Launch Pad: Jason Wachob, Founder of MindBodyGreen

MindBodyGreen is the result of Jason Wachob almost getting back surgery.

The 6’7” serial entrepreneur traveled 150,000 miles domestic in one year—in coach—for his startup of the time, and aggravated an old basketball injury, resulting in excruciating pain. Two doctors in a row recommended back surgery.

Seeking something less extreme, Jason instead started doing yoga. And “that led me down a rabbit hole. I started to look at things like sleep and stress and nutrition, the environment, and made a lot of changes in my life.” He changed how he ate. Ultimately, “over the course of six months I completely healed, and I think yoga played a large role in that healing process.”

This was a life changing moment: “to me this idea of wellness was about living your best life, and it was nuanced, and it was this blend of mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, and environmental wellbeing. And no one was covering it, and—MindBodyGreen. That’s the idea, was to really spread this message of living one’s best life with our unique lens, and do that through content. So it started with the first blog post, with me, back in 2009.”

From that one blog post, it took MindBodyGreen about two years to monetize, and three years to cross the 1 million reader mark—and that’s when they raised capital. These days the website boasts of “a readership of more than 15 million worldwide.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Jason discuss the path of building a successful new media brand, and all the lessons Jason’s learned from founding four companies.

Read more Launch Pad: Jason Wachob, Founder of MindBodyGreen

Launch Pad: Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways

Shapeways

“If you can’t find it anywhere else, then why not make it?” asks Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways, a 3D printing company that lets you do exactly that.

Peter explains: “Shapeways is a platform that is home to a vibrant community that enables them to make amazing products using 3D printing. So if you have a great idea, and you want it to turn in to something physical and a real product, you can go to Shapeways, upload your designs, and we make it for you.” If you’re not a maker, but want to buy unique pieces, Shapeways offers “a vast catalogue of amazing products. You can come to our site and you can find a very big variety of products ranging from toys and gadgets to jewelry, home décor, puzzles, and many, many more things.”

“In essence what we’re doing is we are giving people access to world class manufacturing capabilities, and giving them total freedom to make whatever they want.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich talk with Peter about how Shapeways has evolved over ten years, as the technology, and the company, have matured, and get his take on where 3D printing is at today: “We went through the completely unknown, and then super hype, and then after the hype typically comes a little bit of a time where people go like, really? Was this real? And we’re now starting to see real value creation.”

Read more Launch Pad: Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways

Launch Pad: Rob Sadow W’08, Founder of Scoop

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Hate your commute? Scoop, founded by Rob Sadow W’08, has a solution for you: a “fully automated carpooling solution for commuters.”

Scoop partners with enterprises, office parks, and cities to make it easier for coworkers and neighbors to share trips back and forth to the office.

Here’s how it works: You book your carpool trips one way at a time, based on your needs. Why one way? Rob explains: “By unbundling it so that you can book one way at a time we make it possible so you can actually go to work with one person and come home with somebody else, and so it unlocks flexibility in your schedule so you don’t feel locked in to having to go or commute on somebody else’s time.”

And if for some reason Scoop can’t match you in a return trip that day, “you can take public transit, or a taxi, or another alternative and we’ll actually cover the cost of the alternative to make sure you can get home.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Rob talk through more of the nitty-gritty of putting together a carpooling app that works, plus, get a sense of how being a consultant can be great preparation for founding a company. Rob was with Bain & Company for six and a half years, and throughout the interview, Karl noted Rob’s impressively thorough analyses of the problems and possible solutions.

Read more Launch Pad: Rob Sadow W’08, Founder of Scoop

Launch Pad: Oisin Hanrahan, Founder of Handy

 

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Here’s a fun statistic: about 1% of the working population of the United States have applied to join Handy as cleaners or handymen or plumbers.

