Wharton Scale School Workshop Series Strikes a Chord with Bay Area Alumni

By Colleen Mullarkey

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Nearly 60 Wharton and Penn alumni crowded into a classroom at Wharton San Francisco one evening in December for a workshop with Bay Area industry executives on alternatives to equity financing. They talked about how companies optimize their capital structure over the various life stages of growth—from grants and accelerator programs to term loans and lines of credit.

Read more Wharton Scale School Workshop Series Strikes a Chord with Bay Area Alumni

Launch Pad: Alex Furmansky ENG’07/W’07, Founder of Budsies

Your kid draws a picture (or you do). Or you take a picture of, say, a half eaten breakfast sandwich. You send that picture in to Budsies, and in just two weeks you get back a stuffed animal of the picture.

You can imagine how adorable this gets. And if you can’t, check out Budsies.com, and you can see how awesome it truly is.

As Alex Furmansky puts it, “the concept is quite simple, we take people’s drawings and we turn them into one-off custom, handmade stuffed animals. We literally bring to life people’s characters.”

While Budsies started as mostly for children, where “parents would send us their kid’s doodles, from robots to unicorns to self-portraits to portraits of mom and dad, which become quite funny at times.” Lately, it’s expanded so that “about half of our Budsies are actually made by designers, illustrators, manga, anime, even furries, you know, the folks who dress up in furry costumes and have personas. They’re awesome, great customers. And so basically anything you can draw, anything you can send us as a photo, we can turn into a real three-dimensional stuffed animal.”

Can you really send them anything? Furmansky says, “If you can take a photo of it or create a digital image of it then we accept it.”

Listen to Alex Furmansky and his former Wharton prof, Karl Ulrich, talk about where the idea for Budsies came from, how he tested it—and what happened when, a month before Budsie’s first holiday season, the factory making the Budsies closed.

Here’s what Furmansky has to say about that experience: “I often tell people I mentor that when things go really badly, that is actually a great time for you as a founder, because that is how you turn a sad situation into the most loyal fans and evangelists ever.”

Read more Launch Pad: Alex Furmansky ENG’07/W’07, Founder of Budsies

Launch Pad: Apu Gupta WG’05, Founder of Curalate

What does Curalate do? It makes pictures shop-able.

Why is this awesome? Because unfortunately, as Curalate founder Apu Gupta WG’05 says, “The pictures are not aware of the products that are inside of them.”

This means that when you see a picture of a great microphone or a cute sweater online, you may have to do some serious sleuthing to find out exactly which microphone or sweater it is—let alone how to buy it. Curalate solves this problem. With Curalate, you can hover over the coveted item, and suddenly a “shop” button appears. Click; buy.

Or as Gupta puts it: “What we really want to do is shorten that distance, from that moment of discovery to that moment of purchase. We want to make that as frictionless as possible.”

Like so many entrepreneurial tales, Curalate’s origin story includes abject failure and a dramatic pivot. In 2011, Gupta and his co-founder launched an “AirBNB for storage”, and raised a seed round with relative ease. Unfortunately, it never got more than 3,000 visitors to the website.

They offered the investors their money back.

Happily instead of accepting the return, those investors told Gupta and his co-founder to go figure something else out. They came up with an idea for analytics for Pinterest, which in late 2011 was exploding. Then came the insight that what was going on wasn’t just about Pinterest: it was about pictures. What they were seeing was a fundamental shift in consumer behavior online. More and more, people were (and are) consuming visual content instead of traditional text content (emojis, anyone?).

Curalate came out of this realization.

This is big, disruptive, fascinating stuff. Listen to the interview to hear Karl Ulrich and Apu Gupta discuss. Read more Launch Pad: Apu Gupta WG’05, Founder of Curalate

How to Go from Wall Street Trader to Serial Entrepreneur

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In the early 2000s Maria Baum WG’94 had the “Nirvana job” of traders, she said. She was a global macro proprietary trader at Lehman Brothers, “which means I could basically trade any instrument, anywhere in the world, really without asking anybody, and with a very generous limit.” She also had three children (she now has four).

One morning as she rushed to work, she had a revelation. “It was like 5 o’clock in the morning, pitch black out, I had on a suit and heels, and a breast pump over my shoulder. I was leaving for work because I ran an international book and had to get in very early. And I thought, ‘Why am I doing this? This isn’t how I want to spend my life now.’” Read more How to Go from Wall Street Trader to Serial Entrepreneur

Launch Pad: Amy Norman G’02/WG’02, Founder of Little Passports

“We hear from parents that their kids are literally putting down their iPads and running to the mailbox to get their package. They are incredibly engaged.”

That’s how children respond when their monthly Little Passports envelope arrives, says Co-founder and Co-CEO Amy Norman.

What’s in that generously sized envelope? Your six year old might get a letter from imaginary pen pals Sam and Sophia about their adventures traveling to Brazil on a magic scooter and rescuing an endangered monkey by hiding in an amethyst mine. A miniature amethyst completes the illusion that this package has truly come straight from Brazil, plus additional games and activities. Each month the location changes, and children are inspired to learn about a new place.

In this age of online everything, Little Passports remembers that, as Norman puts it, “kids learn by touching and feeling.”

