Episode #20 - Hassan El Mghari talks startups and lessons learned from running a community of almost a million users

Hassan El Mghari shares his journey from starting a games marketing company in high-school, to fullstack dev.

In this Episode

For this final episode in the season Hassan El Mghari joins us to share his incredible journey from high-school student running multiple gaming communities totalling almost a million users, founding a gaming marketing company, to pursuing a CS degree and learning full stack development. Hassan talks lessons learned, how to learn in public and the power of long-game effort.

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[00:00:00] Rob Kendal: [00:00:00] so joining me for the final episode in season. I was gonna say, season 10, it’s the 10th episode of season two, I’m very excited about this one. We’ve got Hassan El Mghari, who is the founder of ultra shock gaming. A game marketing startup with a community of he’s only got few, just, just 500,000 members.

[00:00:16] so, you know, help him, he needs help with that one. but he’s successfully ran that for a number of years and then sold it up with a great write up, that he’s got summerising his journey. but at the minute he’s a CS student at Drexel and he’s going into full stack web development of all things. So, during this time he’s been working on side projects, blog posts and tweets about self-development and coding.

[00:00:36] And if that’s not enough, I believe you are, the moderator for the largest react community on Reddit r/react JS. That also has just a few members are almost a quarter of a million developers. So, and I will post, I post myself on there from time to time. So, you know, fiver’s in the post if you can get my, get my posts bumped up.

[00:00:54] so yeah. So Hassan, welcome to the show. How is it all going?

[00:00:56] Hassan El Mghari: [00:00:56] Thank you so much, Rob. That was, that was a great intro. I’m [00:01:00] doing great. How are you?

[00:01:01] Rob Kendal: [00:01:01] yeah, I’m very good. I’m very good. whereabouts are you based at the minute?

[00:01:04] Hassan El Mghari: [00:01:04] I am based in Philadelphia in the U S

[00:01:07] Rob Kendal: [00:01:07] Cool. What’s a what’s that like?

[00:01:09] Hassan El Mghari: [00:01:09] Good. weather it’s probably a little colder than I’d like it to be. but that’s, cause I’m used to more tropical weather back in my home country of Morocco. but, yeah. Yeah. Liking the food, like the culture people are very diverse here. There’s a lot of international students that come, to Philly cause it’s, it’s the biggest college town in the U S actually there’s over a million college students here.

[00:01:29] Rob Kendal: [00:01:29] That’s very cool. Have you got any snow there yet?

[00:01:31] Hassan El Mghari: [00:01:31] not yet. Surprisingly.

[00:01:34] Rob Kendal: [00:01:34] Oh, we’re, we’re holding out for some, my daughter’s six and she hasn’t really seen much snow. She had someone she would like two-ish. We had a bit of snow and she can’t really remember it, but the UK is really weird when it comes to snow. I know the Americans do it properly. Like it, it properly snows in places, but we wait until about January, maybe February.

[00:01:52] Then sometimes you get a bit for a week and it’s really kind of half-assed and then it goes away. And then sometimes in April, Just randomly it’ll snow. And you’re like, Oh, this [00:02:00] is, this is great. The roads are chaos for like two days and it goes away as if it never happened. So we’re fingers crossed for snow this year.

[00:02:06] Hassan El Mghari: [00:02:06] Wow. That’s crazy. Is that across all of the UK?

[00:02:10] Rob Kendal: [00:02:10] Parts of it. Yeah. We experienced random snow in kind of, you know, you just think you’re coming out of winter. You think now I’ve had enough of the cold, it’s going to start, getting warmer and kind of March and things. And yeah, you’ll just get random pockets, but maybe only, like I said, a day or two enough to cause absolute carnage.

[00:02:23] but then it just goes away as if it never happened, but never like you don’t, you don’t get this white Christmas used to when I was a kid, I grew up in the eighties and it was a bit more, snow in December and January. Where now? Yeah, it’s just, whenever it feels like it. global warming maybe.

[00:02:36] Hassan El Mghari: [00:02:36] I know, definitely, definitely global warming.

[00:02:40] Rob Kendal: [00:02:40] And I’m going to dive straight into your really interesting journey. I’m very interested about this one from creating a six-figure remote startup as a high school student to a full-stack dev, which is, you know, somewhat of a pivot. but you, you started off selling virtual items kind of products that don’t really even exist on team fortress two.

[00:02:57] Is that right?

[00:02:58] Hassan El Mghari: [00:02:58] That is correct.

[00:02:59] So I [00:03:00] was a big gamer back in the day, you know, I think a typical high school or middle-school student of, you know, going to school, doing homework and then coming back and playing for hours and hours. and as I got more interested in games, I got more interested in like buying accessories for my character inside of games.

[00:03:16] and these, these little things, things were, were purely cosmetic, you know, it was kind of just to make your character look nice and, That’s it. And so people who don’t game kind of look at that as something really weird, right. They might ask like, why would you want to spend money on this stuff? But when you’re spending enough money playing a game, right.

[00:03:33] It kind of, it’s, it becomes very important to you and you want to spend money. And so I got to the point where I was like, okay, I want to, I want to be spending money on this stuff. and to get like a decent outfit for your character sometimes ran you up to like the several hundreds of dollars. yeah, so pretty expensive.

