The Brothers Mokhtarzada: Magnet Entrepreneurs

by Xinyi Zhou '10

streetwise.co
While attending college at the University of Maryland College Park, brothers Haroon Mokhtarzada '97 and Zeki Mokhtarzada '96 thought about starting a web design business.  They had experience making their own websites, but they realized that not everyone wanting a website would be able to hire a web developer. So what was their idea? “A website that makes websites.” Today, Webs (webs.com), the service they created over a decade ago, boasts over 50 million sites and $12 million in venture capital funding, along with a myriad of awards.

Webs is available for casual personal sites as well as for larger businesses, with features useful for any savvy webmaster. But the brothers emphasize making Webs better for “solo-preneurs” – which Haroon explains are the people who “want to make money doing what they love and what they’re passionate about.”
 
Buzz words like “web applications” and “solo-preneurs” can sound generic when thrown around by startups, but Webs products are genuinely innovative. Their apps allow visitors to “join” sites and to chat, schedule appointments, or buy from online stores right within the site, creating a mini social network.  Webs thus fills a critical niche for small businesses who need the web presence but may not have the technical skills or money to have a website built and maintained.
 
But, before they became successful entrepreneurs, the Mokhtarzada brothers were Blair Magnet students discovering the internet in the computer labs in the mid-'90s. As always, Magnet students and staff jumped on this new technology quickly. Zeki remembers, “we all had e-mail accounts… we actually had dial-up.” He used Mosaic, one of the first graphical web browsers, in Earth Science to view weather patterns, and by senior year Haroon was required to make a website in Marine Biology class.

“I still remember the first time I clicked on a hyperlink,” Haroon said. “I still remember thinking that day, oh my god, this is going to be huge.”

Webs was the Mokhtarzada brothers' first company, Zeki described it as a chance to “get experience … to take on things that were cutting edge.”  Having started out as “solo-prenuers” themselves, they take a personal interest in initiatives that help entrepreneurs. Haroon hopes the Magnet can emphasize that vein and modernize the curriculum to accommodate the changes the internet has brought, because “a lot of inventions are built in the cloud… they should teach people HTML and JavaScript… making an iPhone app, even.”

Regardless, both brothers credit the Magnet with giving them a “can-do attitude”.  Zeki recalls how Mr. Johnson, who taught Research and Experimentation his freshman year, insisted that students use laser printers for their reports, even though  “back then, there were only one or two laser printers in the whole school.” Haroon likens the spirit of Magnet group projects to start-ups because both require a completed product, requiring a proposal and formal presentation in addition to the device or program.
 
With that mindset, the Mokhtarzada brothers are brimming with ideas for growing Webs, from a recent app to automatically “mobilize” websites for cell phones, to acquiring Pagemodo to extend easy site design to Facebook pages.  Encouraging entrepreneurship is also a core principle of their mission. Haroon thinks teaching web design and cloud software development in the Magnet would be a “fantastic idea."  "It’s an enabling thing. It can become an empowering thing, and you’re going to generate a bunch of entrepreneurs as a result.” At their core, creating enablers is what they’re about, and Webs embodies that: making quality website design and business networking tools accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Update: In late 2011, webs.com was acquired by Vistaprint for $117.5 million. (inc.com)