Now another stat that may show why this is: 80% of the people on Handy work 20 hours a week or less on the platform. 50% work ten hours a week or less. Why? As Oisin Hanrahan, Handy Founder, explains: “Not because there’s not more work there, but because that’s the amount of time they want to work.”

“It’s really about flexibility.”

This makes so much sense. Handy allows these professionals the chance to earn a little extra money on a schedule that meets their needs—more when they want it, less when other things in their lives need attention, all while earning a minimum of $15/hour and an average of about $18/hour. Not many jobs at that pay level give this kind of flexibility.

As for the customers, they not only get a vetted cleaning person, but also access to handymen, plumbers, etc.—all the people that you don’t need very often, and therefore don’t know how to find when you do need them—on one convenient service.

Karl Ulrich and Oisin have a fascinating conversation about not just how Handy works, but how Oisin built the company, and why he was the right person to do it. As Karl says, “I think I probably had 20 Wharton MBA students with that idea in 2011.” So what made Handy succeed? Execution.

Oisin says, “You’ve got to get the operations right. You’ve got to get the technology right. And then you’ve got to try to build a brand that people gravitate to when they want to solve a problem.”

Listen to Karl and Oisin go deep on what, exactly, that means for making a two-sided business become the next big thing.

Read more Launch Pad: Oisin Hanrahan, Founder of Handy

Launch Pad: Jeremy Rogoff, Founder of KickUp

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Which is harder, being an algebra teacher or a startup CEO?

According to Jeremy Rogoff—who has done both—algebra teacher is harder. No contest.

Jeremy is the Founder and CEO of KickUp, which is, in his words, “focused on helping schools and K12 districts understand and improve the impact of their professional learning for teachers.” They use surveys and analytics to help schools understand which of the professional learning the teachers are doing are actually being useful—helping to make the teachers better teachers, and improving student outcomes.

Jeremy didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. He was ready to be an educator, and he taught, first with Teach for America, teaching algebra and Spanish in the Mississippi Delta, then at a charter school in Washington DC. But he saw ways to help teachers, and after he left the classroom, he gave himself three months “to try to put something together, and get some people to care about the idea, and it has continued to progress ever since.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been difficulties. Listen to Karl and Jeremy talk about a major pivot, and the important insight that “you have to figure out a) what problem you’re solving, and b) does that problem fall into the ‘urgent and important’ category.”

Read more Launch Pad: Jeremy Rogoff, Founder of KickUp

Launch Pad: Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Founder of BioBots

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“The promise of biology is to do incredible things. Like cure different diseases, eliminate the organ waiting list, push life to other planets, or even begin to remediate our own planet.”

So says Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Co-founder of BioBots, a 3D printing company unlike any other, because they print in “biocompatible materials.” Danny explains: “think of these as different colored cartridges on your inkjet printer, only these are for tissues instead of printing in colors.”

That’s right, BioBots prints tissues that can mimic the human body, or pieces of it, and this is an incredibly powerful tool for researchers. “We’re seeing a lot of scientists who are using our devices to develop 3D tissue models for different disease models, or for different organ systems, things like liver, kidney, heart.” This allows these scientists to understand the function of these organs or systems better, and to model diseases, and their treatments, in ways far superior to current methods.

And this is just the beginning. Danny has a sweeping vision of all that biology can do. He’s convinced that biology is going to “become the engineering discipline of our generation, that we were going to be able to use biology to build all of the useful products that we’re used to, and also a lot of new products that we weren’t even aware of yet.” He sees BioBots as “the first tool in a whole new stack of tools that need to be built to transition—to take biology from being 2D into being 3D.”

Listen to Danny talk to Karl Ulrich about how the BioBots printer works (Karl makes sure he gets it in terms for the intelligent layperson), the current and future applications of an amazing tool like this—and some of the business aspects, like what an MVP looks like for an entirely new thing like BioBots, and how Danny figured out how to price it.