[00:03:50] Yeah. So it was not really not, didn’t really want to ask my parents for it at the time because, you know, you can imagine it going up to your parents and being like, Hey, so I wouldn’t buy this, [00:04:00] this thing for my character in my game and I’m going to need like $500 to do that. so that’s where I was like, all right.

[00:04:07] Steam, which is the platform that you play these games on allows you to trade items between players. So, you know, I thought I’d try to trade my way up to the top. Right. So I started with items that were very, very cheap, just worth a few cents. and then I traded maybe like a 5 cent item for a 7 cent item that someone had a duplicate of.

[00:04:28] Right. They just wanted to use my item and then slowly but surely I kept trading my way up and up and up, until I got a couple hundred dollars worth of items. and so at that point, that’s when. I did what was, what’s called buying out players. So a lot of players, they played this game for several months or a couple of years, they spent a lot of money into it.

[00:04:50] And then all of a sudden they just lose interest and they just want to cash out completely. so what I did is, and it takes a while to sell these virtual items. So what I did is I came [00:05:00] up to them and I’m like, Hey, I’m going to give you like, 60% of the value of your items, but just give it to you all at once and just give me all your items.

[00:05:08] so I buy them at a huge discount and then I take like a month to slowly sell off their items one by one. so that’s kind of how I scaled that a little bit. And I ended up with about four, $4,000 at the end.

[00:05:20] Rob Kendal: [00:05:20] That’s that’s really impressive for like things that don’t technically exist. That’s really because, I mean, it’s, it’s quite commonplace nowadays with , that monetization of it with like loot boxes and then game shops and things, which they weren’t quite as common practice then. So it sounds like you spotted quite a little niche, you know, trading sort of market.

[00:05:41] Hassan El Mghari: [00:05:41] For sure. Now looking back at the industry, cause I recently visited it and I wanted to see what it was like. It’s like it’s dominated by like bots and people that use scripts to automatically buy and sell different things. And so it’s getting, yeah, it’s getting a lot more standardized and it’s basically getting to where it’s a lot harder to make money. [00:06:00]

[00:06:00] So I. Stumbled upon it pretty early. So this is six years back, in 2014. So, I, I guess I got a little lucky there.

[00:06:08] Rob Kendal: [00:06:08] You say you stumbled upon it and I think, yeah, it sounds like a real niche. Was that something that was just an organic thing, kind of born of the, the interest of the game then, like you said, you kind of had a need where I want these things. Well, I’m not going to be able to fund themselves sort of self-funded myself.

[00:06:24] Hassan El Mghari: [00:06:24] Exactly. Yeah. And that just came from my internal motivation to get these items. I wasn’t really looking at it as a business. but it, it turned into a little bit of one and I made that money. and that’s kinda when I, when I was thinking, all right, I have this money. What do I want to do next?

[00:06:38] I started losing interest in the game myself. So I didn’t really like the trading scene anymore. And the game actually saw a big drop off of players. and so, you know, I decided to start looking for something new. and that’s kinda how I started my game marketing thing.

[00:06:53] Rob Kendal: [00:06:53] And was that when you really kind of thought, Oh, this, this I’ve been doing it to fill a need so far and I’ve handily made some money, but it [00:07:00] was at the point where you kind of thought, Oh, this could really be like a business that I can, I can run and turn into a business.

[00:07:06] Hassan El Mghari: [00:07:06] Yeah. So it was actually a little bit after that. in the beginning it was more that, Oh, I have some friends who are these indie game devs and they’ve developed games. And you know, when, whenever I play with them, they keep complaining that they have these games, that they can’t sell them. because steam just had a very weird process at the time, where you would need several hundred people. You’d basically be posting your game, a description of your game, a quick video, showing how it worked. and, and then you’d need several hundred people to vote on it and say that they would buy it before it even got onto steam.

[00:07:37] so you can imagine people just starting out or people that, that don’t have an audience. it’s very, very hard to get this many votes on your game. And so, what would happen is you get a lot of, you know, half decent games that are being made and then that the developers can’t do anything about.

[00:07:53] Rob Kendal: [00:07:53] Yeah, it’s really. That’s really harsh is, I mean, I’m a, I’m a big gamer, you know, kind of, I’ve been since I sound really old, whenever I talk [00:08:00] about stuff like this, I mean, I’m still in my thirties, but, it feels like hundreds of years ago, but I, I kind of got into it right when they just became very popular and it was like the NES and the kind of the master system and things like that.

[00:08:11] but yeah nowadays, where we’ve got the, the switch and kind of steam, which they seem a bit better for indie devs to get onto as a platform. But it means it work in a similar way now where you’ve still got to it’s the popularist ones that get, in front of people.

[00:08:25] Hassan El Mghari: [00:08:25] Yeah. So recently, just in the past couple of years, they did change up the process for the better. I think they eliminated the voting system. And right now you basically just, fill out an extensive form and then steam basically just reviews your game internally and then decides whether it gets on the store or not.

[00:08:42] so I think it’s, it’s a much more fair process, how they’re doing it right now.

[00:08:47] Rob Kendal: [00:08:47] with the UltraShock thing, then you saw that kind of gap in the market for, how can I help people go from, you know, they get these really great games in front of people when the system is not so much rigged against them, but it seems like a really kind of

[00:09:00] harsh system is you’ve got to, if you, obviously, if you’re popular enough to get people to vote and you can get it in, but if you’re not, did you have a plan with any of that or you were just quite good at kind of recognizing the opportunities and taking it from there?

