Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Welcome to WCEAN’s first Alumni Spotlight! The team at Goodspero, FocusCopy, and Bluberry Creative interviewed and produced this alumni spotlight. Please meet Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki, co-founders of Instafuel.
Meet Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki
Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki were childhood friends and are now co-founders in Instafuel – a complete fuel management system for fleets. Wisam (‘11) was introduced to Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship (WCE) by his cousin (WCE Class of 2006). Once Wisam got accepted to the program in 2010, he convinced Nour (‘13) to transfer to University of Houston and apply for the program.
While Nour was in the program, they partnered together on their first of three ventures – the last and current venture being Instafuel.
Experience in WCE
When Wisam Nahhas got into the program in 2010, it was a transitional year where directors were changing and there weren’t any retreats. But his class focused on roundtables and the mentorship program. That’s where he met his WCE and current mentor, Frank Vega. Frank went on to be Wisam’s investor for their first, second, and third venture.
“My experience with WCE was meeting Frank Vega.”
Nour Baki was in the first WCE class in the new Insperity Building. Like Wisam, Nour found a lot of value in the mentorship program where he met his roundtable mentor Frank Vega and his personal mentor Dimitri.
Nour was one of the few students in his class who actually started a business while in the Wolff Center.
First Venture: Mobile Gaming
Wisam had just graduated from WCE in 2011 and was working in Corporate America. Nour just started the WCE program, but had the drive to start something now. Over 6-7 months, Nour spent 6-7 months researching business ideas and wearing Wisam down.
At that time, mobile gaming was growing rapidly. There were mobile apps that mimicked well-loved board games and were sold for millions of dollars.
It sounded like the perfect idea for them.
The game they chose: Balderdash.
Crash Course on Project Management
While Wisam was still working full-time and Nour about to graduate, they started researching how to build an app. Neither one of them knew how to write a line of code. But they discovered that the first step is to wireframe the app.
So they started wireframing on a PowerPoint presentation.
But that only took them so far…
They decided to print it out and map it on a posterboard – which they still have.
Once the “app” worked, they began researching quotes to build the app – first in the United States. But they quickly discovered that on the low end, it’d be $100,000.
They had $20,000 between them.
That didn’t deter them. Wisam quit his job with a wireframe poster board, seeing the potential of this taking off and wanting to contribute more time than his full time job permitted him to do.
Then, Wisam’s brother joined their first venture, and each of them pitched $7,000 to outsource the app development to India. And… It was a miserable 4 months, what Nour described as “a crash course on project management”.
When they got the prototype, it was on “life support” but it was somehow working.
Redeveloping the App
Nour and Wisam released it, and surprisingly, people loved it. When they asked for feedback, customers said that it was clunky and slow. But it was working!
So they went to their mentor – Frank Vega – to pitch this app. “That’s my favorite game,” Frank Vega exclaimed. Frank began playing the game with his family and friends. They all loved it!
Frank came back to Nour and Wisam, “This won’t scale. You need to redevelop it inside the United States.”
They applied to and closed $120,000 from the Houston Angel Network to redevelop the app domestically and market the app.
Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki spent the entire summer of 2013 redeveloping this app and relaunched the app in September of 2013. In one day, they spent over $50,000 in marketing.
But they realized that it wasn’t enough to reach their goals.
So they went back to their investors… “We spent all your money, so we’re going to California to raise $2 million to spend all on marketing.”
They set a meeting with Mattel who wanted to rebrand their game with the Balderdash branding. 30 minutes before the meeting, the VP of Gaming asked for the proposal and very quickly responded that they were not in a position to give what Wisam and Nour were asking for.
“The meeting is cancelled.”
Pivoting From Failure to How FuelMe Got Started
After two and a half years of work, they had nothing to show for. Nour Baki called his WCE mentor, Dimitri, depressed and already polishing their resumes. Dimitri advised Nour, “if you quit now, you’re going to regret it for the rest of our life.”
They decided to stay in California and met with some of the top venture capitalists out there. Every meeting, they were shut down. They were simply late to mobile gaming. But one investor advised them to look at companies like AirBnB and Uber who were leveraging technology to deliver their services.
Wisam and Nour – down to their last $30 – spent their evening at a hookah bar in Los Angeles after hearing that. Wisam started, “Don’t you hate getting gas? Why not having a truck come to you to fill your tank?”
Nour joked, “what are you smoking?”
But it was at that point that they found something unique.
After they went back to their AirBnB, they began researching and found out that gas delivery is unregulated – meaning they could deliver gas to vehicles.
