This founder's brush with homelessness led him to build a startup that gives away free stuff

AliAbdullahClaim it!Claim it! founder Ali Abdullah.

In 2008, Ali Abdullah made a hasty decision: he left a stable job before he’d gotten an official offer for a higher-paying one.

The job he was pursuing took longer than expected to pan out — more than a year — and suddenly Abdullah was left with no way to pay the rent, only $1,200 in the bank and one more surprise: he had a baby on the way. After failing to pay rent, he ended up homeless for a couple months.

Abdullah was 22 at the time and thought to himself: “I never want to be in this position again.”

So he tapped into his network of mentors and told them about his situation.

“I was honest with them,” Abdullah told Business Insider. “I said, ‘I have nothing.'”

Two of his mentors gave him a loan and some advice: use this money to get yourself back into your apartment, pull yourself back up, and figure out how to use the skills and experience you have.

That’s when the idea for Claim It was born: an app that gives away free stuff.

“I wanted to solve that intersection between desire and need,” Abdullah said. “The desire of users wanting free stuff and the need of brands wanting eyeballs and foot traffic.”

Ali was slowly getting back on his feet and began using his background in software development to build the app. He brought on two cofounders and Claim It started to grow. Now, it has 250,000 users in New York City and $2 million in investment.

ClaimitClaim it!A Claim it! user won a free movie pass through the app and claimed it from the truck, which drives around New York City.

Claim It partners with brands to offer prizes — typically, there are about 6 to 8 brand partners each week. Users sit through a 10- to 15-second ad and then enter to win a prize like Beats by Dre headphones or a pair of sneakers. Winners are chosen by a randomised algorithm and will receive a text containing a code they redeem to receive their prize. Prizes can currently be redeemed at the Claim It truck — which drives around New York City — or the physical retail location.

And soon, Claim It is going national. By the end of 2016, users nationwide will be able to use the app and claim their prize either online and in stores.

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