[00:09:11] Hassan El Mghari: [00:09:11] Yeah. So initially, no plan at all, you know, I kinda just saw this need and I started to think, okay, what can I do to help? I didn’t have an audience myself. I was, I was nobody. so I was like, okay, maybe I need to get an audience. So I brainstormed ideas of how I can get an audience on steam. And it turns out there it turns out people like free things.

[00:09:32] Right. so that’s, that was kind of my big realization. And, see, I, I noticed that there were a few steam communities. so if, if you don’t know a lot of people that are even hardcore gamers don’t know this, but steam, you can actually have steam groups. which are kind of, they’re exactly the same thing as like a Facebook group, where, you know, you have a group of people, you can post things, they can comment on them.

[00:09:55] and so it’s just, you know, you can build basically communities. so I, I noticed that there was a [00:10:00] few of these communities, and some of them. They went and they contacted game developers that already had their game on steam, and then they would just do giveaways. and it was kind of a win-win situation for both of them.

[00:10:10] the group owner would be giving away free games and so more people would join their group. and then the, the game developer would get some free advertising because the group members would see that game when it was being, when it was being given away. So I saw this little business model and I was like, all right, I’m going to go and I’m going to try to start with that. so I started my own group and I sent out a ton of cold emails to game developers. And I basically just sent them this pitch and I was like, Hey, could you send me five free copies of your game? I’d love to give it away on my group. and then you would get some free exposure from that too.

[00:10:45] And so the overwhelming a number of people that I, that I emailed responded and they were like, Hey sure. Yeah, here are five free games. Cause it’s, it’s no cost to them. Really. They, they own the game. so if you gave me these free copies, I could give them away in my group. they would get some exposure because my group members would see [00:11:00] them.

[00:11:00] And my group was growing really, really fast because I was doing these giveaways consistently twice a day for, for close to six months.

[00:11:07] You know, I, I was making no money during these six months and it was just constantly emailing them, making a post on the group, telling people to comment, to enter the giveaway, choosing a random winner, adding that winner, giving the way the game and rinse and repeat for six months.

[00:11:21]and the group really scaled. I got up to around 50,000 people in my community. Reddit was actually a big source of where I got people. There was some subreddits where you can give away games. And so I, I just post a link to my giveaways on there, and a lot of people would join them. so yeah, now I have this community of 50,000 people, which was kind of my goal to, to build a community, to help, you know, those indie game devs.

[00:11:42] and I started, In between my posts for giveaways, I would also post and be like, Hey, my, my friend blank has his game on Greenlight, which is the, the steam process to, to actually get on steam. And I tell them, Hey, like, if you could go and support them, it would mean a lot. so it kind of just started out [00:12:00] like that and I noticed hundreds of people would go and would support us and would vote on these games.

[00:12:04] I guess mostly because they were just thankful to be a part of that community and they want a lot of free games. and so they kind of wanted to do something back. so they went and they voted for them and we actually got a couple of games on steam at that point. And that’s really when I realized that, Oh my God, like I can turn this into a business or I can start charging for this.

[00:12:22] Rob Kendal: [00:12:22] it speaks volumes. I think of the, the hard work that you have to put in sometimes on paired, you know, I like to get something like that off the ground. And also it’s about. You know that the recognizing of the opportunities when they kind of come along, I think anything like that, that grows out of nothing into something is, you know, there’s no one at the end of it who’s just gone I woke up one day and it was like this, you know, it’s like just the amount of graft to put in, to get communities like that. what, what was the best part of this experience of, of kind of starting and running and, and growing a very much kind of community or community oriented business?

[00:12:55] Hassan El Mghari: [00:12:55] So I, I think one of the biggest lessons that I took out of it is the power of [00:13:00] compounding. and so I think most people assume growth is linear, right? I’m going to do something today and I’m going to, You know, grow my community or grow my skills or grow whatever it is. And every single day I’ll, I’ll keep growing more and you know, it’s going linearly, but in reality, you get no growth in the beginning.

[00:13:16] It’s just a lot of hard work and it’s just kind of, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s constant, it’s zero, and then it starts spiking up exponentially and it just blows up. and so what I notice is most people quit before it blows up. and most people aren’t patient enough to put in those months.

[00:13:31] Cause I, so I put in six months, of about two hours a day, right. And I almost saw no growth for the first three months. Like nothing I’d be spending 15 hours a week doing this and no growth in the first couple of months. and then all of a sudden, you know, people started sharing it on Reddit and all these other platforms.

[00:13:50] And just through word of mouth, really people were telling their friends like, Hey, there’s this group, they’re doing two giveaways every single day. And they verify that, you know, winners actually win and they give away like 10 [00:14:00] games a day, you should join the community. and so, you know, we went from, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it spiked up really, really fast to 50,000.

[00:14:08] So I think that’s probably my number one takeaway, you know, the, the power of compounding, it’s there, but you have to be patient enough to wait until it, it, it grows exponentially.

