Lauch Pad: A Kayak Of Abandoned Properties

Karl Ulrich calls FixList the “Kayak of abandoned properties.”

That’s because FixList helps “developers, investors, and nonprofits in major urban markets across the country” to “find properties that are ripe for redevelopment,” in the words of Stacey Mosley, CEO and cofounder of FixList.

Stacey and her cofounder, CTO Mjumbe Poe, have a fascinating conversation with Karl about how they’re marrying data analysis with the Open Data movement, where government entities publish their administrative records online, to create new access to information about properties.

Stacey and Mjumbe both worked in Philadelphia city government, and are therefore intimately familiar with how the city gathers and organizes data about properties. FixList includes every property asset in the city—around 580,000 housing assets for our population of 1.6 million. Not that all of these are for sale, but for those interested in making investments in development, the condition of a property, who the owner is and how accessible they are, the valuation history of different properties in the surrounding neighborhood, and other such publicly available pieces of information are crucial.

And while, yes, this is all publicly available, the difficulty is that it’s spread out and hard to find. Mjumbe explains: “There’s some 20-some-odd sites that we’re pulling in data from for Philadelphia alone. And in order to normally get access to that data, you have to know where all of those different data sources are and be able to join them with each other, whereas with FixList, we’re doing all of that work for you.”

Listen to hear Karl, Stacey, and Mjumbe talk pricing, how to build a tech product when you’re not a tech person (hint: a strong network is key), and how to use examples of what other companies are doing well in building your own startup.

Launch Pad: Real Food, For Dogs

Just imagine: dog food made out of “real, actual ingredients just like you’d find in a grocery store,” delivered conveniently to your door.

That’s what The Farmer’s Dog does.

Lots of so-called premium pet foods claim to be healthy, natural, or fresh. But as founder Jonathan Regev says, “When you actually open the product or experience the product it’s not really differentiated at all. And so all we’ve done is produce the product in a way that it actually is real and fresh and natural and people can see that. It has tangible benefits to their dog as well.”

Sure, there are other companies in various cities producing phenomenally expensive dog foods of a similar quality—what The Farmer’s Dog does that’s so compelling is provide a subscription service tailored to your dog’s consumption, and delivery it directly to you, at a lower price point than those other guys. In doing so, they created a scalable business—a very different player in the marketplace than these boutique solutions.

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Jonathan discuss the challenges in making this venture scalable, from finding a human grade food manufacturer who was willing to make food for dogs, to working out the kinks in the subscription service so that dogs never miss a meal (and you never waste food), to figuring out how long to bootstrap, and when to raise funds.

Launch Pad: Chris Vaughn, Founder of Saucey

You’re sitting down to dinner and realize you’d like to have a glass of wine with your meal—but there’s no wine in the house. What do you do?

In a few key cities, mainly in California, instead of having to run out to a liquor store, you can now pull out your smart phone, and that bottle of wine will magically appear at your door in about a half hour.

Of course, it’s not magic. It’s Saucey, an on-demand alcohol delivery startup.

Founder Chris Vaughn used to find himself in exactly this situation, or ones like it, all the time: “the majority of the times that we purchased alcohol, it was last-minute, impulse-driven, and I had to run out and go get it.”

Saucey solves this problem. In the beginning, Chris explains that he and his cofounders “did at least the first thousand or so deliveries on Saucey, which was extremely brutal. But it taught us a lot about our customers. It taught us a ton about logistics. Getting in and out of locations quickly. Routing around cities. And ultimately, laid the framework for much of what we built later on as a company.”

That’s right, founders: the early days of starting a company are crazy. You’ll do work you never expected to do (or that you started a company to solve the problem of doing in the first place!). But it’s all experience.

You may not know exactly what you’re getting into when you begin, and that may be a good thing: “Airbnb wasn’t built by the executive team at Hilton Hotels, for a reason. Uber wasn’t built by the executive team at GM,” says Chris. “I think sometimes it takes an outsider with a naive perspective, and a naive approach, to take on a very old school industry.”

