Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category
ShoppinPal.com smart phone app from Fermyon, Inc. improves the brick and mortar retail shopping experience for both buyers and sellers
Fermyon, Inc. is the company behind the impressive ShoppinPal smart phone application that improves the retail brick and mortar retail shopping experience for both buyers and sellers.
Retailers complain about people treating their physical stores as free showrooms for consumers to touch and evaluate items they will then actually buy online, frequently from giant Amazon. The retailer I suspect feels cheated by these people since they received something valuable, but didn’t make a purchase from the store to compensate the store for their efforts.
Consumers like mobile shopping apps like the one Amazon gives its customers. Smart phone shopping apps let people look up specifications and customer reviews to help them make smarter purchasing decisions. I don’t see shopping apps disappearing, since they offer such compelling value to consumers.
Retailers with physical stores could of course create their own smart phone applications that mimic those from huge online merchants, but it’s mostly larger chain stores that do, because writing a shopping application is difficult and costly.
That’s where ShoppinPal comes in.
ShoppinPal is a service that retailers pay money for — 3% of sales for retailers with over USD $5,000 in monthly ShoppinPal sales, or $49.00 + 3% of sales for retailers that sell less than $5,000 a month through ShoppinPal. This strikes me as assertive pricing, but if it works, Fermyon will be in a position arguably even better than Visa and Mastercard, because Fermyon is not taking any fraud or refusal to pay risk that I can see. On the other hand, no small retailer could hope to deploy a system like ShoppinPal by developing the system itself, and showrooming is a looming problem that likely is motivating retailers to take defensive action.
Shoppers use the service for free.
The retailer gets access to a custom branded application its customers can install on their own phones. In addition, the retailer gets access to an online management console that shows what customers are buying, among many other statistics. Since buyers provide their email address when they install the smart phone app, the store can easily send them custom messages.
For example, if a potential buyer uses the smart phone app to add several items to their ‘wish list’ the store will know about that and can gently remind the potential buyer to return to the store to buy the items. Buyers can be especially enticed to return by being sent discount codes that buyers can use to receive the items at a lower price. Buyers can even opt to have the items delivered to them, offering the convenience of online shopping to the offline world.
I like ShoppinPal. The small team of two co-founders and three staff have put together an offering that appears to come from a larger entity that has raised far more than the modest USD $120,000 in outside capital that Fermyon has taken in.
Buyer engagement potentially starts moments after walking through the door of a shop. One can ‘check in’ to the ShoppinPal app, like one ‘checks in’ on Facebook. The check in alerts store management that the buyer was present.
Next the customer can use the camera on their smart phone to scan the bar code on items they are interested in. The app recognizes the bar code and pulls up that product. The app can, at the option of the retailer, show customers recommendations for other items they may like in their store.
For new retailers, the ShoppinPal cloud based software taps into the retailers’ point of sale cash register system and reviews the receipts for the prior six months of sales. The software sees that people purchased certain items during the same transaction, and uses that set data to recommend that future purchasers also consider such grouped purchases.
CTO Singhal asked current retailers using their system to try the recommendation engine, and those queried marveled at how the recommendations matched with their memory of what many past customers had bought together.
The ShoppinPal app and the website are both beautiful – spare, elegant and clean. The management console is by Mixpanel, a separate company ShoppinPal pays to provide that service.
Sellers can add various incentives for shoppers to buy more items. For example, a discount can be applied after a certain number of purchases. Thus, a coffee shop could automate the ‘buy 10, get 1 free’ paper punch card that still is in use, and was in use at the tea shop where I met with Singhal and Subramanian.
That tea shop in fact allowed customers to store their paper cards in a physical file system on the counter out for the public to access. I marveled the tea shop would put such sensitive information out on public display, because a competitor could surreptitiously copy down a list of the shop’s best and most loyal customers. With quality video cameras in every smart phone, someone could just pretend they were looking for their card while capturing video of every card the thief perused. An electronic loyalty system like that included in ShoppinPal reduces the risk a customer list can fall into the hands of an outsider or an employee that should not have that information.
Inside ShoppinPal, there is not only a wish list, but a gift registry, which should encourage others to buy at a retailer the others may not even be aware of when the items are added to the registry.
ShoppinPal communicates via application programming interfaces to two point of sale cash register systems — Lightspeed Retail and Vend. ShoppinPal hands off to the cash register the precision task of calculating sales tax, sidestepping a thorny problem, since there are thousands of sales tax jurisdictions.
As a customer walks around a store, as they pick up items and place them in their physical shopping cart or basket, they can click ‘add to cart’ within the mobile app. This gives a running total of their planned purchases, and when the customer is ready to pay, they can buy directly from the app, which will display a receipt on screen the customer can show to store staff as they pass through the exit.
This pay within the app feature over time will let retailers hire fewer checkout clerks. The pay within the app feature can be turned off by the retailer that prefers customers visit a cash register to physically run their credit cards through a credit card terminal.
Whether the purchase is paid for in app or at a retailer’s register, the ShoppinPal management console keeps track of all the buyers’ purchases, and makes the purchase history available to the customer, which in my mind is a great perk for the customer. When I shop at Lowes and HomeDepot, I use their loyalty cards mostly because their systems email me a copy of my receipt within minutes after a purchase, which makes my life easier at income tax time.
The sexiest feature of the mobile app is a feature that adds fun to getting a discount. Instead of just writing out ‘you get a discount’ the app presents a silvery gray patch that looks just like the silvery patches covering the digits on lottery tickets. You have to ‘scratch off’ the patch with your finger, and as you rub the screen with your finger, the silvery ‘material’ under your finger vanishes. The effect was startlingly captivating such that I believe a tiny company could be formed just to advance this feature inside other unrelated products from other companies.
ShoppinPal is still an early stage venture. The company was incorporated in January, 2011, but work didn’t really accelerate until CEO Subramanian completed his MBA in June, 2012, last year.
Fermyon has signed up four customers, all via resellers that have agreed to carry their product. I view it as a positive sign that resellers are promoting their product while the company is still so young, for resellers have to be particularly careful to not damage their reputations.
ShoppinPal’s customers are Harney & Sons in New York City, Heartfelt in San Francisco, Isha USA in Tennessee and Marthas Vineyard Glassworks in Massachussets, all in the United States. The Isha implementation is the most demanding, because the organization runs events that draw about 1,000 people twenty times or so per year, so the transaction volumes spike tremendously during events and subside the rest of the year.
I live in San Francisco, so I decided to install the ShoppinPal app on my Apple iPhone 5 and visit Fermyon’s customer Heartfelt, a charming and totally adorable gift shop in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. This single store business doesn’t sell items that people are likely to evaluate and then order online from a giant website. But the Heartfelt is the kind of place that I think could benefit from the loyalty, gift registry and wish list features in ShoppinPal. The store also I suspect prides itself on having just the right gift, as there appear to be over 10,000 different items for sale inside this small store. As I was browsing around, I found half a dozen items I wanted to buy, and I am not even looking for gifts right now.
As soon as you check in, a horizontal red line starts sweeping up and down the phone display. The indicates the phone is looking for a bar code to recognize. I created a video of the ShoppinPal experience from checking in to just before payment. I have embedded the video into this post. The video is a bit shaky because I had to hold my large camera in one hand, and operate the app with my other hand, and since the phone was so close, the depth of field was shallow. But the video does show faithfully what the app does.
As soon as the app finds a bar code, it goes into search mode where it’s communicating with the cash register computer to find the item. This takes about two to six seconds. Then the item shows up in your shopping cart. From there it is confusing what to do next, since there is no ‘checkout’ or ‘buy now’ button. Instead, to continue shopping, you are to press the button in the upper left labeled ‘heartfelt,’ the name of the store. This should be labeled ‘back’ or ‘continue shopping.’ There is a button in the upper right called ‘cart.’ I didn’t try that button, but I assume that button takes you to the shopping cart from where one can checkout.
I scratched off the panel as invited, and I got a 10% discount. I was given the chance to pay via credit card or PayPal, the payment service from auction giant EBay. I bought a lightweight wallet made from Tyvek, and I paid via PayPal. The process was quick and efficient, but my receipt listed my discount as $0.00 even though the 10% discount had been correctly applied to the total. I understand that ShoppinPal was only recently installed at Heartfelt, so I expect there to be small glitches to be worked out. For such an early stage yet ambitious application, ShoppinPal performed well.
As you might imagine, ShoppinPal has big dreams and has had sales meetings with huge brands that are household names throughout the US. I suspect that after they build their credibility with smaller retailers for the following months that they will land a national retailer.
ShoppinPal participated in 2012 in the Silicon Valley Bank Seed Showcase, a pitch event to investors for Silicon Valley Bank clients. Silicon Valley Bank is widely considered one of the most important banks in Silicon Valley for startups that aspire to or have raised venture capital investment. You can watch CEO Subramanian pitch on stage and then watch him later that day be interviewed by Carrie Walsh, Managing Director II, ESG, Silicon Valley Bank.
