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Author: Boye Fajinmi

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Machine Meets Garden

Five years ago, three friends from Minnesota realized the need for better access to real food…and JuiceBot was born. LJ Stead, Eric Ploeger, and Kamal Mohamed believe that organic should be an all-the-time convenience, not something that must be pre-packaged for affordability or cost an arm and a leg for freshness. JuiceBot vending machines are the first ever robotic juice dispensers that keep light and heat oxidation out of garden fresh fruits and vegetables for really amazing, really fresh juice at the push of a button. We had a chance to visit their office, journey to Commissary Kitchen in Downtown LA, and roll with them to a few of their kiosks, witnessing a true farm to bot experience. These guys are challenging the food industry in order to redefine how we as consumers can eat fresh.

Stay Curious: This is an audio interview, but we transcribed it below. When turning sound to words, we do what we can to make it readable and authentic. Sometimes the two mediums may not always line up, but we figured you’d rather it make sense without all the “ums” and “likes” – Enjoy.

Boye Fajinmi: Alright guys, I’ve got Kamal and LJ from JuiceBot. How are you guys doing? 

Kamal Mohamed: We’re doing really well. Thanks for having us. 

LJ Stead: Excited to be with TheFutureParty. 

Boye: Nice. Unfortunately Eric (Ploeger) couldn’t join us. He’s working hard, but I know you guys will represent well. So, who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? 

Kamal: Yeah. So, who am I? Kamal. I grew up in Minneapolis and met these guys at The University of St. Thomas, and we’ve been working on JuiceBot for a little bit over four years now. 

LJ: Yep. Myself and Kamal met in college with Eric, and we’ve been working together for the last five years to create better access to real food, whether it’s vegetables or fruit, through our vending system. 

Boye: Tell me more about the process behind JuiceBot. What does it do? 

Kamal: Yeah, essentially we’re trying to build a different platform for food. What you’ve seen up until now is a good distribution system for foods that already have a shelf life. We’re trying to figure out a different way to get food to you that doesn’t have a shelf life. Looking at raw beverages as our starting point, like cold press juice, your option before this were something that’s already pasteurized and pre-packaged sitting on a grocery store shelf or going to a juice bar which can sometimes cost between $10 and $12, and you have to go out of your way. We wanted to give you the convenience of going to get something pre-packaged, with something that’s as fresh as going to a juice bar. So, we call JuiceBot a juice bar inside of a vending machine. 

LJ: A lot of the companies before us have done a great job to create systems and distribution systems that allow us to survive, but we also need to start rethinking systems that allow us to thrive. That means having those foods available to us that allow our bodies to get vital nutrients on a daily basis at an access point that is not only localized but also available for a price that’s feasible to have more consistently in your life. 

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Boye: How’s it been going? What’s been the response? Where are you guys in the lifeline of the business? 

Kamal: Right now we only have about 20 machines, but the demand far exceeds that. Our goal is to build a model, learn from that model and put more machines in the field, not only nationally, but also internationally. We get contact on a daily basis which shows us that people are looking for something that’s healthy, but they want it in a more convenient manner, and for us convenience is not just location, but also price. I live in the Arts District in Los Angeles and at times I’m like, ‘Wow, this is right next door to me, but I don’t want to pay $20 for a salad or $20 for a cold pressed juice.’ We see that the demand is there because there are a lot of customers who are not being served, from our perspective. 

Boye: It sounds like your business has a lot of moving parts, which is really interesting. I’ve seen that you have the machine that processes payments, but you also prep the juice, vegetables, and food, and you deal with the manufacturing of the actual bot. Can you walk me through the whole process of what it takes to just get a bot in a location?

LJ: One of the really exciting parts about our business is being able to try to create this intersection between tech and food. We look at ourselves as a machine meets garden, and what that really means is making sure that we are creating these micro-distribution systems. It really starts at the farm, creating local partnerships within surrounding areas that allow us to get the freshest fruits and vegetables on a seasonal basis, creating a community within these food spaces to be able to have our prep done locally as well, and then distributing to the spaces that we have available to reach our customers where they work, sweat, play and travel. There are a lot of moving parts to be able to get that all in line, but that is one of the fun parts about our business; being able to be a part of all those different interactions. 

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Fresh fruits and vegetables squeezed into JuiceBot canisters.
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Circuitry from the original Juicebot vending machine

Boye: LJ, what do you do for the business? 

LJ: A lot of what I’m doing is trying to align with the appropriate partners, making sure that we’re bringing the right people into our business that are going to allow us to really grow. We’re looking for great personalities; hard driving people that really know where they can find themselves inside of our company. Then also finding locations. We’re working with a lot of different corporate cafes and finding different retail locations around Los Angeles. Nationally, it means we are putting ourselves in a position to be a great microphone for our brand. We’re hitting the place that our core consumer lives, or where they are currently visiting. 

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Boye: Cool. And what about you, Kamal, what’s the day-to-day for you? 

