Launch Pad: The Easiest Way To Buy & Sell Cars

A test drive that comes to you. A car loan you can close on your mobile device. Wouldn’t it be amazing if buying a car could be this easy?

With Shift, it is.

Here’s founder George Arison’s elevator pitch:

“Shift is a way to buy and sell cars. If you have a car to sell you come to our website, you submit your car quote, or you download our app and you scan your VIN. And based on that car information that you submit we give you a price quote on that car for how much we think we can sell the car for, and then how much money you would make on that sale. Virtually all of the time you make more than you would if you traded a car into a dealer, and in many cases a lot more than if you trade the car into a dealer. If you want to then work with us we will come out and pick up the car from you and take it away, and you’ll never see the car again, and we’ll do all of the work to get it sold.”

Karl Ulrich and George have a fascinating conversation about Shift, digging into the two-sided market, and why Shift is executing on this idea better than the competition, but perhaps the most fascinating insight of the whole interview is Karl’s realization that Shift is actually “a loan company that sells cars.”

The impetus for Shift came from the difficulty and opacity of getting a car loan—the rest is all what George calls “augmentations to service,” in other words, making the experience awesome, the whole way through.

Listen to learn more about how to execute on your startup idea, because as George also points out, “I don’t think there’s such a thing as like a fundamentally unique idea… most businesses are built through really strong execution.”

George should know. In 2007, he invented the basic idea of Uber with his company, Taxi Magic—but, in his assessment, failed to respond to feedback, and failed to test and iterate well. You know which one is a household name today.

Launch Pad: Want To Buy Travel Better? Use Big Data

Flyr, founded by Alex Mans

Elevator Pitch: “What we do at Flyr is we are really good at predicting what the price and availability of specifically airline tickets will be in the future, and we use that knowledge to either allow customers that are booking their travel have more flexibility in doing so on sites like Trip Advisor. Or on the other hand help airlines be better at pricing their airline tickets.”

Basically, you start to look for plane tickets for an upcoming trip. You find a good price, but you need finalize your plans, and you’re afraid that the price will spike if you wait too long.

Here’s Flyr’s solution, in Alex’s words: “On sites like Trip Advisor we give consumers the ability to pay us a small fee, and in return we will guarantee today’s price. So even if the price spikes by the time you make your booking we will cover that price increase.” What kind of small fee? $4 to $20, on average $13.

Basically, Flyr is selling insurance on the price of your ticket.

“What we do is we basically proactively acquire every single price of almost every single flight worldwide every single day,” Alex explains. Then they use this data to forecast demand, which lets them forecast price changes.

Launch Pad: Hot Cloud Storage

If you’re a cloud storage geek, then do we have a treat for you!

This interview with Wasabi founder David Friend goes deep into the weeds of how and why they’re offering, in David’s words “exactly the same as Amazon S3 cloud storage except it’s one fifth the price, and six times as fast.”

Karl Ulrich has many probing questions, including: “If I were to pick one of the most Quixotic endeavors ever it would be take on Amazon on price. So what possessed you to take on that goal?”

Listen to their fascinating conversation for a deep dive into how disruption and displacement have changed the history of technology—and why David thinks Wasabi is the next in this venerable line of winners.

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.

Lauch Pad: A Folding Helmet, A Safer Ride

“About 90% of bike-related deaths were associated with people that were not wearing a helmet,” explains AnneeLondon founder Rachel Benyola. Wearing a helmet, “reduces head and neck injury by at least 50 percent to 60 percent, which is huge in making the difference between life and death.”

The only problem is, many people find helmets inconvenient or unstylish. AnneeLondon is out to change all that—and save lives in the process.

The big innovation in the London, their flagship product, is that it folds up to 30% of its original size. In Karl’s words, when folded, it’s “the size of an iPad Mini, but about two inches thick,” a size that can easily fit in most bags.

In addition, the London is safer, made out of military grade safety material, and lasts longer than ordinary helmets—six to eight years, instead of the usual two to three.

Finally, it looks cool.

Listen to Karl and Rachel talk about what inspired her to quit a doctoral program to pursue entrepreneurship, her unusual MBA interview, and how she became so passionate about bike helmets.

Launch Pad: Cancel That Unused Subscription

That gym membership you signed up for but haven’t used in five years? You know they’re still charging your credit card every month, right?

What if someone would not just point that out to you—but also take care of cancelling it as well?

This is what Truebill does. As founder Yahya Mokhtarzada puts it, True Bill is “an automated financial advocate that takes action on your behalf to save you money.”

With Truebill, you can see everything that you’re paying for automatically, like subscriptions or bills, and you can cancel any of them with just one click.

Yes, even that gym membership that claims you have to come in person.

Plus, if Truebill notices that your cable bill seems awfully high, it’ll suggest a bill negotiator. They’re successful in lowering bills 85% of the time.

Basically, the kind of money saving stuff that we would all totally do if we had the time—Truebill does it.

