Interview with Harper Wilde (Bra Startup) Co-founders: Jenna Kerner and Jane Fisher

Kerner and Fisher are disrupting the bra business and having fun while they’re at it with Harper Wilde.

What inspired you to start a bra company?

Fisher: The idea came about very organically. We asked a simple question: “Why are bras so expensive?” We did a ton of research to figure out why the industry was so antiquated, but we just ran into more questions. We didn’t understand why brands were hyper-sexualized, or why typical models did not resemble the everyday woman. Why did bras come with those odd embellishments that almost no woman wanted, let alone purchased. And we certainly did not understand why bras needed to cost $60-$80 - or more!

When we began running focus groups and surveys with women to better understand what the true pain points were, one thing became crystal clear almost immediately - women hated buying bras. Busy, driven, successful women were so fed up with the process, they were buying bras they didn’t love and keeping them for way longer than they should, just to avoid repeating the process. One woman even told us “buying bras is like a tax on being female.” Needless to say, comments like this further drove our passion to make an overdue change in this industry.

What are a few of the problems that your bras solve?

Kerner: Other companies are innovating on the product. After two years of research, focus groups, and collecting hundreds of bra dressing room horror stories, we realized that the true issues lie not in the products themselves, but rather in the experience of shopping for them. Creating an amazing product was crucial. But we built the simplest, most hassle-free experience possible. We nixed measuring tapes, 17-page surveys, and the hundreds of options. We provide thoughtful designs, fair prices, and free home try-ons, so that a woman can find her fit in the privacy of her home. We call it ra hopping: Bra Shopping, without the B.S.

Image from humorous Harper Wilde promotional video.

It's difficult not to notice the humor on your website, including this video. Was humor something you knew you wanted to incorporate in your business all along?  

Kerner: Humor was something we wanted to incorporate into the fabric of the company from the start. The first two things we invested in were great products and the video, to help communicate our story. We looked around the bra industry and we found brands that were either hypersexualized or overly serious. As we picked apart the process of shopping for a bra, we found so many moments of absurdity of what we have to deal with that we couldn’t help but poke fun at the industry a bit. Buying bras doesn’t have to feel like a TSA screening at airport security. It should be empowering, easy, and if we can really nail it, a little funny too.

While we love to bring humor and life to this hyper-sexualized industry, we also have a very serious mission to Lift Up The Ladies…[through our partnership] with The Girl Project.

Would you tell me more about your partnership with The Girl Project?

Fisher: The Girl Project helps put young girls through school so we can lift up the next generation of leading ladies. We spent nearly as long vetting a social impact partner as we did building this company. When we started this adventure, we were students, fortunate to be in a position to learn, explore and challenge traditional norms. But we knew there were millions of girls without access to education. We set out to find an organization whose values aligned with our own - one who also understood that behind every strong, successful woman is an educated young girl. The Girl Project met so many of the criteria we were looking for in a partner. Jenna and I were inspired by their passion to educate girls on a global level and their ability to have tangible impact in doing so. We couldn’t be more thrilled to work together to achieve our mission of Lifting Up The Ladies.

On your site, you pose the question, "Why is a product that is meant for us, typically marketed toward men?" Can you elaborate more on this a little?

Kerner: Looking at the brands out there, you see women clad in lingerie and angels who look unattainably beautiful. The messaging pushed into the market makes women feel like they should match their bra and underwear everyday, or that the basic, everyday bra is boring and shouldn’t be the go-to. And yet, on average a woman has 16 bras in her drawer, and only wears 2-3 of them. When asked, many women say, almost sheepishly, that they wear an everyday bra nearly every day. Why are women embarrassed by that? We’re all doing it. That’s how we reply. You aren’t alone. We’re all wearing the comfortable, durable, everyday bras, even if marketing from traditional companies tells us we should be wearing the sexy lingerie. So we wanted to flip the messaging and let women know it’s okay - hell, it’s even cool - to love your everyday bra.

Why is your company called Harper Wilde?