I could find no direct competitors to Fermyon.
The closest offering appears to be CardFree, which automates via a smart phone app some of the tasks that ShoppinPal automates, like payment and loyalty. But CardFree omits the ability to scan the barcode of products to bring up specifications and Amazon.com like product recommendations, two of the most compelling features of ShoppinPal, in my mind.
Another company that does part of what ShoppinPal does is CardStar from Constant Contact. CardStar appears to be a smart phone app just for storing and using loyalty cards from multiple retailers, so your physical wallet doesn’t burst from storing too many physical cards, like mine is threatening to do.
Another loyalty card company is BellyCard, which appears to be similar to CardStar.
Finally, there is a smart phone payment app called AisleBuyer, which lets in store purchasers pay via their smart phone. This company was acquired by Intuit in 2012.
The company’s name Fermyon is a play on the particle physics term Fermion. The definition of the Fermion is better left to the article on Wikipedia I just referenced.
I took the picture of Subramanian and Singhal that accompanies this post with my Canon 5D Mark II camera, my Canon 50mm f:2.5 macro lens and my Paul C. Buff Einstein studio flash unit.
The location of the photograph is the Skydeck accelerator run by University of California Berkeley. Jeff Burton is the Executive Director of Skydeck, and Burton encourages me to write about the UC Berkeley affiliated companies that the accelerator houses in its exceptionally glorious 10,000+ square feet of penthouse office space. If you look out the window in the center of the picture, you will see the clock tower that serves as the focal point of the UC Berkeley campus. ShoppinPal is headquartered at Skydeck, but this is not an indicator that the team is reckless with its finances. To the contrary, it’s an indicator that the team is careful with its money since the company’s office space is provided for free by the University of California, from where Subramanian earned his Masters of Business Administration graduate degree. Skydeck gives free office space to only the companies it deems most likely to succeed.
I became aware of Subramanian over the last year because we both attend monthly Cal Founders meetings, which are designed to help founders and mentors be more successful in business. Subramanian and I are more acquaintances than friends since we’ve only met and spoken a handful of times. He learned of this blog and asked if I would write about his venture, and I agreed because I had become intrigued when he had introduced his company during the roundtable discussions at Cal Founders meetings. I disclose the circumstances of how we met to deflect any appearance of bias due to my already knowing Subramanian.
On Friday, April 12, 2013, I attended the 2013 final presentations by teams competing in the Global Social Venture Competition.
I was invited by Jennifer Walske, Faculty Director of the Global Social Venture Competition. Walske moderated the question and answer session between the judges and the competitors. I paid for a ticket to attend the event, but at a reduced rate as a member of the press — USD $49.50 rather than $99.00. Thank you to the organizers for the discount.
This event was an all day affair, with keynotes, panels and even a debate. I arrived at 8am and left around 8pm.
This competition is the premier social venture competition in the world, and, according to the organizers, close to 650 teams from 37 countries competed. My friend Sara Olsen co-founded the competition while she was getting her MBA at the University of California Berkeley.
The morning keynote
Josh Nesbit, the CEO of Medic Mobile, gave one of the more uplifting keynotes I have heard in a while. I didn’t take notes so I am not prepared to summarize it, but he tells about a remarkable journey over the last four years or so where this non profit has improved the lives of tens of thousands of people in the developing world. The video of the talk should be posted to the Global Social Venture Competition website, or perhaps YouTube, by Friday, April 19, 2013, I’ve been told, so you’ll be able to watch it there. It’s well worth watching. I photographed Nesbit twice, and there is a more formal portrait of him at the bottom of this post.
The 6 final finalist teams
All 18 teams that traveled to Berkeley are finalists, and they all wore the same type of name badges. The 18 teams presented on Thursday, April 11, 2013, and the best 6 teams became what I will call the final finalists. In this post, I present short executive summaries of each of the 18 teams. This text was written by the teams themselves — I just copied it from the luxurious pamphlet distributed at the event. Normally, I place such text in quotes, but since this text compromises so much of this post, I am telling you here that the summaries are text I did not write.
The teams that advanced to the concluding round of judging are:
1st place winner of USD $25,000; Blum Center for Developing Economies Peoples’ Choice Award of $1,500 — from the country Burkina Faso
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about half of the world population is still at risk of contracting malaria. In 2010, among 219 million people affected, there were 660,000 deaths, of which 91% were in Africa where malaria remains the leading cause of death. Particularly vulnerable individuals are pregnant women, children under 5 and HIV patients. Considering this alarming report, Moctar Dembele and Gérard Niyondiko, two students from 2iE Foundation, have found an innovative solution through the project Faso Soap. The “soap of Faso” offers an innovative solution for the prevention of malaria, which takes into account financial constraints and cultural habits of African families. The company will produce and market both antibacterial and anti-mosquito soaps made with 100% local resources to integrate prevention against malaria in the daily lives of people most affected by this scourge. Faso Soap: “The action of a group, the future of an entire nation.”
Carbon Roots International
2nd place winner of USD $15,000 — Haiti
Carbon Roots International (CRI) started as an idea to explore the potential of carbon-rich char as a tool for international development. The idea evolved from a chain of emails between three friends, to meetings over lunch, to a trip to rural Haiti in 2010. Upon returning to the United States, CRI’s three co-founders established the organization to enable the adoption of char technologies in Haiti. CRI’s work served as the basis for co-founder Ryan Delaney’s Master’s thesis at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, and compelled another co-founder, Hannah Erickson, to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. After several years of refining technology and testing solutions, CRI has produced a feasible, scalable business plan that addresses two overlapping issues—charcoal fuel use and low agricultural productivity—which converge in Haiti, but are endemic throughout the developing world.
I guessed correctly that Carbon Roots would win 2nd place. I really like this company, which makes ‘green’ charcoal briquets out of agricultural waste, like sugar cane waste. The briquets look like small hockey pucks, and apparently burn as well as charcoal made from trees. Deforestation is a large problem, so Carbon Roots has the potential to help the planet on a meaningful scale.
3rd place winner of $7,500 — United States of America
PulpWorks: The planet is choking in garbage – toxic, enduring waste. And the single worst culprit is packaging – thirteen bathtubs full per year for each person on the planet; in the U.S. alone, 31 million tons of plastic waste was generated last year. PVC is the world’s leading toxic packaging material. Consumer packaged goods companies are seeking a cost-effective, sustainable replacement for their current unsustainable PVC packaging. To address this crisis, PulpWorks has created a compostable, all-pulp-and-paper alternative to toxic plastic (PVC) blister packaging. Our patent-pending package is, in essence, the “un-blister”. It showcases products in the same manner as traditional blister packs, but, rather than ending up in a landfill, the entire package can be composted after opening. Increasing consumer and regulatory pressure will eventually remove PVC from the marketplace. As designers and manufacturers of eco-friendly packaging, PulpWorks will reap the rewards of this marketplace shift.
This company has developed a way to turn paper pulp into appealing compostable packaging. The containers they showed me have a texture that is similar to cardboard egg cartons. The three presenters got a laugh out of the crowd when they said between the three of them they have 100 years of experience in business. I like this product, and I hope they succeed. Fortunately, the CEO, Paul Tasner, pictured above and individually below, has decades of experience in the packaging industry, and as a result, he has been able to get meetings with household name companies like Clorox.
The PulpWorks team traveled to the competition finals on Bart, the commuter train system in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the University of California is located.
TOHL developed a patent-pending technology for installing pipelines cheaply, quickly sustainably, and in any location. This technology utilizes much longer segments of pipeline than what is traditionally used. Single segments of pipeline are manufactured in lengths of 500 meters to several kilometers, and these long segments are loaded directly onto large spools that are deployed via helicopter or truck. The pipelines have fewer connections, which decreases labor hours during installation and allows the pipelines to be in operation faster than is possible if using conventional infrastructure technology. The patent-pending helicopter installations method also allows for TOHL to access remote areas that previously could not be reached, which is significant, because valuable water sources are often inaccessible. Lastly, TOHL’s technology also offers the service of pipeline removal and re-use, when the pipeline is only needed for temporary applications. The tubing is re-spooled and recycled for other projects saving money and resources.
This is the team I thought would win 1st place. Drinking dirty water either kills or makes ill countless numbers of people. This company can install a flexible water hose by flying a helicopter from a source of clean water to where water is needed. Often, their services are needed after a natural disaster like an earthquake. It could take months to repair a permanent underground pipe that serves an area damaged in a quake. TOHL can install a pipe overground in minutes once everything’s set up. The technology is not new, as I learned the oil exploration industry has been using the technique for years to bring water to their drilling rigs that are often out of reach of conventional plumbing. What’s new with TOHL is their specialization on emergency installations. They have developed expertise working with local governments to get the necessary permits and easements, a process I suspect is so difficult that it will discourage cheap copycats from competing with their company. The company’s first efforts have been in Chile, most likely because they received startup financing and support as part of the well known Startup Chile program.