[00:14:20] Rob Kendal: [00:14:20] And it’s about building that credibility as well. I think, you know, it’s the same with, I’ve been talking to a lot of junior devs recently about kind of blogging and writing and how just creating content is very important. And I think one of the big things, after the question, but what do I write about, I think after that comes this, this idea of like, well, you know, no one’s gonna sort of read it or how do I get popular and things, and it’s like, not initially your first ones are going to suck. No, one’s going to read them. but you know, it’s because if you land somewhere and there’s just nothing there, like no background or history, it’s, it’s not as good of a sell because you don’t have as much credibility as if you land there like you did. You know, you’ve got the first three months of very little growth because you kind of building up this, [00:15:00] almost this backstory of like, and the credibility of like where we are and then it kind of takes off.

[00:15:04] Hassan El Mghari: [00:15:04] so I’m at the point where, you know, it kind of hit me that I can start making money. I have a community of 50,000 people, and we’ve successfully gotten a few games on steam through this process.

[00:15:14] so this is where I started cold emailing people that posted on Greenlight. So I would see that they would post a game there and then it maybe didn’t get enough traction. So I’d go, I find their email and I cold email them and I’d say, Hey, I have this community of 50,000 people. I can help get your game on steam. and so we only reached out to people who we thought had potential to get on Steam and whose game was actually decently good. cause obviously our, our group members weren’t going to vote for something that was, you know, complete crap. so we had to curate that a little bit. We emailed them and I started charging about $500, just a flat fee of $500 to get your game on steam.

[00:15:55] So that was kind of our first revenue stream. and so we had a bunch of people do [00:16:00] that. I think it was 10 people, across the first, the first several months that took us up on that deal. And, you know, we posted their game on our group, and we successfully got it on steam. And so that was good.

[00:16:10] and I actually ended up acquiring a few other communities. what I did was I searched on steam. There are thousands of communities on steam, but I searched for a few of them that were large, but completely inactive. Like the owner of gave up on them for whatever reason. and then, you know, I cold emailed the owner and I was like, Hey, I run this community on Steam,

[00:16:28] I’d love to acquire your community as well to do game giveaways on that too. So I sent out a couple emails and I ended up acquiring, several communities about, I think with about 350,000 members total across about five communities. and I actually invested that $4,000 that I, that I earned in the beginning with the selling the virtual items into this, to buy these communities.

[00:16:53] But what happened really quickly is I realized I couldn’t really do it all. I couldn’t manage six different [00:17:00] communities, post giveaways on these six different ones, select the winners. Add the winners. moderation was, was a huge pain. When you have hundreds of thousands of people in a group, you’re going to have hundreds of, of trolls or people that want to spam or people that just want to break the rules.

[00:17:14] then I made a post on one of my communities and I said, Hey, I’m hiring some volunteers to help me moderate this group.

[00:17:20] And, you know, right away, I got, I got maybe 80 people that responded and that said, Hey, I’d be more than happy to help out. and out of those 80, I chose maybe six people, basically one person per group. and they were assigned the role of, you know, moderating the group, banning people that broke the rules and doing all of that.

[00:17:39] and then from there I hired a couple more people. When I say hired, it was really just on a volunteer basis. I found it surprising how many people wanted to volunteer to do this kind of work. and I think that speaks back to credibility.

[00:17:52] I think at this point, this is about a year into the business. We. We had solid credibility as the gaming community that, that just gave

[00:18:00] away a ton of games. And we will, we were relatively well-known in, in certain circles. so people wanted to have the title of moderator at, you know, this, this UltraShock gaming.

[00:18:11] Rob Kendal: [00:18:11] how would you kind of vet those, those sort of people? Cause it’s a bit different with an advert cause you, you know, there’s, there’s kind of a contract in place there and it’s, there’s like money exchanging hands and things, but to get volunteers, which arguably can be more passionate about stuff like that.

[00:18:23] But I mean, how did you kind of vet those people and trust them with, with kind of almost like moderating and running the communities for you?

[00:18:30] Hassan El Mghari: [00:18:30] so out of those applications that we got, we really filtered out to the ones that we thought. Yeah, again, it does come back to how passionate they are. And so we looked for people that were previously active in the community and that I’ve kind of seen around. we looked for people that, that maybe were a part of some other communities or had roles in different communities around steam, you know, people that were a little more well-known.

[00:18:53] and then from there we kind of, we picked a few people, give them a trial period of a couple of weeks. and you know, we said, Hey, like, you’ll do this [00:19:00] for a couple of weeks. And then, you know, if you like it and we like you as well, we’ll keep you on. and if you don’t like it, no hard feelings, you can, you can move on to whatever you want.

[00:19:08] so it was kind of just a low pressure thing. Really. there weren’t a lot of ways for them to abuse their power, I guess they could just ban random people. but we had processes around that where every week I would be going and I would check the logs to see who was banned and for what reason and all that kind of stuff.

[00:19:26] so I could, from a very high level, I could see that things were operating smoothly.

[00:19:30] so essentially what I did is I tried to kind of make six little companies and I tried to encourage healthy competition between them. So basically every group manager had the autonomy to, you know, email game developers by themselves. try to secure these funding deals, where we’re getting games on Greenlight, do as many giveaways as they want partner with the other groups.

[00:19:53] and then I just had weekly meetings with these group managers. And a lot of their compensation was [00:20:00] incentives for, you know, group growth and engagement and all of this kind of stuff. so it was really fun to see them kind of managing their own groups and taking care of all of the, the day-to-day activities of the giveaways.