Kerner: It took us nearly six months to come up with a name that we felt encompassed the ethos of the brand. We distilled down the most important values of the company, and we kept coming back to empowerment and education. We looked to women educators and authors, and found inspiration from two iconic authors, Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not only is it a nod to two influential women, but it refers to timeless classics, much like our everyday products.

 

 


Local Spotlight- Bert Rosenblatt, Founder of Vicus Partners

Bert Rosenblatt is the co-founder of the commercial real estate firm, Vicus Partners. Started in 2007 with a former colleague, Andrew Stein, Vicus Partners now has more than 20 employees and its clients include Mount Sinai Hospital, General Assembly, and Carnegie Mellon University. Rosenblatt lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn with his family and is active in Brooklyn’s entrepreneurial community. He is the head of membership for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Brooklyn.

How would you describe the entrepreneurial community in Brooklyn? And how is it unique?

I think the entrepreneurial community in Brooklyn is booming, I think there's no two ways about it. I mean, it's absolutely its own city and there are lots of people that don't even want to go to Manhattan. There's an incredible amount of founders there. We did some research on this [and there are] 6,500 businesses in Brooklyn that are between two and $20 million. And there's some that are obviously massive like Etsy and Kickstarter and Vice Media, just to name a few. Brooklyn Brewery, Steiner Studios, which is a movie studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There's some massive, massive businesses in Brooklyn.

I think the basic difference between the Brooklyn and Manhattan businesses is that [Brooklyn businesses] tend to be more creative. It's more of a creative group of people. I think that they're just more down to earth. But I think they're every bit as smart and …[have] the potential to be enormous. In some ways I think they're really sort of ahead of the curve.

Why do you live in Brooklyn as opposed to New York City?

I do a lot of business in Manhattan, but whenever I get off the train and I'm in Brooklyn, I just feel like I'm with my people and I can relax a little bit. The other thing is, it's an amazing place to have a family. I've got two little kids and the part of Brooklyn that we live is literally like you can't walk down the street without getting run over by a stroller or somebody with a kid. I think it's a great place to have kids.

What are some qualities or attitudes you think that make for a really successful entrepreneur?

I think the most important thing honestly is resiliency. Everybody talks about this, but you just have to be willing to hang in there. You're going to have some hard times and you've got to just be willing to weather the storm. I just think the truth is most people can't do that. I think it gets hard and they just want to tap out. I think you just have to really hang in there. And I think you have to be an optimist. I think you have to really look at the glass as half full. If you're not feeling optimistic, I think it's really bad. [Also,] I think that you need to be a batteries included person. If your batteries are not included, I don't think you're going to be a great entrepreneur because you need somebody else to pump you up. I mean, you're the guy that's got to be pumping other people up, and giving them hope, and giving them a reason to keep fighting. I think that's probably the most important quality.

I think that maybe another quality is just…being willing to take a hard look at yourself and make necessary changes…I know with our business, it's like they have this saying of, "What got you here ain't gonna get you there." You may have gotten to a certain level of success, but if you want to get to that next level of success, you're going to have to change some things about yourself. You're going to have to change some behaviors.

[For instance…], I’ve always hated meetings of any kind…I was sort of like always BS-ing myself, "Oh, we don't need meetings if we have the right people on the bus." [But] that's wrong. You do have to have meetings. Even though I don't like meetings generally. I was like, "So, make a meeting that you do like, make a meeting that is productive."

You have to have some structure as the business gets bigger. That was one thing that attracted me to being an entrepreneur is I can just do my thing, I don't have to worry about all this red tape and BS. But as you get bigger, you have to create structures and you have to either become more structured yourself or you have to hire the right people that can help you get there.

Do you think that being a real estate agent is being an entrepreneur?

Yeah, I think the best real estate agents are entrepreneurs because in essence what they are is they're connectors and they're deal makers. They're able to creatively get things over the finish line. I think that a lot of them don't see themselves that way, and I think it's probably a negative for them. But I think that the best ones, the ones that make the most money and are really the most successful, I think you'll invariably find, even if they're working at big firms, I think you'll find that they are very entrepreneurial.