Because they already experienced what it took to build an app, they started wireframing this new delivery service. Their investors were on board with the new business idea.
No entrepreneurial story is one without some hiccups. When they tried to register the name of the company, they discovered that someone had already built a similar product with the same name. They had just launched.
Using what Wisam and Nour learned in the Wolff Center, they reached out to see if they could join that venture over LinkedIn. Not surprisingly, it worked. Wisam and Nour joined the FuelMe team for a small piece of equity to build out their sales.
The Start of Something New: FuelMe
Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki went to work and acquired contracts with the University of Houston and almost won a contract with the Texas Medical Center.
They did that for a year – not paying themselves (like many entrepreneurs do).
After a year of securing the contracts with these big B2C organizations, their app and trucks to deliver the fuel were ready to launch.
In the summer of 2015, they conducted a soft launch at the University of Houston. While there was a lot of hype and press coverage, the adoption rate was not where it needed to be after 6 months of service.
Yet another wrench into their business venture.
As they continued to grow their market at UH, landscapers and delivery services began to reach out to FuelMe.
"Can you fill us up at night?"
Of course! In one hour of fueling B2B, they surpassed what they did during 8 hours at UH.
So Wisam and Nour began investigating how they could pivot FuelMe to target corporate fleets… Ultimately, the decision wasn’t up to them, and their partners did not want to go down the B2B road.
The Breaking Point: Shark Tank
Shark Tank was auditioning at UH in 2015. Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki applied, created videos with Goodspero, and went through the entire audition process. Shark Tank called,
“We really want to put you on the show, but you need majority of ownership to agree to this.”
Wisam and Nour talked to their partners, but their partners’ response was not what they expected. They didn’t want to go through on Shark Tank because “they didn’t need it”.
The breaking point… Wisam and Nour laboring to get the adoption rates up and grow their business, but nothing was working as well as they hoped.
So in September of 2015, they left FuelMe and started up Instafuel the next day.
Instafuel is a B2B fueling management system targeting small to medium sized businesses with a fleet (i.e. landscapers, delivery services, food and beverage, etc.). They believe that gas stations across the nation are going to disappear over the next decade, mainly because of the cost of real estate. B2B fleets also have no reason to waste time going to a gas station or deal with expense receipts. With Instafuel, you protect your company against lost productivity and theft.
When starting Instafuel, Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki approached Frank Vega again for more investment. Frank liked the B2B concept and wrote a check for $50,000 – no contracts, just on a handshake.
They started with Nour’s small pick up truck and a 100-gallon tank, delivered fuel every night, and made $200 every 2 weeks (their first entrepreneurial salary).
Within 6 months, they opened another market in Dallas.
Back to Frank Vega… “We need more money.”
Wisam and Nour knew their business was working when they were in 2 markets and had 10 customers that paid them weekly.
Instafuel’s Growth Plan
Everything was working flawlessly, but this was a capital intensive business. To expand into more markets and scale existing markets, they need more capital so they worked with several angel investors to hire salesmen and delivery drivers.
Instafuel is now ranked #5 by Inc Magazine for the fastest growing companies in Texas. It’s a credit to their employees, their investors, and all their work. They now have 40 employees and expect to have 100 employees by the end of 2020.
How do they do it?
They’ve created a market launch plan and streamlined their processes. What originally took 2 years to build in Dallas, now takes about 3-4 months to build.
Instafuel once targeted easy-to-acquire mom and pop companies. While they still service those accounts, Instafuel targets national accounts. It’s more difficult, but the return is far greater.
Words of Wisdom From Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki
With our new alumni spotlight, we want to help current WCE students and WCE alumni skip the learning curve. Here are Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki’s words of wisdom.
You get out what you put in.
When you start your entrepreneurial journey, it’ll take 10 years to make it happen.
When you have employees depending on you, there’s not a better feeling than that. It’s what wakes you up in the morning and keeps you up at night.
Take the mentorship program seriously.
Don’t be afraid to network.
Listen and absorb. Then reflect on what you’ve listened to.
Fail quickly, and fail often.
Make sure someone is willing to pay for your business quickly. If they aren’t willing to pay, it’s not worth working on.
Listen and remember the stories you hear in the Wolff Center. You may not need those stories now, but you’ll need them in the future.
Know your “why”, and make sure it’s strong enough. During the tough times, your “why” needs to be the thing that keeps you going. If your “why” is to be rich, that’s not going to get you through during the difficult times. Commit to your “why”.
Learn more at instafuel.com
If you’d like to be spotlighted in this monthly series, click here to apply.