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Chris talk about the pain of working in a heavily regulated industry, like alcohol, and why Chris was convinced that there was a desire for Saucey that Instacart just didn’t meet.

Read more Launch Pad: Chris Vaughn, Founder of Saucey

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

Angel Investors Rely On Gut Feel Over Data

Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship

New research shows that early-stage angel investors rely on instincts over data when looking for their next home run.

As the first source of external financing for most entrepreneurs, angel investors play an important role in the success of burgeoning startups. But investing in young businesses is always a risk. So what convinces an investor a venture is worth betting on—the product? The market data? The confidence and charm of the entrepreneur?

According to research by Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, the answer might be found in an unexpected place: the gut. In her paper “Managing the Unknowable: The Effectiveness of Early-Stage Investor Gut Feel in Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions,” coauthored by Jone L. Pearce, a University of California, Irvine, management professor, Huang examined the ways in which angel investors make decisions. When she was speaking to investors for her research, she says, one theme kept turning up: “They would talk about the size of the market; they would talk about the product. But they kept coming back to: ‘Well, then I rely on my gut feel,’ or, ‘Then I invest based on my gut feel.’”

Read more Angel Investors Rely On Gut Feel Over Data

Launch Pad: George Karibian, WG’93, Founder of PaymentSense and Serial Entrepreneur

“Technology, data, people, you put those three together you can work magic.”

George Karibian, WG’93, serial entrepreneur and founder of PaymentSense

When George Karibian was at Wharton, in the early ‘90s, people came here, in George’s words, “because you wanted to go into banking or consulting. And if you weren’t in one of those two areas you were a loser back then.”

Today, “I love coming back to campus and seeing the number of students, these are some of the brightest people on the planet, put so much energy into entrepreneurship.”

As a member of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Advisory Board, George was on campus for the Startup Showcase, and he took a few minutes to talk with Karl Ulrich about his fascinating life story, and in particular his takeaways from a tumultuous career as a serial entrepreneur, and currently the Founder and Director of PaymentSense (which George tells us processed about $6 billion of payments in the last year).

We love George, of course, for all he does for entrepreneurship at Wharton and at Penn. But also because he says things like this about us:

“Wharton has helped me out incredibly, much more than I ever imagined. Both the network and what I learned, it stays with you forever, and—and it continues, it doesn’t end there.”

And because, when he and his cofounder had the conversation that led to PaymentSense—at 4 am, in the courtyard of the Venetian Hotel, in Las Vegas—they decided they needed a manifesto (“This was at the time when Lars Von Trier, the film director had come up with this manifesto for films, so manifestos were very much in.”), and here’s the manifesto they came up with:

  • “We’re going to use our own money”
  • “We’re going to test and pilot everything”
  • “Technology is going to be at the core of what we do”
  • “We’re going to hire a head of HR as our first hire”

Why that last point? “In the past we’ve always been–the HR person was us. And so people were going to be at the center of everything we do in tech. And we built the perfect company with Paymentsense.” See above: technology, data, people.

Of course, as George also says, “I thought, third time around I know exactly what we need to do, I was wrong.”

Read more Launch Pad: George Karibian, WG’93, Founder of PaymentSense and Serial Entrepreneur

Launch Pad: Startup Challenge Special

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We’ve got a special edition of Launch Pad this week, featuring the top three winning teams from the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge!

Karl Ulrich talks with:

  • Perlman Grand Prize winners Joseph Quan, WG’17 and Nikhil Srivastava, WG’17, founders of Twine;
  • Second Prize winner Thomas Uhler, C’19, W’19, founder of RightAir;
  • Third Prize winners Mitch Gainer, WG’18 and Marc Giesener, WG’18, founders of CitySense.

Read more Launch Pad: Startup Challenge Special

Launch Pad: Peter Weijmarshausen, Founder of Shapeways

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“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