Do you have any advice for someone getting into commercial real estate?

Yeah, I would say the two most important things really are, one, you need a good mentor…I've been blessed over the years to have a lot of really good mentors. I think whenever you get into an industry you need a good mentor. You need somebody that you really do like and you really would want to have a beer with. You want that person to be wiser and more successful than you in the industry. They used to call it a Rabbi. You need a Rabbi.

I think that's number one. And then I think number two is you really need to be okay with the fact that you're getting in every day and you're unemployed. That's really scary. Again, you come in every morning and you have nothing and you've got to create something from nothing. You've got to be the kind of person that is okay with that and that's not easy.

 

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Food Entrepreneurs Get Incubators in NYC

We tend to associate entrepreneurship with tech startups, but entrepreneurship is so much broader than that. Your local barber (if he owns the business) is an entrepreneur. And so is the lady who just opened that great little Cuban restaurant around the block. Speaking of restaurants, first-time food entrepreneurs can benefit from incubator environments in the same way that tech entrepreneurs do. They, too, need mentorship and can gain from being surrounded by other food entrepreneurs.

Within the last year and a half, two culinary institutions have emerged – Foodworks in Brooklyn and Jamaica FEASTS in Queens. Unlike the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan or the Culinary Institute of America, which has a campus in upstate New York, Foodworks and Jamaica FEASTS are not cooking schools. Instead, they are designed to help culinary professionals launch businesses.

 

Jamaica FEASTS

With a grant from the New York Economic Development Corporation in 2016, the Jamaica (Queens) Food Entrepreneurship and Services Training Seminar (FEASTS) launched its first cohort in January of this year.

“We’re not teaching people how to cook, we’re showing people how to launch businesses,” said Morgan Earle, the Jamaica FEASTS Manager, who has 15 years of experience in the food retail business.

The program, which operates out of the Queens Public Library, is free and open to anyone living in New York City. But it’s also quite competitive. For the first cohort (a series of 12 weekend classes), out of 130 applications received, only 15 students were accepted. In addition to the 12 Sunday classes, each student also has weekly meetings with Earle and Michael Maldonado, an entrepreneurship counselor.

“Morgan and Michael were integral in helping me narrow my focus and start off with a small viable product,” said Tress Walker, one of the students from Jamaica FEASTS’s first cohort.

Tress is the founder of MumsKitchens NYC, which serves West Indian fresh baked goods. Her specialty is Nutty Brownie Bites (topped with Ferrero Rocher chocolate) and she sells her food at pop-up shops and markets throughout Queens. In addition to focusing her concept, Earle and Maldonado also helped Walker get the proper license for her home kitchen. Jamaica FEASTS has also helped two students who are in process of signing leases for retail spaces in Jamaica, Queens. The third cohort begins on August 20th.

 

Foodworks

Foodworks is a rental commercial kitchen that opened its doors in February 2016 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. In addition to private funding, it is also the recipient of funding from the New York Economic Development Corporation. It’s an impressive 10,000-square foot space (in former Pfizer pharmaceutical plant) that helps food businesses get started, according to Managing Director Edie Feinstein. The kitchen includes everything from specialty baking ovens to industrial food processors.

The Foodworks model is nearly identical to a coworking space, with tiered membership prices according the amount of time you plan to spend at the facility and the amount of space you will need – for your food. For instance, a $300/month membership entitles you to 10 hours a month in the shared kitchen and one Dry Storage Shelf. Membership plans go up to $2,000/month, and include cold storage and freezer storage space. (Membership plans can be customized.) According to Feinstein, some members are restaurants that need extra food storage space.

In addition to storage space, Foodworks has a mentorship program for members that provides access to over 50 mentors, including experts in packaging and design, accounting, public relations and social media. Foodworks already has some exciting success stories, like Alexander Harik’s “Zesty Z” Mediterranean Za’atar spread.

