Ali Kermani and his drift cart

January 14, 2010

By Justin Tang

Ali Kermani ('09) once lived for the excitement of skateboarding and the freedom of snowboarding, so much so that he set his sights on becoming a professional skateboarder. However, when a broken leg derailed that dream he was forced to find new passions that could replicate the thrill of flying through the air.

Entrepreneurship fit the bill.

When Kermani was still skating, back in 2001, he drew a small crowd at a skateboarding park that coincidentally included Carlton Calvin, the President of Razor (makers of the seemingly ubiquitous scooter). Seeing his talent, Carlton offered Kermani a position at Razor to invent and demonstrate tricks on their scooters which Kermani accepted. He had no idea that the job would ultimately bridge his skating life to a career as an entrepreneur.

Recognizing Kermani's passion for business and the curiosity that perfectly complemented it, Carlton mentored him - helping him enroll in community college and later graduate from UC Santa Barbara. At Razor, Kermani shadowed Calvin at meetings and during conference calls, absorbing more and more information. The subtle managing skills necessary for running a business fascinated Kermani.

But more importantly, he found a passion that matched his love for skateboarding. "I found that entrepreneurship had the same freedoms as skateboarding; they are both counter-culture and slightly rebellious," explained Kermani.

As Carlton's executive assistant, Kermani worked and tested many of Razor's prototypes. He was convinced the prototype drift cart -- a five-wheeled cart with back wheels that had full 360-degree motion which allows it to drift -- would be the next hit. "I've driven dirt bikes, vespas, streetbikes, ATVs and none of them compare to the sensation of driving this drift cart," said Kermani.

Razor's executive staff disagreed with Kermani and decided to scrap the drift cart, but Kermani refused to let the drift cart die. He wanted to start his own business by designing his own version of the drift cart, but realized he would need more specialized education before he dove into business management and entrepreneurship.

In 2006, Kermani applied to UCLA's Anderson School of Management where he was waitlisted until one week before classes started. When he received a call from UCLA Anderson, asking him if he would like to enroll in classes that began the following week, Kermani joked, "I thought it was a prank call." Speaking about the opportunity to become an MBA student, he said, "If I want something I have never had, I need to do something I have never done."

When classes started in 2007, Kermani expected he'd learn all he would need to know to further his drift cart business. But in fall quarter, he abruptly realized his classes focused on theories and mathematics, topics that were not only difficult but seemed intangible to his drift cart. "I felt like the black sheep. I came in with an inferiority complex like I was the 400th ranked student among 400," he recalled.

It took until winter quarter of his first year at Anderson for Kermani to understand that teamwork would be essential to successful entrepreneurship and his business education. Kermani embraced this new attitude; he attended Anderson social events and started study groups among classmates. At these events, Kermani formed important relationships with people he never would have associated with before coming to Anderson.

Kermani benefited from these relationships and his education at Anderson. "Anderson taught me how to run a business beyond being a salesman. I learned to spot great opportunities because the school showed me how to see investments holistically." He also learned practical lessons for entrepreneurs. "I saw how to get funding for projects because I spoke with investors and understood what they looked for," he said. In regards to his personal growth, Kermani commented, "I learned how to effectively manage; Anderson gave me a lot of confidence and reassured me of my own skills and talents."

Kermani's growth manifested itself at competitions at Anderson. He won the $15,000 Wolfen Entrepreneurial Fellowship Award for his presentation of the drift cart. He finished second at the Knapp Venture Competition, the largest business plan competition on the West Coast, writing a business plan for his drift cart and presenting it to investors. He placed second in the Fast Pitch Competition, convincing investors of the potential success of the drift cart. Lastly, his team entered and won the Tech Coast Angels competition where they pitched the drift cart to potential investors.

With the prize money awarded to him, he began investing in manufacturing the official prototype, called the Crazy Cart. He first took the product to China to respond to technical issues confronting the cart. "We solved the technological issues that prevented Razor from committing to the drift cart, moving us closer to production," said Kermani. Afterwards, Kermani returned to the U.S. and filed for provisional patents for his Crazy Cart design, establishing the preliminary steps for Kermani to sell the brand to potential buyers.

During his second year at Anderson, for his Applied Management Research (AMR) project, Kermani formed a team to finalize the Crazy Cart. The team consisted of board members of Anderson's Entrepreneurs Association (EA) and a finance expert.

Kermani focused on planning and analyzing how he could convince a company to buy his Crazy Cart. He set up factories in China to begin producing Crazy Carts and established a deal to sell the Crazy Cart to a major toy company. "The development of the Crazy Cart was possible because Anderson nourished my entrepreneurial talent and complemented it with the knowledge to run a business," Kermani said.

Today, Kermani runs a video business called Acoustics Production, with many clients coming from Anderson connections. The company develops and posts online videos that replace instruction manuals - videos that can be rewound, zoomed, and replayed many times over. "I saw the issues we had with providing phone customer service for Crazy Cart, and I realized that instructional videos can never have a bad day."

Kermani believes UCLA Anderson helped reaffirm his passion in entrepreneurship. He encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to, "Pursue your passions because it impacts all aspects of your life. When you do something you know and love, you're never going to work a day in your life."

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