Want to know what it takes to build a successful startup? The Blackstone Launchpad’s startup feature series showcases USC’s most accomplished startups and their innovative founders.

Startup Feature: Handstand

WHO THEY ARE

“Handstand is a trainer/instructor on-demand app that makes it easy for even the busiest of people to workout effectively. Our trainers provide all the equipment if you choose to workout at home or a park, or you can visit a partner gym on our app. Some people even use their apartment gym. We’re any time and any place. We have session types that range from Pilates, Yoga, Boxing, Tone Up Butt, Legs, & Core classes. It’s your workout on demand from the best trainers in your city.”

HOW HANDSTAND WAS BORN  aa2

I was a workout addict and played sports for years, but when you enter the real world, your time for fitness and other things becomes limited. To make it short, I just wanted a workout when I wanted it – and I wanted results. I didn’t have time to make it to a lot of classes that I wanted, and even if I did, it was stressful, not working. So I hired my first trainer, learned about the industry, and when the idea hit me, I was paranoid, quit my job, launched a website, joined Science Inc., a tech incubator in Santa Monica, and got started.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE  

All of the texts, emails, calls, notes, reviews, everything from your customers and for us, our trainers, about how much our product has changed their lives. They’re changing their health, which changes lives. We’re making it efficient, convenient, affordable, accessible, and therefore, possible for anyone.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

There are lots of obstacles daily, hourly, weekly – and they’ll never stop, because we’ll keep pushing the envelope. Take a look at Uber – they face obstacles to this day. I keep pushing – some great advice from my dad. If someone says no, ask again, ask someone else, do it yourself. Just find a way to do it.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS aa3

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, I’d say – don’t be scared to get your idea out there. Pitch it, ask questions and get criticism. No one is going to steal your idea. And if you’re scared they will, then you had better get started, right? Make a website tomorrow. Squarespace is awesome.”

Startup Feature: Speakeasy Briefs

WHO THEY ARE

Speakeasy Briefs is premium men’s boxer-briefs with a secret pocket.  This pocket is ideal for carrying a passport, money or a hip flask.”

HOW SPEAKEASY WAS BORN

“Speakeasy Briefs was launched on Kickstarter in May of 2013.  It raised $32,616 in a 30 day campaign, which was one of the 30 most funded fashion campaigns in the history of Kickstarter at the time of its funding.”

RECENT SUCCESS

“Speakeasy Briefs has been featured in several prominent media outlets, including Forbes, NPR and Fox News.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE  

“Entrepreneurship activates a part of your brain that you didn’t even know existed.  Bringing your ideas into real products that customers love is incredibly fulfilling.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“Too many to count.  Our supply chain fell through with 5 days left in our Kickstarter campaign.  We had to figure out how to create the product all over again, after we’d sold 1,500 pairs of briefs.  I was literally running around San Francisco knocking on factory doors to find someone who could create our product.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“It is not the entrepreneur’s job to do every job, it is the entrepreneur’s job to build the company.  At first, you will have to do every job, but this will not scale.  Focus on replacing yourself at every level you can, and empowering others to own their aspect of the business.  It takes years to be able to pay yourself what you are worth, so align your expectations accordingly.  If you aren’t ready for 1,000 days of poverty, ask yourself if this is really what you want to pursue.”

 

 

Startup Feature: Fulfilling Catering

WHAT THEY DO

“Fulfilling is revolutionizing how food is consumed in America—for every meal purchased, we donate one meal to someone in need. Operating in every major US Market, Fulfilling books food trucks for private events and schedules trucks at corporate office parks that lack food amenities.”

HOW FULFILLING WAS BORN  

“After studying entrepreneurship at USC, I spent several years in the food truck industry managing events, attending food truck festivals and sampling various cuisines. While the food truck industry temporarily satisfied my palate for an exciting, innovative career, I again grew hungry. Looking to fill this void, I sought to develop a business built on a sense of purpose.

It was during this time that I met the founder of ‘Mary’s Meals’ and learned about their mission to solve world hunger as documented in Child 31. I was struck by the staggering problem of childhood hunger against the backdrop of plenty that surrounded me. Inspired by the vision, I devised the foundation for a new business venture: one meal donated for each meal sold.”

RECENT SUCCESSES

“Fulfilling recently donated our 75,000th meal, and reached a milestone of managing 50 events per week.”

MOST REWARDING PART OF BUILDING A STARTUP  Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.36.20 PM

“Creating a culture.

Having experienced the confinement of working for organizations that lack a clearly defined purpose or direction, I have a thorough understanding of the importance of company culture.

Combining this passion with my natural disposition as big picture thinker has made engineering the culture, vision and purpose of Fulfilling very enjoyable.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES 

“Our website application took much longer to build than expected.