Realizing that one of Harik’s favorite foods could only be found in his mom’s Lebanese kitchen, he rented space at Foodworks to experiment making his family’s olive oil-based spread in large quantities. Not only did Foodworks’s kitchen provide him with the resources to create his product, they also presented his unique spread at a booth Foodworks rented at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center. And it was there where Harik met a distributor that now distributes his bottled spreads throughout the country.

 

Another Foodworks member came in with an idea and has since launched Keepers Coffee Soda, a mixture of fresh coffee and citrus juice that is now on shelves at local Whole Foods. In less than two years, Foodworks and Jamaica FEASTS have had a meaningful positive impact on food entrepreneurs in New York City. And the palettes of New Yorkers have been beneficiaries as well.

 

 

 

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NYC Is Not Shy in Amazon Courtship

Ever since Amazon announced on September 7th that it would be accepting proposals in a search for the right city to house its second headquarters, American cities have been throwing themselves at the company like maidens at the prince’s ball – insisting that the glass slipper fits.

Amazon’s press release indicated that it is seeking a second headquarters (referred to as HQ2) in North America and it will need 8.1 million square feet of office space to accommodate 40,000 new employees. The company also expressed a preference for a city with more than one million people that has a “stable and business-friendly environment” and the “potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” Of course, New York City more than fits the bill. But there’s a lot of competition.

According to Business Insider, officials from more than 50 cities have said that they plan to submit proposals, which are due on October 19th. These cities range from metropolises like Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and Dallas to smaller cities like Denver, Pittsburgh and Phoenix, some of which have less than the preferred one million people.

Despite the competition, New York City’s bold ambition has been released in full force. So much, so that boroughs and neighborhoods are competing against each other for where in NYC Amazon should locate HQ2 – even before the city has been chosen.

According to the New York Post, more than 20 elected Bronx officials signed a letter that was written directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In the letter, the officials argued why the Bronx would be the best site for the new company headquarters.

“The Bronx offers more advantages to Amazon than any other municipality,” the letter read. “We are six miles from LaGuardia Airport, 20 minutes from Kennedy Airport, and Manhattan is just a quick train ride away.”

Meanwhile, according to Crain’s, major owners of Brooklyn commercial properties have come together in an effort to convince Amazon that it should make Brooklyn its second home. These include Rudin Management, Forest City, Rubenstein Partners and the owners of Industry City, a sprawling and innovative office park/campus in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn's innovation coast from Williamsburg to Sunset Park has numerous opportunities for a campus-like environment with an ecosystem of academic institutions, a skilled labor force, bedroom communities and culture,” said Andrew Kimball, CEO of Industry City.

(Staten Island Borough President standing inside new Amazon facility on Staten Island. Photo from SILive.com video.)

Even if New York City doesn’t score Amazon’s HQ2, the e-commerce behemoth has already showered some of its gold on the big apple. On September 6th, Amazon announced that it will open a new fulfillment (shipping and storage) center on Staten Island, which will create 2,250 full-time jobs.

“This project will be the biggest single job creator in our borough’s history,” said Staten Island Borough President James S. Oddo.

The facility will occupy 855,000 square feet in a new space developed by Matrix Development Group on the west shore of Staten Island. Amazon said that the space, which should be ready by next year, will be a state-of-the-art facility that will also utilize robots to help fill orders. The location is ideal because it’s in the center of a high population area and is close to three airports – Newark, LaGuardia and JFK.

In addition to the fulfillment center on Staten Island, Amazon also signed a 15-year lease for two full floors at a building in the Hudson Yards area in Manhattan, according to Curbed. This building is to serve as the main location for Amazon’s advertising in NYC and is expected to create 2,000 new jobs. Amazon will spend $55 million to make the space their own and these offices are expected to open at some point next year.

All kinds of constituents in NYC will continue to court Amazon to make this city Amazon east. But even if this doesn’t happen, NYC has already been shown some love from the e-commerce giant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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City-sponsored Futureworks Helps Manufacturing Startups Thrive in NYC

When many of us think of startups, we think of entrepreneurs intensely focused on their laptops, aiming to build the next Google or Uber – creating digital solutions to problems. Well, some entrepreneurs are working to create good old-fashioned, three-dimensional objects that solve problems. While these entrepreneurs may also be buried in their laptops, they have the additional concern of figuring out how and where to make their products. Is there an incubator for these hardware entrepreneurs?

