A Slice on Eli Chmouni, Serial Entrepreneur and Co-Founder and CEO of Neon
“And I was like, ‘oh my god I’m gonna die here, this is what my future looks like.’”
Evident by the quote above, Eli Chmouni wasn’t loving his 9-5 job working as a mechanical engineer. Chmouni holds a master’s degree from Arizona State University in Mechanical Engineering he realized he hated the field and wanted a change, something that would offer him more flexibility. He resigned from his corporate job and started a few companies in the media and entertainment industry. His latest company Neon aims to make it easier for marketing managers to consolidate collateral.
Neon enables businesses to convert any TV into a digital sign to show promotions, marketing messaging, and engaging content. A manager can control any screen from any location and instantly push updates. You can find Neon in medical offices, automotive shops, casinos, and restaurants, saving these businesses a lot of expenses on printing and distributing traditional banners and signage.
As an immigrant from Lebanon trying to make his parents proud, Chmouni successfully followed the “typical” engineering path until he stumbled into the media industry. After pivoting from Mechanical Engineering, Chmouni found his passion in video and photography and started to enter video competitions online. Though he had no equipment or experience, Chmouni won his first competition and continued his freelance work by entering more. Eventually, Chmouni received a request to film a commercial (a.k.a. his first paid gig). Still not able to purchase proper equipment or software, he had to get resourceful. “I used to go to Best Buy, buy the nicest camera, film my content, and then return it within three days because I couldn’t afford it. I hacked the system.” Having success in the freelance realm, Chmouni continued to receive a wide range of freelance requests, from creating websites to filming commercials. Even though Chmouni failed his entrepreneurship class at ASU, he knew he could really make a business out of this.
Hot in pursuit of success and determined to start his first business, Chmouni reached out to Gordon McConnell, Assistant Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at ASU. McConnell ended up becoming one of Chmouni’s first mentors, taking him under his wing and teaching him everything from accounting to marketing. Additionally, McConnell supported Chmouni by introducing him to other mentors and advisors. After learning the ropes, Chmouni was able to successfully get his business off the ground. “My first company started from nothing and within six months we were making six figures, and we hit $100k in revenue. I was like ‘what is going on?’ freaking out… I ended up running that company for about three years and then I started getting hungry for more, like ‘okay, what’s my next thing.’”
Chmouni launched a series of companies in the following years, from a social networking platform for military veterans to a nightlife membership company with many in between. He experienced the full spectrum of emotions as his portfolio of companies experienced ups and downs. In 2018, Chmouni got the idea for Surf, a rideshare entertainment company, set to engage passengers on Uber/Lyft rides with music selections, local shows and interactive games. Fast forward to 2020, COVID-19 was on the scene and caused rideshare operations to cease. Pivoting the company, Chmouni used the knowledge he attained from Surf’s business model to create a digital signage company, Neon.
With Neon experiencing success Chmouni hired an inaugural team to help boost production, including his co-founder and COO, Steve Thompson, ex Uber employee who was responsible for launching Uber in multiple cities and building relationships. He learned with his first team, and future ones, that hiring quality talent proved to be more important than he first thought. “There are skills, and there’s personality. Your company goes through different phases of growth when you’re a startup. There’s an early stage where you need a team that is emotional, ambitious, and willing to just eat pizza and work 20 hours a day. Then you get to a later stage, where the company is growing, and you need to start bringing in some people who have five to 10 years of experience under their belt.”
Aside from building a rockstar team, Chmouni’s advice for young entrepreneurs is to build their networks.“Go on LinkedIn and find two or three mentors that you admire and would like to have lunch with. I can guarantee you if you send them a message on LinkedIn, asking to pick their brain, the majority of people will say yes.” Additionally, finding groups of entrepreneurs who can relate to you and your struggle can be therapeutic. Friends and family may not understand what you’re going through, and may even think you’re crazy, but other entrepreneurs will be able to relate.
The amazing days are the ones that inspire Chmouni most, he finds his greatest joy in creating things that did not exist before. Seeing one of his ideas come to fruition gives him an adrenaline rush, and is a piece of what motivates him daily. Though he dabbles in other ventures, creation is his passion. “l have a notebook of five other businesses that I plan to start after this [Neon], so in my head, it’s more about taking an idea and making it happen.”
Eli Chmouni is a serial entrepreneur who has started companies in various industries, including Tipsy, Alpha Stripe, Surf and Neon. Chmouni also is a professor teaching entrepreneurship at ASU. Connect with Chmouni on LinkedIn.