This is part of an occasional series of articles spotlighting students who are juggling their studies with starting a new business or social enterprise.
Co-founders Richard Berwick and David Pastewka, both BS 12; Will Drevno, BS 12 (UC Berkeley College of Engineering)
When Richard Berwick, David Pastewka, and Will Drevno met in an application development class at UC Berkeley in 2011, it wasn’t long before they were discussing how they could take emerging 3D printing technology and turn it into a business.
First, they focused on a 3D printing vending machine they called Dreambox. But that soon morphed into a new venture—creating 3D miniature figurines of real people.
“We tested an alpha version of the product and did over $3,000 in sales in just two days,” Berwick said. “From that test, we realized there was a significant market for (3D) Twins.”
The founders credit Skydeck, UC Berkeley’s startup accelerator, with helping to get the new company, Twindom, off the ground. “I believe that without Skydeck, Twindom would not be close to where it is today,” Berwick says. “SkyDeck is a phenomenal program with an outstanding management team.” Twindom is funded by venture capitalists, including Tim Draper.
The company’s miniature figurines, which are created after a photo session and cost between $39 and $399 each, “evoke a stronger emotional connection than a traditional photograph can,” Berwick says. The company targets events including birthdays, graduations, and weddings. At fairs and conventions like FanimeCon, an annual anime convention, Twindom scans people in costume.
Twindom will soon launch a faster scanner at two shopping malls, and then plans to franchise its system nationwide. It’s also planning to expand into personalized 3D avatars for use in e-cards, video games, clothing fitting/sizing markets – and more.
Berwick says his Berkeley-Haas undergrad education provided a foundation for running a successful business. “More importantly, it's taught me to focus on the larger picture, as well as the minute details,” he says. “I regularly apply concepts I learned in my classes.”
Johannes Koeppel, founder, and Casey Lord, CFO, both MBA 15
Johannes Koeppel was visiting Kerala, India, when he met a tour guide named Sabu, who was leading a group of Swiss travelers on a highly-personalized trip. Sabu, who arranges tours of his native India from his home in Switzerland, told Koeppel that gaining travelers’ trust is an ongoing challenge.
Sabu’s story became the inspiration behind Wetravel.to, an online group travel marketplace offering trips organized by local travel gurus. Wetravel.to helps address the main pain points of tour guides: payment collection, marketing and communication. In standardizing these features, the company provides a level of trust for guides and their customers, Koeppel says.
Koeppel says he realized early on that Haas student treks are very similar to the type of tours Wetravel.to offers, so the company started focusing on MBA programs for its go-to-market strategy.
When Wetravel.to recently offered a beta version of its service, travelers used the platform to organize $38,000 worth of trips in three weeks. After the successful beta, several MBA programs approached the company, which now has dedicated websites for two other schools, Koeppel says.
The Wetravel.to team now includes seven people, including Berkeley MBA student Casey Lord. The company’s platform offers pictures of travel destinations, videos and messaging functions. It also provides escrow and payment collection.
Wetravel.to has received $30,000 in early angel funding and a similar amount from awards and fellowships, including the Hansoo Lee Fellowship for Berkeley MBA students.
Koeppel says he is taking advantage of his time at Haas to improve the service, bringing Wetravel into any class project possible. He says he also finds student networking and events at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship to be highly useful.
Jon Smith, MBA 15, co-founder and CEO
The idea for the company began in 2011 when three teachers, including Smith’s brother, created a blog that showcased children’s writing. It quickly went viral as a teaching resource.
“We soon realized that the true beneficiaries were the children. They loved getting comments and having an audience for their writing,” says Smith, who is currently on exchange at Haas from the London Business School. “We started receiving worldwide testimonials from teachers telling us what a positive impact LMYL was having on literacy standards in their classrooms.”
Smith and his LMYL co-founders developed a business model around the idea, and he now leads a team of 14 employees.
To date, 13,000 LMYL children have received more than two million views of their writing from 190 countries, he reports. In addition, the company offers premium products and services for schools, such as customized online portfolios, teacher training, and children’s writing workshops.
During a recent crowdfunding round, the company brought in $277,000 from more than 90 investors. LMYL has also received several awards, including the Audience Award in the 2014 EMEA regional finals of the Global Social Venture Competition.
The company’s goal is to publish the work of 50,000 child authors and earn $1.5 million in revenue in the 2014-15 academic year.
At Haas, Smith is enjoying classes on social media and business model innovation. “Both have very practical applications on what we need to do to grow faster," he says. “At Haas I have also met many people interested in entrepreneurship, so there’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from what others are doing."