Yes there is. The Futureworks Incubator, which had been called New York’s Next Top Makers, is designed to support the growth of manufacturing startups in New York City. In addition to the name change that happened back in May, the accelerator program also expanded from working with six companies a year to having three cohorts of 15 to 25 companies. (The incubator started as a contest for manufacturing companies in 2012.)

Companies in all stages are invited to apply to Futureworks, as long as the company’s end goal is to manufacture physical products in NYC. This is because Futureworks is a creation of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is a central pillar of Mayor De Blasio’s Industrial Action Plan to help emerging and existing manufacturers adopt advanced technologies and increase manufacturing in the city. (Companies that produce non-durable products, such as food, clothing or cosmetics, are not included in the program.)

Depending on how mature the company is, it joins one of three tracks, or cohorts:

Idea Stage Cohort

This cohort includes people at all levels, from first-time to serial entrepreneurs. And the goal for these people is to develop their concept, create a rough prototype and then decide whether or not to try to build a business around the concept.

Market Validation Cohort

Entrepreneurs in this cohort have already-working prototypes and the goal is to refine the product and find the best product/market fit.

Scaling and Manufacturing Cohort.

This cohort is for companies that already have a product in the market, but are looking to connect with new manufacturers, refine their manufacturing process, reach out to new customers or attract new investors.

So why would an entrepreneur apply to the Futureworks Incubator? Aside from the fact that Futureworks is completely free and takes no equity in companies, the incubator provides access to investors, successful business mentors, and nine manufacturing spaces throughout the city, called Futureworks Shops. They are:

A/D/O - Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Bronx Innovation Factory - Fordham Heights, Bronx

Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator - Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Collab - Hudson Square, Manhattan

Craftsman Ave - Gowanus, Brooklyn

NEW INC - Nolita, Manhattan

NYDesigns - Long Island City, Queens

Voodoo Manufacturing - Bushwick, Brooklyn

Zahn Innovation Center - Hamilton Heights, Harlem

According to Futureworks, these production spaces were chosen based on their track record of success, geographical diversity, diversity in expertise and experience working with startups.

For example, Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator helps entrepreneurs build smart, sustainable businesses while Zahn Innovation Center focuses on low-cost contract manufacturing. Voodoo Manufacturing specializes in the 3D printing process while Collab offers a modern woodshop in the heart of Manhattan.

Dog Parker is one of the most visible companies (if you live or work in Brooklyn) to have gained from the Futureworks Incubator. Dog Parker produces fully-enclosed dog houses placed outside of storefronts for people to store their dogs while they go shopping. Regardless of the weather outside, the dog houses are always kept at room temperature inside and owners can check on their dogs via a “puppy cam” on the Dog Parker app.

Other Futureworks companies include BotFactory, StrongArm and Bonbouton.

 

 

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Expa Provides Invaluable Guidance to Small Group of Startups

Most of us in the startup world know about prestigious startup accelerators like Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups. (If you haven’t, read this ). But you may not be familiar with Expa. You won’t find it on lists of top accelerators. That’s because it says on its website, “we’re not an ‘incubator’, and not a VC.”

Yet it does serve a very similar function to an incubator. “We help companies avoid common pitfalls in early-stage ventures, and actively remove roadblocks along the way,” the Expa website says. That sounds a whole lot like an incubator, or accelerator.

Regardless, what’s notable about Expa is that it’s run by some pretty heavy hitters in the startup world. It was founded in 2013 by Garrett Camp, co-founder of Uber and StumbleUpon. Then Camp was joined by Hooman Radfar (Founder of AddThis) & Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare,  among other top talents from Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. And Expa’s list of investors has a number of business celebrities on it, including Richard Branson, Meg Whitman and Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-hour Workweek.”  