Kamal: One of my main roles is to set the vision, not only on a quarterly basis, but also for where we are going to be a year to five years from now. What I think most people don’t see, whether they’re looking at the media or at their favorite CEOs or entrepreneurs, is that it really does take a team. I think the most important thing I can do is make sure that not only do my co-founders have the resources they need, but also that anybody else we bring on has the resources that they need, so we can learn from them. We hire really smart engineers and every single day they teach me things. I feel like I’m going to engineering school. The beauty of our team is that everyone knows they can learn from somebody else. I think in order to move the bus forward, you gotta have the right people in the right seats. 

“The beauty of our team is that everyone knows they can learn from somebody else. I think, in order to move the bus forward, you gotta have the right people in the right seats.”

– Kamal Mohamed on building a successful team.

Kamal: That’s the main role that I try to fulfill on a daily basis. Outside of that, I love talking to customers. I love seeing the machines in the field and making sure that the investors also see our vision from a quarterly to a yearly basis. So, it’s supporting everybody else and also making sure that we’re staying on track to hit our goals.

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LJ: One of the fun things is that because we have such a small team we’re all really defining where we are best, making sure that we’re utilizing our talents to be able to be available for our team in those facilities. But then, we all have our own hobbies within our own business too. And we play with the weaknesses that we have to try to always get better at these different projects that we are excited about.

Boye: Startup life. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? 

Kamal: I think a lot of that will be answered through the types of questions that our team is willing to ask. For example, one of the things that we asked was ‘Why do we always have to pasteurize our food in order for it to be safe?’ We’ve looked at it historically, and asked ‘Why do we have to keep doing it that way?’ By asking the right questions, we’ve been able to get to a place where we’ve worked with inventions done at MIT, funded by DARPA, where we can look at food and see if there’s any listeria or E. coli within 30 minutes to 24 hours, whereas in the past that would take up to two weeks and it was too late. We got there by asking the right questions. So, where we are going to be five years from now is going to depend a lot on how much we’re willing to push ourselves and what type of questions we’re trying to challenge in this industry. The food industry moves slow, and we’re applying technology to it. Hopefully, five years from now we are a leader in the food industry, and we are the people who are coming in with data and are able to help out other categories within the food industry – not just juice, but also salads and other healthy foods. We could tell you, in real time, how many nutrients are in your food and why we have to prepackage things. Five years from now we, hopefully, want to be at a place where you look at us as a company that challenges a lot of the current notions and is willing to ask questions that redefine how close we can get you to the farm.

“Five years from now we want to be at a place where you look at us as a company that challenges a lot of the current notions and is willing to ask questions that redefine how close we can get you to the farm.”

– Kamal Mohamed on the company’s goal for the future.

LJ: We really want to push ourselves every day so, in five years, we’re a brand that’s truly trusted by our customer. They know that we are fighting for them, on a local level and on a larger, national governmental level. We want to make sure that we’re helping people and we’re really fostering technology to create better access to food. So, we try really hard to better ourselves and our business every single day to make sure that we are creating the standard that our customer can be really appreciative of and excited about, and will allow our company to be very transparent. Hopefully that transparency allows us to be trusted. 

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Boye: It’s interesting that you guys are starting this business around this time, right? This idea of fresh pressed juice in a vending machine at a time when the Millennial generation is not drinking soda. We’re more health conscious. I would argue to say that your average person drinks coffee, tea, sparkling water, and pressed juice, maybe some Kombucha. Have you seen anything in the response to your product that aligned in this? Do you have visions of taking over the “Coca-Colas” and “Pepsis?”

LJ: Yeah, I think that our product does really speak to the times. We are creating a solution for what we have found, right? This project came from Kamal’s entrepreneurial project, the capstone, and it really identified these little missteps within the market based on what consumers expect and want to have access to. We always want to be a part of conversations though, so we don’t look at Coca-Cola and Pepsi and say they’re an absolute we’re fighting against. We want to help them understand who we’re fighting for, and we certainly hope they fight with us. Now, if those types of groups decide that they’re fighting against what people desire and what people really want for their body, then that’s a different type of conversation, but we have found through our interactions with these different organizations that they really are trying to rewrite the ship. They are trying to look toward what customers’ expectations and intentions are, and they want to create better systems for the future. We really hope to be the type of company that can be nimble enough to allow ourselves to be mercenaries that are going out and doing that right. 

Kamal: Yeah, I mean it’s you’re either with us or you’re against us, and that’s not what JuiceBot says, that’s what the customer says. And so, the customer is saying, ‘Look, I’ve done my research and this is what I’m looking for. Are you going to serve me? Are you going to put me over profit?’ One of the biggest benefits of being a startup is that we can listen to our consumer and act quickly. We’re the little boat in the water, we’re not the big ship. And as LJ has mentioned, we look at these big ships like Pepsi and Coca-Cola and also, in a sense, I think they’re also looking for how to best serve the customer. Yes, they’re a business at the end of the day, but there are a lot of people within these companies that are trying to figure out how can we better serve the consumer. We want to find those people and say, look, we have one of the ways to do that, and if you want to fight with us then so be it. But, we don’t really see companies fighting against each other anymore. It’s more about, are you willing to listen to the consumer? Because if you don’t, you’re not really going to be around. Somebody else will come in and fill those shoes and you can’t move too slowly because before you know it, companies like Amazon will come in and fill that space. So, just think about it, ten years ago Yahoo was trying to buy Facebook. Two or three years ago, for the same price that Yahoo was trying to buy Facebook for, was how much Verizon bought Yahoo for. So companies now, even the giants, are going down in a decade. It is really important to listen to the consumer and it’s so easy to do that because they’re willing to tell you, you’re with us or you’re against us. That’s what the customers have said, especially Millennials. And we said, ‘Hey, we’re with you and we’re gonna do everything we can to be with you.’

