Interview with Jama Mohamed, CEO of Sahara Cloud. Thursday 14th October.
The rapid advancements in software development over the last two decades are patent in everyday life – programming is now a common feature of the high school curriculum – but it seems sometimes that hardware development is still stuck in the 90s.
That’s exactly what founder Jama Mohamed noticed while running his own consultancy, JM Technologies, which focuses on building out hardware solutions projects for startups. Because of its physical nature, hardware is slower and more expensive to build, and harder to maintain. This is a huge initial barrier to would-be startups creating physical tech.
Enter Sahara Cloud. Sahara gives users the ability to run R&D and build entire systems, accessing physical boards, sensors, chips, and equipment, remotely and all from the cloud. The company is on a mission to democratise access to hardware and bring the improvements seen in software, to physical tech.
Sahara’s infrastructure includes a web IDE that provides users with an environment to build, debug, and run code on physical devices hosted in Sahara data centres. Users can create a circuit and transmit code to run on that circuit in real-time — for example, an Arduino hooked up to an LCD. For the laymen amongst us (this author included) consider the following analogy: you want to build an app for the iPhone, but you don’t have access to a physical iPhone to run and test your app. Sahara hosts the iPhone in its data centre, and allows you to access it remotely, as well as allows you to build, test and improve your application.
An engineer by trade, Sahara’s Founder and CEO Jama Mohamed, graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Caltech in 2013. Soon after, he founded his own consultancy that created outsourced hardware, software, and systems development solutions for startups. Whilst running these outsourced projects, Jama looked for ways to improve the notoriously laborious and time-consuming hardware development process. However, he found that his startup clients had neither the time nor the resources to invest in improving the downstream development process; they needed their prototypes immediately so they could focus their efforts on growth. Flexing his entrepreneurial intuition, Mohamed proposed building a dramatically improved development tool himself and offering it to his clients – an early test of demand and that ever important product/market fit. The idea for Sahara Cloud was born.
Further exploration led to the discovery that it wasn’t just hardware startups that could find this tech valuable. Through hundreds of hours of customer interviews, Jama and his team later found that embedded engineering programs at educational institutions were struggling with similar issues, exacerbated by the onset of remote learning. Lack of access to lab space, a need for alternatives to current software solutions, and difficulty in collaboration between instructors and students were all major pain points for the customers Jama and his team worked with. The Sahara platform could potentially save these customers hundreds of thousands of dollars, while increasing learning opportunities for engineering students. With the recent boom in the online educational market, teachers on platforms like Coursera and Udemy could add the product to their already remote offering. With few major software alternatives, Mohamed saw a massive market opportunity.
Building the company
In 2019, Mohamed enrolled in the full-time MBA program at UCLA Anderson, in part to further explore the business viability of his idea.
At Anderson, he formed a masterclass consisting of founders at similar company stages, for example hardware startup Dio Technologies, who met weekly to discuss ideas and challenges each were facing. With help from the masterclass, Mohamed ran an ad campaign, to gauge customer demand and narrow in on which area of the hardware development process to focus. He decided on Arduinos, single-board microcontrollers for building digital devices. Mohamed continued to build out his idea during his time at Anderson and has also added to his founding team, taking on Andy Chang as Chief Product Officer and Annie Lu as Head of Marketing.
After graduating from Anderson this summer, Jama and his team have built on their momentum, raising $175k in non-dilutive financing from business plan competitions and recently closing a priced seed-stage round. Sahara has built an impressive sales pipeline without any major marketing effort and the company is looking to expand the engineering team as its next major step.
Mohamed says that the complaints from some about the difficulty in hiring engineers are substantiated; solid developers are particularly tricky to find, but he remains optimistic about Sahara’s offering. He’s also very bullish on the future of LA as a tech ecosystem. A report released last week showed record funding for LA seed-stage startups and Mohamed says that Sahara plans to stay and expand here in SoCal for the foreseeable future.
To learn more about Sahara, visit: https://saharacloud.io/?utm_source=guestblog&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=StartU_interview.
They are open to all inquiries from VCs and Angels. Contact Jama Mohamed: firstname.lastname@example.org.