In 2014, Expa raised $50 million from these individuals, among others, including Camp himself, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and Behance founder Scott Belsky. Institutional investment came First Round Capital, Sherpa Ventures, and Lerer Ventures, among others.

Camp’s goal with Expa, according to a TechCrunch story from 2014, was to create new companies from scratch using lessons and techniques he had learned from his past companies. He called Expa a “startup studio,” perhaps because most of the company’s startups were based on ideas that came from its own staff of then about 20 entrepreneurs. While the bulk of ideas still come from Expa’s staff, divided between among offices in New York, San Francisco and Vancouver, Expa has expanded its scope. In 2016, it launched Expa Labs, a six-month program for early stage companies. Whatever you want to call it – incubator, accelerator, studio – it’s a fantastic opportunity for founders of early stage startups to learn from the best.

Selected startups receive a $250,000 or $500,000 equity investment, and founders are offered office space in any of Expa’s three offices. “We don’t just fund your company, we help you build it,” the Expa website reads. It also says, regarding Expa Labs, “we select a handful of outstanding teams to work alongside us.” And when they say “handful,” they really mean it. In the first 2016 Expa Labs class of startups, from more than 500 applications, they chose six companies.

Three in New York:

Dovetale - brings the creative industry to the cloud.
Listen - an independent phone number not tied to any carrier.
Radar - full-stack developer toolkit for location tracking.

Three in San Francisco:
Chalet - a new take on property management that owners and renters love.
Promote - a platform for in-feed advertising support for consumer web companies.
Ninayo - a digital marketplace for agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa.

Expa doesn’t care about volume. In fact, less is more, it seems. In the second year (and class) of Expa Labs, the number of applications doubled to more than 1,000 and the number of selected startups dropped. Just five companies were accepted this year. Here is the extremely select group of startups chosen by Expa Labs:

Interseller - Simplifies making contact with new business prospects.
Merlin Guides - Magically simple employee training.
NextGig - Actionable information about companies in your professional network.
Sleeperbot - Messaging for sports fans.
SuperHi - Teaches people to code and create websites from scratch through an online 8-week course. A stealth neural training company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some companies that were developed internally at Expa include:

Current – Debit cards for teens.

Haus – An open and fair real estate platform.

Mix – Social media platform connecting the curious and creative.

Ando - Food designed for delivery.

 

 

 

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Interview with ShareMail Co-founder: Jeff Jackson

There is probably no startup that a lonely, non-digital grandmother will appreciate more than ShareMail (ShareMail.me). That’s because it was designed just for her. ShareMail enables grandchildren and others to select photos and messages from Facebook and have them automatically printed and mailed to their elderly, socially isolated loved ones.

What inspired you to start ShareMail.me?

My 97-year-old grandmother lives in an assisted living facility in Oklahoma, and I'm between NYC and Austin, so I never get the chance to see her. Also, she doesn't hear very well, so talking on the phone with her is difficult. I knew that she is bored and pretty lonely out there, so in early 2016 I committed to mailing her a letter every day at the end of work... I made it two days before stopping. I couldn't believe how much of a pain it was to compose a letter on my laptop, add pictures to it from my phone, and print it onto paper at the office. I wanted a quick, easy solution to send her updates via one of the only communication channels she is on these days - paper mail. I figured that integrating into my already existing social media content would make things even easier for me... So I reached out to Jason Smith, my cofounder, who has done other startups with me, and thus ShareMail was born.

As the next generations of elderly will be increasingly connected to Facebook, do you imagine ways of pivoting?

I think there are a lot of ways that we can grow that is independent of Facebook penetration with older adults, like birthday gifts and other things. That said, the next immediate generation of older adults is less connected to Facebook than you might expect... at least depending on how you define 'older adult'. Of the 43 million adults over 65 in the US, 17.5 million of them are not online at all. Of the remaining 25.5 million that are online, 9.5 million of them are not on Facebook. And I'd imagine there are plenty of people that have accounts Facebook, but never log on. And increasingly, younger people are not using Facebook to post about their lives- so I judge that the mismatch in communication channels between older people and younger people is a big problem that is not going away anytime soon.

