Founder Spotlight - Joel Tom Alexander (JTA)
As I'm writing this, I am sitting in a corner of a beautiful and busy cafe in Dubai. It’s a beautiful day outside. I just realized that this is the first time in almost six months that I’m getting to sit with myself and my thoughts and take a breather and reflect on the past few months of my life that feels like a rushed dream, it’s everything I’ve ever dreamt of and more.
I’m thinking about how for a South Asian “salvation kid” who was struggling to get through most of my classes at university with really bad self-esteem and mental health, I’m doing really well and better. For myself. We live in a world where we have so much exposure to CEOs, leaders, or anyone who has really paved their way up on a close level and one group of those achievers are people who had to hit rock bottom and get way out of their comfort zone to find their purpose or something meaningful. I’m hoping to be a part of that group someday. I mean I’ve already accomplished the rock bottom part and some say that it’s definitely the hardest part.
In early 2018, I remember constantly wondering about how there were people who have it worse than me and that I shouldn't be feeling this way, I didn’t realize that in the process of trying to ground myself, I was invalidating everything I was feeling too.
Everything was seemingly perfect. I was studying the subjects of my choice at one of the top universities in the world. But the fact that I wasn't living up to the expectations of my university, family and mostly myself is a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
I was in a constant state of self-doubt, stressing relentlessly about everything and just straight up having a bad time. And then something changed which turned my life around and that has stayed with me since. I decided to let go. Letting go of anything is a huge change in lifestyle, it is when you choose to reset and reconnect with the present and change your mindset, and that’s exactly what I did.
The mindset at the time was truly everything.
And you’ll only know how powerful it is and how powerful it makes you once you’re in that zone. I decided to stop comparing myself to anyone or anything, I became comfortable with myself, with the fact that my story or place in the world would be different from other people, and whether that is good or bad is something I will deal with. But fundamentally speaking, I got my shit together.
What I was initially looking at as a waste of months, until my resits, became the time period where my life took a turn for the better. And the rollercoaster was back, going up this time, and I was happy-screaming this time around.
Before we go further, a few things you should know about me are that I am extremely (and annoyingly) optimistic and borderline delusional when it comes to things I want to achieve. And I know this might sound crazy, but if there’s something you want to do, but you’ve heard that it’s just not possible or unimaginable, this is your sign to pursue it anyways. You never know what the outcome could be! But time spent on doing things you love in my opinion is not time wasted at all.
The reflection time period I had did many things to me, including grounding me even more, and helped me realize my privilege, and made me want to do something about it. I founded the India arm of a non-profit organization that was working towards providing students from underprivileged backgrounds access to all symmetric information and materials regarding university applications for their higher education. As someone who had trouble with deadlines and applications with so much access, I couldn’t even imagine their situation. In the process of doing that, we also had the opportunity to negotiate deals with multinational companies to sponsor the tuition fees of these students. Overall, we got to help admit many bright minds into their dream universities and it was the best of times.
That feeling of having made even a small difference is addicting and fueled my fire to do more to help people and which led me to my next adventure, and in the most unexpected industry, fashion.
I attended an event where they were talking about how it’s just not viable for sustainable fashion to be commercially affordable, and that struck a nerve with me. I was informed enough about how the fast fashion industry is one of the biggest enemies of the developing world and the fact is that the most influential people in that industry weren't doing anything about it. Being fully aware of the fact that I had zero knowledge about fashion or its working (I am Anne Hathway in the first half of The Devil Wears Prada), I put together a team of super creative individuals and got to work, we named the brand – Fursa, and even though we were all from completely different backgrounds, most had no relation to what we were doing, we had one thing in common which made us stick together, our passion to make a difference.
We got to work and came up with super creative ideas (if I may say so myself) like getting pineapple leaves on sneakers, hemp fabric for clothes, etc. While we were in the process of getting things for production, the pandemic hit and we were all trapped with our sustainable ideas in our homes. It was during this time of reflection that helped me realize two things. One, people all around me were losing their jobs. Two, us trying to sell our clothes in this scenario would not be viable at all.
A couple of months after my fashion venture ended, I came across an article providing information and statistics about why 60% of businesses in my city would go bankrupt in the coming months. I set out and put together another team of individuals who had more insight and knowledge about the consulting aspect of the project, and we cold outreached to 5 companies to provide free help to them. This was crucial because people on both sides of this aisle were being affected. The businesses firstly, and also the students who had recently lost their jobs/internships, who were looking for gigs to work on in the summer, so with this, they were able to contribute with all the knowledge they had to offer. This went really well because, by the end, when the businesses were back up and running because of our help, we knew we had fulfilled our mission — but there was just one problem. We were still super social impact-focused from a mission and wallet standpoint. If you know, you know.
While reading yet another article, I found out that VC funding going to female founders was at an all-time low and consistently hovering around the 2.3% mark, despite the number of female-founded businesses having increased significantly whilst also being more profitable in general. That begged the question of how we could get a more diverse group of investors to see more of the deals that were floating around and that was when I started working on a Tinder + TikTok for Crowdfunding of sorts. However, the hard truth we learned was that swiping on founders was actually harder than swiping on people to go on dates with. Lol, who would’ve guessed.
Drishti & I kept exploring the crowdfunding space, trying to hack away at different ideas when we met our founding engineer Harman who introduced us to the idea of holding crowdfunded money on smart contracts as opposed to in escrow and that’s when I really dove deep into crypto (S/o to A16z crypto for making this happen) and was able to fully fathom the potential of social tokens, NFTs and DAOs.
By May 2021, I had a vision. A plan, An idea. But what I did not have was the means to execute it.
Shocked would be an understatement when I found out that my university's entrepreneurship arm, LSE Generate, decided to give us 5k to kickstart this vision, and this was exactly the validation and push I needed, and for that, I will forever be grateful to them.
The rest is history but even in between all of that I was working for a food-tech company doing BD for them and also working for a Web2 Creator Economy startup that was selling to creators, all whilst lifting tables and chairs for career fairs at LSE. And sure enough in a few months, a new friend I made on the On Deck Catalyst program, Lola Fernandez (perpetually shouting you out), put in our first ever check into CrowdPad, followed shortly by On Deck’s accelerator program, ODX, & several others eventually. Things went by so fast that we were soon launching the mobile beta in early February.
Very recently, we closed our Seed round of $2.5m and in the coming days are scheduled to feature in some of the world’s biggest magazines, websites, podcasts and so much more.
My personal goals for the coming months will constantly be evolving. I’m sure that the outside key product and community milestones are the priorities right now, but at the core, building the strongest team out there. Ensuring that we’re all moving the needle in our own little ways so that we can build a world where everyone, no matter what part of the world they’re from, what culture they originate from, no matter what they’re told they can and can’t do, are able to pursue their dreams without having to trade off paying bills, to the best of our ability. WAGMI.