Boye: For sure. Question – as you talk about Yahoo and Facebook, I’m seeing that a lot of these bigger organizations are actually having issues being in touch with their customers. I’m wondering, do you think that Facebook will be down in a decade? 

Kamal: I went to a talk two or three years ago at the Facebook headquarters in San Francisco and this question was posed to Zuckerberg. He said, ‘I expect Facebook to end someday.’ He said, everything comes to an end, and I think it has already served its purpose in a lot of ways, some good and some bad. Will it be here in a decade? It’s really hard for big companies to stay relevant for that long now because it’s really difficult to be everything to everybody. I think they’ve hit that peak now, and if they stay here 10 years from now, it’s going to be because they’ve divested and bought Instagrams and other startups that come into the space that better serve that niche. I think that’s the game that the big guys are playing now, whether it’s Pepsi, Coke, Facebook, they’re buying smaller niches and then letting them be as is and creating micro avenues of revenue versus this one big thing that is going to serve everybody because that’s not gonna work. 

LJ: And I think just as a business owner and as you grow larger, which I can’t imagine what that really has to feel like, but it’s hard to understand different markets so well, and I think you just have to be honest with yourself and say, I don’t understand everything. So when these larger companies think that they are the smartest people in the room, that is a key indicator of knowing that they are gone within 10 years. But if they’re willing to be honest with themselves and say we don’t know everything but we’re trying to surround ourselves by the top talent and great businesses that are connecting with people, if that’s the type of vision, that will allow you to be around for a long time. I think it’s a balance within your heart to be able to maintain that focus on a day to day basis. So it is really subject to the leaders within those companies that if they’re going to put everybody in line with that type of expectation.

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Boye: It’s definitely interesting. I agree with you guys. At the same time, I’m looking at companies like Apple and Amazon who just became the first trillion dollar companies. And it’s hard to think that those companies won’t exist in a hundred years. I actually feel that in my ‘dystopic’ imagination feel like some of these companies may become countries in the future with all their wealth and with all their power of technology and surveillance. And I agree with Zuckerberg, but it’s an interesting time we live in where really effective products can touch half the globe at the snap of a finger, which is really interesting. So question for you guys – Of all the places in the world, you’ve chosen Los Angeles, why is that? 

Kamal: It has a great intersection with a few different things. First is the fresh produce and access to produce. Ninety percent of the produce that’s distributed around the country starts here from California and a lot of it is in southern California. 

Boye: Oh really? Wow. 

Kamal: Yes. So that being said, there’s also a world of startups that are out here, similar to San Francisco but in a different way. Then lastly, the consumers are willing to be early adopters or first adopters, so between the early adopters, the access to local produce and the bed or the microcosm of startups out here, we thought that this would be a great place for us to launch from and hold to our identity.

LJ: Yeah, being from Minnesota, we really found that there’s a few different communities, whether it’s New York or LA or San Francisco, that different areas of the country really look to, to vet product. And LA really is a city that creates culture and a lot of other spaces are looking at this saying like what is next? And the people that are living in this area are really excited about being that microphone to be able to tell their friends back home what they’ve found. And so, it’s been a great spot for us to be able to Beta because we find a group of people that are very excited to kind of play with things that aren’t perfect yet because we know as a brand that we’re not done. We’re not complete, we don’t exactly know who we are, we know where we’re going though, and we love to be within a community that allows us to build and also build kind of with them and through them.

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Kamal: It’s also hard to stay relevant in LA. There are so many cool things that happen on a daily basis where if you can stay at the top of your game in LA or San Francisco or New York, then it’s sort of like training wheels to sort of expand to the rest of the country because at least you know that you have what it takes to do well in other cities. It’s very diverse. It hits, you know, all types of demographics and consumers, you learn a lot and you know, for the most part it’s pretty honest. So when they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, I think LA has definitely proven that time and time again. 

Boye: For sure. I think you hit on something earlier, LJ, when you talked about culture and I think a product like yours, I believe, makes sense. Right now, it’s how do you expand that beyond just making sense and having it really just touch the rest of the nation. I do agree that LA, even more so than New York or Austin, Chicago, all of these cultural hotspots really leads the trends. I was at an event the other day and normally they would hand out cocktails, right? Your Jack and Cokes or whatever, but they were serving pressed juice, pressed juice cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. And I thought that was so cool to be at this branded, premiere party event, and I could just get a pressed juice and that is just, that’s culture, you know what I mean? And it’s good to get to have you guys here. I’m curious, this is a startup and oftentimes people talk about what goes right, what are some hard moments that you guys have had and what did you learn from it? 