I'm connected on social media and I'm not elderly. And I would love an easy way to print out Facebook photos and have them delivered. While the ShareMail concept is to break down the technology wall and reduce isolation for the elderly, do imagine other applications for your concept?  

Sure, we definitely have people that use the service to send photos to themselves or to connected friends and family. The packing is nice, and people love getting gifts in the mail, and having physical reminders of people and things they love. So yeah, there's definitely a broader application than the specific use-case we're marketing to at the moment.

How much does it cost to use ShareMail, and what is your most popular plan?  

Our most popular plan is a monthly letter for $6.99/mo, and there is also a weekly letter plan for $14.99/month. They both come with a no-credit-card-required free trial and you can sign up at sharemail.me.

Where are the orders printed?

We print them right here in NYC.

What are the benefits of being an entrepreneur in NYC?

There's a great ecosystem of other entrepreneurs here, as well as tons of media access and a lot of financing available if you need it. We've really benefited most from meeting other entrepreneurs and journalists in-person through our co-working space in Manhattan.

What were you up to before ShareMail?

My cofounder Jason and I had a project involving mining data about Airbnb and the short-term rental market that we decided to stop pursuing in order to do ShareMail. Prior to that, we had a hosted CouchDB-as-a-service startup [CouchDB is an open source data software] called Iris Couch, which we sold to another company in 2013. Prior to that, I built a company in Austin that does wholesale prepared foods, called The Green Cart, which I still have.

 

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Startups That Service On-demand Drivers, Not the Passengers

When most people think about on-demand driving services like Uber, Lyft and Via, they usually think about the comfort and convenience of the rider, not the driver. But now with roughly one million Americans working either as part-time or full-time on-demand drivers, there’s a new market to cater to: on-demand drivers.

While on-demand driving has been a welcomed new source of income, the riding experience for drivers has left much to be desired, which has created opportunity for entrepreneurs. Below are some startups that earn money from on-demand drivers by trying to make their jobs easier and more lucrative.

Mystro

The Mystro app helps on-demand drivers earn more money and improves safety conditions for drivers by freeing their hands from using multiple apps and devices at the same time. Mystro founder, Herb Coakley, knows firsthand the challenges of on-demand drivers because he is an Uber and Lyft driver. (Even as the company’s CEO, he still drives a few hours a week). After on-demand driving for two years in Los Angeles, Coakley, who is also an ex-physicist and filmmaker, began thinking of ways to improve his own experience as a driver.

His top two frustrations were not being able to accept the most lucrative rides and the safety hazard created by constantly having to open and close the Uber and Lyft apps while driving. (According to CNN Tech, many drivers log into separate phones to increase their chances of receiving ride requests. And when drivers accept a ride from one app, they must then turn off the other app to avoid new requests from popping up.) This can translate to a lot of fumbling between devices and distraction from driving.

After a miracle encounter driving a Google employee and investor who loved Coakley’s idea so much he invested $100,000 to develop it, Mystro now has 10,000 users. The company was also part of this summer’s Y Combinator graduating class. So what does the Mystro app do? It solves both of Coakley’s primary challenges:

Pay

According to the company, it increases what drivers’ earn by 30%. How is that? By creating a pretty sophisticated app that seamlessly switches between the Uber and Lyft platforms and accepts only the best paying rides. For instance, Mystro can filter out less lucrative UberPOOL requests, rides that are more than 5 minutes away and ride requests from passengers with low ratings.

Safety

Since Mystro accesses both platforms at once and accepts optimal rides automatically, what results is a distraction-free experience where drivers can keeps their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

The Mystro app was free until earlier this summer when Coakley began charging drivers $11.95 monthly or $99.95 for the year, which includes expedited tech support. A free version of the app remains, which gives drivers access to Mystro for 10 trips each week. So far, the Mystro app only works on Android devices.

