Bobby Saini, BA Communication ’11, was a student at Northern Virginia Community College. But in the afternoons he would slip into the Johnson Center in the middle of George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus to do his homework amid the other students at the school.
“I just liked it better,” he says. “I’d work on the second floor if I needed to get an assignment done but had a little time to socialize. I would work on the third floor if I really had to be laser-focused and get things done.My personal productivity record on the third floor of the JC was 18 pages of writing in four hours. I feel that was achieved due to the tools and environment that Mason provides its students.”
In addition, he adds, “there were always energetic students around and if I needed help with something. I could tap someone on the shoulder and get guidance quickly. There were always interesting people around that I could learn from.”
Although he was a student at a different college, Mason was his first choice—“my first and only choice,” he says—for his undergraduate education, but his application after graduating from high school in 2004 was rejected.
“My grades were never there,” he readily admits. “But if you look at my transcripts, I did well in the classes that required creativity. All of school wasn’t a struggle for me, I was just interested in other things. When it came to math, spelling, and English, those subjects just bored me.”
Instead, his mind was racing with other ideas, and he concludes now that, “I guess the technical term for any [undiagnosed] learning disability would be called ADD. However, in my eyes, it is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. It allowed me to think outside of the box, be creative, and relentlessly work towards things I was interested in and goals I wanted to achieve.”
And now that creative thinking is paying off. Saini is chief marketing officer for Gryphn, a Washington-based, investor-driven startup that’s developing mobile security and privacy applications. The company’s debut product, ArmorText, is a secure text messaging application used around the world; clients include hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and others in regulated industries that have security concerns. Saini says in 2012 the projected mobile security market size is $1.6 billion for this year, rising to about $11 billion by 2015. “Getting in this early gives us first-mover advantage and a chance to capture a larger portion of that market share,” he says.
But before he reached this point, he applied to Mason a second time, and was turned down again. While Mason turned him down, another university accepted him, on his first application, but living in Fairfax, in the same ZIP code as Mason, and commuting to a more distant campus was more than he could bear. “I absolutely hated the commute,” he says. “And by the time I got to school I was exhausted.”
Meanwhile, Saini, who was a frequent spectator at many open events hosted by the Mason Enterprise Center, started a business—an Internet development company—based at the MEC, where he found a mentor in the Small Business Development Center director John Casey.
“He started at the center before he was a student,” Casey says. “His company was in the incubator program here, and that’s how I met him. What made an impression on me was he was pretty far along for a kid at the time.”
Casey had no idea Saini was refused admission. “Well, he clearly doesn’t hold a grudge against us for not seeing his potential was more than SAT scores,” Casey says. “Since then he’s been very generous with his time and bullish about Mason for different audiences that he’s in.”
Finally, Saini was introduced to Mason’s dean of admissions by Mason sociology major Malkit “Mona” Singh, a recipient of a national Truman Scholarship. Singh assured the dean that Saini was a good bet. “She was a driving force in getting into Mason,” Saini says.
Casey’s take: “He was entrepreneurial about approaching [acceptance] like a startup founder would approach a funding challenge—find a side door if the front door doesn’t work.”
Today Saini has a degree in Communication from Mason—but after all that, he missed the graduation ceremony: He was busy in Washington co-founding his technology company.
And as he contemplates a master’s degree, the twice-denied co-founder of the company is looking to hire analysts, designers, engineers, and interns—ideally from Mason.