Chris is a passionate Muslim American entrepreneur committed to building up the global Muslim community to reach its full potential. He was born in Malaysia, raised in the United States and at the age of 16, became a Muslim through the influence of a friend and the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Chris was a top engineering graduate from the University of Michigan where he led the Muslim Students Association as President to win Student Organization of the Year. He received a Masters in educational leadership and prior to starting LaunchGood, was a teacher at one of the top boarding schools in the world, founded an Arabic non-profit, and was a producer for Bilal’s Stand, an award-winning Sundance film about an American Muslim. He started working on LaunchGood in 2011 and launched the site in 2013. In just over a year LaunchGood has already helped raise over $1 million for more than 100 campaigns across 13 countries. Chris currently lives in Dearborn, Michigan with his wife Amani and new daughter Maryam Yusra, and is an active community volunteer for University Muslim life and new Muslim work.
Assalamualaikum Chris! Tell me more about yourself.
I strive to be a genuine person, but you’d have to ask someone else if I’m as such. Generally, I’m really positive and a big thinker. I like to believe anything’s possible with Allah’s help and think on that scale. I love spending time with my family. I am generally pretty extroverted but enjoy my quiet time to read or drive by myself. It’s not apparent to those who meet me for the first time, but I’m ultra competitive. I want to always do my best and can be a perfectionist at times. I love having a good rhythm in my life – spirituality, exercise, work, naps, travel and family time. Basketball, in particular, is a must-do weekly ritual!
Tell me more about LaunchGood. What was your journey like? What interested you in creating LaunchGood?
I used to be a film producer. In 2010 we had a film go to the Sundance film festival (Bilal’s Stand), and we needed to raise more funds to finish it off. A friend from New York recommended we check out what was then a new site, Kickstarter. We ended up having a very successful campaign, and I fell in love with crowdfunding. As I saw Kickstarter grow and its incredible impact on the creative industry in America, I thought this is exactly the type of platform we need in the Muslim community; an ecosystem of ideas, inspiration, and funding to spur Muslims to do more good in the world. I took that thought, found an investor and started building a team 2012. Finally, we launched in late 2013, about 16 months later. I was 29 at the time. Fortunately, my friends and family were generally supportive, although nobody quite believed we could make this huge website. Even now, despite all our success, we’re only 1% of where I’d like to be ten years from now.
Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted. How did you overcome your challenges?
Getting LaunchGood off the ground was one of the most difficult experiences in my life. We were effectively bootstrapping meaning we were paying for everything out of our pockets. Forget even taking a salary! To make it affordable, we hired developers from Pakistan, who were nice people but not great developers. It took four times longer than they said it would to get the site up, and even then, it was full of bugs. We even had a critical weekend where the website was broken and couldn’t accept any donations. I realized if we didn’t fix the situation ASAP we’d die. Fortunately, I have an amazing mentor, Bob Weins, and he recommended an American developer who we’ve been working with ever since. As for my faith, it’s been a constant source of strength. Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride: some days you’re flying high, others you’re crashing hard. But knowing that everything is decreed already and that if we’re meant to be successful, nobody and nothing can stop us, gives me the confidence and courage to wake up and march forward into this battle of the unknown.
What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced in your life? Tell us in detail why it left such an indelible impression on you.
Becoming a Muslim has been the best moment of my life. The cleansing feeling, the sense of newfound purpose and meaning in life, the joining of a global Muslim community – Alhamdulillah!
Who inspires you the most? Why?
There are so many people; I can’t choose just one! My daughter inspires me to make sure to leave the world a better place for her; that’s serious motivation! My mother has overcome so many challenges in her life to become an incredibly successful entrepreneur. My teammates in LaunchGood, especially my co-founders Amany Killawi and Omar Hamid, challenge me every day to put my best in because they do. And there are a good 20 more people I could add to this list in a heartbeat.
What’s your favorite verse from the Quran and why?
“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” [Surah Al-Imran 3:103]
My best friend is also the one who guided me to Islam, Professor Michael Dann. He was also my neighbor and classmate growing up. As kids, we were polar opposites. We were never really friends and never even hung out. But Islam brought our hearts together in a way that I never imagined possible.
What do you want to say to people who are also going through difficulties?
You’ll get through this. One day you’ll be in a position of listening to someone going through the same exact trouble – and you, and only you, will be able to help that person because you went through it and survived; you can truly understand their pain and suffering, and therefore you’re truly able to help.
What is your hope for your community?
We reclaim the mantle of the “Best of nations raised up for mankind” and make “Muslim” synonymous with “contributors to civilization” once again.
Any last words?
If anyone is thinking to crowdfund, please choose LaunchGood (https://www.launchgood.com/) and join the movement for good! And if you’re really passionate about our work, reach out to me to join the team. We’re global!