Family Dinner: Robert Chesney of Trunk Club

On February 7, 2018, The Garage was excited to welcome Robert Chesney to our weekly Family Dinner. Robert is a former VP at eBay and former COO of Trunk Club. We were lucky enough to get some insight into the early part of his career, and what lead him to Trunk Club and beyond, and most importantly, what he wishes he’d known then.

Robert Chesney’s early career lead him to finance, in a time when corporate emails didn’t even exist. He soon joined a trading desk, but it didn’t take long before he had an epiphany that someday, technology would replace the job functions he had. So he decided to go back to school at Northwestern, where he obtained his MBA.

According to Robert, in the late 1990’s, internet based business models were just emerging and getting off the ground. At the time, eBay was a relatively new company, functioning in the consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace. Robert was recruited to oversee the expansion of eBay to the automotive industry. At the time, it seemed like a crazy idea. Most people didn’t trust buying things on the internet, let alone vehicles or parts. However, with Robert’s guidance, eBay motors grew from zero to a 5 billion+ dollar category.

After being with eBay for about eight years, Robert missed being close to consumer problems and understanding customer needs. He then joined a venture capital form called Greylock Partners in the Bay Area, with the goal of being back in an operations role.

With excitement to guide and be a part of a new, early stage company, Robert joined Trunk Club, a personalized clothing service based in Chicago. Understanding the push and pull between the convenience of shopping online and software based products and the personal experience associated with brick and mortar retail, Robert joined Trunk Club as COO.

Trunk Club was sold to Nordstrom for more than $350 million. After sticking with Trunk Club for about two years after the sale, Robert took some time off before jumping right back into the startup industry by joining Chicago Ventures as a venture partner.

Robert shared the things he wish he’d known early in his career with our Resident students. Check out his clip below to hear what his best advice was.

Family Dinner: Ross Gordon of Mystery Tacklebox

How many of us aren’t using a subscription services today? Whether it’s binge watching our favorite show on Netflix, cooking up our Blue Apron meals, or playing with new goodies in our Birchboxes, subscription services are everywhere and taking over. So, it’s no surprise that Mystery Tackle Box, based in Chicago, has built a growing business out of sending subscribers fishing tackle for about $20 per month. Revenue was over $11 million last year!

We were very excited to welcome founder and CEO of Mystery Tacklebox, Ross Gordon, to The Garage for our weekly Family Dinner, where he shared some seriously good founder wisdom with our students. Ross knew from the time he was in college that his dream job was to be a copywriter. He didn’t always see himself as an entrepreneur, but he realized early on in high school and college that he didn’t learn like everyone else did. Opting for a more creative route, Ross majored in English and focused on creative writing.

His first startup? Ross’ roommate sold Chinese food out of the basement of their dorm every week on campus. After realizing the students coming for that Chinese food also spent a lot of time socializing each week, Ross saw an opportunity to add arcade games and music to Chinese night, and within three weeks, it was the most popular spot to hang out on Wednesday nights. Ross shared that this experience taught him something very important, and that’s the value of the social experience. Ross said even if you have something very simple, if you can create an experience, inject some emotion, make it into a human experience–it can become very powerful.

Ross closed out his talk with his top three lessons and the top three core values of his current company, Mystery Tacklebox. Watch a clip of Ross’ talk below.

Family Dinner: Ben Weiss of Zcruit

Sometimes, as a Resident at The Garage, it’s hard to envision what comes next. Do you take that job with a salary and benefits? Do you let your startup fold and close up shop for good? Do you pass your legacy on to another group of students and hope they keep it alive? What about putting your passion project to the side for a while?

We know success looks different for all of our startup teams, and while we do our absolute bestest to give entrepreneurial students the resources they need to take their ideas to the next level, we also know from doing this for a little over two years that only about 10% of students will go on to pursue their startups full time after graduation, while 90% go on to work at other startups, businesses, and big companies like Google, Uber, Facebook, and more.

But when it comes to Ben Weiss (SESP, ‘17), he opted to stick around for a while. After convincing his team including Danny Baker (Weinberg ‘17), Gautier Dagan (Weinberg ‘17), Dino Mujkic (Weinberg ‘17), Alex Cohen (McCormick ‘18),  and Yannick Mamudo (McCormick ‘18) to hang out for 10 weeks at The Garage full time in the summer after graduation, big things started to happen. Zcruit’s mission of making football recruiting more efficient through predictive analytics caught on. Zcruit’s client list exploded from single to double digits. They pushed out new products. USA Today Sports even noticed! And the best thing? They got an offer for an acquisition. The deal closed just before Thanksgiving 2017, just over two years after Ben introduced his idea to us at The Garage.