[00:20:13] and so we had kind of this like big organizational structure and they were all kind of taken care of it, from that side. Apart from Greenlight, we expanded our revenue streams to a few other things. one thing that we did is we started doing what’s called publishing games.

[00:20:29] So instead of just helping people get on steam, we also help people, you know, with copywriting their store page with making a really nice trailer for their game. with marketing their game, we would set out marketing plans and help them with that. We help them with beta testing as well through volunteers from the group.

[00:20:46] I was relying on, on, on this community because of the credibility that I built.

[00:20:50] So we would talk to the game developers and we would say, Hey, like, we’ll help you get on steam. We’ll help you do your marketing. We’ll help you with copywriting. We’ll help you with the beta testing and in exchange for all of that, [00:21:00] we’ll take, you know, 20% of your profits for the first year. So a lot of these indie get indie devs were just starting out and they didn’t really have a lot of capital to spend at the beginning.

[00:21:08] so it was kind of a, an attractive deal for them. so that was one of our other revenue streams. And, really our last revenue stream was just advertising for general gaming companies. so when, when I did giveaways at the bottom of the post, I would just do a little sponsored thing, like sponsored by this company and I I’d link them.

[00:21:27] and so that was kind of an afterthought of a revenue stream, but, but what was funny is that single revenue stream accounted for 90% of our revenue,

[00:21:35] but what a lot of people may know is, most games fail. Games are kind of like startups, right? 98% of them are kind of going to fail or are not going to sell. so the vast majority of the games that we did, all of this marketing and beta testing work for didn’t really generate a lot of revenues.

[00:21:50] So, it came up to the gaming companies that had huge advertising budgets. And, I just did deals with them to, to kind of put those sponsored posts at the bottom.

[00:21:59] Rob Kendal: [00:21:59] Plus as [00:22:00] well, it’s a no brainer for them because you’ve got this giant community with like a proven history and all that credibility we talk about. And you’re like, well, I’ve got proven results. So it’s an absolute, no brainer for them to get directly in front of people. I mean, even, even Google ads, sometimes it’s a bit of a punt, but with this, you go now I’ve got actual dedicated people we can, we can point you in front of amazing. Yeah. Great.

[00:22:20] Hassan El Mghari: [00:22:20] Thank you. yeah, so I ran that for a few years and then I quit gaming myself. I started losing interest in the startup. Steam changed their process with, with Greenlight. So they kind of eliminated us as a middleman for getting games on steam. You don’t have developers would just reach out directly to steam, which is actually a good thing in the grand scheme of things.

[00:22:39] It was just bad for, for my startup in particular, because we were helping people with that. But, yeah, so, so at this point, when I started losing interest, the startup was worth around a hundred to $150,000. and this is based on a few people that I talked to that were interested in acquiring it. And here’s where I made kind of the biggest mistake of [00:23:00] my, startup career.

[00:23:01] And I decided to keep the company and not run it. So I had put so much time and tears into this thing. and it was kind of my little baby. and you know, when you put that much work into something, you kind of don’t want to get rid of it. You don’t want to hand it off to someone else. And I was like, okay, you know, one day I’m going to pick it back up and run it again. And I convinced myself not to sell. and what happened as a result? I kept the startup sitting there for three years, kind of inactive.

[00:23:27] I wasn’t running it. and so it, it devalued considerably. we lost maybe 40% of our followers through social media. We had maybe, Oh yeah, we had 130,000 followers on, on, Twitter. And then it went down to about 80,000. we had about 800,000 people on steam and then that went down to about 500,000.

[00:23:49] another huge thing is we’ve lost a lot of our credibility. As well, that was probably the biggest hit, is, is the credibility we haven’t been around for three years, kind of stopped with the giveaways. [00:24:00] and you know, that was just a few months ago where I hit that three year, three years after waiting.

[00:24:05] I was like, you know, I’m just going to go ahead and sell it. and so I talked to some people and. I just managed to sell it in the last month for about $10,000, which was, a lot less than I would have gotten if I sold it a few years before.

[00:24:18] Rob Kendal: [00:24:18] So, yeah. So I suppose when we talk about any regrets is, is don’t hang onto it. Don’t hang onto the babies,

[00:24:26] Hassan El Mghari: [00:24:26] definitely. Yeah. I’d say like, yeah, that’s, that’s probably the biggest thing. Yeah. Don’t hang on to things that you’ve lost passion for.

[00:24:35] Rob Kendal: [00:24:35] It’s a, difficult decision. I think when you’ve. When you’ve put that much time and effort into it. Cause we all go through dips as well. You know? I mean, I, I code at work. I code outside of work. I have side projects. I run this thing, you know, for, for no real reason, other than it’s just interested in, people find value in it.

[00:24:50] but we all go through dips where you, you know, you can’t be bothered or you feel like, Oh, I’m just a bit flat. And I think there is a partly that thing of, I put so much sweat and tears into this. Do I want to give it up? And what if I come back to it? [00:25:00] And then if you just don’t and it’s, it’s, it’s difficult because on the flip side, in a parallel universe, you have gone, yeah

[00:25:05] great is a good time to sell it. There’s someone walking around with $150,000. but I mean, that sounds like a wild ride, but hugely, hugely interesting to turn a passion into a very successful kind of community and a business. Apart from, get out, get out while the going’s good. Well, what lessons, what other lessons did that process teach you?