Kamal: Here’s the one advice that I have and this is advice that I want to give to myself if I could go back in time. It’s the idea of like there’s a reason why you should pick something that you love because there’s actually no easy route. There’s no easy way to do something great. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. So the only thing that keeps you in the game, especially when out of the month 28 days are really hard and two days are wins, is the fact that you actually have an intrinsic motivator. It can’t just be extrinsic, it can’t be money or a fame thing. It has to be something you really believe in. I would tell most people stick to your day job if you want to be happy, like you can actually do a nine to five, have a hobby, have weekends, but if you’re going to pick something, you gotta ask yourself, am I willing to do this seven days a week and am I willing to battle it out and lose or have little losses like, you know, 98 percent of the month, then go ahead and do it. So we moved to San Francisco, we drove uber. I think between the three of us, we’ve done 10,000 rides. That’s actually how we found our investors. We raised $3,000,000 driving Uber. We told everybody our story, I mean, we’ve had situations where I’m pitching somebody on our story and it got down to the point where we could tell our whole story in just a minute and they’re like, Oh yeah, I’ve met your co-founder LJ. It’s like we covered that city and so 

LJ: That happened all the time. That’s scary when you finally been that deep in and you’re like Wow, they’ve met Kamal and Eric.

Kamal: I mean, if you think about it, when we moved to San Francisco, we ran out of money in six months. The city of like San Francisco was wanting to shut us down because they’re like, well, your technology doesn’t fit in our current laws and so we’re fighting legislation. Our competitor Juicero raised $100,000,000. 

Boye: and they tanked 

Kamal: And they tanked. And we can get into that.

LJ: I swear we were in every single boardroom like six months after them. It was like, Hey, we’re raising this much. We just gave this group this much. How are you ever going to compete? And we’re like, just so you know, it’s not going to work.

Kamal: And we can talk about like, why we saw as to why they weren’t going to work even before we raised our capital. But I mean at that time you gotta ask yourself like, okay, you moved to San Francisco, you’re driving Uber, your competitor has $123 million dollars, California the state and the city of San Francisco want to shut you down because your technology doesn’t fit into their current laws. It feels like almost an impossible task to overcome in every different direction, whether it’s legislation or business or your current day to day. And so the fact that our team has been through that and we’ve come out at least on top for this current moment, I think is a testimony to how much of an intrinsic love and motivation we have towards this thing. And it’s a story we haven’t yet told but I think that once we have a brand and our brand actually matters, because that’s what is most important to us first, and I think once people hear this story, they’re going to understand that there’s a lot of love that goes into this product. And so when you go up to the machine and people are excited and in front of it and they try the juice and they love it, that means so much to us because we’ve put everything we’ve had in the past four years into it. That’s why it’s really important to do what you love because it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be really hard. And if it’s not for that, you will fail. During those really difficult moments, no matter how famous you think you want to get or how much money you think you want, it won’t get you through those days. And that’s why it’s really important to pick something you love.

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LJ: You know, I think like the NFL and sports teams have such a luxury because they have seasons. Business doesn’t get to have seasons. Even though we do in board meetings say we’re going into this season or this is off season, this is the recalibration month or you know, now this is the first day of the year, we gotta step up to this moment. I think it starts with being honest with yourself on a day to day basis and then creating a team that’s willing to be honest with you because a team that’s going to be honest with themselves is going to be honest to the community that they’re creating. It is one of those things that is just a day to day struggle and it always starts with yourself and then it starts with the people that you see on a day to day basis and say, let’s just be honest together about every single thing that we’re doing right and every single thing that we’re doing wrong and let’s start checking off that list of what we can do that’s right in front of us. It’s so easy to see all these different bullet points on the wall of what you can do or should do and not always be able to just decipher what you can do in this exact moment. And so that’s my day to day struggle is just kind of seeing like, what can I do in this moment to be able to better this business and then also myself today. From the process of waking up with that type of mentality over different seasons, I’ve found that it allows me personally to be able to be a better person on the team, but also to create value within our business.

“I think it starts with being honest with yourself on a day to day basis and then creating a team that’s willing to be honest with you.”

– LJ Stead on trusting yourself and your team.

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Boye: For sure. Both good points. One thing that you were talking about Kamal made me think about what’s going on this last season with Colin Kaepernick and Nike. Just that whole believe in something so much, I’m paraphrasing, that you’re willing to sacrifice everything. Obviously he was talking about everything with the kneeling, but I feel like it applies to entrepreneurship, right? You’re sacrificing the opportunity to do that nine to five and have that freedom and that stability and be safe for all intents and purposes. 

LJ: Well, we always live by this code of chances make champions and then we don’t know where we’re going to be, it’s like trailer park or amusement park. It’s going to be one of them, but we want to make sure that we take the type of chances that put us in one of them and we can live with that as long as we’re able to understand the risks that we’re taking and at least that the risks that we’re taking are for good because there’s a lot of risks that our society needs different organizations to make in order to create better community for us all and better access for us all and we just want to be that type of group and people that are willing to step into that type of a situation.

