Contrary Capital is your Startup’s Newest Asset for Funding and Beyond

www.contrarycap.com

Here at USC, we all know someone who is working on a startup. Irrespective of degree or department, students and faculty at USC are working everyday to develop solutions to a multitude of relevant problems. Perhaps you may be working on one yourself.

The truth is, the Trojan entrepreneurial ecosystem is incredibly strong, and students all across our campus are building businesses with truly amazing potential. But as each of you knows, building a business is hard.

That’s why I’m happy to announce an incredible new resource to add to your toolbelt. Contrary Capital brings the best in business to help scale the challenges that hinder your business’s growth.

Contrary Capital is a fully independent, university focused venture fund driven by student investors at 40+ colleges across the nation. Backed by founders such as Dan Macklin of SoFi, Martin Eberhard of Tesla and Emmett Shear of Twitch, 80%  of our limited partners have started $1B+ tech companies over the past decade.

Contrary announced their official public launch on Monday September 18th with an inaugural fund size projected to fall between $5 million and $7 million

Here are a few quick bullets to summarize our value:

  • We’re totally independent and returns-focused. If funded, we’ll connect you with top-tier VCs that fit you best.
  • We have an expansive network you can tap into for diverse talent, customers, and advice.
  • With a check size ranging between $50k-$200k in YC style standardized valuation buckets, we have the flexibility to accommodate you at a crucial stage in your growth.

Feel free to contact us any time at usc@contrarycap.com. We would love to meet with you to see what you’re working on or answer any questions you may have.

 

Fight on!

Zach Sullens and Rishi Thomas

On the Go in LA: 121C

Startup 121C looks to get leg up with skateboards made with salvaged carbon fiber.

Originally published September 25, 2017 in the Los Angeles Business Journal.

The aerospace industry throws away thousands of pounds of expensive carbon fiber each year.

That seems like a missed business opportunity to recent USC graduate Ryan Olliges.

His startup, 121C Inc., was founded to exploit the market inefficiency, and has signed multiyear contracts with undisclosed local rocket manufactures to buy carbon scrap and recycle the material into skateboards and longboards.

“We recycle from new space companies, from the production lines of modern rockets,” he said. “Sometimes it’s too small of pieces for them to use, sometimes its dated material which is beyond the spec of aerospace parts but still perfectly fine to make skateboards with.”

121C of Gardena buys about 2,500 pounds of carbon fiber a month – enough to press out 450 skateboard decks that sell for anywhere from $100 to $275. The decks are the main component of a skateboard. The company sells some standalone decks without mounts and wheels, and also offers some fully assembled products.

Sales are strong, said Olliges, with 121C generating about $100,000 a month in revenue, mostly through online retail. He expects a boost as the year-end holiday’s approach.

“We’ve been selling through (inventory) pretty much as fast as we can make,” he said. “We keep ramping up production and our sales keep increasing.”

121C was co-founded in 2015, and the name refers to 121 degrees Celsius, the temperature required to harden the epoxy that binds carbon fiber.

Olliges is a 2016 aerospace engineering graduate of USC, while one co-founder, Jaysen Harris, formerly worked as a health care IT specialist, and another, Greg Autry, is an assistant professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

The company has raised more than $174,000 over three Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns, $60,000 from its founding team, and is nearing the closure of a $1 million seed round, Olliges said. The startup plans to use money raised from Kickstarter preorders and investments to buy equipment to create tooling for future products.

The company’s least-expensive carbon-fiber skateboard deck is around average for the industry at about $100, while its most expensive is on the upper end of the market for longboards at $275, said Richard Pyles, president of Hacienda Heights-based skateboard manufacturer Made in Mars Inc.

“It’s toward the upper end, but it’s not unheard of,” he said. “There’s a market, it just becomes more and more niche as you move up in price.”

Olliges said his company aims to manufacturer more than just longboards, including consumer products such as ceiling fan blades, standing desks and conference tables.

“The real reason we are raising a lot of money is to expand past longboards,” Olliges said.