[00:25:26] Hassan El Mghari: [00:25:26] so really I learned about the power of consistency and a little bit of what I was saying before with the power of compounding. like it’s, it’s a real thing. And if you’re consistent for a long period of time, In something like chances are you’re going to be successful at it if you keep improving.

[00:25:43] and yeah, I think it was Ali Abdaal, well, one of my favorite YouTubers that sent out this newsletter and he said, you know, you’re, if you, if you start making YouTube videos, your first hundred YouTube videos are going to suck. So just try to get through those as fast as you can. and I think it’s, David Ferrel, who, who, [00:26:00] who talks a lot about writing.

[00:26:01] he said a similar thing with, with blog posts. He said that you have to be writing on the internet. You have to be writing blogs on the internet for at least two years consistently before, you know, you really gain any credibility. And you know, that, that, that period may or not be true, but the, I think the principle stands that you have to do something repeatedly for a good amount of time, and you have to keep doing that despite seeing no results.

[00:26:25] and you just have to believe that eventually, you know, you’re going to become well-known or you’re going to succeed. and so that’s sort of a common theme that I learned through my startup and that I, I try to apply it to a lot of different things.

[00:26:37] I made a good amount of sacrifices. My social life suffered a little bit. but you know, I think it was ultimately worth it. And I, and I learned so much and if I had to go do it again, I would. so I’m yeah, I, I am very interested in starting another business in the near future. we’ll see, we’ll see how that works out.

[00:26:55] But, for now I’m focusing on finishing up, finishing up college I’m in my [00:27:00] final year right now, and I graduate in about six months. and then also diving really deep into full stack web development.

[00:27:07] Rob Kendal: [00:27:07] Yeah, well, yeah, that’s the next thing I was going to go on to, you’ve gone from that kind of wild journey on to studying computer science degree with a view to going into like full stack deving. how are you finding the degree?

[00:27:18] Hassan El Mghari: [00:27:18] I’m doing a five-year program for my first four years I was in electrical engineering. So I was doing a lot of math and power engineering stuff, and I thought I wanted to go into that. but really only recently this year, in February is when I kind of discovered full stack web development a little bit.

[00:27:37] And when I thought about it and I thought of, of my ambitions in the future of, of, you know, starting a startup and doing all this stuff, I realized that like, You know, I really want to learn how to code and that it’s going to be immensely valuable for me, especially if I decide to start, some kind of software business.

[00:27:54] and I feel like right now most companies are software businesses. So it’s, it’s, it’s so useful to have that knowledge, to [00:28:00] be able to go and build your own MVP and validate it, or, you know, do all these range of things. so that’s kinda what got me interested in full stack web development, and it started out with, Like, let me just look into this and let me try to learn it a little bit.

[00:28:12] February of this year is when I started learning HTML and CSS and JavaScript. And, I kind of went all in. I was lucky enough to have a break of about a month and a half. so, you know, I was just living and breathing code. I woke up in the morning and just for like 10 hours, I would just be coding things.

[00:28:30] Like I joined a software bootcamp as well to help accelerate that. And then right after I learned a little bit of JavaScript, I, I decided to start applying for some internships. Cause I thought that would, you know, help me learn a lot better than just kind of learning on myself and doing side projects, like working in the actual industry.

[00:28:48] I sent out about 50 applications to different companies, I just targeted startups. I knew I had no chance at bigger companies cause they test on data structures and algorithms, and I didn’t even know what those were [00:29:00] at the time. So, you know, just started hitting startups and I sent a bunch of these applications and really, I only heard back from one person.

[00:29:07] cause you know, all, all I had on my resume, my resume was very weird. I had this game marketing experience with my startup and then I had my electrical engineering degree and then I was looking for a software development internship. and so it was really weird. And so one company responded, I talked to them, I had an initial interview and thank God it wasn’t technical.

[00:29:25] They just want us to talk about me and how I operate. and, and I think they liked me primarily because of my startup experience before. and they were kind of an early stage startup. And so they, they, I understood a lot of the struggles that they went through.

[00:29:37] They sent me this coding challenge and it was to build a react app to pull data from an API, do a bunch of like filtering and searching functions, and, formatted in, in a specific way. So I got it. They gave me four days to do it and they said, you know, it should only take me like three or four hours.

[00:29:53] And then I can just email them back when I’m done. I spent 39 hours doing it. [00:30:00] So the first thing I had to do was I had to go, I learned like advanced JavaScript, like ES6. So the arrow functions and map and filter, reduce and all of those things to even start to learn, react. and then I went and I really quickly learned just the basics of react.

[00:30:14] I went and learned what an API was. Cause I didn’t know what that was either. and you know, I’m just trying to piece together this app. I, sent tons of messages to my friends to help who, who helped me a lot, along the way, and you know, with like three or four hours to go with a deadline, I’ve managed to scrap together and I sent it to them.

[00:30:33] And a couple days later they sent me an email and they’re like, you’re hired, And, yeah, so I, I did that internship for, for two months. I got very, very lucky with that. and one thing I’d love to tell people is like, it only takes one. Yes.