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Yahya talk about the origin story of Truebill (14 months of a recurring charge for in-flight wifi that slipped under Yahya’s radar!), the Y Combinator experience, and why, if you have investors begging to offer you money, you should really take it. (Or as Karl puts it: “When the cookie jar is passed, take the cookies, because you never know when that cookie jar is coming around again.”)

Launch Pad: Customer Service, Reinvented

Calling customer service is a nightmare. But what if it didn’t have to be?

What if you could call up a major company—your credit card or your airline, for example—and they instantly knew who you were? If they had your tweets, your emails, and your most recent experiences with the company at their fingertips, and could just start off helping you out?

Gladly, founded by Michael Wolfe, is turning this into reality.

What qualifies as an aggravation in most of our lives is a major pain point for CIOs, and the depressing fact is that the systems many are currently using are 20 or even 25 years old, built for Web 1.0.

The good news is that Michael and his team were the ones building that software, back in the early 90s, so they know exactly what it can and can’t do—and they’re extraordinarily well positioned to solve this problem for today’s vastly more complex world, of phone calls, emails, chat sessions, SMS, etc.

Oh yes; did we mention that Gladly has already raised over $60 million?

Listen to Karl Ulrich and Michael talk about what makes Gladly an unique kind of startup, with a dream team of serial entrepreneurs and a huge quantity of funding, who are out to change customer service as we know it. This is not something two college dropouts in a garage even could do—and we avidly hope that Gladly succeeds.

Launch Pad: Wearable Airbags To Prevent Broken Hips, And Death

The #1 fear of older adults is falling and breaking their hips.

The #2 fear is dying, in case you were wondering. Which is what happens, all too often, after a bad fall.

So Drew Lakatos, founder of ActiveProtective, tells Karl Ulrich in this thoughtful interview. ActiveProtective, Drew explains, is “a smart belt that can determine human falls really accurately. And we are deploying air bags around the hips so older adults don’t break their hips.”

This is hugely important because older adults are right to be afraid of falling. According to Drew, hip fractures kill more people in the US annually than breast cancer and car accidents combined: a whopping 75,000.

Of the 45 million people over the age of 65 in the US, 7 million are identified as high fall risk—and it’s these individuals who are the first market for ActiveProtective.

The idea for ActiveProtective came from co-founder Dr. Robert Buckman, a highly respected trauma surgeon who shared his idea for the belt with serial entrepreneur Drew back in 2005. However, it took seven years for the technology—motion sensors, cold gas inflator airbags, and more—to catch up and make the idea practical. Then in late 2012, Drew quit his job, and went all in on ActiveProtective. Since then, they’ve raise nearly $6 million, and are about to begin pilots at “one of the largest providers of skilled nursing in the United States.”

Listen to Drew and Karl talk about the long process of validating this idea, the intense research, both medical and business, that went into it, and how Drew went about raising the necessary funds to turn ActiveProtective into a reality.

Launch Pad: Neural Computing & A Lifetime of Innovation

Karl Ulrich describes Dan Goldin as “thinking in galactic terms,” and that’s exactly what makes their conversation so deeply fascinating.

Dan’s very first job was at NASA, where “we were doing the Apollo program I was working to build ion engines and plasma engines powered by a nuclear power source to take astronauts to Mars.” After that, “I ended up developing proof that direct broadcast TV works and we could go from giant dishes that used to be outside businesses and bars and illuminate just an 18 inch dish, which we now have ubiquitous around the world. I did that experiment in 1976. I’ve developed blue green lasers to communicate under the ocean. I’ve had the opportunity after I worked in national security for a giant aerospace firm, I ran one of the larger space activities in the world, I got a call from the President of the United States and he wanted to know if I would be willing to run NASA. I did that for ten years under three presidents.”

Dan ran NASA. For ten years.

You want to know what an innovator sounds like? Listen to this interview, for an intriguing glimpse inside the mind of a person who has literally spent a lifetime pushing the boundaries of the possible.

That’s right: a lifetime. Dan Goldin is currently in his mid-70s, and he’s been working on his latest startup, KnuEdge, for the past decade.

KnuEdge is suitably big picture. Dan doesn’t waste his time on the little stuff. He quotes an ad he ran early on, looking for people to work with him on the project: “If you’re an incrementalist looking to make improvements on existing technology looking for ten, 20, 30 percent improvement, afraid of failure, you need not apply. But if you’re not afraid of failure, shooting for orders of magnitude, come on and join us.”

As for what KnuEdge actually does: “We want to do nothing less than change how people partner with machines. We want anyone to have a capacity to have a powerful artificial intelligence experience with anyone anywhere and on any device. We want it to be frictionless, we want it to be easy to use. And most of all we want to empower individuals and corporations. And we hope to be ubiquitous.”

Do yourself a favor and listen to this interview; it will be one of the most interesting things you hear this week, for sure. And you may just get inspired to try to have as innovative a life as Dan Goldin.

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.