The TOHL team is operating with real paying customers. The team showed an impressive video where their rented helicopter drops down tubing from a giant spool that hangs below the aircraft like a water container on a fire fighting helicopter. The TOHL helicopter showed tubing can be set down even on the tops of trees — flat or smooth ground is not required.
If the tubing is made unnecessary after some months, perhaps by the broken underground pipes being restored, the tubing can be reeled back onto the spool for reuse elsewhere.
Amazingly, the tubing can handle being outside for 25 years.
Founders Benjamin Cohen and Travis Horsley were impressive, and I spent perhaps half an hour hearing about their exciting venture. I wish them well.
The TOHL team studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), one of the 9 partner schools that together stage the Global Social Venture Competition. Each school sends a representative that works for the institution to the global finals. Georgia Tech sent Dori Pap, the Assistant Director of the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, pictured above with the TOHL team.
Reel Gardening is a manufacturing company that aims to make gardening simple. Its main product is a biodegradable strip that encases organic fertilizer and open pollinated seed at the correct depth in the soil, and the correct distance apart. Reel Gardening indicates where each plant will sprout allowing for watering to be localized, enabling a saving of 80% water in the germination phase. The strip also helps restore soil fertility as the paper breaks down and the vegetable based inks and organic fertilizer seep into the soil. The Reel Gardening team is made up of Claire Reid (Inventor and Founder), Sean Blanckenberg (Director at Reel Gardening), Emily Jones (Project Manager at Reel Gardening), Greg Macfarlane (Financial Advisor) and Dianna Moore (Business Advisor).
CSA Munching Box
CSA Munching Box is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program providing weekly subscription-based delivery of seasonal, organic fresh fruit and vegetables direct from the farms to customers’ doorsteps and bringing the customers closer to our farmer networks in rural areas. We also serve as a distribution platform linking artisanal food producers to the urban market. Additionally, CSA Munching Box brings positive social impacts to its partners. We also use packaging made from recycled materials as well as deliver our products via bicycle couriers to reduce carbon footprint. The primary target customer group is the health-conscious and discerning consumers in major cities across Thailand. This group tends to have more knowledge about CSA, appreciates the concept, and possesses higher purchasing power.
The 12 finalist teams
Eighteen teams traveled to Berkeley for the final two rounds of the competition. On Thursday, April 11, 2013, six teams advanced to the concluding round of judging. The twelve teams that did not advance each got to deliver their pitch to all the attendees. The 12 finalists are:
The low income families in the world’s cold regions suffer not only from cold weather but also from problems such as fuel costs, illness, and pollution due to their outdated, inefficient stove heating system. AtRium addresses these socio-economic and environmental issues through an affordable heat absorber, G-saver, which is developed based on appropriate technology. Our primary target is Mongolian households living in a “Ger.” Later we will expand to other cold regions such as Inner Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and also to developed countries with our technology. Built on a consortium among Good Neighbors (NGO), Good Sharing (Social Venture), and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Academia), we aim to contribute to building a sustainable ecosystem that balances economic and social values by pursuing sustainable profit generation, improving the quality of life of low income families, protecting the environment, and developing local economy in cold regions.
BrainControl is a breakthrough technology that gives disabled people the power to control objects with their minds, allowing them to control a communicator, domotic devices (lights, doors, windows, alarms, temperature, bed position, etc.), wheelchairs, and other assistive technologies. Based on a proprietary Brain-Computer Interfaces technology (BCI), BrainControl interprets the electric map that correspond to certain brain activity and allows patients to control a tablet PC through specific thoughts, overcoming physical disability, and improving communication and environmental control. The focus is on assistive applications for people affected by degenerative neuromuscular disease (multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS) and ischemic or traumatic injury, which each year affects more than 3 million patients. BrainControl is the world’s first assistive technology that is usable by people who cannot move any muscles or communicate, but who are consciously aware, a state called “locked-in” or “apparent coma”.
United States of America / India
Essmart: Millions of people have unmet essential needs, such as clean water and safe, reliable lighting. Hundreds of essential technologies that meet these needs already exist, such as non-electric water filters and affordable off-grid solar lanterns. However, these technologies are not reaching the people they were designed to benefit. Essmart builds an essential marketplace for these products in places where people already shop – their local retail shops – so that everyone can access them.
E-Lamp is an intelligent lighting control system. It can adjust the color and brightness level of the LED light source by remote control using a mobile device. It can be used in agriculture: as the population of the world continues to grow, more food and crops are needed. As plants at different growth stages require specific spectral and wavelength, production could be sped up using E-Lamp’s adjustment of light intensity and spectral wavelength. The mobile device remote control can be used in agricultural greenhouses to centralize control of E-Lamp equipment in a single region or multiple regions to make the management more convenient. E-Lamp also can be used to improve disabled people’s daily life, allowing them to easily control the light and adjust the color to match their mood, even for psychological treatment.
We at Damascus Fortune not only clean the planet, but have made the whole carbon conversion process profitable. We sequester carbon from carbon emitting industries and convert it into one of the strongest materials known to man – carbon nanotubes, carbon fibers and carbon nanorods. Our products are ultra-low cost as we use the waste emission and heat from the industry itself. We wish to start a composite manufacturing plant from in-house manufactured carbon structures to cater to automobile, aircraft, construction and other industries. We are seeking support to scale into new markets globally.
In Burkina Faso, households still rely on firewood for 90% of their energy consumption, thus contributing to irreversibly damaging their forest ecosystems. Toxic fumes from burning wood are harmful for people and issues faced in supplying fuel (for cooking and lighting) are a precariousness factor, particularly for women. Solutions do exist but remain out of reach for the most vulnerable populations. Nafa Naana – which means “gains made easy” in local language – mission is to make clean and affordable energy products (energy-efficient stove, gas stove, solar lamps…) available to even the poorest households. The distribution channels are based on retailers operating as social microfranchisees and on direct sales to women’s groups. Financial barriers – for end-users, retailers and producers – are removed through the use of microcredit and savings mechanisms.
Jorsey Ashbel Farms
Center for Responsible Business Quick Pitch Award of USD $1,000 — Nigeria
Jorsey Ashbel Farms (JAF) is an unconventional livestock farm pioneering a groundbreaking approach to tackling the poverty problem of Protein-Energy Malnutrition, which affects millions of disadvantaged children and women. JAF produces Nigeria’s cheapest livestock products using an innovative, scientifically proven, low-cost livestock feed production technique combined with an innovative deployment strategy.
Meme B. Ortis in my mind really deserved this award. He was the most intense and passionate of all the 18 speakers. You can see his energy in the picture of him just above. He was constantly using his hands to make his point, and his voice was powerful and resonant. I was so happy I got to meet Ortis to photograph him.
We had a great conversation about those pesky emails everyone receives asking for help moving millions of dollars for a percentage. He said he has several of them in his email box right now. I shared with him the story of a guy that turned the tables on the spammers by getting them to write out in longhand one of the Harry Potter books. He had not heard about that reverse scam. If you haven’t heard about it either, I promise you’ll enjoy the story.
Here’s the summary: a guy gets a scam email and replies he’s too busy to help because he’s busy providing handwriting samples at $100 a page to improve a company’s handwriting recognition software. Soon, the scammer is asking to join in providing samples, and he ends up writing out with a pen the text of a 293 page novel, hoping to collect tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, he never is paid for his work, which is retribution for him scamming others out of their money via his emails.
From the summary written by the team, you wouldn’t guess what they really do, which is fascinating.
There is protein rich food inside a mango seed. The company opens the seeds, which apparently are not costly and are plentiful, and extracts the presumably mushy contents. That contents are so acidic it will kill chickens that eat it directly, but Jorsey Ashbel Farms has developed a method to process the extract so that chickens can safely and productively eat it. Even though this sounds like a lot of trouble, I learned there is a big cost savings versus feeding chickens corn. JAF runs a farm where they grow mangos and raise 10,000 chickens, in harmony. I would love to visit their operation to see this wonderful sounding operation first hand.
I forgot to tell the founders that I raise four chickens for eggs in my backyard in San Francisco. My chickens eat chicken feed from a bag, not mangos, however.
Ortis’ co-founder Ashbel Ayuba, pictured in the portrait section below, was the most stylishly dressed of the competitors, and had on a pair of highly polished green leather shoes made from the hide of an animal I could not identify. They looked like something rock star Prince would wear. In the early 1990s I saw Prince hanging out as a regular customer in the trendy nightclub Les Bains in Paris, France, and he had on some similarly wild boots, which matched his pants, which matched his coat with tails. He carried a golden walking stick, and had beefy bodyguards on either side, but nobody paid him any attention, as I don’t think he was famous yet in Paris. I told my French friends the next morning that I had seen Prince, and not one of them knew of him. I was ten feet from Prince dancing for an hour, so I am 100% certain it was Prince.
I stopped Ayuba on the stairs and asked to photograph him before I even knew what company he was part of — I just love his look and attitude. I told him he looked like what I would imagine an African James Bond would look like. He enthusiastically pumped his fist in the air and said ‘YEAH!!!’
