a full time job?
Ashford University is located in Clinton, Iowa but our online offices are based out of San Diego. This is a for-profit publicly traded company that relies on student enrollments for revenue and profits therefore the tenure of individual in Southern California with sales background is higher than out of state. I work at one out of the three San Diego locations with my laptop and phone with warm and cold leads.
As a University Advisor I am a mobile Advisor and have access to leaving the office even though majority of the time is spent there. Nara Ultra Lounge is located down the street so fortunately I get off work and drive down the street to the business. Being that my business operates at night I am able to continue my 9-5 and run my business at night. It definitely is not easy, I rarely get a full nights sleep and I pound energy drinks all day and night.
You mentioned your latest hookah lounge is in San Diego. Tell us about the importance of location.
Being that hookah lounges tend to attract a lot of college students the college area is always where you’ll see one pop up. Gratefully the location I fought for grandfathered me in which helped two fold. College students want a hang out spot, they also want to get out of the house, use free wi-fi and relax, study while enjoying a hookah in a cultivated environment. The demographic of the location is key as well that is why college areas work great for this type of business.
My other location Nara Ultra Lounge is in central San Diego. I chose this location because I built clients from my partnership days where our location was a mile away. It is a destination spot to say the least. Centrally located all areas can easily get to my lounge from three different freeways and it takes about 15 minutes from major cities and colleges in San Diego. This location was important because I wanted to compete against other lounges but did not want to open near them for social reasons in the middle eastern community.
Tell us about the growth of Nara and some marketing strategies you’ve used…
You might believe my strategies aren’t sufficient enough to stay in business but so far they’ve been working well. Believe it or not there was no budget for marketing. I built my businesses from the ground up with friends, family, and social media. Facebook and Instagram have been key players in my marketing strategy.
Most of my business is from my social network around Southern California. I am currently with Yelp for both locations which does help but majority is word of mouth and social media.
I put all my efforts in creating Facebook event invite pages for weekly specials, DJs, and events at the lounges where 3000+ people get the invite weekly. I have gotten feedback that I create and invite too many times via Facebook events so I have it limited to special events.
I will say that I am currently researching some changes for my older location which I have neglected due to operating the new one and need to kick up the life in the old one. So I’m working on some new pricing and changing the decor and bringing in some new DJs.