Petitas Los Angeles – Selected For Inaugural Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Lift Accelerator

This morning, Petitas, an LA clothing brand founded by USC Marshall 2018 alumna Chelsea LaFerla, was selected as part of the newly created Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars “LaunchPad Lift” program.

Chelsea LaFerla is the CEO & Founder of Petitas Los Angeles

According to LaFerla, “Petitas Los Angeles is a clothing brand made by and for petite, professional women. The brand empowers petite women to be #clothedinconfidence through uniquely-tailored, high-end garments; their Signature Label is made in the USA using premium, hand-sourced fabrics.”

USC Marshall School of Business prepares small businesses for large contracts

Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe, a Locke High School graduate, teaches the Certified Business Enterprise Supplier Training at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Photo by Jason Lewis

BUSINESS

Facebook and the Founder’s Dilemma

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is unusual in the corporate world in that he is still in charge of the company he founded.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is unusual in the corporate world in that he is still in charge of the company he founded. PHOTO: GERARD JULIEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Facebook Inc. FB -1.36% Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has vastly outperformed expectations for company founders.

That’s not just because the company he started in his dorm room is now among the most valuable stocks in the world and has made him vastly wealthy and globally influential, but because he is still the boss.

Recent research of about 6,000 American startups between 2005 and 2012 reveals fewer than half of their creators are still at the helm; earlier research suggests 80% of founders are eventually forced to step down as CEO.

Has that time come for Mr. Zuckerberg? After a string of missteps—and his clumsy efforts to defend them—related to user privacy and outside influence over the social-media platform, many have suggested it has.

He says he has no plans to relinquish control of the company he started in 2004, and he has the voting power to back that up. He also indicated the job of his top lieutenant, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, is secure.

Still, Facebook’s directors should be contemplating how to get an iconic founder to step back before it’s too late. Is Apple Inc.’s firing of Steve Jobs in the 1980s a potential path for Facebook? Or was the decision by Google’s founders to hire an experienced CEO in the early days a more relevant template?

Few companies seem to find the right answer to what Noam Wasserman dubbed “the founder’s dilemma.” He led research on thousands of startups and said entrepreneurs who start a successful venture are reluctant to hand it over to someone else.

“The majority of founders overkeep control at their peril,” said Mr. Wasserman, a professor who started the University of Southern California’s “Founder Central” research program. Even prominent founders “tended to get into deep trouble in recent years when they remain largely unchecked,” he said, citing Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, Theranos Inc.’s Elizabeth Holmes, Groupon Inc.’s Andrew Mason and Uber Inc.’s Travis Kalanick.

Years after Apple fired him in 1985, Mr. Jobs returned to the computer company to reinvigorate the product line. That outcome is rare. It is also an unlikely one for Mr. Zuckerberg given his hold on the voting shares.

Founders at Google, now a division of Alphabet Inc., took a different approach that is worth considering. Three years after Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the company as a better way to search through the internet’s ever-expanding material, they hired former Novell CEO Eric Schmidt.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal a few years later, Mr. Schmidt talked about the balancing act of running a quickly-growing company where the founders remained involved but not in charge.

Among the big changes that he made was installing rigor in the decision-making process. Mr. Schmidt said the founders were still involved in charting strategy or guiding Google’s attempts at innovation, but they were spared having to deal with managerial decisions.

Clearly, Facebook’s problems are complex and different than those faced by a young internet search engine. The company is under fire for a slow response to uncovering Russian manipulation during the U.S. presidential race. Executives face scrutiny for not adequately protecting user data and a lack of transparency. Facebook has acknowledged it should have reacted more quickly to signs of Russian activity and has taken steps to give users more control of the data it collects.

But Facebook could still learn from Mr. Schmidt, who said he created a culture at Google where “decisions are made in front of people.” That advice that could go a long way at the social network, where the culture appears to be insular and the response to the current crisis had been controlled by a handful of leaders.

Mr. Schmidt no longer runs Google, but his tenure represented an important hinge in the company’s timeline. When he handed control and ultimate accountability back to Mr. Page in 2011, he said the transition would be seamless because, for a decade, “we have all been equally involved in making decisions.”

Steve Blank, a Stanford professor and a former CEO of startups, told me Facebook’s board needs to take the company’s ongoing trials seriously because it is facing a similarly consequential inflection point in its own timeline where a misstep could be very costly.

