Khaled Naim: “You Can’t Do it Alone”
The founder of a logistics software company discusses creativity, the Middle East, and the best path to decision making.
Khaled Naim is cofounder and CEO of Onfleet, a software company that helps businesses manage local delivery logistics. Based in San Francisco, Onfleet has raised $2.3 million in angel and venture funding. Naim grew up in London and Dubai and is a computer engineer. He graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2013. He talks to us about his plans for the Middle East and what he learned at Burning Man.
Khaled Naim | Courtesy
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
Local delivery is complicated and frustrating. We make it simple and delightful.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Somebody once told me not to take too much advice. That was probably the best advice! When you start a company, you have an abundance of advice coming from investors, peers, friends, and family. A lot of it is conflicting. It’s important to distill it all down and make your own decisions.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
Ship quickly when you are looking for product market fit. It’s important to talk to customers before you get going, but that doesn’t get you the most accurate data. Customers don’t always say what they think or do what they say they want. It is better to put something in front of customers even if it’s clunky or broken, get feedback, and make changes. We spent a year on Addy, the first iteration of our business. We ended up changing direction after realizing we didn’t have a market. We built our second product, Onfleet, in six weeks. At the beginning it was broken and people complained but we learned a lot quickly.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
You can’t do it alone. Find people you want to work with and advisers you respect.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?
I can’t consider myself successful yet.
What inspires you?
When I am with my friends and cofounders at Burning Man, we get more creative. It breaks down barriers of society and gets you out of your box. I came up with a lot of ideas around our culture and values from Burning Man, such as: immediacy; radical self-expression; communal effort and participation.
What values are important to you in business?
Reliability and building trust. When something needs to get done there is nothing worse than not knowing if or when it will get done.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I’d love to be able to help encourage more entrepreneurship in the Middle East. My parents are from Syria and I grew up in Dubai.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
I’ve always had crazy ideas but now I’m finally in the right time and place to see things through.
What was your first paying job?
Wiping down vegetable oil bottles on an assembly line at a plant in Abu Dhabi. It was a family business. All the kids in my family worked there.
What is the best business book you have read?
I have a lot of half-read business books. The one I enjoyed the most lately was The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz. He talks about things other folks gloss over, yet are the most important things CEOs face. I also really like Lord of the Rings–type books. It expands your mind to think of things that don’t exist.
What businessperson do you most admire?
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
The first iPhone. I lined up when the first version came out. Our business, as well as so many others, wouldn’t exist without it.
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