Founded in 2008 with a prototype and a pilot of 50 families, and launched in 2009, Little Passports grew slowly at first. In 2013, it was still making only $1-$1.5 million in revenue; this year Norman predicts they’ll break $30 million.

Karl Ulrich knows that this is a familiar story, and reminds founders that growth is often exponential—perseverance is one of the key attributes of any successful entrepreneur.

Speaking of perseverance: find out how many investors Norman had to meet with to raise an angel round for Little Passports (that first investor, by the way, was LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner W’92), and how they’re keeping a trust-based, family-friendly culture even while scaling (hint: the whole company works from home two days each week!).

Ultimately, Norman has grand ambitions: “We are looking to build the next great children’s brand, across multi-media.”

Read more Launch Pad: Amy Norman G’02/WG’02, Founder of Little Passports

Launch Pad: Anand Sanwal ENG’97/W’97, Founder of CB Insights

This week on Launch Pad, Karl Ulrich interviews Anand Sanwal, ENG’97/W’97, Founder of CB Insights.

What CB Insights does sounds daunting: a software and data company, they mine immense amounts of unstructured data, like patents, venture capital financing, news media, or government grants, to try to predict technology trends.

Frankly, it is very impressive. Basically, CB Insights helps large corporations—mainly corporate strategy, corporate innovation, product groups—that are trying to figure out what markets to enter or what companies to invest in or acquire.

There are, of course, lots of analysts out there doing exactly the same thing, using what Sanwal calls the 3 Gs: “Google searches, gut instinct, and guys with MBAs.” But, as he goes on to explain, “there are things that machines are better at doing, that are just beyond human cognitions.”

Using computers to do these analyses also allows them to mine data for hundreds of thousands of private companies, instead of manually looking at just one or two at a time.

Listen to hear more about how CB Insights mines this valuable data—as well as why the original name for the company—Chubby Brain—didn’t last.

Bonus: Hear Karl make fun of Survey Monkey’s name.

Read more Launch Pad: Anand Sanwal ENG’97/W’97, Founder of CB Insights

Elevator Pitch Of The Month: Xpand

Karl Ulrich has a new monthly series on Forbes, where he features his favorite elevator pitch from our podcast, Launch Pad. This month he chose Xpand, founded by Deb Bardhan WG’11.

Deb Bardhan got the idea for Xpand through his own work experiences, and seeing how long it took for companies to get employees–including him–through the onboarding process. Xpand is an employee onboarding and readiness solution targeted for large enterprises that are hiring at scale.

Hear Karl talk to Deb about what Xpand does, how he created it, and how it’s changing HR as we know it. Read more Elevator Pitch Of The Month: Xpand

Penn Grads Meet a Wharton “Angel” on “Make Me A Millionaire Inventor”

By Janie Kim C’19

When Alicia Syrett W’99 met entrepreneurs Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15 on the CNBC show, their Penn bond was the start of a lasting partnership.

Everwaters founders Matt Lisle ENG'15 and Adrian Lievano ENG'15
Everwaters founders Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15

Read more Penn Grads Meet a Wharton “Angel” on “Make Me A Millionaire Inventor”

Karl Ulrich talks with Jesse Pujji C’06/W’06, Founder of Ampush

Ever wonder where the ads in your Facebook and Twitter feeds come from?

Karl Ulrich interviews Jesse Pujji C’06/W’06 about his company, Ampush, a marketing solutions provider that powers customer acquisitions for some of the world’s most disruptive brands and companies. And yes–makes those ads that show up in your social media feeds, and tailors them just for you.

Jesse and his cofounders, Nick Shah W’06 and Chris Amos W’06, at pre-college program for students headed to Wharton, and decided to be college roommates. At the age of 25, they moved to California and told their parents, “we’re going to start a business.” Just what that business would be, they didn’t yet know.

They used their quantitative skills to bring data analysis to digital marketing–in 2010, a space truly ready for disruption–and in less than six months, went from spending around $20,000 per month on Facebook ads to close to $500,000 per month. In early 2011, Facebook asked to meet them, and soon after made Ampush one of their first partners with the ability to build their own software solutions on top of the Facebook APIs.

Listen to Jesse tell Karl this thrilling story of incredible growth, and the data-driven business model that makes it possible:

Read more Karl Ulrich talks with Jesse Pujji C’06/W’06, Founder of Ampush

Building a Changemaker: Notes from the Germination Project

By Stephanie Kim MPA’16

  • A reverse vending machine that provides transit credits in exchange for recyclable goods.
  • An immersive, cross-cultural exchange and language learning program that doesn’t require a passport.
  • A grassroots anti-smoking movement to improve the health, environment, and brand of a city.
  • A network of rooftop gardens connecting corporations with communities.

These are four ideas that were pitched to a panel of judges not by experienced social entrepreneurs, but by teams of Philadelphia-area high school students. These students—relative strangers to each other—had 45 minutes to come up with their vision, and just five hours to turn it into a cogent, shark-tank pitch for grown-ups.

And, the real kicker: they couldn’t use the internet.

Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship blog Social Impact
Read more Building a Changemaker: Notes from the Germination Project