[00:30:46] Rob Kendal: [00:30:46] Yeah, but it speaks volumes about hard work as well. I mean, that, that’s quite impressive. I arguably say you have quite an aptitude for that, but that’s quite impressive that, you know, again, to not shy away from the hard work and go, do you know what? I, I don’t know anything about. Good opportunity. I’m going to go [00:31:00] for it.

[00:31:00] And you know, you’ve kind of picked it up and I’m sure those what you’ve kind of learned in the quote unquote real world, but what you’ve learned in the kind of real world job in those two months is probably, you know, A lot adds a lot of value onto, you know, something like a CS degree, which the teacher, a lot of broad topics, you know, some of what you want use depending on where you go and work for.

[00:31:20] I mean, data structures and algorithms, I’ll be quite honest. You could give me some of those tests and I think we’d be both at the same, same level, because I’ve just not worked in places where. There have been, you know, the, the main sort of priority, you know, things like agencies and consultancies, we, we don’t really worry about inverting binary trees and things I’ll even worry about what binary trees might be.

[00:31:39] you know, so, so yeah, that, it, it speaks volumes. I think of the, to put that hard work and bombing impressive as well to kind of go from, you know, having the basics and going, right I’m gonna have to learn advanced JavaScript and then react and then doing stuff with AWS as well. Very impressive. Do you have any, side projects and, and sort of little hustles you’re working on whilst you’re studying and if you

[00:32:00] have, would they be maybe part of something that would turn into an idea for a kind of startup of your own once you finished?

[00:32:06] Hassan El Mghari: [00:32:06] so right now I’m working on, I’m just working on like a COVID tracker app, but that’s mostly just for, me to pick up more knowledge in front end design. Cause I feel like I lack some skills in the front end. So I’m trying to fix that and working with charting libraries and JavaScript and all that.

[00:32:22] whenever I can, I try to get real world projects. I found a few paid opportunities, right?

[00:32:27] So this internship was one of them. I picked up so much knowledge from this internship, right. I learned how to actually use react and a large scale application and how to use Redux, how to use TypeScript, how to use node, how to work with AWS amplify and Lambda functions and, and S3 and all of this stuff.

[00:32:46] And so it taught me a ridiculous amount. and I think that’s because of you’re, you’re under pressure to learn different things. my boss, you know, my boss would tell me, okay, like tomorrow, I want you to implement this GraphQL, API, And I’d have no idea what that was. So I’d

[00:33:00] have to go and spend a few hours even learning about GraphQL API’s and how to work with them.

[00:33:04] And then also how to work with them in the context of AWS. And so you learn so many specific things in like real projects. And so I try to simulate that when I can. so right now, actually, I’m going to be working on an app for, the AWS amplify team.

[00:33:19] Have you heard of AWS amplify?

[00:33:21] Rob Kendal: [00:33:21] I have indeed. Yeah, it’s a, it’s like some kind of witchcrafty magic that just is just amazing. So I think if you don’t know about AWS or you haven’t worked with, there’s about 10 million services on there and they all kind of wire together somehow, but it’s very complex and it’s not, I think the barrier to entrie is a bit higher if you’re not familiar with it, where Amplify just this mint. Well, actually they’ve just released, the UI for it, like the GUI. So you can kind of like manage the services, have just released the UI for it, which is very exciting, but it was up until today, like just a CLI-based, but just to be able to type in a few commands and it spins up a GraphQL server and Lambdas and kind of dynamo tables and all this other [00:34:00] infrastructure wired together, the short version is yes.

[00:34:01] I think it’s, it’s very exciting. Yeah.

[00:34:04] Hassan El Mghari: [00:34:04] Yeah, I do too. And that’s what, my first internship used AWS amplify. and, what I, what I did really, and this is another thing I like to pedal is, learning in public, with, Swyx introduced me to the, to that concept. And, I’ve kind of tried to, to pick up on it and really whatever I’m doing, I try to get involved with teaching people or at least sharing my knowledge on that subject. so when I started working with AWS amplify a lot, I went and I actually followed all the people that work at AWS amplify on Twitter. and whenever they posted something, I would comment on it and ask them questions. and so some people on the team knew about me because I would be asking these questions.

[00:34:41] and actually I just got an opportunity, just this month. To, make an app for AWS amplify. there, I’m going to just make a small demo using AWS amplified that they’re going to use, to kind of market it some more. So that was kind of cool. So the only requirement was that I use AWS amplifying.

[00:34:58] I use a few of [00:35:00] their modules like hosting and authentication and all of these different things. and I think I’m going to be building a note taking application for that.

[00:35:08] Rob Kendal: [00:35:08] Cool to get in front of the front of the Amplify team. I mean, I know there’s some of the bigger players are like Ali. Ali, Spittl and Nader Dabit and things. they work in the kind of dev relations team, I think so there they’re at the forefront going, Hey, use this, it’s awesome. So that’s really impressive that you you’ll have a kind of app kind of promoted and endorsed almost by them. That’s really cool. And also that’s a good, it’s a good teaching point for like yeah here’s how you get in front of people is that you make yourself available and sort of helpful rather than sliding into people’s DM’s and just saying hi, and then never saying anything again, you know, like comment on things, be available, be very helpful and try to provide that value. No, really impressive. It’s this is really good. And I’m going to point out at this point as well. This is a really exciting episode for me. I’ve learned a lot in this story has been really great and it was born out of accident.

