How To Be A Lean Retail Entrepreneur

By Daniel Meurer WG’17, Founder of Laguna Beach Towel Company

Today, retail entrepreneurs have a major opportunity to build lean, profitable businesses and capture share from large retailers.

Changes in distribution, advertising and freelance outsourcing accessibility have created the opportunity for entrepreneurs to offer equivalent value at lower prices. Smaller, newer, and nimbler companies can organically build brands and narratives that resonate with consumers and can do this using low cost, but high impact, advertising channels. This has pressured margins across the industry, but has simultaneously offered creative entrepreneurs the opportunity to create successful retail businesses.

Legacy retail companies can ride this trend by aligning themselves through partnerships, investments, or acquisition with smaller, upstart consumer brands. Retailers can also gain through association with smaller, more narrative focused brands and leverage brick and mortar stores, and established brand equity to play a greater role in curation, aggregation and distribution.

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Three lessons I learned from Fundraising


By David Lindsay, Co-founder of Oncora Medical

If you’re thinking about starting a company with VC money, I have a few tips for you! My company, Oncora Medical, is a Philly-based digital health company that just raised a $1.2M seed round; it builds predictive analytics software for radiation oncologists. While fundraising for Oncora, I learned some valuable lessons.

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1. Act on good advice. When a venture capitalist takes time out of their day to discuss your business with you, validate them by actually implementing their advice. They may have agreed to introduce you to a potential advisor, key opinion leader, or future collaborator. Follow up with those introductions in a timely manner and try to learn as much as you can from the interaction. If the person you are meeting with gives you a specific suggestion about your product or service, make sure you at least look into the value of their suggestion. If you make progress in the areas that they have identified, you have the perfect excuse to reach back out to them with results. A month or two after the initial email, shoot them a specific update email.

I did this with Oncora after meeting Dr. Gary Kurtzman, the managing director of Safeguard Scientifics’ healthcare practice and lecturer at Wharton. He first took a phone meeting with me back in January of 2015, and strongly advised me to break our “software platform” into three discrete products. Over the next month, our team developed product names (and logos) for the three key components of our software. Dr. Kurtzman is now chairman of our board of directors, and one of my closest advisors.

2. Don’t take low probability shots. One of my advisors once told me something that felt somewhat contrary to the standard sound bite, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Paraphrasing, he basically said, “If you miss a bunch of shots, your coach is going to bench you.” When you ask for money and get a no, that is not a good thing. It lowers your confidence (hopefully not too much), but worse, it can make other VCs think they should say no, too (no one wants to buy something that no one else wants).

You can avoid this problem by not asking your VC contacts for money until you are ready (ask for advice instead). You can also phrase your request for money in the subjective. For example, I would always ask VCs the following question during calls: “for you to make an investment in a company like Oncora, what would you need to see in terms of traction, clinical partnerships, etc?” Then go do what they tell you to do and update them in a month (without being too annoying). Then once you have some traction, start asking.

3. Be genuine and nice. This should go without saying, but don’t lie or exaggerate about your progress. VCs are investing in YOU, not just your idea and your traction. When things go wrong with product development (which they inevitably will), your investors want someone they trust at the wheel. When you are genuine, things are just better.

Bio: David Lindsay is on a leave of absence from the MD/PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania and has a BS in neurobiology and MS in mathematics from UConn. He is one of the founders of Oncora Medical, a health technology startup in Philadelphia.

Mistletoe and Milestones: Making the Holidays Count

By Andres Modak WG’12/G’12, Co-founder of Snowe

The holidays are a special time, with boozy office party faux pas, overindulging at the dinner table, and braving impossibly long TSA lines. It’s a special time for retailers too—and by special I mean it’s crunch time! On average a fifth of all retail sales happen during the holidays, with some retailers doing significantly more (it’s rumored that Amazon does over a third).  Retailers face customers who expect great service, a delightful cornucopia of logistical hazards, and the impenetrable din of holiday marketing—all this while gunning for sales targets and key milestones.

Unwrapping presents from Snowe.
Unwrapping presents from Snowe.

