How Three Friends Moved from Pack Mules to a Multi-Million Dollar Startup Company

On the first day of school in 2013, three first-year students from Bosnia, Italy, and Kosovo met during international orientation and hit it off.

Turns out, that meeting was serendipitous. It was the beginning of a close and enduring friendship, one that has led over the years to a business partnership that is making waves in the real estate investment world.

The friends—Amar Sehic ’17, Tommaso Montagni ’17, and Krenar Roka ’17—are the founders of New York City-based Rubik, a startup which this summer raised $3.55 million in seed funding. The money, a vote of confidence from investors, is the culmination of several years of work, sacrifice, and struggle.

And the friends are just getting started.

“We believe in the American dream, and we want to make it real,” Sehic, 27, of Bosnia, said. “What makes us successful is what we share, not just our friendship, but our ambition. We are never giving up.”

That kind of determination, along with hustle and willingness to do hard work, has been a hallmark of theirs since the beginning. It wasn’t long after they got to Colby that they began noticing many students lacked transportation to local stores. Sehic, Montagni, and Roka saw an opportunity. They found a classmate with a car and started an e-commerce store called “Pack Mules.”

“We could bring anything from local stores to people’s rooms in 24 hours,” Montagni, 27, of Italy, said.

Pack Mules proved popular. At its peak, a team of about eight people procured Doritos, other snacks, juice, ping pong balls, party supplies, and other non-alcoholic essentials for students on Mayflower Hill.

The business wound down during their junior year, when many of the team studied abroad. Upon returning to Maine, the friends contemplated their lives after graduation and figured their partnership seemed strong enough to make a go of it.

In their senior year, they started a second company, Fractal, this one based on the concept of making modular tiny homes in an environmentally sound manner. They pitched the idea for their company at the Colby Entrepreneurial Alliance business competition. Although they didn’t win, they earned valuable experience. Krenar Roka ‘17, cofounder of Rubik, gives a presentation at the Colby Entrepreneurial Alliance business competition in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Amar Sehic.) After graduation, they relocated to a place that’s long been a magnet for young people with a dream: New York City. Although they didn’t have connections there, they did have an early angel investor who helped them get through the hardest times. Susan Conant Cook ’75, who worked in Colby’s Advancement Office until her retirement, also served as Sehic’s host mom while he was at school.

She had received a small inheritance and decided to use part of it to help Sehic and his friends launch their business.

“It was just seeing the possibility and wanting to support some young men who were just so inspiring and creative,” she said. “He was just part of the family. … I took him to the bus to go to New York City and admit to getting a little teary-eyed.”

The money and support helped as the three began to navigate the big city.

“We basically were in a one-bedroom apartment at the time, the three of us, sleeping pretty much on the floor. We were Airbnb-ing the one bedroom we had,” Montagni said. “We were pretty much eating pasta, bread, and chicken for a year, on repeat.”

Though their diet was boring, they didn’t give up, honing their business idea and working on new software programs.

“What we did basically the first year was hustle. I don’t want to abuse the word, but it’s true,” Sehic said. “We met a ton of people and tried to understand where we could use our skills best.”

Each brought something special to the table. Sehic, who had double-majored in mathematics and physics, is good at getting people to build something together. Roka, originally from Kosovo, studied economics and mathematics. He’s a big-picture guy with a family background in real estate investment and development. Montagni, a mathematics major, has a knack for planning short-term strategies. He also has a family background in real estate investing.

“I think we all have different skill sets that we apply,” Montagni said. “I think that fundamentally, we understand that it’s very hard to have friendship and business at the same time. But if we have a mutual respect for each other, it works out.”

It didn’t take long for the fledgling company to grow. In June 2018, they received $100,000 from the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a New York City-based program […]

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