In 2002, seasoned entrepreneur Samer Hamadeh and his wife, Alison Harmelin, launched Zeel, an app that allows customers to schedule same-day in-home massage. Today, Zeel thrives as the world’s biggest mobile massage company. Besides parenting three children, Samer also volunteers as a board member for PeaceWorks Foundation, and serves as an angel investor and mentor. We talked to him about the history of Zeel, doing business with his wife and his intriguing alternative to work/life balance.
Congratulations on all your success as an entrepreneur. What was your inspiration for creating Zeel?
My wife Alison and I had moved to France for about three months, hoping to unwind and find inspiration after the sale of an earlier start-up. I was hitting my first aches and pains as a 40-year-old, and we both wanted to look and feel good. We decided to launch an online marketplace to offer beauty, wellness and health services by connecting consumers with the right providers. We quickly recognized an unmet need in the wellness space — customers wanted same-day, in-home massages, but the massage industry couldn’t deliver that service, and my background in tech allowed me to build an elegant solution. We did a beta in December 2012, and the app launched that April.
People thought we were nuts — how could in-home massage possibly work? — but today Zeel is in 90 cities and is hugely successful. We have almost 100 employees and over 11,000 therapists. We provide massage to corporations, spas and hotels. In addition, there are dozens of copycat companies in the US and abroad. We’ve unleashed a revolution in the industry, helping to capture new revenue and create more opportunities for massage therapists. What we’ve built makes me very proud.
You launched Zeel with your wife. What’s the most surprising thing about being in business with your spouse?
Entrepreneurship and marriage are actually very similar. They both take a lot of work, but if you keep at it, the rewards are incredible.
You’re also an angel investor. Can you tell us a little about the benefits of angel investing?
The biggest and best companies all started out as ideas. It’s rewarding to be able to support a founder with an idea at such an early stage, and watch the person and their company grow.
If you could hand off one chore to someone else each day, what would it be?
Filtering through my emails.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax and unwind?
Get a massage at home.
What is your best parenting hack?
Traveling with my kids since they were very young. It makes them nimble and adventurous. Now they make their way around JFK like little road warriors.
What is the best white lie that you’ve told your child?
“The hamster went to heaven.”
If you could describe fatherhood in one word, what would it be?
What’s one moment in your fatherhood journey that has made you proud?
I have three kids, so that’s a tough one. The two younger kids recently went running, full speed, at their older brother when he got off the plane from camp. That kind of unity, and their ability to love and show love in that way, makes me think we’re doing something right.
What is one piece of advice you want to pass along to your children?
Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never. (But that’s not mine. It’s Winston Churchill’s.)
What is one piece of advice you would pass along to other parents?
Try not to take too much advice from other parents. When my wife needs advice, she goes to the experts, not to the park. It’s the journalist in her.
How do you tackle the work/life balance?
I don’t believe in work/life balance. I preach work/life integration. My wife and I go out on “date night” several times per week, and we talk about business, our kids and our relationship. Throughout the year, we take trips as a family all over the world, and I work and play in equal measure. I find I’m much more satisfied and much less stressed as a result.
What was the last book you read?
When, by Daniel Pink. It’s a well-researched review of the importance of timing in life, and it’s chock full of inspiring evidentiary stories.
The corned beef sandwich at The Polo Bar.
Favorite Form of Exercise:
Weight lifting, Peloton, yoga, and running stairs
What is on your DVR?
Silicon Valley and Billions
Favorite Kids Store:
Amazon and Zappos