Alexander Hejazi was a young boy when his father started a retail store in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Watching his father was good experience for the Lebanese-Columbian founder of BallBox. But Alexander didn’t just watch.
Alexander found his inner entrepreneur while still in high school, starting his own business installing and maintaining fish tanks all over town. He says that by the end of high school, he was making $20,000-$30,000 a year. It helped finance a Michigan State education.
His father’s stores had done well, until online shopping started to erode the customer base. Alexander helped his dad add an e-commerce component to his brand in 2008, just as the Great Recession picked up speed. It helped the business survive.
After graduating from Michigan State, Alexander spent a few years as a financial analyst with Wells Fargo Bank. But the entrepreneur world was calling.
Alexander got together with a Lebanese friend, Mostafa Makmouk, and started a firm called BallBox.
“It started as a kiosk to rent summer sports equipment to consumers,” Alexander says. “Everything from soccer and basketballs to boogie boards. We started in the summer of 2019 — six months later, the pandemic hit.”
Demand for sports equipped disappeared, but packages from online retailers started piling up in apartment building lobbies, townhome complex mailrooms and more.
As retailing evolved, BallBox evolved. Kiosks turned into package delivery systems, with some retail and rental on the side.
“We became sort of an Amazon locker, with a package management system paired with a vending system where people could rent and buy.
“Then we went and talked with Luxor 1, the giant in the industry.”
That visit prompted another evolution for BallBox. Instead of continuing to deal with the physical issues of kiosks, product inventory and more, Alexander and his partners decided to shift to a software solution.
“What we have allows brands to get into existing automatic kiosks,” Alexander says. “It allows people to get products they might not see otherwise. Brands pay in the same way they do for sampling; we can provide data about consumers much more efficiently than having people handing out samples at a mall.”
It’s that model that has made its way to Lair East Labs. Lair East had invested in the original BallBox in 2019, and stuck with Alexander and his partners through the evolution.
Sunstone Management, the Irvine, Calif.-based, startup-focused venture capital firm partnering with Lair East Labs, invested in BallBox as it entered the accelerator. Alexander said the partnerships are already paying off.
“We’ve met Mike (Stone, chief investment officer) at Sunstone,” Alexander says. “They helped us get our first enterprise paid deal from a pitch contest.”
Alexander said the accelerator experience is going well, with Lair East Labs’ founder-friendly approach. And BallBox has a special founders’ story — all of the principals are from Lebanon or of Lebanese decent.
Alexander met his cofounder Mostafa Makmouk in Lebanon, and brought him and his wife to America after the explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, that killed 218 and injured another 7,000.
“We still have people in Lebanon, too,” Alexander says. “Through the job board there and the diaspora, we have been able to hire talent and be more capital efficient.”
It’s likely BallBox hasn’t finished evolving, Alexander says, up to and including a potential name change. He’s following in his father’s footsteps.
“We’ve seen some crazy times,” Alexander says. “We’ve all come from humble beginnings. I grew up watching my dad build a business, get wiped out by e-commerce, then transition again.
“We can do that, too.”
To keep up with the BallBox story, visit playballbox.com.