“…there are a lot of risks that our society needs different organizations to take in order to create a better community and better access…and we just want to be that type of group.”

LJ Stead on taking chances that can affect change.

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Boye: Yeah, that’s cool. It’s cool that you guys have been together for like five years through that. I didn’t even know you guys are driving Lyfts and Ubers and that’s great. I mean, I think that’s when you really know that you what you do, right? Because you guys could easily be somewhere else, you know, doing whatever. So that’s really cool. So I always like to ask, and Kamal, I know you just kinda gave us your advice, but if you have more, our listeners are creatives and entrepreneurs that are the very people who are taking the chance. What’s one piece of advice that you have for someone who is working on something that they love? 

Kamal: I would say for me the biggest piece that’s missing, especially for millennials and sometimes you know, I reach out to people all the time for advice and sometimes people reach out to me if they’re thinking about doing a startup. And the biggest thing for me is just patience. What will happen is for whatever reason, I don’t know why we have this mindset, but it’s like I did it for a month. I did it for six months and it’s just not working. But it’s like, you gotta have a 10 year mentality, a 25 year mentality because nothing gets done in six months. So imagine if Jeff Bezos is sitting in his office like, actually I’m going to go back to Wall Street because not enough books are selling this past six months. 

Boye: You’ve got to have different worlds that you live in. 

Kamal: You gotta have this mentality where, you know, even a lot of shareholders jumped off the Amazon stock just even three to five years ago. But I think it’s really important to have the patience. First is like, do I love this thing? Like, is there anything else I’d rather be doing? No. Okay. Am I willing to do everything for it. Yes. Then from there it’s just having the patience because from the day to day it just doesn’t feel like that much. It’s the same thing as like working out or getting into shape. It’s like, yes, you’ve been to the gym for two weeks straight, but you’ve been eating bad for last two years. You’re not going to correct that in two weeks. So you’ve got to give yourself, even geniuses, whether it’s, if you look at music, for example, like all the best classical music that has stayed the test of time, none of them have been produced within the first 10 years. Let’s say it’s Mozart or anybody, they didn’t produce in their first 10 years. They had to have time to sort of give themselves the space to create and create and create and create. And then do a masterpiece, right? It doesn’t happen in six months. And so if you’ve done something and you see no fruits in six months or a year, it’s okay. That’s not the point. The point is, do you believe in this? Do you believe in this cause? Do you believe that the world needs what you’re going to give them? Yes. Stick with it and give yourself the time.

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Boye: How about you, LJ? Give us some advice. 

LJ: So one thing that we were kind of talking about today is live life like your 10 year old self is following you. And either your 10 year old self is walking around right behind you, three steps behind you being like, Yo, we’re doing it like this? Yeah, let’s do it like this. We’re living in LA, we’re making it happen. We got this happening. Or your 10 year old self is like, we have all this going on, step up. This is everything we ever wanted. Like pull it together, like make it happen. This is perfect. Like do it right. So having that kind of youthful enthusiasm but also useful criticism in your heart to say do it right, every day. That doesn’t mean it’s hard, just like make it happen. Wake up to the moment that you’re in and be appreciative of the space that you’re given. Be respectful of it and be the person that’s willing to walk into the challenges that your 10 year old self would be proud of. Your dad would be proud of. Your mom will be proud of all of, that type of stuff. I think that we all need to live more generationally and understand that we’re fighting for more. I’m a big God guy. Like you know, love God, serve people. And what it really just means to me is let’s put ourselves in a place to be able to push for more on a daily basis with the expectation that we are the type of person that can move that baton a little bit further, and we try to do that for our team all the time, like sometimes understanding you’re not the person that’s going to take it to the goal line, but just give it that little bit extra effort to be able to pass it to the person that can. And so whether that’s on your team, whether that’s just kind of generationally as a community. But to live with that expectation, that enthusiasm that we get to be here to be that person and that can be exciting. It’s a challenge. It can be scary. But we need to be excited about it.

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Boye: Sick, guys. Well, I’ve had a great time catching up and chatting and I think we’re going to call it. 

Kamal: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having us. It’s always fun coming to one of your parties and I’m always looking forward to it, so really appreciate the opportunity. We know that you spent the Friday with us and as much as we were talking about us, taking the time to work and do this project, it’s like, actually the only person that’s really putting the sacrifice is you because you’re coming through with all this equipment, you had a professional photographer come through. So we really want to thank you for, for putting us up. I really appreciate it. 

Boye: For sure man. It’s fun. Where can we find you? How do we get ahold of you guys? Where can we drink the juice? Where can we find you on Instagram? 

LJ: Yeah. So @JuiceBot, that’s our Instagram handle. You can definitely get all the updates on our different locations. We’re in the Arts District right now, we’re in Disney Animation. We have a lot of great locations that are going to be debuting here in the city pretty soon. Some pretty fun like national partnerships that we have going on as well. So that’s the best place to be able to keep updated on us. We do have JuiceBot.com too if you want to really educate yourself on a deeper level about where we are as a brand and where our technology is going.

