A Young CEO, an Ex-Assistant and a Grisly Murder
On a scorching summer day in 2014, Fahim Saleh was searching for office space in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when a child who was thirsty approached him on the street.Mr. Saleh was so moved that he bought as many bottles of water and soda as he could from nearby vendors and spent the next few hours handing them out to people.The globe-trotting tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist was known for such impulsive acts of generosity, his friends and colleagues said. Mr. Saleh also loved taking chances on young, unproven talent and on emerging markets such as Nigeria and Colombia, they said.“He got a ton of joy from helping people, from surprising people,” said Sakib Jamal, a friend in New York City.
Earlier this month, Mr. Saleh, the 33-year-old CEO of Gokada, a Nigerian ride-sharing firm, was found fatally stabbed and dismembered in his luxury Manhattan apartment. Tyrese Haspil, Mr. Saleh’s former personal assistant, has been charged with murder.New York Police Department detectives say Mr. Haspil killed Mr. Saleh because he had been caught embezzling about $90,000 from Mr. Saleh’s bank accounts. Mr. Saleh had worked out a repayment plan with Mr. Haspil, detectives say, rather than go to the police.Lawyers for Mr. Haspil, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, said in a statement last week: “There is much more to this narrative than the accusations, an arrest by the police, and a charge by the district attorney.”
Mr. Saleh’s family declined to comment for this article. A Gokada spokesman said that Mr. Haspil wasn’t an employee or involved with the firm in any way.
Friends of Mr. Saleh and Mr. Haspil are still trying to understand the two men’s relationship.Some of Mr. Saleh’s friends and former colleagues said they had never heard of Mr. Haspil before the killing. Those who were aware of Mr. Haspil said he was a peripheral person in Mr. Saleh’s life.What is clear is that while Mr. Saleh and Mr. Haspil came from very different backgrounds, both showed talent and entrepreneurial spirit at an early age.Mr. Saleh was born in Saudi Arabia to Bangladeshi parents, but grew up in the Poughkeepsie area of New York. In high school and while pursuing a computer science degree at Bentley University, he made tens of thousands of dollars creating and selling websites.
His first major success was PrankDial.com, a telephone prank-calling service that generated $10 million, according to a Medium post that Mr. Saleh wrote a couple of years ago.Mr. Haspil spent part of his teenage years living with a foster family. During high school, in Valley Stream, N.Y., he made and sold his own peanut butter. He also created a business called “Rent-A-Brother,” in which he rented himself out for the day. He placed first in a regional Future Business Leaders of America competition for his web design skills.Mr. Haspil was generous, too, said one of his friends, Claude Parola. He paid for people’s lunches. He once gave a friend a pineapple plant as a gift. He bought Mr. Parola a tracksuit, for no reason other than he knew his friend wanted it.
“He never complained about money,” Mr. Parola said. “He never really complained, period.”Although Mr. Saleh wasn’t well-known among New York City’s tech scene, his killing elicited an outpouring of grief, especially in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Colombia, where his investments spurred innovation and created hundreds of jobs.
About five years ago, Mr. Saleh expanded his vision to Bangladesh. He set up an incubator in the capital Dhaka, called HackHouse, furnishing it like a Silicon Valley startup with glass walls, snacks and a Ping-Pong table. He handpicked a group of programmers and set them to work creating games and apps.
Several friends and former employees said Mr. Saleh tested people. In Dhaka, he challenged an 11th-grader, Ahmed Fahad, to create an online portfolio of his work within 24 hours. Then he ghosted him for days before giving him a job at HackHouse building landing pages for startups.
“I think Fahim was looking for that doggedness,” said Mr. Fahad, who is now 22 years old and vice president of products for Pathao, a HackHouse startup that became one of the largest courier, e-commerce and motorbike ride-sharing services in Bangladesh.It wasn’t unusual for Mr. Saleh to disappear for weeks or months to pursue a new venture, according to friends and former colleagues.In March 2018, Mr. Saleh emailed a three-man team in Bogotá who had built a motorbike ride-hailing app. “I just received a call one day and the next week he’s in Colombia with us,” said Daniel Rodriguez, the co-founder and chief executive of what would become the ride-hailing and package-delivery company Picap.
At that time, the app was facilitating 2,000 rides a day, Mr. Rodriguez said. Mr. Saleh met the founders and talked to drivers. A few weeks later, Mr. Saleh deposited $250,000 into a bank account he established for Picap in the U.S. and sent the bank cards to Colombia.The firm grew quickly and before the pandemic was averaging two million rides a month, including a growing package-delivery business, Mr. Rodriguez said. The firm’s founders got locked out of their U.S. bank account sometimes, Mr. Rodriguez said, and on at least two occasions, between October 2018 and April 2019, Mr. Haspil helped to unlock the account for them from the U.S.None of Mr. Saleh’s friends or colleagues could say when he hired Mr. Haspil or the length of Mr. Haspil’s employment.
Mr. Parola said the last time he saw Mr. Haspil was in January 2019. Mr. Haspil took Mr. Parola and other former high school friends out in New York City. Mr. Haspil had dropped out of Hofstra University one year earlier. But he had enough money to pay for everyone’s dinner, drinks and tickets to a comedy show.
Mr. Parola said that after the show Mr. Haspil invited them back to what Mr. Haspil said was his Manhattan apartment. He explained his newfound wealth by saying that he worked for the CEO of a tech company based in Nigeria and that he traveled to Africa to close deals.
“We were impressed, but not surprised, just because of how he was in high school,” Mr. Parola said.