From left: Alex Cohen (McCormick ‘18), Nicholas Karzmer (Weinberg ‘17), Ben Weiss (SESP ’17),  Dino Mujkic (Weinberg ‘17), Gautier Dagan (Weinberg ‘17) and Danny Baker (Weinberg ‘17) pose for a photo at The Garage during winter quarter, 2017. 

Zcruit’s acquisition marks the first ever out of The Garage. Which is perfect, considering Zcruit was one of the first members of The Garage’s Residency way back in 2015. Ben is a perfect example of The Garage and Northwestern instilling the innovation mindset in students. Ben turned down his full time job offer to take on Zcruit full time, and boy, are we glad he did.

Today, Zcruit is part of Reigning Champs, where Ben still oversees all of Zcruit’s development and operation. While some members of his original team have opted to travel, go to graduate school, or take on jobs, the core of Zcruit is still with Ben. You can read more about Zcruit’s story and their acquisition on Northwestern News

Ben and his team were named one of 10 Illinois Student Startups Set to Make Moves in 2017 by Chicago Inno, and Zcruit was recognized as one of the five most outstanding student startups at the 2017 EntrepreneurshipU Awards.

In addition to The Garage’s Residency Program, Zcruit was a part of The Garage’s inaugural Wildfire pre-accelerator program in the summer of 2016 and Winter Wildfire in the winter of 2017. In May 2017, Zcruit took home prize money in the B2B track of VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition.

Hear a snippet of Ben’s talk at Family Dinner below.


Family Dinner is a special perk just for Residents of The Garage to meet once per week for food, community, and to hear from an accomplished founder. To learn more about our past Family Dinner speakers, click here

Family Dinner: Jim Streibich

Each week, The Garage is excited to welcome an experienced entrepreneur to join us for Family Dinner to share their founder story and some food with our Residents. It’s obviously our favorite day of the week–we listen to music, catch up on successes and failures, and get need to know advice straight from the source. 

This week, we got a chance to get to know Jim Streibich, Founder of Market Track and maybe more importantly, a former Wildcat! Through Market Track, Jim has revolutionized the price monitoring industry by pairing traditional marketing information with new and emerging technologies. He pulled from his experience with consumer package goods and marketing to totally change the game offering information, data on pricing, and analytics. These days, Jim is serving as a chairman of the company and is also investing in and advising technology based marketing companies. Jim received his BA and MBA from Northwestern, with a concentration on marketing and entrepreneurship.

What advice did Jim have for our student founders? First, hard work. While there is the occasional unicorn, Jim shared that the basis of entrepreneurship is grit and hard work. If students are willing to work hard now, it will pay off. What else? Be disruptive. Even in your own company. Reiterating operations, products, or technology will keep a startup fresh and will ensure another new company doesn’t knock it out. Think about ways to change often.

Like many entrepreneurs, Jim has also faced challenges. He cited the importance of establishing a good reputation in the market that is being addressed, and that it sometimes takes a lot of patience to establish that reputation.

At The Garage, we are doing all we can to connect our students with the resources that they need to be successful and one of the most valuable resources we deliver is access to our extended network of vetted experts in every field. Jim reminded our students to take advantage of the people they know, reaching out for help when they need it, and always taking in advice.

Finally, Jim talked about the simplicity but extreme importance of recruiting good salespeople and how they can really make things happen.

Check out a clip of Jim’s talk with our students at The Garage below, and be sure to stay in the loop and find out who else we’ve had and sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

 

Family Dinner: Oliver Leopold

Each week at Family Dinner, we’re excited to welcome an accomplished entrepreneur to share their founder story and tidbits of wisdom with our Resident students. And this week, we had an extra special guest stop by (with his parents). Oliver Leopold, local “kid entrepreneur” of Evanston, is just 14 years old but packs the punch of an entrepreneur with some serious experience.

Oliver’s journey started at just 10 years old, when he became interested in investing but had trouble finding easy to understand resources on the subject, and was interested in investing his weekly $10 allowance. So (naturally), he penned his own online newsletter titled, “The Investment Times.” At just 10 years old, Oliver was soaking up knowledge from his grandfather and former Bank of America Corp. private banker, Tom Leopold and even attended investment conferences. Oliver’s newsletter was picked up by the Wall Street Journal! Oliver, who is incredibly self-driven, shared with The Garage Residents that he authored about 6 or 7 issues of his newsletter before moving on to his next project.

Oliver described one of his first entrepreneurial ventures very simply: with gum. Gum was popular at school, and often traded or even bought between students. Oliver realized he could buy larger packs of gum online, sell them at a lower cost than they were already available at, and make a profit. What’s more? He applied the same idea to a small spinner toy. Oliver knew it was being marked up so much, that he could make his own, sell them for less, and still make some extra cash.

Oliver has coded a few of his own apps that made it to the App Store, including “How Rich?” which analyzed and compared salary data from around the world.