About 1 year after launching the business, we were growing quickly and didn’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of events we were managing. I mapped out an application that organizes the data and automates the processes involved in scheduling events. I was anxious to get the application built and jumped the gun on hiring a development team. Unfortunately, “It takes twice as long as costs twice as much” held true. The company I hired overpromised and under delivered, and 4 months after the expected delivery date, we were still without a functional product.

We ended up hiring a new developer to pick up where to old one left. In the meanwhile I improvised, hiring an admin assistant to help with the overload in work.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Build a team of people who share your vision and start window-shopping immediately. Anticipate potential needs and start talking with potential partners—marketing companies, web development companies, business partners, etc—long before you’re ready to bring them aboard. Finding the right people to work with takes longer than expected. Get the conversations going early so that when the time comes to utilize their services, the research phase is already handled and you just need to pull the trigger. startupsecrets_share

Careers are too short to learn everything through trial and error, which is why it’s important to surround yourself with a team of mentors. This is as true for business as it is for life. In terms of business, develop a network of advisors with diverse backgrounds. Ideally, have a separate mentor for each of the following areas—marketing strategy, technology/logistics management, tax/accounting, law, fundraising, and management. Obviously that won’t be possible when you’re first starting off, but as your network grows, the variety of industries you’re tied to will follow.”

 

 

 

 

Startup Feature: 121C Boards

WHAT THEY DO

“121C collects waste carbon fiber from companies in the aerospace industry and upcycles the material to make the highest quality skateboards on the market. Our boards are light, incredibly strong and a blast to  ride.”

HOW 121C WAS BORN

“At first I wanted to make carbon fiber skateboards with the scrap that the rocket lab was generating, and when I realized how big of a problem carbon waste was for the industry, I knew I had to start a business.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“We recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign for $44,000 and have been signing on new companies to collect material from. We’ve also been featured in articles on USC’s website.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“Half way through our kickstarter campaign, our manufacturer bailed on us and we had to lease a facility and bring everything in house. At first, this was a challenge, but it ended up being a blessing. “

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Be prepared to work a ton.”

Download a PDF version of this page

Startup Feature: Y Athletics

WHAT THEY DO

“Y Athletics is a men’s premium activewear brand. We spend most of our time on developing new products by incorporating the latest technology and innovations in material sciences. Once we’re satisfied with our products, we usually kick off a crowdfunding campaign to bring the products to life. This helps us gauge the demand for the products and of course also provides us with the funding to manufacture them.”

HOW Y ATHLETICS WAS BORN

“My partner, Sam, who also happens to be a trojan alum, came up with the idea when he was trying to buy a new workout shirt. He was confused by all the options provided by the existing retailers and no single product seemed to stand out from the crowd in terms of quality and functionality. So, that’s what led him to start exploring different avenues to build the best workout shirt himself.”

RECENT SUCCESSES

“In our first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, we raised $250k in pre-orders for our shirts. Since then, we’ve launched our own online store and launched two more campaigns on Kickstarter. In total, we’ve sold about $1.3 million worth of activewear over the past 24 months.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“The fact that people genuinely love the products we make. The satisfaction of running into someone wearing a Y Athletics product and talking about how much they love it… or a friend telling me how much his father loves his YA gear. Our core community of backers on Kickstarter usually write back to us to tell us how much they love our products. So that experience overall has been amazing.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES 

“We’ve faced obstacles in the past where larger manufacturers have tried to cut off our supply chain. That led to a few months of confusion, legal battles and of course letting our customers down since our shipments were delayed. Our current obstacles are mainly around trying to scale the current operations. Unlike something that’s purely software, it’s much harder to scale the physical infrastructure required to scale our operations.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Amongst students, you usually run into two types of people – people who think that they’d never be able to pull off starting their own business because “they’re just not the type,” and then those that are so in love with their ideas that they lose touch with reality and refuse to test out whether there’s actually a market, need or demand for the product they’re building. So, the only advice I would give is to think from a problem-first mentality, and then work backwards to figure out the best solution. Most of the time, people fall in love with a solution rather than a problem.”

Download a PDF version of this page

Startup Feature: Cropsticks


Cropsticks

Interview with co-founder Jay Chang


WHAT THEY DO

“Cropsticks are eco-friendly, “mind-blowing” disposable chopsticks. It’s the utensil you’ve always known, made better.”

CROP PRIMARY

c2HOW CROPSTICKS WAS BORN

“Chopsticks were invented in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) and possibly even earlier during the Xia dynasty. In nearly 4000 years, no one has truly innovated the way we use chopsticks. The idea for Cropsticks first came to inventor Mylen Fe Yamamoto as she was on a flight to Asia in April 2015 and her chopsticks kept rolling off the dirty tray table. She thought that there must be an easier way to keep her chopsticks in place.