I love being a photographer.
WOOF is a premium fashion brand producing elegant, yet quirky and fun fashion accessories. What makes us different is that our line of goods is produced by Chiengora (dog hair). WOOF’s raw material is collected from various grooming stores and animal welfare organizations. The grooming division of our current NGO partner, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), provides over 60% of the dog hair raw material for WOOF production. WOOF ensures that all our sources of material are 100% animal-friendly. WOOF production is a technology innovation. We are currently co-developing the machine spinning technology with our academic partner, the Institute of Textile and Clothing (ITC) from the Poly University of Hong Kong. Through fashion, WOOF aims to change attitudes towards animals. We aim to do this through two means: 1) reducing animal surrenders and increasing animal adoptions, and 2) improving the living conditions of animals.
Wedu catalyzes the next generation of local female leaders by providing innovative financing options for university and the lifelong support of mentors. We create a sustainable and positive cycle of development by identifying girls committed to local issues; investing in their education; mentoring them to lead and creating incentives for them to repay the funds to serve more girls. We envision a world where people from the most underprivileged backgrounds have the tools to change their lives and their home country by being masters of their own development. We started operations in Cambodia and Myanmar, built partnerships from the U.S. to Japan, united a league of extraordinary advisers and mentors from the Acumen Fund, Husk Power Systems, Unreasonable Institute and beyond. Wedu is Social Enterprise Startup of 2012 at Cambridge University, GSVC-SEA Winner, Semi-Finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship and in the Top 10 Global Solution Award at Women Deliver 2013.
Vi-Care is a one-of-a-kind company in India, and is on its way to formation to provide a low cost solution to address the problem of high infant mortality due to pneumonia in rural India. Vi-Care focuses on implementing a cost effective solution for the timely detection of pneumonia in infants, keeping in mind the lack of healthcare infrastructure in rural areas. Vi-Care’s solution involves the use of ubiquitous mobile phones to detect pneumonia in infants. Vi-Care provides a unique diagnostic application (i-Treat) capable of performing preliminary but informative diagnosis of pneumonia without requiring any external infrastructure or expert intervention, thereby greatly improving the chances of survival of infants in rural areas. The value proposition of Vi-Care rests upon providing an unrivaled, cost-effective approach to timely detect pneumonia in low-income, rural areas, keeping in mind the financial constraints of the people.
Sunshine Library Rural Digital Education Initiative (Sunshine Library) is a social venture seeking to improve rural education in China via modern technology. We aim to provide a comprehensive education solution to under-resourced, rural schools using specially designed tablet PCs. Sunshine Library does not only provide tablet PCs for under-resourced schools, nor do we place our volunteer teachers in rural schools. Leveraging information technology, we provide an integrated solution with a sustainable model of operation. We designed a tablet PC, the Sunbook, and educational apps customized to the needs of students, teachers, and schools in rural setting. Then, we deliver the tablets with Internet access to rural students, new teaching methods to teachers, and extensive educational resources to schools, hoping to eliminate education inequity. Now, we have provided 2,000 tablets for students and teachers in 4 rural schools in western China.
Pedius is a communication system helping deaf people to make normal phone calls, using voice recognition technologies and speech synthesis. Pedius’ users can call all emergency numbers for free, as well as all partner companies supporting our accessibility program who agree to pay a fee and provide users a toll free access number. Users can also call private numbers, paying an affordable fee comparable to what is offered by VoIP communication providers. The goal of Pedius is the reduction of communication barriers for deaf people, enabling phone services for all and at the same time increasing the visibility of our accessibility partner companies.
I like this company. It turns out the founders know my friend Dan Luis, who used to be CEO for years at Purple, the company that bought my first Internet startup Hotpaper.com, Inc. Purple is in roughly the same business as Pedius, but Purple uses people to bridge connections between parties, while Pedius uses software.
The panels and debates
As I mentioned above, this event filled a day. There were panels and debates on social entrepreneurship. I stepped in briefly to take some pictures, but sadly, I did not have time to watch the events, with the exception of the morning keynote. I was busy either photographing or rounding up the subjects nearly all day.
I took all the pictures that illustrate this blog post. I like very much to photograph people, and entrepreneurs are among my favorite subjects. I asked all of the subjects you see here for permission to photograph them, with the exception of the shot with Dean Rich Lyons, which I captured by standing alongside the official paid photographer, my longtime friend Bruce Cook. He set that shot up, and I simply asked the subjects to look at my camera after Cook was done getting his shots.
I took individual photographs of some of the founders, and I present those images to conclude this post. I gave permission to the subjects for them to use the pictures, so I hope to see these images on their websites and elsewhere around the web. Thank you to all the subjects for being so patient with me to get these results.
I used my Canon 5D Mark II camera to take these pictures. The group shots were taken with a Canon 50mm macro lens. The individual shots were taken with a Canon 80-200mm f:2.8 L zoom lens. The wide shots were taken with a Canon 16-35mm f:2.8 L zoom lens. I upload pictures to this blog at camera resolution of 21 megapixels. Click on the pictures to load the full size versions, which are larger than the versions you see by default. I pursue blogging and photography as a hobby.
I am sorry I could not photograph everyone. I would have liked to photograph all 18 teams properly, like I do when I attend the 500 Startups Demo Days.
I really enjoyed this event. It was exciting to meet people from around the world. I invite everyone I met, if allowed in your country, to friend me on Facebook so we may stay in touch. Thanks and good luck!
I didn’t know Lee particularly well because we probably saw each other just a dozen times. Most of those times were at Cal Founders meetings at various venues in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cal Founders meetings are informal monthly gatherings where entrepreneurs discuss their business challenges. The big benefit to these meetings is the wide variety of advice that may be gleaned from the diverse attendees. I like to characterize the meetings as board of directors meetings where one may actually be completely frank about issues, with no worry that what you say may later be used against your company.
Since Cal Founders meetings are designed to encourage sharing of meaningful obstacles and opportunities, I feel like I learned quite a bit about Lee during these meetings. A person’s character comes into focus rather quickly when you hear them give and receive advice.
Lee was a standout at Cal Founders meetings, and for good reason. He was a smart, driven, accomplished and capable entrepreneur. Sadly, the majority of entrepreneurs I meet never deliver much in the way of results. Lee stood out because he actually delivered results. He was quick to cite statistics about growth, and he knew exactly how to bring customers to his business, and could specify exactly what results would come from specific steps. This kind of precision is less common than you might imagine.
I recall examples that demonstrate how impressive Lee was as an entrepreneur, but I won’t share them with you, since Cal Founders meetings are by design confidential, to encourage open dialogue. I doubt Lee would mind my sharing some examples, given that they paint him in such a favorable light, but I am loath to break confidentiality even in light of the sad circumstance of his too early passing.
I remember seeing Hansoo Lee the evening his startup Magoosh won USD $10,000 in the 2010 Intel Global Challenge business competition. The Intel Global Challenge is a big deal, and it is very competitive because Intel invites competitors from all over the world to participate. I have watched the finals awards ceremony for years and I conclude the competition is more competitive than the Berkeley Startup Competition, which itself is quite competitive.
I am comfortable sharing some of what I learned this afternoon in a public memorial open to all at the beautiful Golden Gate Club inside The Presidio. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, The Presidio used to be a United States military base before it was vacated and turned over to visitors to and residents of San Francisco to enjoy.
The Golden Gate Club overlooks the San Francisco Bay through giant windows perhaps two stories tall. These windows showcase the Bay is if it is a work of fine art in a museum.
Here’s Lee’s biography from the program handed out today at the memorial:
“Hansoo was born in Athens, Georgia [USA], lived briefly in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and spent his formative years in Pensacola, Florida. He was an outstanding scholar-athlete, graduating from Pensacola High School in 1996. He attended Amherst College where he was on both the ski and tennis teams and double-majored in Economics and Fine Arts, graduating in 2000. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from college and worked at a small internet startup before joining Walmart.com where he founded the strategy group. He then went to the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, to hone his skills as an entrepreneur. He and two of his classmates founded an education test preparation website, Magoosh, in 2009 during their time at Haas. Hansoo was the first CEO at Magoosh, which he and his business partner, Bhavin Parikh, worked on full-time after graduating from Haas in 2010. They have grown it into a successful, socially minded and profitable business in less than three years.
Hansoo had a love of the outdoors, travel, food, music, and the arts. All of these he enjoyed most with his friends and family. He had a particular love of sports and he described himself as a team player. This was true in all aspects of his life, personal and professional. He maintained close friendships from his early childhood and continued to make close friends throughout his his life. He met Wendy Lim four years ago and they were inseparable from the start; they became engaged last year. He is survived by Wendy, his parents Chung Ho and Hi Whan Lee, his brother and sister-in-law Hanmin Lee and Barbara Morgenthau and their beautiful children Mimoh and Taemoh.”
There were over two hundred people at Lee’s memorial.
