Entrepreneurship Blog

5 Lessons From Founders’ Retreat

By Renata Arauz-DeStefano WG’17, Founder of Mwayi

Founders' Retreat - Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship
Founders’ Retreat participants.

A couple of weekends ago, I, along with 26 other founders or founders-to-be, drove off into the woods of Maryland for a 3-day retreat organized by Penn’s student-run Founders’ Club.

The retreat was an aspiring entrepreneur’s petri dish—from long, meditative walks along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to board games designed to spark innovation, we were surrounded by the great ideas of others or the opportunity to discover our own.

Coming away from the weekend get-away, I felt both refreshed and energized. I got back to Philly exhausted, with a few new faces to call friends, and with a to-do list that spanned pages.

So, to solidify my key take-aways, and share them with a wider audience, I decided to summarize them below:

  1. Authenticity is priceless – Coming from a business school environment I, for one, tend to get caught up in having accurate projections and a convincing go-to-market strategy. Stephan Jacob G’11/WG’11, COO and Co-Founder of Cotopaxi, reminded us that while these things are important, they won’t make up for a lack of passion and a deep-seated, emotional conviction of your product or service’s worth.
  2. Brands can be built on more than just performance – Another key lesson I took away from Stephan’s talk was that firms can—and do—make decisions to build brands on things other than performance. In the case of Cotopaxi, he and his co-founders made a conscious decision not to market their brand based on performance alone. Instead, they sought a more unique way to grab people’s attention. Their winning strategy? Embed stories into their products and empower customers to tell the Cotopaxi story for them.
  3. Start raising money before you start raising money on a crowdfunding site – Call me naive, but I thought crowdfunding was one of the first steps in launching a business. I never would have imagined that a typical budget for launching a crowdfunding campaign was upwards of five-thousand (including about two-thousand each for a decent video and a PR firm, and one-thousand for a strong graphic design team). Now, my future self will (hopefully) consider that to be a drop in the bucket. My current aspiring-founder-and-broke-graduate-student self, however, was shocked. But, better to be armed with this knowledge before taking the dive into the crowdfunding scene!
  4. Not all crowdfunding sites were created equal – Well, maybe they were, but they certainly aren’t now. An insightful presentation by Harry Du, fellow Penn graduate student and Head of Operations at Fitly, highlighted the fact that entrepreneurs need to analyze the pros and cons of different crowdfunding sites. For example, he noted that Kickstarter users are primarily (70%) men, and that most funding goes to game-related enterprises (https://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats) . On the other hand, Indiegogo has more traction with women (42% of funders) than men (58%) (Source: workshop presented by Harry Du). Thus, it’s a valuable use of your time to take your customer segmentation one step farther, and see which crowdfunding platform will connect you with your intended demographic!
  5. Pricing is both an art and a science – For early-stage entrepreneurs like myself, setting prices can be intimidating. With so much on the line, we go in circles trying to identify the “best” way to determine the “right” price. Leaving the Founders’ Retreat, I learned that, first of all, there is no “best” way—each method has pros and cons. Moreover, in addition to the more commonly known cost-plus (more art) and conjoint (more science) analysis approaches, I did leave with a new tool to add to my toolkit: heuristic scoring. Combining both art and science, heuristic scoring takes an integrated view of pricing, incorporating consumer behavior/preferences, your competitive landscape, your economics (target margin, etc.), and category dynamics (such as inventory levels, etc.). By collecting a diverse set of data and weighting each indicator according to its relevance, entrepreneurs are able to hone in on their most advantageous price. For a more detailed overview, check out this McKinsey article.

I think I’ve now reached the limit of a readable blog post, but I think the fact that I could go on demonstrates the value of the Founders’ Club and the success of this retreat. If you’re a Penn Founder, be sure to register here to stay up-to-date on future Founders’ Club events! Or [warning: shameless plug coming up], if you’re just curious about the entrepreneurial activities that I’ve been up to, head over to mymwayi.com and leave your e-mail address to stay tuned!

Renata Arauz-DeStefano WG'17, Founder of Mwayi Penn Wharton EntrepreneurshipBio: Renata is a Wharton MBA second-year and an aspiring social impact entrepreneur.  Prior to Wharton, she spent four years in the microfinance sector, both in Latin America and in Africa. She will be launching her start-up, Mwayi, a fashion social enterprise, later this semester and will be joining Bank of America Merrill Lynch as an Investment Banking Associate after graduation.  Stay tuned at mymwayi.com.

Launch Pad: Blake Scholl, Founder of Boom


XB-1: a one-third scale realization of the Boom passenger airliner. It will demonstrate in flight the key technologies for practical supersonic travel. XB-1 is the first independently developed supersonic jet and history's fastest civil aircraft. It is under construction now and will fly in late 2017. Photo courtesy of Boom.
XB-1: a one-third scale realization of the Boom passenger airliner. It will demonstrate in flight the key technologies for practical supersonic travel. XB-1 is the first independently developed supersonic jet and history’s fastest civil aircraft. It is under construction now and will fly in late 2017. Photo courtesy of Boom.

Karl Ulrich’s enthusiasm for Boom comes out in every syllable of this interview, and for good reason. Boom is, as founder Blake Scholl describes, “picking up where Concord left off. We are building a new generation of supersonic airplane that is significantly more efficient and significantly more affordable than Concord. So New York to London could be three hours and 15 minutes instead of seven—but for the same price you pay now for a business class ticket. So this is dramatically more affordable high-speed travel.” Read more Launch Pad: Blake Scholl, Founder of Boom

Launch Pad: Neel Premkumar WG’08, Founder of Stur and Forto

Forto and Stur

With a background at Nestle, starting a company in packaged foods was a natural fit for Neel Premkumar—but it wasn’t until his pregnant wife needed something more fun to drink than water to keep her hydrated that he got the idea for Stur.