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Sacrificing Short Term Gains for Long Term Success

By Bryan Lalezarian, CEO of MeUndies

One of the most powerful tools I’ve come across in building a consumer brand at MeUndies is the net promoter score (NPS), which attempts to measure word of mouth and how likely your customers are to champion your brand to their friends and colleagues.   There are plenty of resources covering the glories of NPS, so rather than focus on the score itself, I’d like to touch on a constant dilemma that faces any startup: balancing the need to show short-term results against investing in building a lasting company.  Interestingly, those two forces sometimes align together (e.g. building a world-class team), but that’s not always the case.

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Scaling-up by Racing Downhill

By Todd Gibby WG’97, CEO of BoardEffect

Scaling-up a company is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding parts of working in an early-stage business environment.  But doing so is also filled with risks and challenges.  At this time of year, I am reminded of just how comparable scaling a business can be to one of winter’s other adrenaline-charged activities—ski racing.  This metaphor was introduced to me years ago; and I continue to be struck by the lessons to be taken from the downhill to the start-up.

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What I Learned From My Failed Startup

By Joe Spector WG’07

Editor’s note: A shorter version of this post was originally published on LinkedIn.

As a second year Wharton MBA, my friend and I entered the Wharton Business Plan Competition. We made it to the semi-finals and, with an abundant amount of optimism, we pushed forward with our venture. In short, it did not work out. Along the way, I learned a few lessons, and I offer them here. Failure, after all, is a great, if painful, teacher.

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Tips For The Pitch

By Megan Kauffman, School of Arts and Sciences 2011, Administrative Coordinator, Wharton Entrepreneurship

The fourth and final phase of the Wharton Business Plan Competition (BPC) is coming to a close this week with the Venture Finals. During the yearlong competition, students worked with distinguished faculty, alumni, and other members of the entrepreneurial community to bring their business ventures from the ideation stage to a fully developed business plan ready to be presented in front of a panel of judges. Along the way, a series of workshops and one-on-one mentorship helped students fine tune their plans.

One such workshop focused on the students’ skill in presenting their pitches. Glenn Rockefeller, a seasoned lecturer in the Wharton Communications Program, offered invaluable advice to the budding entrepreneurs to prepare them for the Venture Finals. He met with each team individually to give venture-specific feedback. His advice can be helpful to anyone preparing for a presentation. Here are the ten top pieces of advice Glenn offered:

  1. Whenever possible, do tech prep:  In the heat of the moment, presenters often find themselves hand holding lavaliere microphones that should otherwise be clipped to clothing and fumbling with presentation controls.  Practicing presentations with the specific technology to be used during the real pitch will help you look more polished and professional. 
  2. Memorize your slides:  Instead of staring at the presentation screen, memorize your slides to keep your focus on the audience.
  3. Orient yourself to the important people in the room: In the case of the BPC, the judges are the most important members of the audience, but this varies across events. Find out who the key stakeholders are and make sure they get the best view of your presentation.
  4. Emphasize the key points: Use facial expressions, gestures, or voice spiking to bring attention to key words and components in your pitch.
  5. Be as granular as possible in the time allotted: Make sure you provide as much detail as possible and avoid using vague words. When pitching to potential investors, they don’t want to hear you need $100K to spend on ‘other.’
  6. Take advantage of slides that appear for long periods of time: First and last slides often remain on the screen for extended periods of time. Instead of having a slide read ‘Any questions?’ take advantage of the extra viewing time by displaying key takeaways.
  7. Don’t forget to prepare for Q & A: When presenting with a partner, make sure you decide ahead of time how you will divide up questions. This will show your ability to work as a team.
  8. The fewer baton tosses the better: Quickly switching back and forth between multiple presenters makes it difficult for the audience to know where and on whom they should focus their attention. For a brief ten minute pitch, no more than three pass offs should be done.
  9. Look confident and relaxed even when you are not talking: Avoid fidgeting and anxious glances at your partner when not presenting, because you can easily become a distraction both for the audience and pitching partners. Focus your attention on the key stakeholders to pick up clues as to whether or not they understand.
  10. “Do your reps”: The best presentation is a well-practiced one.

Want to see how polished the students’ pitches are now? Join us on Wednesday, April 24th at 1 pm in Jon M Huntsman Hall G06 for the Venture Finals. The Great Eight finalists will pitch for a chance to win over $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. For more details about the event and to register, click here.