I was impressed with how many people boarded aircraft to attend. The majority of the members from his class that belonged to his fraternity at Amherst were there, and two of them spoke at the podium sharing their memories of Lee. I learned that Amherst had banned fraternities, so fraternities were tiny and presumably somewhat hidden. As a result, when I write ‘majority’ I mean three fraternity brothers out of a total of five in Lee’s class attended Lee’s memorial. Counting Lee, four fifths of the entire class was represented. That I believe is a testament to Lee’s good spirit. Remember, Lee graduated from Amherst a dozen years ago.
About two dozen of Lee’s friends walked to the microphone and shared their memories.
Two of his friends met Lee in the first grade. One of those friends entertained us by explaining Lee’s love for business even as an eight year old. Lee was a pro at profitably buying and selling baseball cards. He studied baseball and developed the rare ability to identify future star players while they were still rookies in their careers. This skill allowed Lee to buy the correct rookie cards while they were still low cost, and then sell them years later when the players became stars. I learned Lee joked that he planned to pay for college with his card trading empire begun as a child.
I learned about Lee’s first skiing trip as part of a high school engineering club he belonged to, and how his enthusiasm for skiing caused him to wear out a pair of ski pants in just a night of tumbling on a slope covered with inadequate snow and uninvited mud.
Lee’s fiancée, Wendy Lim, delivered the most emotionally moving remarks.
Wendy Lim is really impressive.
Lim described herself as Lee’s opposite, but pointed out how well they each complimented the other.
Wendy Lim described Lee as the love of her life, and told us she had never before known love like that which she shared with Lee. It’s so sad Lee was taken from her so early after her lifelong search to locate him.
I introduced myself to Lim and expressed how sorry I am for her loss.
I also had the privilege of expressing the same sentiments to Dr. Chung Ho Lee, Hansoo’s father, Hi Whan Lee, Hansoo’s mother, and Dr. Hanmin Lee, Hansoo’s brother.
The Hansoo Lee Fellowship has been established at the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley. Lee started full time work on his startup Magoosh during the summer break between his first and second year at business school. This concerted several month effort I suspect really accelerated the progress at the company. The idea for the Fellowship is to help other student teams pursue their dreams during that pivotal summer break. The fellowship will provide a cash stipend, office space and advice from mentors to one lucky team each summer. If you are able and would like to give money to fund the Hansoo Lee Fellowship, please do so by following this link to the official UC Berkeley donation page for this fellowship.
Farewell Hansoo Lee. I am glad that I got to know you a bit during your exceptional life.
Last week I was doing some research on my first Internet company, Hotpaper.com, Inc. I discovered a report I had never seen before, from PrivCo Media, LLC. According to PrivCo’s report, I sold my company for USD $11,750,000.00, which is more than I knew. The published price was $10M, but I always knew the actual price was technically higher because the acquiring company didn’t cancel the stock options of my employees. I never really found out the exact value of that part of the compensation, since I left the company soon after the deal closed, and I never went hunting for the number.
Launch party for Apple iPad fashion magazine and shopping app Monogram, at La Boutique l’art et la mode in San Francisco, California
On Tuesday evening, November 27, 2012, I attended the launch party for a company run by Leo Chen.
Chen runs Fara, Inc., which recently released its first product, an app for the Apple iPad tablet computer.
The application is named Monogram, and that’s how I’ll refer to the company and product for the rest of this post, as the company doesn’t seem to promote the Fara name.
I met Chen July 18, 2012 at the Demo Day for the 500 Startups Accelerator program. Monogram was one of the presenting companies. I attended the Demo Day as a blogger so I got to meet all the graduating companies. Thank you to Dave McClure for getting me an invite to Demo Day. McClure is the founding partner of 500 Startups.
Chen stood out because he was the most stylishly dressed. See my picture of him I took at Demo Day at the bottom of this post to see his pure white sports coat paired with jeans, a hip wristwatch and a pink shirt. Not many guys can pull off this eclectic look. That Chen can suggests he will have the fashion sense to make the right calls at Monogram, which, when you really study it, is a company that requires good taste to have a chance to thrive.
His app, which he demonstrated to me personally, was sumptuous, glorious and stunning — and it was still unreleased code.
I don’t have an Apple iPad, so I have not seen the released version of Monogram. Chen wasn’t showing off the app on his iPad at the party either, so I simply can’t write a review here of the app — sorry!
The famous TechCrunch technology blog covered Monogram on November 1st, 2012 in an article entitled 500 Startups Alum Monogram Raises $400K More, Launches iPad App To Aggregate All Your Favorite Fashion Brands.
Since I can’t write a review about the Monogram app sight unseen, I’ll give you just the basics. You download the free app from the Apple App Store. You browse through pages of the app as if you’re looking at a fashion magazine. If you see something you want to buy, you can tap on it and get transported to an online retailer that sells that item. You’re presumably transported to precisely that item, not the front page of the retailer’s site. If you buy, Monogram collects an affiliate payment from the retailer, and that’s how Monogram makes money.
I met many of the attendees at the Monogram launch party, and I can say that Chen and his team have smart and impressive friends. The venue for the party, La Boutique – L’Art et la Mode, was perfect. Carole Harari, the owner of the boutique, has created a 2,500 square foot oasis that is part women’s clothing boutique, part art gallery, part furniture store and part event space. The women’s fashions for sale are eclectic and desirable.
The pop up furniture store on the second level was so photogenic I took an architecture style picture while I was up there to get a shot of the crowd below. La Boutique is so photogenic that I asked Harari for permission to photograph models there.
I met Justin Kan for the second time. I met Kan for the first time — you probably have heard of his as Justin of Justin.tv fame — at a Stirr mixer in Palo Alto, California in about 2008. I spoke with him back then for perhaps 10 minutes, and they were a stressful set of minutes because he had a video camera strapped near his head and wore a backpack with four 3G wireless cards whose bandwidth was combined through software so the laptop in the backpack could broadcast Kan’s every move live to the Internet. This can be done with a smart phone today, but back then live streaming was rare, and my talk with Kan then was the first time I had been live streamed before a meaningful audience.
On Tuesday, Kan was wearing one of the largest watches I have ever seen, and it was so eye catching I asked to photograph it. I already had my macro lens on my camera, so it only took seconds to capture this shot you see here of Kan’s Nixon brand watch on his arm.
Leo Chen went to high school with Kan.
Kan told me about his latest project, named Exec. Exec is an Apple iOS app that lets users hire an assistant for short term projects for a fixed rate currently of USD $25.00 per hour. An Exec assistant was stationed by the front door to La Boutique to make sure only guests on the list were admitted. I spoke with her for several minutes, and was impressed. I would use Exec if I needed an assistant for a project that Exec was suited for. One suggestion: When funds permit, buy the domain exec.com. The current url, iamexec.com, on quick viewing of the web browser address bar, reads as ‘lame exec’ because I saw the lower case i as an l. I had a good laugh about this, but I still recommend paying out the dollars to get the shorter url once it’s easily afforded. The url exec.com is currently up for sale, and has no developed site associated with it. Don’t wait too long, or the price will keep going up.
I also had a nice talk with the husband of Monogram co-founder Kristen Slowe. Kristen is Chief Creative Officer of Monogram. Her husband Christopher Slowe, is Chief Scientist at Hipmunk, which, according to their introductory video, ‘takes the agony out of travel search.’
Christopher and my father studied the same subject at the same university.
I got to talk with Jim England, a co-founder at Publik Demand. I met England at the same 500 Startups Demo Day where I met Chen. I absolutely love Publik Demand, a website that gives representation and power to consumers, so that they can insist that wrongs done by a company are addressed.
I also got to talk with Cheryl Yeoh, co-founder and CEO of Reclip It, a website that brings together more than 200,000 online coupons & deals from many other coupon websites, for one stop access to money saving offers. I met Yeoh the same day I met England and Chen
I conclude with a photograph I love of Monogram co-founders Chen and Slowe that I took July 18, 2012 at the 500 Startups Demo Day, held at the headquarters of the publicly traded game company Zynga, at 699 8th Street, San Francisco, California USA.
I love Monogram, and that’s why I attended their launch party. I wish them the best of success. This is one of the few companies that truly counts on beautiful photographs for its success. Since I am an avid photographer, I connect with this company more than many.
Interviews with 10 entrepreneurs at the Lower Haight Urban Air Market, October 20, 2012, San Francisco, California USA
On Saturday, October 20, 2012, I attended the Lower Haight Urban Air Market. The two most commercially significant blocks, from 400 to 600, of the hip lower Haight street neighborhood of San Francisco, California USA were cleared of cars and closed for this interesting small street fair.
Here’s a photograph of the poster advertising the Lower Haight Urban Air Market. The window is that of Memphis Minnies Barbeque Joint and Smokehose at 576 Haight Street. I took this picture after the sun went down but before it was completely dark. I haven’t eaten at Memphis Minnies, but I suspect it has quite a following given I see it has 1,127 reviews on Yelp today.