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Kamal: And one funny story. So we used to be @JuiceBotSF and this is one of the things that LJ loves to do. He found the guy who owns @JuiceBot and the guy was getting married so we were able to buy it from him for an undisclosed amount, but he had a wedding and he needed to pay for a part of his wedding. So it happened at the right time. 

LJ: It was so funny because he lives up in kind of like San Francisco Bay area and we’ve been talking to him for about a year. Like, Yo, you got this JuiceBot handle. He’s like, yeah why do you want my JuiceBot handle? I’m like because I have this company and this is important for our branding and he’s like, but you know, JuiceBot has been my name since fifth grade. That was his nickname. And so we’ve been talking for like a year, would bring it up periodically every three months, like, hey, is there any way that we could possibly buy this? So about six months ago he was like, Yo, I’m starting to get tagged a lot and it started to get annoying and I’m like, well, so how can we help your life? What can we do to be able to get this JuiceBot handle and help your life out? He’s like alright, to be honest with you, I’m getting married and my wife doesn’t like the nickname and I would really appreciate it if you could pay for our wedding photographer and I’m just like Kamal, let’s pay for this guy’s wedding photographer and we can get our JuiceBot handle, let’s do this. So, he actually negotiated a good price with his wedding guy and we were able to get our JuiceBot handle. So it was just kind of a fun thing that allowed us to be able to have just a good connection with somebody who had been kind of holding on to like one of our batons and to have that passed off was pretty exciting. 

Boye: That’s awesome. 

Kamal: Yeah, I mean similarly our flagship spot that’s a 24/7 ATM. It’s on 826 East 3rd Street right here in the arts district. The owner, I’ve been bothering him for like four months, like, hey, that space looks empty, doesn’t call me back. Finally calls me back and says okay, we’ll think about it. You gotta just stay with it because just because somebody said no the first time doesn’t mean it’s actually a no, it’s just like maybe come back at a different date and a different time. 

Boye: Timing is everything. 

Kamal: It is. And it’s the persistence that comes with it. So it’s like, hey, we really need a machine right there, we really need this handle. We’re going to just keep asking until you get annoyed and you say yes. So that’s one way to do it. 

Boye: Last question, what’s your favorite flavor that you sell? 

Kamal: I think for me it changes, but currently it’s our smoothie. It’s so cold. It almost gives you a brain freeze. People love it. 

Boye: Nice. What flavor?

Kamal: So it has kale, spinach, raw honey, a little bit of lemon, almond milk 

Boye: Is that the apple banana one or the avocado? 

Kamal: Avocado.

Boye: I love that one. It’s delicious.

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LJ: So, we have this juice partner called Made With Love and they make this juice called Glow. It’s got some Kale, some pineapple. It’s a banger. It’s a great juice. So I am, when it comes to cold pressed juice, it’s really all things green, that’s really what you’re supposed to be focused on, something I appreciate most. And they have a great variety of how to do that right. 

Boye: All right, there’s a storm a-coming. See y’all later.

https://juicebot.com/

Instagram: @JuiceBot

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A Window Into Our Holographic Future

When was the first time you saw a hologram? Princess Leia pleading for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s help? Or was it via Star Trek’s Holodeck? For many of us, the idea of holograms is something out of our childhood fantasies, but for VNTANA co-founders Ashley Crowder and Ben Conway, they are a daily reality. We visited their unassuming warehouse in Van Nuys to see where all the magic happens, and to pick the brains of these young, innovative entrepreneurs who are literally building the future. 

Stay Curious: This is an audio interview, but we transcribed it below. When turning sound to words, we do what we can to make it readable and authentic. Sometimes the two mediums may not always line up, but we figured you’d rather it make sense without all the “ums” and “likes” – Enjoy.

Boye Fajinmi: Alright. I’ve got the founders of VNTANA with me. How are you guys doing? 

Ashley Crowder: Good, how are you? 

Ben Conway: Doing good.

Boye : Awesome. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what you guys have going on here and who you are? 

Ashley: Sure, I’m Ashley Crowder. I’m the Co-Founder & CEO of VNTANA. We’ve created a platform to easily create interactive holographic experiences with built-in data. 

Boye: Nice, and you? 

Ben: I’m Ben Conway. I’m the Co-Founder & COO. I just work here. 

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Boye: I’ve been tracking you guys for a little bit, and the idea of holograms in this day and age is beyond me. What made you guys decide to do this, and where do you see it all going? 

Ben: Ashley, do you want to take that?   

Ashley: Sure. Yeah,  it was kind of a crazy idea at the time. I was programming light shows for DJs for fun because that’s what I enjoyed. We really wanted to take those visual experiences to the next level and holograms was a way to do that. When we first started, Ben & I were in his parent’s garage building a hardware system to easily do holographic projection. Then, we started getting a lot of interest from brands who wanted to use it to engage consumers. At that point we officially founded VNTANA, and started building out our interactive software, which makes it easy to create any holographic experience whether it’s on our hardware, or Hololens, or Magic Leap, or other AR devices. 