Start with a Problem not a Solution

Start with a Problem not a Solution – A trap that many products fall into. People don’t actually need what you’re building.

Original article by Mikael Cho of Crew published on Medium

A product in search of a problem.

A trap that many products fall into. People don’t actually need what you’re building.

If a product doesn’t solve a problem, no one cares.

This is why when we started Crew, the first thing we focused on was making sure we were solving a problem, even if our product was primitive and many things were done manually rather than with technology.

To help us gain insight into what’s working and what’s not, we look at 3 main signals:

1. Data — Numbers showing how people are using Crew
2. Customer input — Emails, phone calls, or suggestions from customers after using Crew
3. Intuition — How do we feel when we use Crew? What do we think needs to be improved?

One of the main focuses for us is looking at the repeat usage of Crew members posting projects.

We want our product to be so useful that our members don’t just use us once but every time they need creative work.

Experience = multiple “wow moments”

(not just one)

Think about the first time you used a great product.

It probably felt like it was designed for you. Every action you wanted to do felt right. Your senses (vision, touch, sound) were in tune with the product.

You might’ve said “wow” while using it.

That product touched you on an emotional level and you remember it. You shared it. And you want to use it again.

I know it might be a tired example, but I felt this type of positive emotion the first time I used Uber. Uber’s app connects you with drivers to get around your city.

At first, it may seem like using Uber would not be that much better than calling a cab. But, the trick to Uber’s stickiness is not just one, but multiple “wow moments” that make it substantially better than calling a cab.

The first time I used Uber, there were 4 distinct “wow moments”:

1. How do I know if a cab is available right now?

Uber shows you cabs around you on a map.

2. When will my driver show up?

Uber shows you a map of where your driver is with an estimated time of arrival

3. Will my driver take credit card or do I need cash?

Uber connects with your credit card.

4. What should I tip?

Uber automatically includes a tip you set.

The way Uber baked multiple “wow moments” into their product is one reason why their system is so strong.

With each additional “wow moment”, your chances of using Uber’s app increases compared to hailing a cab.

However, one of the challenges with creating multiple “wow moments” within your product is that they take time to construct. Uber took a year to build their first app and launched in one city.

You need to be patient and willing to go all-in on a problem to create an experience worthy of multiple “wow moments.” Creating the right experience is risky when you might not have all the signals to say what you’re building is the right thing. But that’s part of the road to building a differentiated product. You won’t have all the answers at the start.

To reduce risk, you can begin by focusing on the main one or two “wow moments”.

This may not be good enough to create the full experience you’re after but as you build more and seek to reach that same level of quality of that one “wow moment,” your product will get closer to what you’re after.

This is what we did.

The first “wow moment” we focused on was helping you find a vetted, qualified designer/developer within a day.

Finding the right designers and developers is hard even for the best technical companies like Facebook and Google. Because software is becoming a need for almost every business, the supply for software engineers and designers is throwing the demand curve for a loop.

In Crew, we’ve found that finding the right designer within a day creates a “wow moment” for about 25% of our customers. After matching a project with a designer/developer we help with things like managing the project and payment but not at the level of quality to create multiple “wow moments”. Yet.

To find the areas we need to improve we used our 3 signals (metrics, customer input, and our intuition) to make a long list of problems.

When defining what to build, it’s often best to start by picking out the right problems to focus on and not get too caught up in solutions yet.

How we solve each of these problems could be done thousands of different ways.

For now, getting problems down is the focus. We can define potential solutions later.

Before this meeting, we each took a week and made a long list of problems from different perspectives:

Angus — Engineering

Kirill — Design

Steph — Customer happiness

Mikael — High level

Angus broke down the problems from clearly defined and easy to do to undefined and needs to be discussed (Hard To Solve means needs to be discussed):

Our plan is Angus and our product team will start development on the bottom (the clearly defined tasks) while Kirill, Steph, and I tackle the higher order issues on top that need more refinement before development can start.

We’ll work toward the middle. As we define the hard to solve issues, and as what needs to be built becomes clearer, those items will drop down to obvious fixes and we can build them.