“We’re kind of running a bizarre experiment in how we approach social media,” Mr. Blank said, and Facebook is playing a lead role in the U.S.’s wild-west scenario. Executives like Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg need to show more urgency and resolve, or risk getting run over along the way.

“They have been gamed and are now dealing with the consequences,” Mr. Blank said. “Rather than being upset they were gamed, they went into a defensive crouch.” Fresh eyes may be needed in the management suite and in the boardroom, he said, or government regulation may be the only solution to Facebook’s problems.

“The question should be ‘what is the right thing to do for our customers and our employees and the country?’”

Mr. Zuckerberg, at 34, isn’t soon stepping away from Facebook. But tech giants who went before him, including the late Mr. Jobs, have something to teach him about taking even a small step back at a still relatively young age.

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out getting fired from Apple was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Mr. Jobs said in a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. He was fired at 30, a decade after Apple’s founding. “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

What VC Firms Want You To Know!

In the basement of Bridge Hall, future entrepreneurs of USC, graduate and undergraduate alike, learned tips and tricks from Manan Mehta, the founder of Unshackled and Netanel Bar Ilan, the CTO of Yobs.

1.“Brag about yourself, Don’t Be Humble”

VCs are in the business of buying businesses, so walk in with swagger because you are the customer as well. Mehta stressed the importance of knowing holding on to your superpower. Netanel Bar Ilan pointed out how most people often don’t even realize their potential and that they are eligible for the O1 visa.

2. “Your Advisors Shouldn’t Be The Reason Why I Invest In You”

Mentors and coaches are necessary and they will give you a head start, however, they are for you not for the company. Having big names as your advisors is not a sign of success as they probably won’t have real time for you. Find people who will invest time and effort into you. Additionally, giving the analogy of tennis coaches, Mehta, suggests that you shouldn’t be afraid to switch coaches because they need to evolve.

3.  “Three of My Investments have Changed Their Ideas”

VCs are investing in people. It’s easy to find good ideas but difficult to find good people to work with. Mehta suggests that you should start early and that when he invests, he does not necessarily need business progress.

 4. The 3 Questions

Manan Mehta says it takes him 3 Key Questions to decide whether he is going to invest in someone.

“How much Is your customer willing to pay you?”

“What is the most are they willing to pay you?”

“At what point do they tell you to fuck off?”

5. Customer knowledge: “It’s a motion picture, not a photograph”

Don’t think about the product, think about the problem. Customers buy you solving their top pain point. Follow the shortest pathway until you hit a set of customers who start asking for the same.

6. Learn the Language of VCs

Mehta says that something that takes about five hours to learn is what can set you apart from what most Entrepreneurs forget about. Also, it will prevent people from taking advantage of you.

7. “Fight yourself and take the opportunities”

From his personal startup experience, Ilan encourages the entrepreneurs to not freak out if things don’t work. He recommends having more than one solution always. “Don’t think too much into the future”, he says, “focus on what you need right now, prioritize your tasks. “Scalability – you need to be accessible – that product is running 99% of times”

8. Stay in LA, Everything is still New, Companies Are Being Founded

Both Mehta and Ilan recommend that it is more important to build one’s name in Los Angeles rather than Silicon Valley or San Francisco.

9. Unknowns are Going To Hit You- like Hoodie and Piper from Silicon Valley

Watch the full event live on Troy Labs’ Facebook Page

Unshackled, a Silicon Valley-based pre-seed fund for immigrant founders and international students. Unshackled Ventures uses capital, a hands-on approach, a large engaged network, and an innovative funding model to help founders turn their ideas into reality. Unshackled Ventures was profiled in the 2016 Forbes 400 issue.

Since Unshackled Ventures began investing in 2015, it has helped its portfolio company founders, who hail from 16 countries, obtain seven different types of visas. Investors in

Unshackled’s first fund include First Round Capital, Emerson Collective, TYLT Ventures, Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Naval Ravikant, Brad Feld, and Joe Lonsdale, among others.

 Unshackled’s portfolio includes Starsky Robotics, Lily, and Pluto AI. Manan is the Founding Partner of Unshackled Ventures.

Netanel Ilan Bar – he’s an entrepreneur, ninja coder, and currently works at Yobs Technologies as their CTO. Yobs Technologies utilizes AI to assist hiring recruiters to narrow down their pool to only the best applicants for the job

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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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.”

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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 

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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.”