Boye: That’s cool. Where does the name come from? 

Ashley: It means window in Spanish. So, the idea is we are giving a view into this other world, this other place. But there’s a lot of window companies in LA called “ventana” so we had to drop the “E” for trademark reasons. We weren’t trying to be cool. 

Ben: It’s more Hollywood that way. 

Ashley: Yeah! (laughter)

“The idea is that we are giving a view into this other world, this other place.”

– Ashley Crowder on the origin of the company name and mission.

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Boye: Pretty badass. What gave you the inspiration behind thinking a hologram was even possible to make? 

Ben: I think we had just seen it done and we knew that, theoretically, it was possible. Then we thought, well as long as someone buys it we definitely can figure it out. 

Ashley: Yeah.

Ben: And we did, but it wasn’t as straightforward as maybe we would have thought when we first started out.

Boye: Yeah, now that’s interesting because I remember growing up and watching Star Trek, and all these other things, and seeing holograms. Now it’s in real life. It’s interesting to see. So, how have people responded to, Ben as you were saying, ‘buying it’? You guys are creating holograms for other people, for activations. What’s it like as a business? 

Ben: As a business, I think it’s always about the engagement. It’s about the interactivity. What is the experience that they’re having?  That’s really what we try and focus on as a company. It’s how are fans responding if they’re serving a tennis ball to Roger Federer. How are consumers responding if they’re building their dream car before their eyes? That’s what we really care about, and that’s what our clients ultimately end up caring about. So, at the end of an activation we try and show how successful it was by showing how many smiling faces we have, and then giving them the demographic data behind all those smiling faces.

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Ashley: Yeah, the data is what’s key at the end of the day. The hologram is that wow factor that’s going to get people engaged, but while they’re engaged we’re tracking everything. So, we know their age, gender, sentiment, and product preference just by that interaction. We know who they are and we can sync that with our client’s CRM system. So, at the end of the day clients like Lexus have seen us more than double their qualified leads in all the venues we’ve done for them. It’s fun, engaging and personalized for the consumers, but the companies are seeing real bottom-line value. 

Boye: So, when you’re collecting this data is it because the consumers are putting it into a system? Or it just recognizes them? 

Ashley: The only thing they enter is their email, and that’s because they want a video of the experience because it’s super fun and engaging. Everything else is tracked passively. We have facial recognition back end, so that’s how we know your age, gender and sentiment. We can tie your sentiment to what product you’re looking at. So, you’re happier looking at a blue RX than a red LC.  We track, store and sync all of that data with the CRM, and it allows the client to follow up with you after. 

“The hologram is the wow factor that’s going to get people engaged, but while they’re engaged we’re tracking everything.”

– Ashley Crowder commenting on the capabilities of their software.

Boye: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s smart too. I feel like a lot of businesses these days monetize through data…I wouldn’t have even thought that is a revenue stream for you guys. So, where can people see the Holograms? Right now you work out of LA, but where are these things popping up? 

Ashley: We’re honestly global. For people in LA we’ve got an installation at Two Bit Circus for the hologram arcade game that’s super fun. We’re at The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You get a pep talk from George Halas, Joe Namath, a few famous NFL greats. We just launched Adidas by Stella McCartney in all their flagship stores – London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai. We’re everywhere.

Boye: What’s it like running a global business? 

Ben: Hard.

(laughter)

Ashley: Exhausting, but fun. 

Ben: There’s always something new. There’s always some sort of new challenge. We never really know what tomorrow is going to bring for us. We have literally gotten calls days before events happening in Taipei. There’s this whole specialized freight division that deals with us moving things very quickly into foreign countries. So, it’s pretty wild.   

Boye: What’s day to day like for you?  

Ben: Most of the time it’s spent working with existing clients, trying to onboard new clients, and managing the team in the direction of the product. So, continuing to tweak and take that client feedback and put it directly into the product. One of the things that we love doing is iterating really quickly, so we get stuff out the door a lot faster, I think, than most other companies. We love to get feedback from clients as quickly as we can so we can keep building. 

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Boye: Cool. What about for you? What’s a day in the life? 

Ashley: I would say it’s very similar. We’re constantly doing business development and what’s exciting is talking with the client and seeing what they find most useful on the platform, what they would like the platform to do, and then translating that to the software team. I think I work a little bit closer with the software team on that, and it’s really fun to hear client needs and then translate that into a broader and more scalable software vision. As of now, we have our first client building their own content with our platform which is super exciting to see. Answering those calls from them saying, “We want to do this now! How do we do this?” It’s been exciting to see them create their own experiences on it. 

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Boye: Yeah! So, who are some of your clients? 

Ben: Adidas, Lexus, Microsoft, Intel, Nike. We’ve done work with Disney. 

Boye: Wow. 

Ashley: Also Deloitte. And a farm equipment company that needed to show how their farm equipment worked, but they couldn’t bring a cow to the conference.  

(Laughter)

Ben: You’d be amazed at the different calls we’ve gotten over the years. 

