In another segment of our “People behind the Smoke” series we are interviewing Ali Nadimi, founder and CFO of Social Smoke. On a personal level, I’ve known Ali for about fifteen years. He was attending the University of Texas at Arlington and good friends with my sister when I met him. And I remember, when he first started Social Smoke, and was telling me about it; all I could think was: Who in the States actually smokes hookah, and why would they want to spend so much money on the products and accessories? Although a unique concept, I just didn’t believe Social Smoke had an actual chance of succeeding.
Well, obviously I was wrong. Because not only is Social Smoke a domestic and international success as a company, but Ali himself is one of the leaders of the growing hookah culture in the States. His hard work and perseverance has paid off in a big way, and Social Smoke’s rising success is a testament to his belief in himself and his product.
So here is a chance to get to know Ali on a more personal level, and get a glimpse behind the mastermind of Social Smoke!
When you first started University what was your dream? What were you hoping to accomplish with your life?
I always wanted to be able to call myself an entrepreneur. The ability to take control of my future, be able to do what I wanted to do, and create independent of existing structures outside of the social norm, only to later have them become a household name.
How did Social Smoke happen?
I was at the end stages of paying off a debt from a previous business venture that went south and was actively looking for something I could sink my teeth into. On a family road trip that took us from DFW to Maryland, up the east coast, and finally back down to Detroit, Chicago, and then to Texas, I came across some eye opening hookah products and accessories and large discrepancies of pricing compared to the DFW area. Seeing how much more advanced those other areas were in terms of hookah products than DFW, I did some due diligence, researched the market, and decided to jump in with all I had.
Did you ever believe you would be as successful as you are?
Initially, I didn’t know just how big Social Smoke could become. It started as an online sales company and then branched out into distribution. A few years in, Social Smoke was already growing bigger than the initial idea. Around 2005 or 2006 I started having trouble sleeping because I was dreaming and visualizing Social Smoke developing into a large international company. Many years later we’re all working together to achieve those dreams.
What are your goals for the future of your company?
We want to develop Social Smoke into a flexible and fast moving company that can react quickly to market conditions, create and release new products regularly, and be willing and able to take risks in markets where we see the biggest potential for growth. We do not want to let Social Smoke remain a DFW based company and instead want to be able to think of it as a company with branches around the world.
Why did you pick the DFW area to start your business?
I was born and raised in Texas and lived in DFW from the time I was 4 years old. I started the company while finishing my senior year at UTA. If I had more capital when I started, and knew how the business would grow and develop, I probably would have moved to Los Angeles or Anahiem CA. Those areas are known to be the Silicon Valley of the Hookah industry in the States. At this point however, as we’ve grown into an international brand, our location in DFW is a blessing because we are not bound by California tax laws and bureaucracy and our international customers don’t ask about location.
Would you do anything differently regarding your business?
Probably about a million things. Everyone makes mistakes, the most important thing is to not be committed to them and allow yourself to learn from them and change course as soon as possible.
How has getting older and being married changed you on a personal and business level? Have your goals changed? Commitment?
I’m more content with what I have in my life now than when I was younger. Thank God, I am more successful than before, but even if that was not the case, I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have. Marriage is very stabilizing and in a true partnership both husband and wife benefit from the others strengths and fill in each other weaknesses. My goals have not changed so much as just become more focused. You could say that getting older and being married has influenced me, but in reality it is all of it. Experience is ultimately a huge influencer and certainly in my life that is the case. Therefore, I weigh the opportunity cost of my decisions and goals now more than when I was younger. If I had to choose, I would say that I put more value on my time and personal freedom now over economic opportunity. Whereas when I was younger, it was always about advancement and business, sometimes to my own personal detriment.
If you were able to take over any other company in the US and merge it with Social Smoke, what would it be and why?
That’s a hard question. There are many companies that would be great candidates for a merger. However, off the top of my head, I would say Kaloud. Up to now, they have focused on hookah accessories and what they have released has been innovative, transformative, and high quality. They do what they do very well and are universally liked in the industry. We consider Kaloud to be friends of Social Smoke both as a company and on a more personal level.
How do you feel about the changes the FDA has made regarding the regulation of all tobacco including cigars, vapour, and hookahs?
The FDA’s plan to grandfather tobacco products that were on the market sometime in 2007 and basically restrict anything after that is the most worrying in terms of companies who distribute those products within the US. If the FDA sticks to the current wording of the grandfather clause, they will essentially put American companies out of business while creating a monopoly for foreign business to thrive. And it would not have an impact on consumer health. In effect, the FDA would be taking jobs and tax revenue out of USA and exporting them to foreign companies and foreign countries.
Running a business is both rewarding and extremely time consuming, what do you do to unwind and what hobbies/interests do you indulge in?
We spend most of our disposable income and free time doing one of two things; either traveling around trying to see the sights or spending time with friends and family. We’re very active people and would not consider ourselves homebodies so we’re always out and about, walking, talking, shopping, or otherwise keeping busy.
What’s your favorite blend and why?
Hard question but if I had to pick one flavor and stick to it, it would be Absolute Zero. So I guess by default it makes it my favorite blend. I love minty flavors and the undertones of sweetness and cream make it a great go to flavor.
There you have it! The genius behind Social Smoke. So you have any questions you would like to ask Ali or anyone else on the Social Smoke team? Please comment or send us an email. And don’t forget o check out next week’s post: June’s Blend of the month: Pink Lemonade!