Young Guns: How Peyman Namdari and Mehdi Asadollahi turned a personal problem into an opportunity

Lumen is a money transfer startup with big goals.

Namdari (left) and Asadollahi are banking on Lumen

Lumen is a money transfer startup with big goals

Everything changed for Peyman Namdari when he was 16. The native of Iran earned a scholarship to do his last two years of high school in Italy, an experience that led to opportunities he would have missed if he’d stayed put. In the end, he opted for a full-ride scholarship at SFU.

After earning a degree in health sciences (plus a minor in business administration), he quickly decided to pursue a master of science from the same institution. Still completing the latter, he will defend his thesis this spring.

But Namdari never forgot his roots. In undergrad, he befriended fellow Iranian Mehdi Asadollahi, now working on his second degree, in economics and business administration. Between Xbox sessions and soccer games, the two shared their frustration with how hard it was to transfer money among family members.

The result was Lumen, an online service that provides a “transparent, secure and convenient way to transfer funds internationally,” according to the fintech startup’s mission statement. After launching last June, the pair moved $4 million in 290 transactions over the next four months. “Many communities around the world are horrifically underserviced,” Namdari says. “We just thought there had to be a better way.”

9 a.m.

Namdari and Asadollahi meet their SFU-assigned mentor, Chris Stairs, at one of the university’s downtown Vancouver buildings. Stairs talks to the pair about an upcoming investor pitch with Vantec Angel Network, a group focused on growing the tech scene in B.C.

Namdari runs through Lumen’s five-minute pitch with Stairs twice, incorporating his edits the second time. The result is a much more streamlined version that focuses on key information.

“A typical investor is evaluating multiple things at the same time,” says Stairs, a senior associate at business development firm Canada StartUp and a BCIT instructor in addition to his role as a mentor-in-residence with SFU. “And most of them make that decision–consciously or unconsciously–in the first three minutes.”

11 a.m.

It’s time for Namdari to put on his other hat as he visits nearby St. Paul’s Hospital to present his thesis findings. All three of the papers he must write after finishing his thesis will stem from research he’s done about the “role of ethnicity and people’s perceptions of the social and cultural aspects of living with type 2 diabetes in the context of a heterogeneous urban environment.”

At St. Paul’s, Namdari again gets some tips and tricks to revamp his presentation. Once more, the second run-through is much cleaner.

1 p.m.

Now it’s off to Surrey, where Namdari and Asadollahi are working on a project with students at SFU‘s School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT). At press time, the duo–who oversee six full-time employees out of their Surrey-based office (some work remotely)–hadn’t secured any major investments in Lumen.

So finding help on the cheap is a must. That’s where SIAT comes in. Four students from the program work with Lumen to analyze the company from a customer’s perspective, identify areas for improvement and come up with design-focused solutions.

“It’s our way of getting creative and getting some free labour–when you’re running a startup, you have to bootstrap as much as you can,” 25-year-old Namdari admits. “What these kids came up with, which is quite impressive, is that Lumen needs to put more work into establishing trust with customers. So we’re working on how we provide more information, educational material–how do we guide people to the process of signing up and onboarding, things like that.”

3 p.m.

It’s a visit to yet another SFU campus as Namdari and Asadollahi meet with Miguel Jiménez, a business administration major and president of the Association of Latin American Students, at the school’s Burnaby HQ. They’re trying to recruit Jiménez to help with Lumen’s marketing.

“We’ve built a great platform, and this is the right time to put a marketing engine behind it,” says Namdari, who hopes Jiménez will sign on as an affiliate marketer. “He’ll be able to join the team and promote Lumen mostly by content generation. We know that he’s really good at writing blogs, so we’re going to have him do some of that.”

5 p.m.

After a day of running around, it makes sense that Namdari and Asadollahi would wrap it up with more of the same. They like to get in some cardio and a workout at SFU Burnaby’s gym. It’s a welcome reprieve for the two students, who spend most of their waking hours meeting with people or interacting with clients online, fixing various bugs. (Indeed, that’s what Asadollahi has been tasked with for the majority of today.)

The company is making money, but it hasn’t reached break-even. In other words, Namdari, Asadollahi and their early investors (friends and family) are still out of pocket a big chunk of change.

But they like Lumen’s chances of success. “We’re in a market where our competitors are paying 10,000 in rent every month, and we don’t have to do that,” Namdari says of physical storefronts, the main way people move money to developing countries. “So being online, we have a competitive edge and can go on forever if we wanted to. Until the point where we have enough volume for it to really take off.”