[00:35:51] Cause you obviously read either a blog of mine or you’re listening to the podcast or something and sent me a really kind message that got picked up by Netlify [00:36:00] automatically, which is great, but it got dumped into some kind of black hole and it was like months later that was like, Oh no, there’s this dude with this really interesting story’s emailed me and I’ve completely just kind of ghosted him accidentally.

[00:36:11] so I’m really pleased. It came about, The last thing I want to ask you about is, CS degrees. Since you’re doing one and it’s, I, I don’t come from a CS background and I’ve had various guests on who do and don’t, and it’s, I feel like there’s a, there’s more of a pressure from US-based people to kind of have one.

[00:36:28]to get into just about any kind of software development role, where I feel like in the UK, there’s less kind of, you have to have a CS degree or we won’t even talk to you, but I feel it’s a bit more of a US thing, but with your experience so far, would you recommend having one and, you know, how, what are your kind of thoughts on that when combined with kind of web development?

[00:36:48] Hassan El Mghari: [00:36:48] Sure. So my thoughts on a CS degree is if you’re, you know, if you’ve just graduated from high school and you have the time and the money to go to college and do something, I’d [00:37:00] say, yeah, go for a CS degree. Like that’s that can’t hurt. You’re going to learn a lot of good foundational concepts. is it necessary to get a job?

[00:37:07] I I’d say no. I think a lot more companies are warming up to the fact that, you don’t really need a CS degree to code and even people who get CS degrees sometimes aren’t really good at coding. I, I I’ve personally seen some people who are just breezing through the program. Just kind of like cheating and just kind of Googling things and randomly putting them down and not putting in the effort to actually learn. so I, I think more and more companies are picking up on that and, at this point specifically, maybe larger companies have that, barrier where they say, okay, you need to have a degree, at least in engineering for us to consider you for a role, but more and more, smaller companies, especially startups.

[00:37:46] I mean, they, they just want people who can code. They just want people who can, help them make their MVP and help them build out features and do all this kind of stuff. And so if you can convince them, or if you can show them that you can, by having [00:38:00] projects on GitHub or whatever way you want to convince them or doing a coding interview and building out an application, pair programming with them or whatever it is, if you can convince them of that, I think there’s, there’s really nothing else like that. they will go for it.

[00:38:15] Rob Kendal: [00:38:15] mega mega advice. And I think that has bottomed out all of my questions. so the last thing I ask everyone, and this will be the last, the last question of the last episode on season two. Anything else you want to talk about? Anything you want to plug? Or give a shout out to on the show whilst we’re here.

[00:38:33] Hassan El Mghari: [00:38:33] yeah, if I can leave off with one thing, it’ll be really, go learn in public. I think that’s the number one thing that has made an impact on me. And that has really drove me to do the things that I do. do an interesting thing, whatever it is, and then talk about it, start a YouTube channel and talk about it. Start a podcast and talk about it. write blogs on it. And even if you’re a beginner, do this and kind of learn in public and, and through doing that, you attract a community of [00:39:00] like-minded people. You attract experts that are willing to help you because they see you’re, you’re putting in the time.

[00:39:05] And you really just build an audience and you build credibility through this too. I know people who, just started learning Java script and they’ve just been sharing their progress through blog posts on, on Dev.to or just through Twitter even. and just by doing that, you know, you really establish that credibility for, for companies to hire you.

[00:39:23] And so that’s personally how I’ve gotten certain roles. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities directly through Twitter. I forgot to say this before, but I got a company working on marketing with a startup, my contract is going to start in two weeks.

[00:39:38] I’m really excited about it. it’ll be some nice side money, as well, but that role came completely through Twitter. You know, they just DM’d me on there. They saw that I ran this game marketing company. They saw that I wrote this blog post. They saw that I posted about, certain marketing things.

[00:39:52] And so they, they emailed me. And, we, we ended up working something out, same thing for the Amplify app and a few other people that I’m talking to, [00:40:00] that I, that I hope to, to make something out of. so yeah, I’ve learned in public and as far as links to plug, really my blog elmghari.com and I’m on Twitter at @nutlope, DM’s are open.

[00:40:10] So if anybody has any questions or any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you guys.

[00:40:14] Rob Kendal: [00:40:14]

[00:40:14] Absolutely fantastic. Thank you. Go and give him a follow on Twitter. I’m on there. I’m interested to hear where you go. I’m following you. I’m going to see what, what you get up to next. I’m really interested about the journey. yeah, but he’s just @nutlope. N U T L O P E. Hassan. Thank you very much for coming on.

[00:40:30] This has been a really awesome episode, great, great one to round out the season with, I look forward to seeing what you get up to and we’ll keep in touch.

[00:40:37] Hassan El Mghari: [00:40:37] For sure. Thank you so much, Rob. And I appreciate all the research and everything you did. That was very much appreciated

[00:40:42] very much appreciated. Yeah,[00:41:00]

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About The Front End

The Front End Podcast explores the in's and out's of life as a developer. Covering topics such as modern-day development, learning and professional growth, frameworks, tools, techniques, UX/UI, and careers.

Created by Rob Kendal, a UI developer from Yorkshire.