Launch Pad: Not Your Ordinary VC

Andy Rachleff, W’80 isn’t your ordinary VC.

He’s one of the five co-founders of Benchmark. In their conversation, here’s how Karl Ulrich describes Benchmark: “Benchmark has among the highest returns in the entire venture industry returning—depending on which years you look at—more than ten times what investors put in. And so has had an amazing success record, including portfolio companies like Dropbox, Uber, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram—and those are only the more recent of them.”

And here’s how Andy describes what he did after Benchmark: “Did that for ten years, then retired to teach at Stanford graduate school of business, to become a trustee at Penn where I’ve become really, really involved. My wife started an innovative cancer research funding initiative. And Wealthfront happened by accident based on the experience I had sitting on the Penn Endowment Investment Board.”

Wealthfront, his current venture, is “trying to bring all of the services of high end financial advisors to the people who could never afford the minimums associated with access to those tremendous services. So that means financial planning, investment management, and even banking services. All delivered via your mobile phone,” in Andy’s words.

When Karl asked him: “What possibly possessed you to come out of retirement and start a financial services company?”

Here’s what Andy replied: “This is going to sound corny, but to do a social good.”

You see what we’re saying, here? Andy is kind of incredible. Which explains why we’re giving him the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Alumni Achievement Award.

Listen to this amazing interview to hear not just the stories of how Benchmark and Wealthfront came to be, but also the advice Andy gives his product-market fit class at Stanford.

Launch Pad: Beautiful Bras For Breast Cancer Survivors

Comfortable, sexy bras for breast cancer survivors, from a woman who is a survivor herself.

AnaOno founder Dana Donofree’s story is a classic example of solving your own problem–and perfect illustration of why we need more women entrepreneurs and VCs. She solved a problem that affects only women, and in doing so created a new industry. Because of both of these, she has sometimes run into difficulties persuading VCs, who are predominantly male, that her product is truly needed or that her market even exists.

But breast cancer survivors are profoundly grateful to have bras that not only offer comfort and support for their post-cancer bodies, but make them feel beautiful as well. So does this market exist?” I’ve been more than doubling my sales every year,” Dana says.

Karl Ulrich and Dana discuss details of building the company, how Dana’s experience as a fashion designer dovetailed into this new career, and the story of where the name AnaOno came from (it’s very funny).

Read more Launch Pad: Beautiful Bras For Breast Cancer Survivors

Launch Pad: Brad Hargreaves, Founder of Common

Common logo

You’ve got a great new job, and you move to a new city—say, New York or San Francisco. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know the neighborhoods. You don’t have a community. Where do you live?

The new answer is Common.

Founded by Brad Hargreaves, former co-founder of General Assembly (listen to a great show about that venture here), Common is creating a new kind of residence: co-living.

In Common’s co-living apartments you get your own bedroom, then you share the kitchen, living areas, and “a whole long of common space,” according to Brad—all at a lower price point than a studio apartment. Plus cleaning of all common spaces, utilities, wifi, and furnishings are thrown in, making it a very good deal indeed. The intangible, of course, which also comes included with the rent, is the community.

Basically, with Common, you get to “keep the fun things like having potluck dinners, hanging out with friends, meeting new people, but take away all of the annoyances.”

Do people want this? Well, according to Brad, they’ve had about 12,000 applications for the approximately 150 rooms that they’ve opened so far. Their median age is 30, median imcome $98,000/year. They’re in the tech and creative industries, finance and government, law—and just a few students. Unsurprisingly, 70% of Common’s residents are new to the city.

Ultimately, what Common is doing is bring “a spirit of technology, of innovation, of good user experience design, of community,” into residential real estate.

Listen to Brad and Karl Ulrich talk about how Common scored the domain name, the complexities of financing a startup that also needs to raise VC money but also buy real estate (they own their buildings), and the surprising amount of overlap between General Assembly and Common.

Read more Launch Pad: Brad Hargreaves, Founder of Common

The Context of Cameroon: Interning at Kmerpad

By Gina Alm C’18

Gina Alm received a Startup Internship Award this summer to intern at startup Kmerpad.

Kmerpad is a small startup based in Yaoundé, Cameroon with a progressive social agenda and an innovative business model; they employ local women to sew washable menstrual pads, sell them and use the revenue to provide reproductive health education to vulnerable communities throughout the country. I worked for Kmerpad this summer as a Strategy Intern.

Gina Alm and fellow intern Michelle White at work.
Gina Alm and fellow intern Michelle White W’17 at work.

Read more The Context of Cameroon: Interning at Kmerpad