After graduation, many students grow apart from the friends they made high school. New courses, friends, experiences, and careers take them on different paths.
But one group of South graduates have continuously crossed paths, and now, they have started a business together.
Zain Haseeb, 23, and his friends Tusar Barik, Kevin Barnes, Dmitriy Gamarnik, Amol Waishampayan, and Ankur Oberoi hope to use what they learned from growing up in a digital age to make their company, Maiden Media, a successful marketing company focused on boosting clients’ social networking capabilities.
“We’ve all been friends for a really long time, and we’ve all wanted to start a business together,” says Zain Haseeb, co-founder of the company and a 2004 South graduate. “We’re very business-minded. We’ve been in the marketing industry, but we thought we could probably do this better than a lot of people out there.
“There are pros and cons going into business with friends, and we all definitely had some reservations, especially after hearing many horror stories of friends going into business,” said Haseeb. “But because we have a strong foundation of trust and knowing each other for a very long time, we were able to overcome any reservations by being very transparent and honest with each other.”
In fact, said Haseeb, the friendships are what makes the business work. “Being aware of our relationships is the most important part to making this work; we make a conscious effort to keep the business relationship and friendship separate.”
Their friendships matured together in the diverse WW-P environment long before personal computers became a prominent household appliance. The learning environment and teachers in the WW-P district, said Haseeb, “create a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers.”
And the group’s members have bounced ideas off each other for years. A resident of the Gentry, Haseeb has spent the past 19 years in Plainsboro. His parents work in dentistry. He attended Dutch Neck, Upper Elementary, Community Middle, and Grover Middle schools. He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance and economics at Rutgers University.
Barik, 24, has lived in Princeton Junction since he was sixth months old. He attended New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he earned his degree in finance and marketing with a specialization in entertainment, media, and technology. His father works as a civilian for the Department of Defense, and his mother works in accounts receivable at Phillips Lighting Co.
Barnes, 23, spent his life in Plainsboro, also in the Gentry. He earned his bachelor’s in economics and Spanish linguistics at Rutgers. His parents are government employees.
Gamarnik, 24, has lived in Plainsboro for 12 years and lives on Thoreau Drive. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, he moved to Brooklyn when he was 7 and then to Plainsboro when he was 13. He earned his bachelor’s in psychology from High Point University. His father works for High School North, and his mother works at Lord & Taylor at Quakerbridge Mall.
Waishampayan, 23, grew up in South Brunswick but lived in Princeton Junction for nine years before moving in 2005 to Bridgewater. He earned his degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology. His father works for Goldman Sachs and his mother works in the technology department at Merrill Lynch.
Oberoi, 23, was born in Jersey City, and moved to Iselin and then Plainsboro, where he has been since he was 7. He majored in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. His mother is a medical sonographer for Capital Health System, and his father does accounting for a law firm.
Oberoi, Waishampayan, and Haseeb created short films for and outside of school, including for South’s SAASA show when they were seniors. Barik and Haseeb had a bitter recreation basketball feud in third and fourth grades, but they put their differences aside and later roomed together in New York. They co-founded teh company along with Barnes and Waishampayan. Gamarnik and Oberoi came in later.
If there is one thing the members of the group know, it is how to integrate innovation into their work. They also know that businesses, companies, and public figures, from small-scale to corporate, are looking to cash in on the social networking trend.
The idea for the company came together last May, when the group of young professionals were busy at their other day jobs. The group developed its idea over the summer and incorporated its company in October, launching everything in December and January.
Some members of the new company still hold other full-time jobs, but Haseeb said that by the summer, they all hope to be working full-time for Maiden Media.
The business is more than just a local start-up out of one of its member’s home garages. The company is sharing space in Haseeb’s uncle’s company’s office in Princeton Forrestal Village.
“Right now, we refer to ourselves as an interactive and digital marketing company,” said Haseeb. “What we want to become is a full-service, large-scale agency.”
Currently, the company is focusing on small and medium-sized businesses, for whom it will perform web development and create logos and full brand identity. This also includes creating advertisements, coming up with a marketing strategy, and developing target advertising areas and venues.
“What we stand for is to empower your brand, and that can be done in many different ways,” Haseeb added.
For example, the company was able to help a client, The World is Yours Entertainment Group, host promotional events and parties in Dallas for the NBA All Star weekend last month. The company had arranged three parties throughout the weekend sponsored by notable celebrities, including hip hop music artist Busta Rhymes and members of the Dallas Mavericks.
While the company had a website and flyers, it needed help reaching out to people. Maiden Media was introduced to the company through a mutual contact and was able to create a new website fully integrated with a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Maiden Media also recommended running a promotion to give away free tickets to the parties and even created and administered a ticket give-away campaign using a web tool known as Wildfire.
“Rather than just having a flat website, the dynamic nature of the integrated social media caused more interaction and built fans of both the All Star game and The World is Yours entertainment company,” said Haseeb. The use of Wildfire to give away tickets, combined with the promotion with the use of traditional radio advertisements, “spurred interest and generated hits on both the websites and all social media pieces. The project was an overall success and the turnout for the events was great.”
The biggest advantage for the company, said Haseeb, is that all of its original members are under 25. Referring to themselves as “digital natives,” the group did not just grow up in an academic community in West Windsor-Plainsboro, but it grew up on digital platforms.
One year, Haseeb was assigned a project in his history and American studies class. Instead of making a PowerPoint presentation, Haseeb decided to make a video about civil rights. He and five other people “put together a video depicting how times were during the Civil Rights Movement,” said Haseeb. “That became a huge trend. People started doing videos as projects.” Making videos for the project is now standard because “it is more interactive and fun to watch.”
Maiden Media hopes to bring this type of innovation to the business world. “We saw the evolution of the social media, and we feel we can better teach others how to use them to their advantages,” Haseeb added.
Haseeb said that companies look to hire younger professionals to create online profiles for them. “If we have a company built of younger talent, we can still be nimble and adaptable to the new trends upcoming in the decade,” he said.
Starting a business can be daunting, especially for younger professionals, but Haseeb said the group’s parents have successful businesses and have served as mentors. “I really don’t think it’s that difficult for 20-somethings to do it — it’s about whether they’re willing to take a risk and do it,” he said. “We all definitely feel that this is the time in our lives to take this risk and do it.”
But what about two or three years from now? “The company will be 15 to 20 employees and we’ll still be targeting mid-sized businesses,” Haseeb predicts. “Five years from now, we would be a large agency that is specialized in digital and marketing space. There are so many more new things out there to do with digital marketing. We’ll be able to pick up those things really fast and put them into practice faster to help us grow.”
“We have a great group dynamic because we can all do many different things that enables any one of us to pick up the slack in case we need to,” said Haseeb. “It is always said in many books on startup companies that you need to first start with generalists and then hire specialists, and that is exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Maiden Media Group, 116 Village Boulevard, Suite 309, Princeton 08540. www.maidenmediagroup.com. 877-9-MAIDEN (877-962-4336).