Aside from some apps, Oliver’s most recent and popular project is his YouTube channel, which has garnered more than 5,300 subscribers. Oliver is most often reviewing products sent to him by companies, where he can earn as much as $100 per review. Oliver has even shared his YouTube wisdom and wrote The YouTuber’s Handbook, available on Amazon, which has generated some real revenue for Oliver.

Most importantly, despite his young age, Oliver was able to share some useful entrepreneurial advice with our students, like doing what you really love and loving what you do. He even shared his love of cockatoos, some challenges associated with wanting to run a business at 14 years old, and where he thinks he’ll be in ten years. What’s next in Oliver’s journey? An app to make neighborhood babysitting simpler for both sitters and parents.

Family Dinner: Noah Mishkin

Spring is in full swing at Northwestern, and that means that Family Dinners are underway again at The Garage! This quarter, The Garage is excited to welcome more than 14 new teams to our Resident roster, and what better way to welcome back previous Residents and usher in the new than with Family Dinner? This week, more than 80 student founders stopped by The Garage for some food and wisdom.

Each week at The Garage, Resident students and staff get together for dinner and to hear from an entrepreneur. We aim to cultivate a community of entrepreneurial minded student founders, and make sure to stay in touch with what everyone is up to by meeting every single week to bond over our favorite things: food and entrepreneurship. Before our guest founders take the mic, we check in with successes and failures students can share, and we even set off a popper full of confetti to celebrate a failure–big or small.

This week, after chowing down on some yummy bánh mì sandwiches from locals and Northwestern alumni founded Viet Nom Nom, Noah Mishkin, Founder at CraftJack took centerstage. CraftJack, Inc., launched in 2011, provides contractors solutions to better keep track of leads and manage their business. Noah currently serves as the company’s VP. But this isn’t the first entrepreneurial venture of Noah’s. He shared his exciting story with out students, recounting some of his earliest ventures.

Noah’s background was in architecture, which is studied for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He practiced for a few years before realizing his true passion wasn’t in design, but on the business end of the practice. Despite making the leap into startups, Noah shared that it wasn’t unfamiliar ground. As a student the was taught to think conceptually, frequently accept critique, and “sell” his work visually alongside a proposal to a panel of judges and peers. Noah says he was taught to sell ideas and think on his feet, both essential skills in business and startups. Currently, Noah is also serving as an investor and advisor for several other companies.

Want a peek at what Family Dinner at The Garage is like? Check out a clip of Noah’s talk below.

Family Dinner: Charles Adler

This week, Resident Team of The Garage Unruled. launched their Kickstarter campaign, hoping backers around the country will join them in an initiative to inspire creative thinkers and students to draw outside the lines with their unruled, sustainably manufactured notebook. And, when Team Unruled. was ready to introduce their idea to the world, there was no question of what platform they would use: Kickstarter.

Team Unruled. shares their Kickstarter w. Charles post Family Dinner.

Kickstarter helps creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality. To date, tens of thousands of projects — big and small — have come to life with the support of the Kickstarter community.

The Garage was super excited to welcome Kickstarter Co-Founder, Charles Adler, to our weekly Resident Family Dinner on February 21 to share his founder story, his advice, and what he’s up to since stepping down at Kickstarter.

Kickstarter was founded in 2009 by Charles and his friends Perry Chen and Yancey Stricker. Since 2009, 5.2 million people have backed upwards of 52,000 projects with nearly a billion dollars. Charles shared his experience with our students, citing the excitement of and designing a product, building a company, and curating a team but didn’t shy away from the challenges so many startups face.

At The Garage, we embrace failure just as much (if not more than) success. We believe failure is not only inherent to, but leads to innovation and better ideas. We expect our Residents to face challenges and to fail and even ask students to share a failure each week at Family Dinner. Charles acknowledged that failure is a real thing happening in startups, but placed more emphasis on the tension that occurs, too. Whether it’s tension surrounding a recent or inevitable failure or a decision among the founding team, Charles encouraged students to stare tension in the face and address it. Ignoring it will more than likely lead to negativity.

Today, Charles is working to support the causes he is most passionate about, including acting as a founder, advisor, or consultant focusing on education innovation, empowering independent artists, and discovering new ways to address environmental sustainability. Want to see part of Charles’ talk with our students? Check out the video below. 

 

It’s Gametime: Luna Lights Heads to Cupid’s Cup

Many of today’s most successful startups begin with something simple: a problem. And, as we’ve heard from other entrepreneurial superstars at Family Dinner, founders must be committed to that problem. It was that connection and commitment to solve a problem that landed Luna Lights in the finals at Cupid’s Cup, the entrepreneurial pitch competition started by Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, to be held at Northwestern on March 30! The Garage was lucky enough to welcome Luna Lights Co-Founder, Matthew Wilcox, to our weekly Resident Family Dinner just one day after Luna Lights competed in the semi-finals round, held in Baltimore.