Then the horizontal breakaway holder was born! After doing more research, she found out that over 20 millions trees go into production to create the wooden disposable utensil. So it became a goal to produce it sustainably from fast growing bamboo. Mylen and Jay met in 2013 when Jay was producing the DiscoverMe conference. Jay’s family background has been in manufacturing bamboo housewares for the past 15+ years through TotallyBamboo.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“Seeing thoughts become reality and it helps when you like the people you work with.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“We’ve been working on Cropsticks since April last year. So when the chopstick meme of our similar idea went viral last month and challenged our product, we knew it was important to launch fast.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to your first customers. Don’t be afraid that people will steal your idea. Don’t be afraid someone else is better than you or will beat you to market. Be cognizant of all of those things and use them to your advantage to clearly articulate your unique value proposition, and build the best product you can to solve your customer’s pain.”

c1SUCCESS STORIES

 

 

– Kickstarter at 40% in 5 days

– Interest from angel investors potential distribution partners and major restaurant chains

– Featured on NBC, NextShark, Hawaii Magazine, KITV4 ABC, Hawaii News Now and Folic Hawaii 

Download a PDF Version of this Feature

Startup Feature: Stunt Players


Stunt Players

Interview with CEO Hunter Crowder


WHAT THEY DO

“Stunt Players allows stunt performers to promote themselves to coordinators, directors, and producers to be hired for work in the film and television industry.  By signing up for the service, members are placed in an online database made easily accessible and searchable by industry professionals.  Many of the stunt performers seen in films like Fast and the Furious and Pirates of the Caribbean have been hired through Stunt Players.”INC

HOW STUNT PLAYERS WAS BORN

“My father, Wally Crowder, a stunt coordinator and director, originally founded the company two decades ago.  He helped advance the stunt industry by providing coordinators with a hardcopy directory allowing them to browse through stunt performers and hire them based on stats and abilities.

This altered the way stunt people would go about getting work – typically crashing sets and hustling coordinators with their headshots and resumes.  However, due to the work my father was taking on as a coordinator, he decided to shut down the business.  As an actor, I was lucky enough to score a national commercial campaign and purchase the company from him.  I took over as CEO to revitalize Stunt Players as a contemporary web platform.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCESPD_STICKER

“Contributing to an industry that has become my life.  I am obsessed with the film industry and find it my duty to give back in any way I can.  I grew up around stunt people and it only made sense that I help build something useful for those I believe to be the hardest working, most under-appreciated heroes in entertainment.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“I am a film-lover and cinephile more so than I am an entrepreneur.  While I have a sharp focus on what Stunt Players must innovate and execute, the biggest obstacles are technical ones.  Fortunately, I work with an incredible development team that has become my “pit crew.”  No production succeeds without a reliable cast and crew, even behind the scenes.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

Build something that you are passionate about, something that you are obsessed with.  If you aren’t obsessed, don’t waste the time.  And then you must love it more than anything else.  I get to work with performers who crash cars, light themselves on fire, and jump from buildings.  It’s full throttle… but I love it.

stunt_players_shareSTARTUP VICTORIES

“The launch of our new website: stuntplayers.com
I won 1st Place in the Regional Los Angeles GSEA (Global Student Entrepreneur Awards) Competition.  We are also proud to have hosted two events in the past year that have brought together a total of over one-thousand stunt performers to mix, mingle, and make connections with working coordinators.  Many of which have gone on to book work on movies and television shows.”

Startup Feature: ElemenTerra


ElemenTerra

Interview with CEO Max Pittsley and CCO Camille Kanengiser


What they do: 

“ElemenTerra is a virtual reality game that empowers the imagination. Using the Oculus Rift, users are immersed into a universe
where they play as nature spirits who create matter and fly through a planet of their own.” ElemenTerra

How ElemenTerra was born: 

Pittsley: “It definitely was a long process, and it evolved very slowly over time. It really started out with a client of mine that I did web development for. He was sort of an eccentric guy, so he bought himself an Oculus DK1 just to check it out and said, “hey, you know how to program. You should do something with this.”

I was super skeptical about VR. I thought it was a gimmick, but I all of a sudden had this kit that was super hard to come by. We started brainstorming what could be done in VR that could not have been done without VR. We realized that feeling like you’re somewhere else is really significant, so how do we take advantage of that?”

SOGAL2

Best Advice to Entrepreneurs: 
Pittsley: “I think it comes down to life advice and maintaining relationships in general, which is to be honest and to be able to accept criticism.”