Hard problems aren’t bad. Hard problems can be the best opportunities for you to “wow” your customers if you build them right.

The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity.

Building Crew in Public

Privacy be damned. Building Crew in Public is a series of 6 short essays on product design philosophy and the struggles we faced designing our own product. You can read the original, On The Road-inspired version on the Crew Backstage blog.

1. We’re all selling experiences

2. You Are Here

3. Constraints, not barriers

4. Ask lots of questions

5. Anatomy of a homepage

6. The journey is more important than the destination: Designing the optimal onboarding flow

7 LA-Based Apps for Recent Grads (Built in LA)

A mobile marketplace for millennial renters, RadPad aims to take the pain out of finding and leasing an apartment. The LA-based company allows users to apply for leases easily, and to pay for all transactions (including rent) via a debit or credit card.

Third day of a hangover? It might actually be the flu. The problem is: no one wants to navigate LA traffic with the flu. Heal brings a pediatrician or family doctor to your residence for a flat $99 fee.

Given the amount of time Los Angelenos spend commuting, the odds of being stranded on the side of the road are pretty high. HONK’s aim is simple: they provide a simple app where users can indicate their situation, and the wait time for help is usually just 15-30 minutes.

Looking to make a little extra cash on the side? toot is an on-demand tutoring service that allows recent grads to offer their services to students in a cashless, easy-to-manage system.

 

There’s always a degree of unknown when heading to a bar on a given night, and Roo’s goal is to eliminate that. Users review a bar in real time so that potential customers can judge via their phone whether it’s worth a trip.

 

When it comes to fitness, motivation can be an issue for anyone. Fit’s app fights that, connecting like-minded individuals to exercise together. Whether it be yoga in the park or a pick-up basketball game, Fit brings together people who want to work out.

 

Santa Monica-based Wash.io is the on-demand laundry and dry cleaning service that we’ve all been dreaming of. Users specify a date, time and purpose of the pick-up (dry cleaning or bulk laundry), and a Wash.io driver comes and picks it up.

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.”

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5 Trojan Startups Acquired by Major Tech Companies [by Trojan Family Magazine]

Original article from Trojan Family Magazine written by Katharine Gammon

FOR MANY STARTUPS, being acquired by a like-minded, well-respected large company is the ultimate payoff for years of hard work and planning. Here are just a few of the unique ventures from USC alumni that caught the attention of major tech companies.

200px-The_Wavii_logo

Wavii

Founder: Adrian Aoun ’05, MS ’05

Acquired by Google in 2013

Wavii offered users quick news updates, tailored to favorite topics such as celebrities or athletes, that could be accessed through an iPhone app. Its features were folded into Google.


blendspace-logo-dialog-1

Blendspace

(originally called EdCanvas)

Founder: Amy Lin ’08, MS ’09

Acquired by TES Global in 2014

The Blendspace app helps teachers organize digital content, giving them convenient access to YouTube videos, PDFs, pictures, Dropbox files and more. It also allows teachers to share their content with students and track student learning with built-in assessments.


virtual-tourist

VirtualTourist.com and Onetime.com

Founder: J.R. Johnson ’93

Acquired by TripAdvisor, a property of Expedia, in 2008

VirtualTourist.com is a free online community with user-generated travel guides, reviews and online forums for traveling. OneTime.com is a price comparison tool for booking flights and hotels.


embark-Twitter-icon

Embark

Founder: David Hodge ’11

Acquired by Apple in 2013

Embark makes free, fast and simple mobile apps for mass transit riders. It includes a unique transit map for 10 cities, allowing users to access the application without an Internet connection.


cappuccino-website-logo-333bd6a0

280 North

Founders: Tom Robinson ’07, MS ’07; Francisco Tolmasky ’06; Ross Boucher ’07, MS ’07

Acquired by Motorola in 2010

This Y Combinator startup developed tools such as the Cappuccino programming language, which allows developers to build rich Web applications with little programming knowledge though a proprietary framework and toolkit.