This project must have taken some real effort to plan and execute, because San Francisco’s Municipal Railway, MUNI, runs electric trolley buses on all of Haight Street. This street fair required that non-tethered buses be used instead for the day.
I don’t hang out in the lower Haight much, but Devon Chulick, one of the co-owners of the clothing store and art gallery D-Structure, alerted me to this fair via his store’s Facebook page. Since I’ve met some interesting people though Chulick in the past, I thought it would be smart to attend as a blogger to interview the most interesting entrepreneurs I could find, including the following ten entrepreneurs:
The first entrepreneur I met was Joey Mucha. He buys used Skee Ball arcade machines, fixes them up, and places them at interesting non-arcade locations. He has a shipping container full of Skee Ball machines, and he knows how to fix them, even to the point of being able to diagnose and replace a bad computer chip on the machine’s scoring computer.
Mucha has one of his machines in Chulick’s D-Structure, and Mucha opened the machine up while I was there, so I could see how the score calculation system works. You can see Mucha playing the D-Structure Skee Ball machine in the photo above.
Amazingly, you can now play Skee Ball on your smart phone.
The second entrepreneur I met was Jasmin Baros. Baros introduced me to the concept of a clothing boutique being located in a converted delivery truck. I had never seen such a boutique, or even heard of them, until Saturday.
Baros is an accountant by profession. Her first experiment ten years ago with switching to retail didn’t pan out a after six month run.
Her refurbished truck, just six weeks new, is her second attempt at retail, and I think her chances are better than 50/50 for a success. She bought the truck already freshly painted from a photographer for just USD $6,000, and only had to spend $2,000 having her logo painted on the side. It would have likely cost her $6,000 just for the fresh paint if she didn’t find an already freshly painted used truck.
Baros’ total cost to get into business she told me came to $25,000 — likely a fraction what it would cost to open a traditional retail boutique in leased store front space.
The truck — officially named the Jasy B Truck — is cute and inviting. The ceiling is pressed tin like you’d see in a vintage building. There is wainscoting on the walls. There is directional spot lighting. The colors are right. There’s a dedicated staircase with rails at the rear, where the door rolls up like a garage door. When the truck is parked at a 45% angle relative to the sidewalk, customers can just climb on board, in a way that feels natural and welcoming.
The Jasy B boutique on wheels had a wall mirror next to its jewelry display. I caught a glimpse of myself in this mirror, and since the mirror was small, it neatly framed my head. I snapped a picture with my Canon 5D Mark II digital camera I used to take all the photographs that illustrate this post. Note that I uploaded the pictures at full camera resolution. Click on them twice in delayed succession to see the full size versions, which are 21 megapixels.
The third entrepreneur I met was Sandra Bowling, owner of Sandra Kathleen Jewelry. Bowling makes the jewelry. I asked permission to take the above photograph. Bowling gave permission and thanked me for asking permission. She said one woman particularly irritated her by taking pictures without asking, and when confronted, the photographer said she was going to send the pictures to a friend or relative (I can’t recall which) that also made jewelry for profit — to copy and then sell! I presume these designs are not patented, but still, I can see it being annoying having people taking pictures with the express intent of taking your work to profit from it.
Bowling had her jewelry nicely displayed, and I loved the light as shown in my picture above. The brighter spot of light in the lower right was from light bouncing off the hand mirror she had on the table.
Sadly, I forgot to photograph Sandra Bowling.
The fourth entrepreneur I met was Angel Cantu, above, founder of Halo Bender Design.
Halo Bender Design makes wallets for men from the leather swatches furniture stores have on hand to help buyers decide what leather to buy for custom ordered chairs and sofas. Cantu discovered that stores replace their swatch books from time to time, and when they do, they discard the old books. Cantu has learned that he can rescue the leather from landfill by giving the proprietor a few wallets he made from earlier swatch books. Since his materials cost is so low — thread and his time, this is a great exchange. The swatches he showed me looked brand new, and the wallets looked fresh and brand new as well, with no hint that their leather was perhaps already years old.
Cantu cut the first wallets by hand with scissors. Then, he joined TechShop, a well equipped workshop that rents access to tools like a health club rents access to exercise machines. TechShop has a laser cutter to replace scissors, and industrial sewing machines capable of stitching leather. TechShop has spawned many small businesses, including DoDo Case, which makes an Apple iPad case that looks like a leather hard cover book. Current United States President Barack Obama carries his iPad in a DoDo Case brand case.
The fifth entrepreneur I met was Laura Bruland, founder of Yes & Yes Designs.
Yes & Yes is another TechShop success story, and she’s featured on their website.
Yes & Yes makes jewelry from old hard cover book covers. Bruland uses TechShop’s laser cutter to slice through the canvas and cardboard book covers in a way that would be nearly impossible with a jig saw or a Xacto knife.
In the picture above of Bruland with her boyfriend Julien Shields you can see Shields holding a book cover that has had over two dozen pieces of jewelry cut from it. The row of trapezoids on top became earrings, in the style you see Bruland wearing in the same picture.
Many of Bruland’s designs feature the silhouettes of stylish women — Bruland confided that the designs themselves are vintage, derived from old dress making patterns. The pins above are examples of these designs. Look at how typography plays a part of her designs.
Like the upcycled wallets made by Angel Cantu, Bruland’s cost of materials is extremely low. She laser cuts out of date and falling apart books of nominal value as books. I suspect she pays little or nothing for most of the books.
I saw customers buying Bruland’s products, and saying nice things about them while doing so, something I didn’t happen to catch with any of the other artists at Saturday’s fair.
The sixth entrepreneur I met was Chris Steinrueck, co-founder of Wood Thumb, a maker of men’s ties and bow ties, among other products.
Wood Thumb recycles redwood it receives for free from Recology, the company that picks up the trash from homes and businesses in San Francisco. Recology sifts through the trash it picks up and hands the redwood planks it finds to Wood Thumb, which then planes and mills the ties into shape. The ties are cut on a ShopBot CNC router.
I love the upcycling and recycling demonstrated at this fair.
Wood Thumb started out at and still does some work at TechShop, like Yes & Yes Designs and Halo Bender Design, also profiled in this post.
The ties are made from redwood because redwood is attractive and particularly because it is light in weight. Chris, who runs the company with his co-founder brother David Steinrueck, said people can feel the difference in weight between redwood and other attractive wood, and prefer the light weight redwood. Conveniently, Wood Thumb ties are rot resistant, in case you forget your tie in the woods, unlike silk or wool ties.
Wood Thumb appears to be doing well, selling thousands of ties per month as of the end of 2011.
I photographed Chris with his girlfriend Rebecca Carrillo at their booth, also made from reclaimed wood.
The seventh entrepreneur I met was Sarah Boll, who was the most interestingly dressed, with exceptionally red hair, vivid glittery blue eye shadow, a magenta jacket and wild black and white stretch pants she personally sewed. It was a look that is completely consistent with her product — glittery purses, clutches and related accessories. This was Boll’s first time selling at a street fair.
Her company name is Glitter Disaster — a name I really like.
The glitter you see in the clear vinyl is sandwiched between two layers, where it’s free to slide around like snow in a snow globe. The glitter never touches what you put into her clutches and purses. The random and ever changing glitter display catches your eye, and I think these products were the most inspired and unusual of everything I saw on Saturday.
The vinyl sheets are sewn not with a sewing machine but with a serger, called overlock machines outside of North America for the overlock stitches they create. If you look inside some of your clothes, you will see overlock seams. A serger is a fascinating machine. The overlock seam is not one thread but multiple threads, from separate spools. This means each thread can be a different color, a feature you can see Boll used to create interest with her pieces, since she uses the overlock seams as a visible design element.
I learned about the serger several weeks ago when I was looking into what I would need to sew my own clothes. I took sewing class at Lab School, and I made quilts when I was 12 years old. I want to make some really crazy outfits I can’t find in stores. That’s when I learned I would need a sewing machine and a serger machine. I have since decided to just wait until my next trip to Shanghai and have my clothes made in the world famous Bund fabric market, which will be more productive and more fascinating, because that stupendous fabric market has so many more fabrics than you can buy in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The eighth and ninth entrepreneurs I met were Misty Briglia and Sarah LaShelle, co-founders of Pretty Parlor beauty boutique on wheels. The Pretty Parlor is also built inside a retired delivery truck, like the Jasy B Truck. The beauty business is tightly regulated, unlike the retail clothing business. Thus, the Pretty Parlor truck has a bathroom complete with running water in a charming old world porcelain sink. There’s is room for a wheelchair to move around on board. A wheelchair ramp to board is in the works. I wonder if they can find a suitable aluminum ramp at a salvage yard that dismantles U-Haul trucks — those ramps are really well made.
In the photograph above, the woman in the gray sweater seated had just have her fingernails painted with intricate designs — a different design on each finger. I introduced myself to her and she let me see the results, which she really liked. She gave me permission to include her on this blog. The manicurist Mia Rubie, on the left, had her manicurist license out for display, just like you would see in a fixed location shop. I loved the antique furniture throughout the truck.