Kanengiser: “Yes, being able to take critique about what you’ve done or an idea that you have objectively. You have to be able to logically justify it’s not just about feelings. I know a lot of business is about the feeling, be it with title, or with the direction of the product, or the direction of the company, but being able to take a step back and cool down and really look at where it’s going is super important.”

ElemenTerra_share

Download a PDF version of this page

Startup Feature: AIO Robotics


AIO Robotics

Interview with CEO Jens Windau


WHAT THEY DO

“We make the only stand alone 3D printing machine on the market — Zeus. If you think about Xerox copy machines, they’re completely standalone. They can scan, copy and print without being hooked up to a computer. We’re the only machine in the market that can do that in 3D and with a beautiful touchscreen and a powerful processor. There are machines that try to do the same thing but they’re not stand alone, so they’re not machines that you can put somewhere without an external computer. Since December 2014, we have shipped around 500 machines at about $2,500 each to customers worldwide.”

HOW AIO ROBOTICS WAS BORNhqdefault

“We secured angel investment funding the year after and with that capital, we were able to finish the development process. At the end of 2014, we started manufacturing our machines with a huge team of engineers and a partner in Taiwan. We finally grew to a team of seven people and moved to an office in Santa Monica.”

MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE

“As an entrepreneur, you pretty much have to do everything by yourself first and then hand over tasks, and I think that’s one of the most rewarding things. Then the fun part in between was, for example, the Secret Service called and said “we need a machine.” The FBI called. Those kinds of things you don’t really expect.

We build prosthetic hands for kids and they’re incredible. It’s like $10 to print them and they’re super light. You can print them in 24 hours and kids can have instant prosthetic hands. We donate them to hospitals and kids here doing the special olympics. There was one little kid who came to our booth who was missing a few fingers, and the moment where you can help was very rewarding. It’s about opportunities to help people and give something back, and I think those moments are also moments when you realize it’s not always about competition or profit.”

aiorobotics_share

BEST ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Be prepared for a roller coaster. When you’re in the field of tech, often your product development cycle takes a lot of patience. When you get your product up and running is not necessarily when it’s ready for the customer, so you definitely need a strong team that hauls together and sustains a long product development phase until it’s ready for the market.

You will still experience a lot of ups and downs, both financially as well as making sure the team gets along. You just have to be persistent, and think about what the end game is going to be and where you want to go.”

Click here for a PDF version of this feature.

Startup Feature: KrafftIT

 


KrafftIT

Interview with CEO Fredrik Krafft 


WHO THEY ARE

Fredrik Krafft, 31, was born in Sweden and graduated with an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from USC in 2015. He created the Swedish version of KrafftIT during his military service in 2004. He registered KrafftIT Inc. in Delware in 2014.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 2.36.33 PM

WHAT THEY DO

“KrafftIT is a health tech company that wants to solve the obvious problems that haven’t been solved yet. For example, air quality. People don’t think about it because it’s not as tangible. We want to fix the problem, not just inform you that there is a problem. Our app “Inhale” makes predictions for air quality, for up to four days in advance, so you know when the best time to be outside is.

If you work out outside for one hour at five o’clock, how is that relative to all other times you could work out? We have pollen predictions too. Pollen predictions give a much higher value to people in the United States because of allergies. If you’re far away from the major cities, there’s still an issue with air quality, not because of pollution but because of pollen.”

HOW KRAFFTIT WAS BORN

“I was running around campus with one of the triathlon team members. He’s running full speed and it’s a short track on campus, but halfway through I’m dying. Sure, he’s a triathlon guy, but I should at least be able to get around campus. It was one of those really polluted summer days and there were cars all around us. It got me thinking, “when should I have been running? I wish I had an idea of when that should be,” but there was no solution out there. So I thought, ‘ok, I should do something about it. ’”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“Creating something new. Being your own creator of success. I don’t know if in America this is a common expression, but in Sweden, the saying is “you are your happiness blacksmith,” so you make your own happiness. By doing something on your own, well in a team of course, where you share a common goal with your teammates, what you do makes a huge difference for the success of the company. Everyone has a part in this and what they do will influence the success enormously.”

krafftit founders

Director of Business Development Matt Kasten said: “It’s very fun, it’s very chaotic, it’s very rewarding. It’s an experience that I think we’re all looking for coming out of school. Instead of going to work for perhaps a big company, we’re really looking to create something for ourselves, for communities, for Los Angeles, for the world, that’s going to be a really helpful tool going forward.”

“If you don’t have a bigger vision of why you want to do something, it doesn’t make sense to do it. Why are you putting in all this work if, ok you might have the vision to get rich, but money has no real value right? It’s nothingness.

Seeing people happy, solving a problem, helping someone. I strongly believe that everyone needs to do something where they feel like they’re making a difference, and that’s what makes you happy.”

Download a PDF version of this feature