Coleman-Lands makes his next big play off the court
Timing is everything.
On a basketball court, teams can time a play for an easy bucket.
In the working world, people can time their departure to avoid hours of traffic.
And a few years ago, around 2 a.m. in a Panda Express bathroom in Palo Alto, California, the timing was just right for Musa Sulejmani.
After spending the day trying to obtain funds for research and development for an algorithm and patent, Sulejmani had no money for transportation to his Airbnb, and public transportation was down.
His only option to sleep with a roof over his head was the fast-food bathroom.
Though all hope seemed to be lost, Sulejmani looked up.
“I looked up at the soap dispenser, and it says volume 16 ounces,” Sulejmani said. “At that moment, it kind of dawned on me this idea of occupancy, wait times and the idea of chronology and experience, that the word volume is a very ubiquitous word.”
It was the word he had been looking for and the word he has used since. And it’s a word that helped recruit Illini basketball star Jalen Coleman-Lands to the movement.
Sulejmani graduated from Illinois in 2016 with a degree in finance. Raised in a home by his parents who owned their own restaurant, the idea of entrepreneurship was instilled in Sulejmani at a young age. This innovative upbringing and an interest in technology prompted Sulejmani to pursue various projects and mobile applications.
His most recent idea is all about timing.
Volume — Wait No More is an app that launched its most recent update for the Illinois campus Feb. 14. The concept is simple, yet effective: Users log into the app and can check the capacity, line lengths, cover charges and special deals at restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
It can help people plan their time accordingly and avoid overcrowded areas with long lines. It’s all about being productive with such a limited resource — time.
Sulejmani, the CEO of Volume, originally wanted the app to strictly focus on calculating wait times of various locations. But he’s since thought of ways to expand upon that.
“We can turn it into some kind of movement,” Sulejmani said. “A belief system connecting with your environment, not relying heavily on social media for experiences. That’s kind of what the app has turned into.”
Volume is similar to a previous app, Zondr, which was available on campus a few years ago. Zondr has since faded away and is no longer available on the app store. Sulejmani contributed but was not an official member of the Zondr team.
But users of Volume have noticed differences. Reviewers on the app store have enjoyed the accuracy of Volume as well as the feature to order food and pay covers via the app.
“We are more than just a bar app,” Sulejmani said. “It’s an experience app. Zondr was primarily focused on the college bars and that’s great, but there’s nothing really compelling about that. There’s nothing that wakes you up in the morning that says, ‘Boy, I can’t wait to check Volume to see how busy bars are.’”
Volume wouldn’t be where it is without Sulejmani’s team.The company has about 15 team members, but three of them have more responsibilities in their positions — Chief Technology Officer Carson White and Chief Marketing Officer Jalen Coleman-Lands.
The timing was just right when Sulejmani met White.
White graduated from Indiana Institute of Technology with a degree in software engineering this past fall. In November 2015, White met Sulejmani at Reflections Projections, an annual tech conference hosted by Illinois.
The two got to talking and started working on projects together. A little over a year ago, Sulejmani brought up the idea for Volume.
“Initially I was like, ‘It sounds like a really good idea, but how in the world are we going to find out this information?’” White said. “Musa and I sat down for a good month and really worked out core details of how we could really calculate this information.”
The result was an algorithm that could be used to calculate wait times. It’s the core piece that has shaped Volume.
The algorithm looks at general foot traffic patterns for a business. It examines the number of users who walk into a location and calculates an average wait time.
As chief technology officer, White is the main developer of the company’s software and hardware. His skills are so impressive that even Google noticed them. The multinational tech company offered White a software engineering position. White turned down the offer to focus solely on Volume.
“I kind of think of what it would be if I took a different path, but I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made,” White said. “Being able to create something on our own from our own ideas, I feel, is more fulfilling to me than I would have experienced at any other place.”
White has since moved to Champaign to work on Volume full-time.
With his chief technology officer, Sulejmani was still missing one more piece of the puzzle: he needed Volume to amplify across campus. He needed a marketer.
He needed Coleman-Lands.
The timing was coincidental for Coleman-Lands and Sulejmani.
The two were in the same calculus class in the spring 2016 semester. Coleman-Lands and Sulejmani worked together to solve a problem. Afterwards, Sulejmani told Coleman-Lands about the idea for Volume, and the two went their separate ways following class.
The late Dr. Paul Magelli of the College of Business served as a mentor to both Coleman-Lands and Sulejmani. After his encounter in calculus class, Coleman-Lands informed Magelli of the idea he heard from Sulejmani. Magelli spoke highly of Sulejmani and encouraged Coleman-Lands to meet up with him.
Similar to Sulejmani, Coleman-Lands has had an interest in entrepreneurship.
“I feel like I’ve had that desire in me before I even started, before I was even in the College of Business,” Coleman-Lands said. “Even now that I’m in it, I’m able to use my resources to get the app to where we are trying to get it to.”
Sulejmani can still remember the first time he was seriously considering adding Coleman-Lands to the team. Known mostly for his role as a guard on the Illinois basketball team, Sulejmani didn’t want Coleman-Lands’ status to influence a decision.
“I looked at him not from a basketball player perspective but as a business perspective, and that’s what I’ve always looked at people with positions of power,” Sulejmani said. “I don’t look at primarily what their position of power is; I look at what are their other skill sets that play a role in their primary position.”
Sulejmani thought Coleman-Lands was a natural marketer and by this past summer, No. 5 on the Illinois basketball team was officially a part of the Volume team.
The company is still in pre-revenue mode, but that may change in the near future. The three are in unanimous agreement that the next goal is to expand Volume to another college campus by the end of this school year. Volume is also looking at expanding to cities like Chicago and considering working with airports and groups like Grub Hub.
“It definitely will (expand), and it definitely can,” Coleman-Lands said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and we’ve created a lot of hype from other schools. There have been a lot of people who have emailed us asking, ‘When is it going to come to our school?’ It’s only a matter of time.”