Launch Pad: What’s In Your Tampon?


What’s in your tampon?

Bet you don’t know—unless, of course, you already use Lola, in which case the answer is 100% organic cotton.

Lola founder Alex Friedman, WG’11 got fired up when she realized that the FDA doesn’t require brands to list the ingredients in their feminine hygiene products. As she explains, “We have developed these habits of looking at our food, looking at our face cream, looking at our shampoo knowing what goes on in our bodies.”

She became determined that “We deserve product transparency, we deserve for it to be a relatable brand, a brand that has a service that gets you what you need when you need it”—and Lola was born.

Lola currently offers a subscription service of 100% organic cotton tampons, pads, and liners, but the vision for Lola is much bigger: “Lola is the first lifelong brand for your body. Created for women, by women, Lola addresses every life stage with a commitment to product transparency and a community built on candid dialogue, about all of the things that we don’t openly talk about.”

Lola has so far raised $11.2 million, and Alex brings a unique perspective to the difficulties of fundraising as a #FemaleFounder: she sees every session with an inevitably mostly male VC audience as an exciting opportunity to educate the guys about tampons, menstruation, and the needs of the female body.

Listen to Alex’s conversation with Karl Ulrich to hear her tremendous enthusiasm for tampons and more—you’ll soon understand why she’s had such good luck raising funds, and getting terrific advisors and investors like celebrity Lena Dunham and the Warby Parker founders (friends from their time at Wharton!) on board.

Prove the Doubters Wrong

Jeff Zhou WG'15, Cofounder of Fig Loans
Jeff Zhou WG’15, Cofounder of Fig Loans

By Jeff Zhou, WG’15, Co-founder of Fig Loans

Penn graduates are the best and brightest minds, capable of solving the world’s most challenging problems. That’s what they told us at our graduation, and then we got whooped by the other founders in our Techstars class – and some don’t even have college degrees.

Before Techstars, I was convinced that the archetype for an ideal founding team was prestigious education and brand name job pedigree. Coming from this background, I saw many successful founders that reinforced the message. Education, experience and networks create strong foundational skills and gives you access to world class experts that significantly boost the profile of your company. How many companies can tell investors that they’re working with the world’s leading expert in behavioral data driven customer lifetime value? It’s an incredible advantage; but the founders I met at Techstars showed me it’s still not enough.

I’ve since come to realize that successful founders share a deeper characteristic, an insatiable desire to prove doubters wrong. This is the most important trait because starting a company is a slog. At Fig Loans, we’re always under resourced, never have the exact expertise needed, and every week we run into a new game-ending obstacle that seems impossible to get around. Our classes at Wharton and previous career experience gave us the tools to approach these problems, but it doesn’t change the amount of work! Those that carry the chip on their shoulder will work longer, fight harder, and overcome obstacles through sheer force of will. In entrepreneurship, the willingness to fight through beating after beating will determine the winners.

Now what you’ve been waiting for, examples of who gave us this whooping of a lifetime and how they did it.

Whooping #1 is by Chris.

If you need 1000 facebook likes, Chris will beg, buy, steal and hack his way to those likes in any way he can. Are you willing to debase yourself in front of your entire network for 1000 likes that have a 0.0001% chance of helping your startup in a meaningful way? If the first try fails, are you willing to retool and do it again? A third time? As many times as necessary? Chris was equal parts fearless and relentless in his pursuit of end goals. I didn’t realize how self-limiting my measured approach was until I watched Chris run circles around us.

Whooping #2 is in work ethic and it’s by Alex.

During Techstars John and I prided ourselves on working finance hours, 7 days a week.  We had the experience from our previous lives and it was an advantage we wanted to use. Alex consistently stayed later than us. Have you ever worked on a project until 4am and said, “I’m close enough, I’ll finish this tomorrow morning.”

Alex powers through. Even more impressive, he’s shipping production code that is instantly being used. If Alex is your competition, are you willing to commit all the necessary hours to keep up?

Like it was for me, it will be harder for you to find this voracious hunger, because all our lives we’ve been told we’re brilliant and we’re going to shape the world in tremendous ways. But if you have that itch to create something new to world, my advice is to dig deep and find the chip for your shoulder. I’ll be honest with you; it’s pretty uncomfortable. For me it was in my deepest regrets and insecurities, things I’d worked all my life to cover up. But in the painful memories I also found the drive to help us endure when Fig was nearly dead and those lucrative careers in consulting, finance, and tech never looked better.

As an entrepreneur, you have an amazing advantage in Penn. The network is everywhere and people will make time for you like they did for us, but don’t get caught thinking that alone is enough—or you might just get whooped!

Bio: Jeff is a co-founder and CEO of Fig Loans. He previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group, specializing in strategy for consumer facing products. Jeff is received his MBA from Wharton in 2015 with a major in Applied Data Analytics and holds a bachelors degree from MIT in Chemical Engineering.

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: Rob Sadow W’08, Founder of Scoop

Scoop green

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: Danny Cabrera ENG’14, Founder of BioBots

BioBots, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

“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