In the photograph above the founders Briglia and LaShelleare are sitting on the rear step of the truck. In the background, from let to right, are:
- Marie Rubie — Nail Artist
- Marla Kay — Esthetician
- Katie Stosic — Stylist and Receptionist
All of the trucks had generators chained outside sitting on the pavement. But I saw no heavy electrical requirement in any of the trucks. Since the trucks are only parked for the day, I think they all could switch to LED lighting and power themselves from a dedicated ‘house’ battery bank like those in recreational vehicles and bus conversions that charges from the vehicle alternator while driving. The generators are noisy and unnecessary. From what I could tell, none of the trucks contemplate air conditioning the sales floor while parked, but that’s the only reason for a large generator like the ones I saw.
I recommend adding a solar panel to the roof to keep the batteries charged while the vehicles are in storage, and also to be able to boast that the stores are in part ‘powered by the sun.’ Solar panels are very affordable these days.
The tenth and last entrepreneur I met was Aaron Bray, owner of Push Pull Art Design. Bray was at the fair selling his brand new but vintage appearing earrings and pendants.
He cuts the designs from steel with tin snips, and then flattens the cut edges with weights. He then treats the metal to give it a rich aged patina, rust I believe, that makes it resemble copper. I don’t know how Bray paints the pieces, and I could find no description on his website about how they are made. In fact, I could find almost no information about Bray online, and in particular, I could not find any pictures of him. I had Bray’s full cooperation to take the picture you see of him here.
I love Bray’s work, but I don’t understand why he is keeping such a low, low profile online. He should examine how Sarah Boll is using the Internet to promote her art. Bray’s online store is one example of how his low profile is hurting his finances. He sells only his discontinued work on his online store, but there are no ‘buy now’ or ‘add to cart’ buttons to be found. The price is a hyperlink, and if you click that you are taken to PayPal where you can buy that item. But that’s is expecting far too much from people to start clicking links looking for a way to buy. There needs to be a buy button on every item for sale, without exception.
The site is so sparse that it’s off putting. I can’t read Bray’s biography or see what he looks like. I can’t learn his phone number. I can’t determine what city, state or country he lives in, except by inferring based on the shows he notes he will attend. Even then, the list is heavy on abbreviations like SF for San Francisco, California. Buyers from other parts of the world may not know what SF means. I can’t learn what stores carry his products. I can’t see his products worn by people. I can’t even learn what the products are made from or how big they are, as there is no reliable size reference in any of the pictures.
Bray has the most subtle, artistic and lovely product of any that I have reviewed here, and I offer the above criticism in the hope that he will make simple changes that I predict will measurably increase his revenues and profits. Here’s one final piece of advice: Add your products to your Etsy store, which currently has zero products for sale. From what I have heard, Etsy really works.
The last person I met was Matt Hettich. He’s not technically an entrepreneur because he is not a founder of the company whose product he was pitching. But his product is interesting, and his approach to promoting it is also interesting, so I have included him in this post.
Hettich’s title is Product Specialist/Artist Relations. The company he works for is Keith McMillen Instruments. This company didn’t have a booth at the fair. I met Hettich as the fair was winding down, when I walked into the legendary bar Noc Noc that’s been in the same spot on lower Haight Street for decades. The decor hasn’t changed in decades — still the crazy handmade furniture and bar, which is holding up quite well considering the flow of hard living hipsters over the decades.
I met Hettich almost immediately because he was showing off the eye catching and colorful QuNeo 3D Pad Controller seen in the pictures above and below. This is MIDI controller for digital musicians and disc jockeys. The buttons on this controller are not labeled because they are mappable by software to whatever you want them to control. The buttons sense where you touch them and how hard you press, which for sounds like drum machines can be very valuable and can help musicians be more expressive.
I am not a musician, but Hettich did a great job explaining the device and why I would want one if I were a musician.
Company founder Keith McMillen is a legend in the instrument business. One of the company’s customers was sitting with Hettich, and the customer compared McMillen to Robert Moog and Tom Oberheim, and said McMillen is in the same league. This stature probably explains why when his company ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise USD $15,000 he raised over ten times that amount.
The QuNeo costs just USD $249 — less than I guessed.
Here’s a pretty picture of some colorful silicone rubber wrist watches from Modify Watches, a brand of Modify Industries, Inc. I took this picture outside of D-Structure, where Chulick had a table of wares for sale. D-Structure carries Modify Watches at their store and online.
My friend Aaron Schwartz founded and runs Modify, and I’ve written about his products on this blog before. Schwartz has allowed me to borrow some of his products to photograph being worn by some of the models I photograph.
Schwartz’s company is a on a roll — his products were featured on the very popular United States television show The Today Show on October 3, 2012.
After the fair ended, I took this picture of Devon Chulick’s D-Structure art gallery and boutique, just as the sun was going down. I thought the ‘magic hour’ light was flattering.
Finally, Staghound Belts had a booth where they sold new belts for men. They also had a collection of vintage belt buckles, including this buckle showing a Class C motorhome on a Ford van chassis. This made me think of George Lehrer, a blogger I’ve read for years. Lehrer for a decade now has lived full time in his Class-C motorhome he has named Ms. Tioga, after the brand name given by its manufacturer. He writes several times a day, and makes about USD $1,000 a month in revenue from Google Ad Words, which supplements his US Social Security retirement checks. I suspect Lehrer would like to have this buckle, and I further suspect that Staghound Belts will have it for sale for some time, as I doubt there is much demand for such a unique item.
It’s likely that Staghound made the belts they were selling, and I should have asked more questions so that I could have written about the founder as an entrepreneur. Next time I will.
[November 27, 2012 -- I updated this post to name Julien Shields. The original version of this post referred to him as Laura Bruland's boyfriend.]
Yesterday, Thursday, September 20, 2012, I attended the 40th anniversary party for the law firm Fenwick & West LLP at 801 California Street, Mountain View, California USA 94041.
My friend Sam Angus is a partner at Fenwick & West, and it was through him that I received an invitation.
I brought my camera but did not take it inside. This was a private party, and it didn’t seem right to attend as a blogger, which I typically do when I attend public events.
I did set up my tripod after I left and took this time exposure at dusk of the outside of the building. You can see the party through the front door. Click on this picture twice in delayed succession and you may be able to recognize the faces of the people by the door. You can certainly see the welcome sign on the stand outside the front door.
Fenwick’s chairman Gordon K. Davidson addressed the celebrants and shared some stories from the early days of the firm.
My favorite story was about Apple, Inc.
Fenwick’s first big client was Pioneer, the maker of entertainment electronics. I owned a Pioneer SX-1280 receiver from that era, though I bought it used for USD $100 years after it was manufactured, from my friend Dean Hinton. New it was over $1,000, far beyond my budget at the time. That receiver cranked out 185 watts per channel and weighed more than I did.
Pioneer engaged Fenwick to sue retailers for discounting its products, a type of lawsuit that was allowed back then.
Founding partner Bill Fenwick had the good sense to take on Apple Computer as a client, and, I learned while researching this post, that Bill Fenwick did not charge for the incorporation work because he believed that Jobs and Wozniak couldn’t afford it.
I introduced myself to the hosts. I had a conversation with now retired founding partner Bill Fenwick, who asked if my father is John Warnock, the co-founder of Adobe Systems. I also spoke with current Fenwick & West chair Davidson. Both men were very gracious, and made me feel welcome. I can see how they were able to build a law firm that has become so well regarded.
Fenwick & West is one of the premier law firms in for technology companies.
I saw Dotty Damon Hayes, the mother of a friend, but she apparently departed early and I missed my opportunity to say hello to her again, which I regret.
The food, music, surroundings and guests were first rate. The Fenwick & West offices are understated and elegant. I was particularly impressed that the kitchen area occupies what otherwise would have been a sought after corner office. I spoke with many of the guests, and really enjoyed myself… thanks Sam for the invite.
Happy 40th birthday Fenwick & West!
Today, September 1, 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Christy McAvoy.
McAvoy used to work with the co-founder of Five Star Organics, William Scott Kucirek, at his first startup, Zip Realty. Zip Realty competed in 1999 with my Internet company Hotpaper in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. That competition is now named the Berkeley Startup Competition, a name change I proposed October 5, 2011 to Andre Marquis, who leads The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which provides support to the student run competition at the University of California at Berkeley, in Berkeley, California. My friends Melissa Daniels and Keval Desai were the student founders of the competition. Daniels and Desai are now venture capitalists — Daniels at Morgan Stanley Ventures Partners and Desai at InterWest Ventures. I don’t know if the competition was renamed at my suggestion alone. Kucirek’s Zip Realty to date is the most successful company to pass through the Berkeley Startup Competition, which is why I bring up the competition and its origins here. Zip Realty is the only company from the competition that has gone public, which makes Kucirek royalty at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, where Kucirek earned his Masters of Business Administration degree. This background should help OCHO become a candy brand you will be hearing much more from in the future.