Read more Launch Pad: Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Founder of BioBots

Launch Pad: Davis Smith G’11/WG’11, Founder of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi logo, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

With Cotopaxi, founder Davis Smith G’11/WG’11 is “looking to build a world-class example of how to have social impact through a company.”

He and Karl Ulrich had a fascinating conversation about ventures that integrate social impact into their business models, as Cotopaxi does–a certified B Corp, Cotopaxi designates 2% of revenue “to help alleviate poverty around the world,” (as the website explains). Want to know more? Hear Davis dig in to why the social impact piece is crucial to him as a founder, and the several ways he’s tried out for implementing it.

To those who think that social impact and running a business should remain separate, Davis says: “I believed I could have a bigger impact on the world by creating a business that had core values that inspired the world than I could if I just did something on my own.”

Beyond the social impact piece, listen for a fascinating analysis of why the right domain name is key–and for some clever ideas for how to get/finance the one you want. Also: how Cotopaxi is getting customers to essential pay them to get acquired, which is very nice model if you can pull it off.

Read more Launch Pad: Davis Smith G’11/WG’11, Founder of Cotopaxi

Launch Pad: Trina Spear, Founder of FIGS

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Scrubs that fit well. Scrubs that flatter your body. Scrubs with antimicrobial fabric, to stop bacteria and infections from spreading. The medical apparel industry is a $10 billion industry in the US alone—so where have scrubs like these been?

That’s what Trina Spear asked herself, and her answer was FIGS, which she calls the “highest quality medical apparel in the world.” FIGS has the potential to turn the medical apparel industry upside down. As she explains: “it’s a commoditized industry that we are de-commoditizing. It’s an unbranded industry that we are branding.”

Listen to Karl and Trina talk about why FIGS is a B-Corp that gives away a set of scrubs to a healthcare provider in need for every set they sell. And just how many meetings it took for Trina to raise their first $2 million in funding. (Spoiler: about 100. Which Karl points out is totally normal, for you entrepreneurs out there who are feeling discouraged about heading out to meeting #43.)

Read more Launch Pad: Trina Spear, Founder of FIGS

Launch Pad: Uma Valeti, Founder of Memphis Meats

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Meat grown directly from animal cells. It sounds like science fiction, but like so much else in this age of marvels, this hopeful fiction is turning into actual science, at Memphis Meats.

A former cardiologist, founder Uma Valeti was part of a study that was trying to inject cells into patients’ hearts to regrow heart muscle, and he took that idea of growing muscle cells… and ran with it.

Meat grown in a laboratory, rather than raised as livestock, addresses the environmental, ethical, and health issues that plague our current means of getting meat on the table. As Uma explains: “We’re detaching slaughter from meat production.”

This is a true moon shot, a potential disruptor of global proportions. According to Uma, 90% of the world’s population eats meat, and in order to supply that meat, 57 billion land animals are slaughtered every year. What if that all just—stopped?

Listen to Uma and Karl dig in to the scientific, cultural, and business challenges that Memphis Meats faces. And keep an eye out: Uma’s goal is to get Memphis Meats products on the market, in grocery stores and restaurants, within five years. Will you try it?

Read more Launch Pad: Uma Valeti, Founder of Memphis Meats

Launch Pad: Nat Turner W’08, Founder of Flatiron Health

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What’s a guy supposed to do when he sells his first startup to Google for over $80 million, just 2 years after graduation?

Found another company, Flatiron Health (which has so far raised $228 million from, among others, Google Ventures) that is working to cure cancer using big data.

This is the life story, so far, of Nat Turner W’08. Listen to hear him talk with Karl Ulrich about choosing your funding strategically (“taking investment is much more than just capital”), the benefits of being an industry outsider (“I think, honestly, it’s an advantage that we did not come from the industry”), rising healthcare costs (“maybe this crisis, maybe this opportunity will actually give rise to some innovative thinking and some better solutions. We can all be hopeful for that.”), and more.

Read more Launch Pad: Nat Turner W’08, Founder of Flatiron Health