SherpaShare

This service consolidates the earnings of on-demand drivers, who often drive for more than one employer. It also analyzes an individual’s earning data and tracks tax deductible expenses, like fuel, car washes and mobile phone bills. And a robust company blog informs drivers about everything from local traffic tips to Uber’s latest valuation and why it’s relevant for them.

Compass App

By using historical and real time data, SherpaShare’s Compass App directs drivers to optimal pickup areas after dropping off a passenger.

Tip Pass

Helps Uber drivers accept tips without cash or the need for passengers to enter in credit card information.

SherpaShare has a free trial period, but charges a membership fee for continued service.

Vugo

“Earn Additional Revenue from Each Ride,” reads the homepage of Vugo, a Minneapolis-based company that’s trying to get ads in front of passengers. In exchange for paid membership, Vugo provides drivers with a tablet used for tipping drivers that also displays targeted ads. Drivers get a percentage of the ad revenue.

Any service that helps people make money is bound to do well. As the number of on-demand drivers continues to grow, it’s likely that we’ll see other companies servicing this market.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cornell Tech Strengthens NYC as a Tech City

Cornell Tech, a technology and engineering graduate school, with a strong focus on entrepreneurship, opened its 12 acre campus on Roosevelt Island on September 12.

This is the realization of a vision from the Bloomberg administration for a major school of higher education to develop a technology hub in New York City. In 2011, top universities including Columbia, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon competed for $100 million from the city and 12 acres of land in the middle of the East River. Cornell University, in partnership with Technion Israel Institute of Technology, winners and Cornell Tech is the product.

While the Roosevelt Island campus just opened this month, Cornell and Technion wasted no time developing their program and Cornell Tech started operating in 2012 out of Google’s New York City office in Chelsea. Cornell Tech offers seven different masters programs, including the one-year Johnson Cornell MBA program that resembles a startup incubator.

Part of the MBA curriculum includes something called the Startup Studio, which requires students to develop an idea, assemble a team, create a prototype and then pitch their idea. Winning teams receive $80,000 in seed money and a year of free space working alongside more established, profitable startups. In 2014, New York City startup fixture, David Tisch, became the head of Cornell Tech’s Startup Studio.

“The entrepreneurial curriculum is not just a class,” said Ian Folau, founder of GitLinks, who earned the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA in 2016, “it's the entire curriculum, the idea that we are all builders and we can make things happen.”

According to Cornell Chronicle, a Cornell university publication, as of May of this year, more than 30 startups have been formed by Cornell Tech students since the program started in July 2012. These companies have raised a total of $20 million in pre-seed and seed funding, and they employ 105 people. And, over 90 percent of the companies are headquartered in New York City, which is exactly what former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had in mind when his administration initiated this project.

“Companies start where people go to school,” Bloomberg said in a video on the Cornell Tech website. “We want that to happen right here.”

The buildings on the brand new campus seem to be as innovative as the school’s approach to higher education. So far, there are three main buildings:

The Bridge – This houses the offices of recent Cornell Tech graduates, academic teams and established companies, like Citigroup and Two Sigma, a prestigious investment firm that invests heavily in tech startups. According to Cornell Chronicle, Cornell Tech students will have the opportunity to work with Citigroup employees on coming up with solutions for real clients.

“Co-locating our teams in The Bridge with companies, entrepreneurs and students will create an inspirational environment for our teams to grow, as well as an energized environment for them to interact with emerging talent,” said Don Callahan, Citigroup’s head of operations and technology.

Sustainability-wise, the roof of The Bridge is layered with solar panels, which will help keep the campus’s non-solar energy use to a minimum.

The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center – This is the academic hub of the campus.     

The House – A residential high rise building for students and faculty with beautiful views of Manhattan.

With a significant investment from Verizon, The Verizon Executive Education Center is expected to be finished in 2019, along with a hotel that will service visiting guests attending academic and business conferences.

“As I walk through this campus, I have an incredible feeling of excitement and accomplishment,” said Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean of Cornell Tech, in a video. “We’ve had unparalleled institutional support from a whole range of actors – governments, the university, companies. [But] the biggest thing to remember about the Cornell Tech campus is you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”