After that build up, I am happy to report that OCHO candy bars taste really good.
I sampled all four flavors — Peanut, Coconut, Mocha and OCHO Bar.
Each is more sophisticated than your standard Snickers, Reese’s or Almond Joy, but not so sophisticated as to require an education to appreciate and prefer. The Mocha candy bar doesn’t have a similar major label counterpart, to my knowledge.
I think the OCHO product line will be a hit because it’s not trying to be Scharffen Berger, a decidedly more luxurious chocolate brand that has not and probably never will hit the mainstream, even though it is owned now by the same giant Hershey that makes Reese’s and Almond Joy.
I toured the Sharffen Berger plant with my friend Kelly Yu before Hershey’s acquired the company and brand. I was not a blogger back then, sadly, as the tour was fascinating and worth writing about. That tour gave me a deeper appreciation for chocolate, which of course was the point.
Denis Ring co-founded Five Star Organics with Kucirek. According to McAvoy, Ring created the 365 Everyday Value line of products at Whole Foods Markets and the O Organics line of organic products sold at Safeway.
I took the photographs that accompany this post. Click on them twice in delayed succession to see them at full size.
On Saturday, August 25, 2012, I attended a trunk sale at D-Structure, a clothing boutique and art gallery at 520 Haight Street in San Francisco, California USA.
Modify Industries, Inc. was the guest of honor at this trunk sale, showing their fashionable colorful Modify Watches brand wrist watches. The vibe at this trunk show was outstanding, due in part to the trendy location of D-Structure, between Mad Dog in the Fog at 530 Haight Street and Cafe International at 508 Haight Street, in the Lower Haight neighborhood.
I got to meet Devon Chulick, one of the co-owners of D-Structure.
Chulick told me that Aaron Schwartz came into his store to propose that D-Structure carry the Modify line.
Schwartz is the CEO of Modify Industries, and I didn’t know he made sales calls like this. Chulick told me he is totally bombarded with pitches from companies asking his store to carry their products, so Schwartz had to clear a high bar to get his product into D-Structure, which, from what I can tell, is well curated for its location and apparent target customers.
Schwartz, Chulick and Ayo Oluwole are pictured together above. Each is wearing a Modify Watches watch.
Oluwole is the VP of Marketing for Modify Watches. He used to live in New York where he did marketing for true luxury brands like Salvator Ferragamo. At Modify, I see evidence of Oluwole’s past experience with luxury goods — even his business car looks luxurious, with one rounded corner and muted pastel colors.
Schwartz is a great salesman, once selling thousands of watches to a Silicon Valley company that’s known world wide after he was randomly seated on an airplane flight next to a buyer from that company.
The watches are named Modify Watches because they are so easy to modify, without tools. The strap is made of soft and pliable silicone rubber, so one may take out the hard plastic time piece just by pushing it out of the strap. In the photograph above, you can see two complete watches on the left, and an empty watch band on the right, with the time piece sitting next to it. The time pieces and straps come in small and large — for women and men. The straps come in dozens of colors and the time piece inserts come in dozens of designs. Companies can order custom faces for the time pieces, in quantities as small as 200, the last time I heard. The swap-ability of the straps and time pieces gives buyers more fashion looks for less money. Modify Watches are simply fun, so I can see people buying them even if they carry a mobile phone, which, after all, is close to carrying an atomic clock in your pocket, because cell phones would not function if not for the extreme precision of the clocks the carriers use to make cell phone networks operate.
I’ve written about Modify Watches brand watches before, so I’ll tell you a bit about D-Structure. The store is beautiful — hip, quirky, warm and energetic. There was a quality DJ on hand for the event, and the sound system had quite good fidelity, and was loud enough to make you feel like music is a key element of the marketing strategy for the venue. It wasn’t loud like a nightclub, but it wasn’t soft either. It made the event feel like a real event, not a sales pitch.
Devin Hexner, an intern at Modify Watches, kept busy, and seemed to be doing a good job. I overheard him talking to some fans who work at a big national retailer, and Hexner sure looked like he was making a good impression, from all the smiles and laughter I saw.
I met a lot of people at the event. I spoke for a bit with Julia Garcia and her friend Shane Rand, pictured above. Garcia introduced herself to me because I had on my crushed red velvet sports jacket I got at a pop up sale for 90% off its original eye popping four figure price. I almost didn’t buy that jacket because I worried it would make me look like a young Hugh Hefner. I am thankful I bought it, since I have never owned an article of clothing that has garnered more compliments.
I would love to conduct one of my photoshoots of models in this store, with the model or models wearing some of the outfits the store has for sale. The location is very photogenic, as you can see in the photographs that I took that illustrate this post. Garcia and Rand are photogenic, so perhaps I can photograph them in the store, if they find this post and are interested.
Hana Alyssa Sidia and Mary Frances Knapp, the only two models I introduced myself to at the event, are photogenic, and I would enjoy having a chance to photograph them properly, with my lights and reflectors.
This trunk show was at night and I used only the ambient light available. This means I had to choose an ISO setting of 4,000, so these pictures are more grainy than usual. I upload my photographs at full camera resolution of 21 megapixels. To see the full size versions, click on the pictures twice in delayed succession.
The artwork is interesting — not something I would buy for my home, but it was engaging and fun. Totally appropriate and it improved the aesthetic of the shop. I especially liked the ‘antiques’ on display as decoration, including several manual typewriters from 50 or 75 years ago, and several cameras from the same time period.
Yellow 108 brand hats looked great. I need to get into wearing hats.
Look, a Schneider-Kreuznach lens on a camera that didn’t display its own brand where I could see it. I love old cameras.
Modify Watches are water resistant, a point hammered home by the three watches on display in a bowl of water, above.
Modify Industries is on a roll. I enjoy attending their events. Schwartz has allowed me to borrow some of his company’s products, which I have some of the models I work with wear on camera. I will return all these watches, and I did not write this or any post about Modify in exchange for this loan. Schwartz is my friend, and I like writing about companies where I know the founder or founders. I make this disclosure because it may be legally required.
Modify Watches retail launch party at Hangr 16 boutique in San Francisco, California USA, August 9, 2012
On Thursday, August 9, 2012 I attended the retail launch party for Modify Industries, Inc.
Modify Industries is the company behind the colorful and fashionable silicone rubber Modify Watches brand watches that feature time pieces that without tools may be interchanged between bands. You can see people wearing Modify Watches in the top three photographs that illustrate this post. The watches come in two sizes. There are dozens of time pieces and dozens of straps (bands) to select from.
Modify Watches was a finalist competitor in the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition at the University of California. That competition is very competitive, and it’s very difficult to become a finalist, as there are only eight per year, while most years more than 100 teams apply to compete.
I am friends with Modify CEO Aaron Schwartz.
Modify has focused its attention on eCommerce sales and enterprise sales. It has achieved impressive success in both areas, selling to big companies including Google.
Now Modify is moving into retail by selling to boutique retailers.
One such boutique is Hangr 16 at 3128 16th Street in San Francisco, California USA, near Valencia Street. Hangr 16 carries the Modify line of products. The store’s energetic and charismatic buyer, Liddy Parlato, decided to sell Modify’s eye catching line after she opened an email targeted to her store from the company. Parlato told me she gets 30 pitches a day by email. Parlato’s store is spare and elegant, with a well curated selection. It’s not jammed with hundreds of product lines like many boutiques. Thus, Parlato’s decision to carry Modify’s products is a win for Schwartz and his team. Parlato is one of four owners of Hanger 16. She comes from a background in advertising, not retail.
While researching this blog post, I learned that Hangr 16 was voted the Best Clothing Store for Men by readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly newspaper. That makes the store’s decision to sell Modify Watches all the more special.
Abie Hadjitarkhani and Nathan Dintenfass attended the launch party. I know Dintenfass from the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley. I met him while he was getting his Masters of Business Administration degree. I participate in many events at Haas to help the students and by extension The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Dintenfass and Hadjitarkhani run Hotel Delta, a boutique consultancy that helps entrepreneurs create great products.
Hotel Delta produces the Products are Hard conference.
Nathan Dintenfass is one of the smartest entrepreneurs I know. I have spent hours listening to him advise startups, and his wisdom is evident and deep.
Congratulations to Schwartz and his impressive team at Modify Industries. I predict great things to come.
I took the pictures that accompany this post. I uploaded them at full camera resolution of 21 megapixels. Click on them in delayed succession to see the full size versions, which are larger than your screen.
Legal disclosure — Schwartz let me borrow six of his company’s watches so that I may photograph them being worn by the female models I photograph. I pursue photography as a hobby, and do not charge for my work, so perhaps this disclosure is not legally required. To cover my bases, I am disclosing this loan. I proposed this arrangement, not Schwartz. I would have written this post even if Schwartz did not let me borrow any watches. I will return the watches to Schwartz once I photograph them with some additional models.