Wisam Nahhas and Nour Baki of Instafuel | WCEAN Alumni Spotlight

Updated: Apr 28, 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.