On Tuesday, the Attleborough-based entrepreneur was at the Great Eastern Hotel in London to be named the winner of the Enterprising Young Brits competition, and picked up his trophy - and a cheque for an unspecified amount - from the Chancellor, Gordon Brown MP.
The spark of an idea Ali had as a student in 1997 - helping people save money and the environment by organising lift-shares in cars - has now grown into a booming internet-based business, which Mr Brown jokingly referred to when presenting the award.
“He said it was good to see a social enterprise helping society and making good profits so he could tax them! But he was very supportive of young people setting up their own business,” says Ali.
After the festivities it was back to work in Norfolk yesterday, where Ali and his nine staff work a strict 9am to 5.30pm day - no more, no less.
“When I was at university I realised that stress and me didn't go together very well,” he says.
“I'll do anything to avoid getting stressed, and so we run a very efficient company, automating as much as we can and making sure no one works any overtime or weekends, unless it's really vital. We just try to pack as much into the day as possible!”
However, he admits that he finds it hard to turn off even if he's not actually in the office.
“I do think about it pretty much all the time, it's always in your head and whenever you meet people they are always interested to hear about the business,” he says.
“But I like going sailing in the summer, and play hockey, and my wife and I are about to have a baby, so I've got lots of other things in my life.”
It took a little time to get Liftshare.com off the ground, but the past few years have seen Ali and his team gain plenty of plaudits, including winning the environment category of the EDP Business Awards in 2003.
He appears to be following in the footsteps of fellow Norfolk-born entrepreneur James Dyson in seeing the years of hard work and no recognition finally pay off.
“I've come from a family of farmers, and my granny was very entrepreneurial, as was my father,” says Ali, 30.
“In business, I don't have any real role models, but Dyson went to the same school as me. He struggled for years doing what he was doing.
“I've never met him but it's great to see successful Norfolk people. I spent three years without making any money so it's good to see that you can make it in the end.”
The idea originated in 1993 when 18-year-old Ali travelled around Germany using the German car- sharing scheme.
He saw the benefits of car sharing and was amazed to find that no such scheme existed in the UK.
With the UK having the worst congestion and longest commuting time in the EU, he realised there was a gap in the market and spent the next few years working alone to research the possibility of setting up a scheme in Britain.
Ali says that if half of all UK motorists received a lift one day a week, congestion and pollution would be reduced by 10pc and traffic jams by 20pc.
Members of the public use it for free to make any trip nationwide. The site matches people up with other people making the same journey from their area so that they can share lifts, cutting travel costs and helping the environment.
Since October, 2001 Liftshare.com has recruited more than 90,000 members, about 1500 of whom are in Norfolk. He estimates that the scheme saves around 21 million car-miles a year and reduces carbon- dioxide emissions by more than 4000 tonnes a year.
The idea also proved its use in the aftermath of the July 7 terror attacks, when Liftshare.com helped commuters who were stranded by the closure of the public-transport system.
Now that he's seeing success, Ali can look back fondly on the time he spent putting in the groundwork.
“If you set up a business and it's something that you really believe in, and enjoy doing, then it doesn't matter so much because you are learning all the time. It's like being at university again,” he says.
“It was three years but I was in a new industry, and it was going to take time to find out what I was doing.
“I'm very happy in Norfolk, I find the quality of life here very good, and I've been lucky to find enough qualified staff who are based here.
“The thought of being in London every day, having spent the last three days there, is just appalling. It's easy to get to London by train so you can easily run a successful business from Norfolk.”
For more information see www.Liftshare.com
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