Northwestern engineering alumni Matthew Wilcox (‘14) and Donovan Morrison (‘14) aimed to develop a solution to a major problem–falls in assisted living facilities, as a project in their Design for America (DFA) course.  This recurring problem has resulted in more than $30 billion dollars being spent annually in America for falls. Matt and Donovan saw an opportunity to develop an innovative solution to an expensive and dangerous problem and after exploring it in depth, founded Luna Lights.

Luna Lights is a seamless bed sensor that illuminates a safe path to a bedroom or bathroom door, activated when the user gets out of bed. There is also an integrated system in which caregivers are contacted should a user not return to bed in a specific period of time. Matthew and Donovan have also recently developed a cloud-based platform that uses predictive analytics to track activity and help doctors to identify underlying conditions based on behaviors captured using Luna Lights, overall making the older adult population happier, healthier, and safer.

The Luna Lights team isn’t new to pitch competitions–they competed in the 2015 Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC) where they won the undergraduate and social enterprise tracks, but according to Matt, they are also experiencing lots of firsts these days. They’ve completed their first round of fundraising, hired their first team, and can’t wait to see how things progress in the future.

Matt spent some time answering questions from students, and shared that the most successful pitches convey passion, energy, and the ability to draw people in. He also shared that being a superior storyteller will engage the audience and help them to understand the impact your idea has. Want to see what else Matt had to say? Check out his video below and RSVP to head to the Cupid’s Cup finals! 

Family Dinner: Jai Shekhawat

Last week at The Garage’s weekly Family Dinner, we were super excited to welcome Jai Shekhawat, a Kellogg School of Management (‘96) alum and founder of Fieldglass, to meet with our students and share his founder story. Jai joins us just a few short years after selling Fieldglass for over a billion dollars!

Jai opened his talk with his belief that “entrepreneurs are made, not born.” As a first generation immigrant from India, Jai was exposed to entrepreneurship at a young age working for a team that became very successful. He learned two big lessons at this point: the importance of selling and aversion to debt. It was just a year or so after finishing up at Kellogg that Jai discovered the drive in himself to write his own story instead of being an actor in someone else’s.

Some words of advice from Jai? Tap into your own experience space–an industry or space that interests you instead of starting over as a beginner in a new space. Understanding the problem landscape and addressing it is typically the driver.

Jai also reminded the students to fall in love with the problem–not the solution. The problem will typically remain the same while the solution may need to go through multiple iterations to address it. How do you get going in your startup? Find someone to build and find someone to sell it. Jai’s simple words of wisdom really resonated with our students, and inspired us all to write our own stories.

What’s Jai up to after selling Fieldglass for more than a billion dollars? After ensuring all threads were tied up, Jai has been engaging in philanthropic work, including sitting on advisory boards and making investments, and currently works with 1871. He also plays more squash, and in Jai’s words, “I do a lot more of whatever I want.” See a clip of Jai’s talk below. 

 

Jai’s book recommendation: Becoming the Best: Build a World-Class Organization Through Values-Based Leadership by Harry M. Kraemer

 

Family Dinner: Andy Friedman of SkinnyPop

What’s one of the best parts about being a Resident at The Garage at Northwestern? Well, besides the access to resources, mentorship, and The Garage’s network, the answer is easy. Students at The Garage love the free snacks. To help bring some Silicon Valley vibes, we offer Residents access to free snacks, all day, every day. And, one of the most loved snacks is SkinnyPop Popcorn. So when SkinnyPop Co-Founder Andy Friedman stopped by Family Dinner last week to share his own founder story, we couldn’t have been more excited to meet the man behind our favorite snack. 

The SkinnyPop story starts with Wells Street Popcorn, which still has three locations in Chicago. Interested in hopping on the healthy snack train, Andy and his Co-Founder, Pam Netzky, began experimenting with healthy for you oils, seasonings, and kernels before landing on some popcorn magic. In the early days of SkinnyPop Popcorn, Andy and Pam were popping the popcorn themselves, sealing up and selling 25,000 bags in their first go in specialty stores right out of their cars. Andy demonstrates the true meaning of bootstrapping, recounting his memories of sharing an office with his Co-Founder, working nearly 24 hours per day before finally hiring a sales team.

Today, at five years old, SkinnyPop has taken over the one billion dollar ready-to-eat popcorn category, with just three ingredients. Now a part of the Amplify Snack Brands family, sales of SkinnyPop have grown 300% in the past two years, propelling to number four in the popcorn market. Hear more of Andy’s story to our students below.

Interested in getting in on the free snacks at The Garage?

Join us for a special event or learn more about The Garage’s Residency Program.