Capturing Lightning
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Muammar Johnson

Founder of Cluster Lead

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“It’s weird to call anything a fear because if I have something I’m afraid of, then I do my best to correct it… You just kind of have to keep trying, keep learning.”

Muammar Johnson, founder of Cluster Lead

Muammar Johnson is the founder of Cluster Lead — an app designed to help businesses find their customer segments and consumers to find each other. Despite lacking total support from his family, Muammar is pursuing his dream of forcing people off social media and into real-life communication, teaching himself what he needs to learn in the process.

What was your initial vision for Cluster Lead?
Today, we rely so much on social media, like Tinder, and Facebook, instead of having an actual social life. These things are okay if they’re supplemental, but that’s not really how we’re engaging with them these days, and I think that’s unhealthy. I want people to have an opportunity to meet other people.

What drew you to that vision personally?
I just want everyone to have fun, really. I want more variety when I go out. Especially in Philadelphia, we basically have the same bar multiplied a thousand times. And that’s not that big a deal because it’s the people and the atmosphere that are important, but if you can cater to a specific crowd or a specific type of person, you can attract more people, and we can all just have more fun.

Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
My family is relatively poor, and poor people are generally not good with money. It’s weird to call anything a fear because if I have something I’m afraid of, then I do my best to correct it. And if I can’t correct it, then there’s no point in me worrying about it — it just is what it is. So I’m trying to ensure that I’m good with that kind of stuff. You just kind of have to keep trying, keep learning.

What has been your greatest struggle in founding Cluster Lead?
I have to cut myself off sometimes, emotionally. Because if I have to react emotionally to every rejection, every competitor, every up and down, I’d go crazy. So I basically have to go cold and let a sliver of excitement out. And that’s the only emotion I can allow because if I allow the rest of my emotions out, then I’ll never be able to close that door.

What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
In retrospect I’ll be able to look back and say, “Wow, I did that.” But right now, everyday is a completely new thing. And it’s given me an opportunity to learn about myself, which is sometimes difficult. I don’t know of any triumphs off the top of my head. I just keep going.

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“It’s hard to say that anything is a sacrifice because I’m doing what I want. If there’s a struggle involved, then I’ve accepted that struggle.”

Muammar Johnson, founder of Cluster Lead

What has been your biggest sacrifice?
I’m doing this full time. So, I could have a job, but it’s not a sacrifice because it’s not what I want. It’s hard to say that anything is a sacrifice because I’m doing what I want. If there’s a struggle involved, then I’ve accepted that struggle. I kind of enjoy those parts of it that I can say, “That’s hard.” I like being able to say that I completed something hard.

Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes. My grandparents specifically. They want me to keep my head low and get a job and work and be safe. I’m an engineer — I had a job and I was making a lot of money and I told them I was going to quit my job and go to school, and they had a problem with that. So I quit my job, went to school, got a Bachelor’s in biomedical engineering. And then they were like, “Yay! You did this thing! Now go get a job.” And I’m like, “No, I’m going to do my own business.”

I need my family’s support, so sometimes going against the grain doesn’t really help that, because they’re spending time or energy or money or whatever they’re spending on me. They do want me to be healthy and successful, but maybe entrepreneurship is for a specific kind of person and maybe they’re not that type of person. But luckily my mom is.

Has anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support?
My sisters are always supporting me. They’re always asking me, “What do you need? How can I help?” They can’t help in any way, really. But just knowing they’re there.

Tell me about your work-life balance.
Oh, it’s poor. I really struggle with not being obsessive about this one thing. It gets really bad. I get unhealthy because I’ll be working for two days and be like, “Holy crap, when was the last time I ate? When was the last time I slept?” It’s like, “I’ve been working too much. I need to go see people. I need to not neglect my friends. I need to not neglect my health. I need to stop working.” And then like a couple hours later, I might.

What would make you feel as though you accomplished what you set out to do with Cluster Lead?
I think that some people don’t enjoy their life. I want to give people the opportunity to enjoy their lives more and step away from their computers, even though this is mostly an electronic-based company. I still want people to use it, then put it away, go out, have fun. Be satisfied with that portion of their life as much as possible.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
People are the most important resource. Just hearing people’s ideas, seeing their excitement, or their lack of excitement. Talking to people has been probably the most important thing I’ve done. And it’s weird because it’s not a skill I was taught. It’s something I’m just realizing now. Like, “Woah, I really need to have connections. I really need to know people. I need to go out and meet people.” And, you know, it’s wonderful that I’m making a social app.

Have you found the tech and entrepreneur space in general?
The best way to put it is like this: the internet is disgusting on the front end. There’s porn, there’s racism, there are all these disgusting things on the front. On the back end, it’s beautiful. People give away their hardware, something they’ve been working on for years for free. People are so helpful. And the tech scene is a bit like that, too. These people are willing to give you their last hour. They’re definitely a giving group in general.

This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.