This article was originally featured on CSUN Today.
Something was clouding the focused and productive mind of California State University, Northridge alumnus Ash Sobhe (’10, Information Systems). The young entrepreneur started to experience headaches in 2014.
Thumping, distracting headaches.
He went to visit a doctor, who told him he had a brain tumor. His vision started to fade, first in the right eye and then in the left. He saw other doctors — 23 in total — to get other opinions on the diagnosis and treatment. One doctor told him it wasn’t a tumor, but multiple sclerosis.
“That’s the year everything changed for me,” he said. “I achieved everything I wanted on paper, but I (hadn’t) made a difference yet.”
Sobhe was in an MRI machine, waiting for the technology to scan his brain. As he waited, he scanned his own thoughts.
Sobhe considered all of his accomplishments in the face of challenges. Twelve years ago, he did not speak English. As a teenager, he watched his family fight through financial adversity. Yet, he graduated from CSUN and built his own digital marketing business, becoming a millionaire in his mid-20s. By all accounts, he was a success.
Even while working with extreme dedication to build his business, however, he found he had never stopped to walk on the beach barefoot or experience the other beauties in life.
Then, the headaches stopped. The doctors were wrong — there was no tumor, no MS. And there was no reason as to why they stopped. Around this time, Sobhe decided that for all the success he had achieved, he wanted to share it with others.
Sobhe rebranded his growing business — IT Chair — as R6S, and he rekindled his relationship with CSUN. He started the Sobhe Family Entrepreneurial Scholarship, which will lift the lives and dreams of students for years to come.
“After I had my (health) scare, I started questioning myself: ‘If I die today, what do I want people to say about me?’ That’s when my connection to CSUN became more clear,” said Sobhe, 29. “[CSUN] was almost like a platform for me. … I needed some people to believe in me.”
Sobhe said he found that belief as a student at CSUN, and it helped give him the confidence to evolve a small IT startup into a marketing machine.
Sobhe was born in Iran, but he moved around the globe because of his father’s rug import and export business. In 2003, his father’s business began to take a downturn. Sobhe felt compelled to contribute to his family, but he was shy and often hid behind computer screens and blocked sound with his headphones.
It turned out, he had a talent that just needed to be drawn out.
At 12 years old, Sobhe got in trouble for hacking. To make amends, his father made him volunteer for a center for autistic children. He quickly earned the nickname “Chairman of the IT Department” because the people at the center were impressed that a 12-year-old was so adept at solving computer problems.
As a teenager, Sobhe helped his father’s friend update his website. By the time he reached CSUN in 2005, he had some experience under his belt — but little confidence.
“Ash was very introverted when I first met him,” said professor Paul Lazarony, chair of CSUN’s Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “I taught him in IS 335 and IS 451 — the first and last IS courses in the program. In IS 335, I encouraged Ash to take the lead with his group, and he did just that. He started to come out of his shell and lead the other students. He was nervous for his presentation, but he did well. By the time he was in IS 451 with me, he was a natural leader with his group, and his final presentation for that class was amazing.”
Sobhe said a defining moment came when Lazarony encouraged him to shift from computer science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science to information systems in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics.
“I remember meeting Ash for the first time,” Lazarony said. “He came to my office as a computer science major and was interested in learning more about information systems. Although an introvert, I could tell that Ash was hungry to help people and organizations solve their problems using IT, which is exactly what we do in information systems. It was clear that Ash had found his people in the IS program, and it was great to watch him grow and excel.”
Sobhe said the challenge of giving presentations in front of his peers gave him confidence. He also felt his professors were genuinely invested in his future.
“At CSUN, everyone is encouraging and has that teamwork (attitude),” Sobhe said. “(Professors would say), ‘I have office hours. Why don’t you come talk to me?’ (I thought), ‘Wow, you’re the professor and you really want to talk to me? Even after school?’ That’s something I never had before. Something as simple as freedom of speech (meant so much). I can literally raise my hand in class and say whatever is on my mind? Are you kidding me?
“I really have an open road,” he continued. “If I want to make something of myself, nothing is stopping me anymore. I really don’t have an excuse.”
In 2005, around the time he started at CSUN, Sobhe had launched IT Chair — a nod to his old nickname. Over the years, it evolved from a business where Sobhe fixed people’s computers to website development to digital marketing. In 2008, he hired his first employee. Since that year, Sobhe said, revenue has doubled annually. At 26, he became a millionaire. In February, he rebranded and launched the business as R6S — sounded out: “Our success.”
“Ash is a wonderful representative for CSUN,” Lazarony said. “He has become extremely successful since he left school, yet he is very humble, down to earth and really just a very good guy. Ash is one of our superstars who greatly appreciates what he learned at CSUN and truly enjoys giving back to the students and university.”
R6S’ clients include Lamborghini and State Farm. What Sobhe calls a digital uprising is just starting. He said his company will rise with the success of its clients — invest in them, be genuine with them, and everyone benefits.
His professors did that. He’s doing that with CSUN students, and it has brought him tremendous joy.
Sobhe is living the life he wanted: He’s getting married this year. His business is thriving. And he hopes to inspire others to open their minds and discover what’s possible.