She wanted something truly natural and organic, but also tasty, so Neel developed Stur, a liquid concentrate that uses real fruit extracts and some stevia leaf extract for sweetness; 2 ml flavors an 8 oz glass of water.

However, the way Neel built his company didn’t match the Nestle model. He explains: “how I built the business was more like a software company, less like a packaged goods company.”

Read more Launch Pad: Neel Premkumar WG’08, Founder of Stur and Forto

2017 Y-Prize Winner VisiPlate Offers Innovative Glaucoma Solution

Y Prize Winners VisiPlate
Team VisiPlate: Brandon Kao EAS’18, Rui Jing Jiang W’18, and Adarsh Battu W’18

In front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Singh Center’s Glandt Forum this week, four teams made their pitches for how to turn technology developed by Penn Engineers into the next big thing.

Each year, Engineering, Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Wharton Entrepreneurship and the Penn Center for Innovation come together for an invention competition known as the Y-Prize. Unlike the XPRIZE, where competitors come up with novel technologies to solve a particular problem, the Y-Prize starts with the technologies and challenges entrants to find commercial applications that they are particularly suited for.

At stake: $10,000 to help get the winning idea out of the lab and into the market.

Read more 2017 Y-Prize Winner VisiPlate Offers Innovative Glaucoma Solution

Launch Pad: Nadine McCarthy Kahane WG’12, Founder of Stone & Strand


Stone and Strand earrings

Valentine’s Day is coming! Whether you’re shopping for your sweetie or indulging in a gorgeous piece for yourself, Stone and Strand has the jewelry you want.

Elevator pitch: “Stone and Strand is the leading online jewelry retailer for stylish millennial women. We are founded for women by women and our mission is to empower the female self purchaser and really modernize what has traditionally been a very stuffy overpriced shopping experience and turn it into a fresher value driven fashionable and importantly include our sassy take on it as well.”

Read more Launch Pad: Nadine McCarthy Kahane WG’12, Founder of Stone & Strand

Warby Parker Returns To Philly

Warby Parker glasses at the new Philly store

Last night, we were delighted to attend the opening party celebrating Warby Parker‘s Philadelphia retail store (1523 Walnut Street; opening to the public on Saturday, January 28). Warby Parker got its start right here at Wharton, when four MBA students got together over a beer and started to wonder why glasses were so expensive. We’re proud to say that Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship helped them every step of the way.

We’re thrilled that Philly has its very own retail store–although we reminded cofounders Neil Blumenthal WG’10 and Dave Gilboa WG’10 that this is in fact their second retail location in Philadelphia. The first was Neil’s apartment at 20th and Walnut.

Read more Warby Parker Returns To Philly

Deliveroo Tops Poets & Quants’ List Of MBA-Founded Startups

Deliveroo logo, founded by William Shu WG'12, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

Every year we wait to see which startups—and which schools—will find their way onto Poets & Quants’ list of Top MBA Startups, ranked by venture capital-backed funding. Only ventures launched within the past five years (2012-2016), by founders who graduated within those five years, qualify. This year’s big winner is Deliveroo, founded by Will Shu WG’12, with $474.59 million. Read more Deliveroo Tops Poets & Quants’ List Of MBA-Founded Startups

Bootstrapping? Invest In Your Employees

By Nigel Lobo W’08/WG’13, CEO and Founder of Quikchex

Quikchecks founder Nigel Lobo W'08/WG'13, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

As the CEO of Quikchex, a 50 employee, 3 year old bootstrapped Payroll and HR Software startup, I sometimes find it difficult to relate to my fellow founders who have opted in for the VC funded path. Right from the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I made a conscious decision to avoid external funding as long as I could. Bootstrapping offers a number of obvious benefits, including greater control on the strategic trajectory of the company. Yet, bootstrapping also has significant drawbacks, the primary one of which is the ability to hire the best (aka most expensive) talent in the market. Read more Bootstrapping? Invest In Your Employees

Launch Pad: Slava Rubin W’00, Founder of Indiegogo

Back in 2006, Slava Rubin and his Indiegogo cofounders had some very interesting ideas for a company: “So we had this very naïve concept which is, if YouTube, which was very new at the time and wasn’t owned by Google yet, is doing this democratization of content thing, it’s quite interesting, anybody can put up any content. People can watch it if they want. And eBay was already quite established as democratizing this auction concept. Why is it that access to capital is all about the gatekeeper, knowing the right investment banker, knowing the right VC, knowing the right loan person, knowing the right person at the grant institutions?”

In short: “Why not just maybe use that ultimate democratization tool, which is the internet, to create a marketplace?”

Unfortunately, the Securities Act of 1933 made that impossible–then. So they found another path forward, and kicked off the crowdfunding industry (Kickstarter, in case you were wondering, launched in April 2009).

A decade later, the rules have changed, and Indiegogo is finally doing what Slava and his cofounders first envisioned: equity crowdfunding.

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Slava talk about equity crowdfunding, how Indiegogo is implementing it, and where he thinks companies will meet with the greatest successes using it. Plus everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beginnings of crowdfunding.

Read more Launch Pad: Slava Rubin W’00, Founder of Indiegogo