- Entrepreneur and CEO Daniel Ahmadizadeh came up with the idea for a new quarantine-inspired dating app and launched it the same day. Since it was created in March, it’s grown to 7,000 users.
- Ahmadizadeh has also launched two new initiatives at his company PersistIQ: One to help sales people affected by layoffs connect to companies that are hiring contractors, and another free suite of tools to help small businesses grow.
- The 28-year-old CEO shared his advice for launching new initiatives to meet the changing needs of customers during the pandemic.
- Look to solve real problems people are experiencing and market with empathy.
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On March 8, 28-year-old Daniel Ahmadizadeh was emailing with a friend about life and work. At the time, the coronavirus — declared a formal global pandemic on March 11 — wasn’t yet the focal point in the United States the way it was in other countries.
Still, the two realized it “was bound to happen here in the US,” he recalled. Over email, he told Business Insider, the pair half-jokingly half-realistically decided, “Maybe we should build something.'”
That something turned out to be Quarantine Together, a dating platform that rewards people for behaviors that help “flatten the curve” (for example, washing hands and staying at home) by pairing them up with a new match each day at 6 p.m.
Ahmadizadeh and his friend purchased the web domains for quarantinetogether.com and quarantineandchill.com, built an initial prototype that required no coding — using no-code tools like Zapier, Twilio, Airtable, Typeform, and Webflow — and launched the site with their own funding, all that very night.
“Within 14 days — so by March 22 — of launching the app to our friends, it was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal,” Ahmadizadeh told Business Insider. “It was an insane ride.”
As of the first week of April, the app had grown to about 7,000 users, while seeing a 20% increase in new users every day.
The dating app works by pairing individuals based on gender preferences and age (as well as based on when they wash their hands) first via text, and the two have 20 minutes to start a conversation via message (without exchanging numbers, for privacy purposes). Then, if they want to take things a step further, it provides a link to start an optional video chat.
The app isn’t currently being monetized and instead encourages users to donate to organizations that fund PPE and other materials for healthcare workers. (Because the app links directly to partner organizations where donations can be made, the co-creators don’t have data around how much has been raised for these groups.)
While the app is “Quarantine Together” for now, Ahmadizadeh said he sees it could evolve to become just “Together” in the future — and possibly a bigger business venture.
“The reality is that we have thousands of users that sign up because they just want a friend, just want someone to talk to, and they just want someone to have a nice, honest, genuine, authentic moment with,” he added.
But this isn’t the only project Ahmadizadeh’s been working on during his time in self-isolation. As the CEO of PersistIQ, a company that offers digital tools for sales and customer outreach, he’s launched two other major initiatives, including a job search platform for salespeople and a free product offering for new and returning PersistIQ customers — and plans to launch even more as he gathers inspiration from friends, family, and customers around him.
PersistIQ, which has been around for seven years, has four full-time employees and serves more than 500 customers, including small businesses as well as some enterprise clients.
He shared with Business Insider how leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs of businesses big and small can get creative and innovate when the needs of customers are rapidly evolving amid the pandemic.
There’s no shortage of inspiration for what can be done today — especially if entrepreneurs look to solve real problems people are now experiencing
The unknowns of running a company in good times become all the more real when trying to grow business in times like the present, with a global pandemic that’s seen entire industries come to a standstill.
Ahmadizadeh sees this uncertainty and the challenges that come with it as an opportunity. It’s been said there are war-time presidents and peace-time ones, and he has likened himself to a “war-time CEO.”
“You have to sort of be in survival mode and … that gets my creativity going,” he shared.
With his company PersistIQ, he has found a way to rise to this challenge.
First, by creating a product called the “Jobs Project,” designed to help salespeople who’ve lost their jobs find contract work with companies looking for additional sales support. The project also comes with a toolkit to help salespeople get started as independent sales contractors so they can find remote, part-time work while they look for full-time jobs.
The second initiative he launched was a new free tier of his company’s product. Their starter package, which originally cost $40 to $50 per month, now costs $0 per month and allows users to send and track the engagement of 20 personalized batch emails per day. With the free entry-level package, customers can send emails, create customer engagement or sales outreach email sequences, and get analytics.
Offering up this free service fits with the company’s desire to help small businesses that may be struggling at this time, said Ahmadizadeh. When announcing the new offering on LinkedIn, he explained that companies with less than 200 employees who don’t need every feature in the world but rather the core functionality needed to help grow their business will benefit. “We think change is needed in the market and that teams should stop overpaying for email automation software,” he wrote.
Longer term, this extended user base creates a pool of potential users who may eventually graduate to higher tiers. As of this writing, the free tool has been around for a couple of days and already the company has seen growth of new free users — and hopes to follow in email marketing platform MailChimp’s growth success by adopting a freemium model.
The “Jobs Project,” he added, is not the company’s full-time focus, nor is he monetizing the effort, but it’s something he felt he could do to help. In the spirit of giving, he’s also reached out to competitors to join the initiative. The list of participating companies totals nearly 2,000 and includes Adobe, UPS, and T-Mobile, among others. Within the first few days of having launched, the landing page for the Jobs Project has seen 2,000 unique web visitors.
Make the most of your time, put ideas into action, and start testing product-market fit right away
While Ahmadizadeh dedicates his daytime hours to PersistIQ and its new initiatives, he’s making the most of the extra free time he now has sheltered in place by working on Quarantine Together — starting at nine or 10 at night and going until one or two in the morning.
“That’s the tradeoff, right?” he explained. “You sleep less. But in exchange, you get to do more than one thing.”
How Ahmadizadeh prioritizes his projects is by “being extremely deliberate” with what he says yes and no to. He also gets started each morning by reviewing his No. 1 thing for the day, otherwise, “the one thing that if I don’t do it, I will be disappointed,” he explained.
Ahmadizadeh said there’s no reason not to test product-market fit out right away if you have a great idea you want to launch.
While conducting user testing and customer interviews is a skill startups and companies learn over time, there are easy ways to quickly launch new ideas and get feedback that don’t involve knowing how to code, Ahmadizadeh added. He suggested creating simple forms or landing pages and circulating them via any number of social channels readily available — with friends in group texts, in Facebook groups, or on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
If it takes longer than a day to launch an initial test of product-market fit, then it’s not “lightweight, not light-touch enough,” noted Ahmadizadeh. He regularly puts this into practice by running his own ideas for new projects by his network on LinkedIn. For the Jobs Project, for instance, he used LinkedIn to crowdsource interest in the idea and find initial beta testers.
Market with empathy
Being transparent in how you communicate and instilling confidence and community with customers (as well as team members) is more important than ever during this time, noted Ahmadizadeh. Leaders shouldn’t ignore the situation at hand.
“Your customers — the people that you’re selling to — they’re going through the same thing as you are,” he said. “They’re anxious, they’re nervous, they’re scared, and they’re human, more importantly.” In turn, executives can respond with empathy.
Companies continuing customer-facing outreach and sales should recognize individuals’ top priorities right now, explained Ahmadizadeh, noting that they’re likely “thinking about their families, they’re thinking about maintaining their income, they’re thinking about surviving.”
Leaders will be best positioned by truly reflecting on the best ways to treat and reach out to customers in these moments, added Ahmadizadeh.