Fahim Saleh was born in July 1986 into a middle-class Bengali family in Saudi Arabia. Along with his two sisters – Rif Saleh and Ruby Bashir – he and his parents eventually settled in Rochester, New York.
But even as a youngster, Saleh was said to already be dreaming of earning money and found that his interest in computers could help to realize those dreams.
As a young teen, his enthusiasm for the internet which was still in its infancy at the time, led him to researching Google’s founder and other big tech names during the dot com boom of the late 1990s.
After spending hours playing computer games, he decided to turn his computer wizardry to building a website.
Fahim Saleh, far left, was born into a middle-class Bengali family in Saudi Arabia. He is pictured here along with his two sisters and his parents. The family eventually settled in New York state
He started small and began with a simple site for his family – Salehfamily.com. It would draw in around five visitors a month, mostly driven by his proud father who would send friends and relatives to look at the pages.
But by the age of 15, Saleh began to develop a knack for programming and set up a blogging site just for his friends.
Saleh started small, creating a website for his family when he was in eighth grade, but the dotcom boom of the 1990 saw him become interested in programming and developing websites
What started as a teen hangout (teenhangout.com), ended up turning into a blogging forum for the community as more people heard about the site and began to publish articles. Finally, money slowly began to come in to the tune of around $3 a month.
A blog notes how at high school, however, Saleh was drawing a profit of between $100,000 and $150,000 a year as he created websites that focused on young people.
After leaving school, he attended Bentley University in Boston, Massachusetts where he studied Computer Information Systems and developed a Facebook app which allowed students to have food delivered.
He then set up a phone-pranking phone app that would let a user choose a prank call before calling up their friends to hear their surprised reaction.
What started off generating about $20 a day soon grew to $1,000. Saleh notes in an article for Medium that PrankDial.com has generated $10million during its lifetime.
The website still brings in about $1-2million a year and allowed Saleh to set up more companies: TapFury, an entertainment company, and Ninja Fish which had a focus on gaming.
KickBack Apps owns four apps, including Prank Dial, which provides pre-recorded prank calls.
Motorbike taxi hailing app in Lagos which commuters used to get around the busy traffic.
The business got a $5.3million injection from Silicon Valley last year and recently had to pivot operations to becoming a courier service.
Based in Bangladesh, started as a ride-sharing app but now lets people buy food delivery and clothes.
Valued at $100million
Venture Capital firm focused on developing countries
With money being generated, literally while he slept, he set up a venture firm that would allow him to invest in startups in the developing world.
His current focus was on a Nigerian transport service app called Gokada – essentially an Uber for motorbikes – which was co-founded by Saleh in 2018.
The initial idea was to have people transported across Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, by motorcycle
In its first year of operation, Gokada was said to have secured 1,000 bikes giving around 5,000 rides across the crowded city each day.
But the firm ran into difficulty in February of this year after a ban went into effect that expressly forbid motorbike taxis.
The ban came suddenly and without warning after the Lagos state government said a ban was needed because of ‘accidents, and disorderliness caused by the vehicles’.
As a result of the ban, commuters were left stranded and many were forced to travel on packed public transport instead.
The firm stopped bringing in money and around 800 bikers working for Gorkada were o immediately laid off.
The ban came at a difficult moment for Gokada which had just raised $5.3 million in funding from Rise Capital, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, in May 2019.
‘As a business, we kind of have to just roll with the punches and a lot of those people that we had to lay off were very focused on the transport sector of the business,’ Saleh told CNN earlier this year.
In an emotional plea to Nigerian officials to reverse the decision in February, Saleh said: ‘It’s not my country. It’s a country that I feel has amazing potential and amazing people and an opportunity to shine.
Saleh’s current focus was on a Nigerian transport service app called Gokada – essentially an Uber for motorbikes
‘The drivers, every one of them, wasn’t there because they just wanted to make money. They were there because they had families, children, dreams, they wanted to start businesses. They wanted to go to school.
‘They had degrees already but they couldn’t find jobs. We were hoping that a lot of these drivers wouldn’t be drivers forever, we were hoping that we could place them in higher jobs in Gokada and create a beautiful community which was developing slowly and,it was really something that moved me to the point where I was OK putting all my money in, all my effort in.
‘Gokada is not just a business. We do things that nobody else did at the time.
‘This has definitely been a blow.’
The company decided to attempt to pivot and become a delivery and logistics company with a new boat hailing service that would run vessels that could hold up to 24 people – but then the global pandemic struck, putting future plans on hold.
‘The drivers here at Gokada, were not there to make money, they were here because they had families, they have children, they have dreams,’ Saleh told Nirametrics.
‘They want to start businesses, they want to go to school, they have degrees already, but they couldn’t find jobs. For many, Gokada wasn’t the final place for their life. It was a stepping stone to get to that next endeavor.’
‘What I will tell you is that Gokada is not just a business, it’s a mission. And every part of that mission is to always be safe, provide jobs.’