Yasmine Mustafa, 31, is a local entrepreneur and community leader. In 2009, she founded her first company, 123LinkIt, an affiliate marketing tool for bloggers. Struggling through running a tech startup without technical skills, she founded the Philadelphia chapter of Girl Develop It, an organization that offers low cost web development classes for women.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Kuwait; I moved to the US when I was 8 years old.
What were you like when you were growing up? Did you always know that you would be an entrepreneur?
It’s hard to remember stuff growing up in Kuwait. I remember the [Persian Gulf] war, unfortunately. Growing up here though, I was carefree and liked school. As a kid, I knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone else. My parents had a business and I knew that I wanted to own one as well. I used to find ways to make extra money, things on the side, like buying candy bars in bulk and up-selling them at school.
And I would say after college, I really figured out what I wanted to be. During college, I worked for a tech consulting company, and I was blogging for them, doing content marketing. And I wanted to be an entrepreneur so I started blogging for myself, and learned I could make money from it through advertisements. I thought “Huh, making money from doing what I’m already doing?” My blog made $187 bucks the first month, so I invested more time into it so I could make more. It was a convoluted process to make money from blogging, so I eventually developed something that would make it easier, which became 123 Link It, my first company.
When did you realize that you could run your own business?
I knew from my parents running their own. I was an immigrant, so I had to work under the table at many jobs and those people I had to work with were awful.
I wanted to be the boss, I didn’t want anyone to be the boss of me. I have been working since I was 9.
Tell us about your career path. What did you study?
I changed my major 4 times: graphic design, psychology, engineering and finally, entrepreneurship. After getting an associate’s degree from Montgomery County Community College, I went to Drexel and then Temple, where I changed to entrepreneurship. With that, I could do whatever I wanted.
And when I knew I wanted to start a company, I had many mentors and advisors that helped me.
How did Girl Develop It come into your life?
I was running at a tech company, 123 Link It, and I wasn’t very technical. I had trouble communicating with developers, so I wanted to learn.
What did you do to make GDI Philly so successful?
At the beginning I would email the founder every question I had, and eventually she told me I could own it. At the beginning everything was geared around stuff I wanted to learn. I was able to use my network really well. The community was hungry for something like this. Being the workaholic that I am, I just started running a ton of events. Things have still been growing.
Is gender a consideration in the world of entrepreneurship? Did anybody doubt you on your journey?
I would say for me it’s not, because I don’t make it one. It could be that I was a tomboy a lot of my life, and so it doesn’t bother me being around men. But there have been some moments where I was mindful of some things. Like where guys were always assuming and asking if I’m a marketer. Or ask me out to coffee to “talk about my business plan” just to try to date me.
Who are some of the people who have inspired and mentored you along the way?
Chris Pavlides was the Program Director of Fox School’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute , he would listen to all of my stupid ideas. Anthony Gold and Skip Shuda have been very helpful to me throughout the years.
How do you feel about the fact that you don’t have any female mentors?
I feel terrible that I can’t think of a single person, and I never really thought about it. And I mentor women.
What do you love the most about your work?
Right now, making a difference with Girl Develop It and this new business I want to start. Making an impact in others people’s lives for the better. For this new concept, called ROAR, it’s all about empowering women through safety. My team and I are doing it with a crime prevention awareness app and tech wearable self-defense jewelry. The overall goal is to reduce assaults on women: to make them more aware of their environment, and educate them on ways to defend themselves. We want to provide a tool to disorient a potential attacker and find a way to contact authorities before anything bad happens.
What is the hardest part about being a female in your industry?
Two things. One: automatically being put on a pedestal because I am one of the few women entrepreneurs. While I do my part, I wish it didn’t have to be that way. And two: meeting women who have a lot of potential who are held back by their own insecurities. I just want to shake them and be like “do it, do it!”
Do you have a motto?
When I was a “young” entrepreneur, my motto was “work hard now, play hard later” and I’ve since grown up and learned that is not a very good motto.
I wanna inspire leaders who do good.
What advice would you give to a woman looking to become an entrepreneur?
Ask a lot of questions. Own it. Be willing to ask for help. Realize that you can’t know it all or do it all. And find a mentor, too. That has been critical for me. Women or men mentors, doesn't matter. Be unreasonable: don’t settle for “no” and get done what needs to get done.