Boye: That’s cool. So, what’s it like when you talk to these executives? They are probably wide-eyed saying, “Holograms, oh my goodness!” What’s that conversation like from the initial touch to the actual production? 

Ashley: It’s really fun and we’re always trying to get to the heart of the reason they’re calling us. Like you said, a lot of executives will say, “I want augmented reality. It’s the latest, greatest thing. We need it!” And our first question is why? What is your goal? Are you trying to increase user-generated content for social and have more online content? Are you trying to understand product preference? Are you launching a product? Do you just want PR buzz? Once we narrow that piece down, we can start brainstorming on the best experience for you to achieve those goals. 

Ben: A lot of times, holograms are just the entry point. It’s what catches people’s attention and then once they see what the software can do, and the value it can bring, that’s when the conversation, I think, gets really interesting.

“As of now, we have our first client building their own content with our platform, which is super exciting.”

– Ashley Crowder on what drives business & software development.

Boye: Gotcha. So, where do you see this going?  How long have you guys been doing this?  

Ben: Six years in August. 

Boye: Six years. So, what’s the future like?

Ben: The future is: we’re the platform for creating interactive experiences. The same way you used to have to go to a web developer to build a website, and then Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress came along. We’re going to do that for interactive experiences. That’s what we’re doing right now; letting our clients build amazing interactive experiences for all different types of platforms. 

Boye: That’s cool. So, the Hologram that you guys have today is a big set-up. Right? You have the really huge one. How big is it? 

Ashley:  We do all different sizes. We have our life-size line, which has a few different options. It does life-size people like in our warehouse. Then we’ve got our Z displays, which are the stand alone kiosks, and now we’ve got light boxes that work really great in retail because they’re smaller. Our software is display agnostic, so the same software works across all of those displays, as well as headset AR and mobile AR. When Ben mentioned that we are going to be the WordPress of interactive experiences that includes across mixed reality platforms. 

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Boye: Gotcha. So, VR? 

Ashley: VR 

Boye: Ok, and like glasses and all that?  

Ashley: Exactly. 

Ben: We like to let the market decide what the best display will be. 

Boye: But, the computing platform is all the same?

Ashley & Ben: Correct.

Boye: Does that mean someone like a Magic Leap could create holograms for VNTANA?

Ashley: They could use our platform to power experiences on Magic Leap. 

Boye: Gotcha. Recently on Facebook, I saw this demo of this lady in China holding what looked like a fan, and it produced what felt like the most real version of a hologram I’ve ever seen. I was tripping out. What’s that technology?

Ashley: Yeah, exactly like you said, it’s a very fast-moving fan with LEDs on the blades. It’s spinning so fast that you lose the blades and you just see the LED light that is making your brain think, ‘that’s a floating hologram there.’ They’re really cool. They’re great for signage. If people want a floating hologram logo, that is the way to go. What we really focus on is that consumer engagement and data collection piece. 

Boye: Gotcha, gotcha. What’s been the hardest day for you? 

Ashley: Oh my gosh. 

Ben: (laughing) I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s something we can talk about on here. I’ll talk about a hard day that had a great ending, which was one of the first experiences we ever did. It was for Microsoft. They did a hologram concert for a bunch of influencers, and pretty much everything that could have gone wrong that day was going wrong. A truss almost came down on top of people at the venue. They sent the wrong projector lens. 

Ashley: You ran over a fire hydrant. 

Ben: I ran over a fire hydrant at six in the morning when we went to pick up the projector lens! There was a parade. We drove down the wrong side of the road for like a hundred fifty yards to avoid the parade. It was one of those days where you’re like, ‘I don’t know if this is gonna happen. I don’t think this is going to happen. I really don’t think it’s going to happen,’…And then we pulled it off! So, when we pressed play at the end of it, and the crowd went nuts. High highs and low lows that day. 

Boye:  I like that. 

Ben: Yeah 

Ashley: Yeah that that was definitely a memorable one. I think mine was probably at the at the US Open in 2015 for Mercedes.

Ben: Yeah 

Ashley: We did the Hologram of Roger Federer. You could throw him a ball and play tennis with him. 

Boye: Oh yeah! 

Ashley: I was there the whole 2 weeks with one of our developers, and there were just use cases we didn’t think of. You know, when you don’t have a lot of time to test and a lot of people to test with…Someone walked up and they didn’t have a right arm. Our software recognizes your body, and we had only programmed it for right hand, so I’m sitting there with Bork in a closet, coding to fix this. 

Boye: They had lost their arm?  

Ashley: They had lost their arm and they couldn’t do the experience. I felt awful. So, we literally fixed it on the spot, had him go back, and then he could do the experience. But, I felt terrible. 

Ben: Just a shout out to Bork for coding in the closet on several of our early gigs. #codinginthecloset.

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Boye: I asked because many people, when first starting out, really don’t understand how much goes into business. The sweat, the tears. It’s not and is never easy. So, it’s really interesting to see where you guys come from. One thing we always ask people on this podcast is for one piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are also creating their own businesses. I’m curious to know from you guys, who are paving the future, what that might be? 

Ashley: I think my advice would be in the beginning you feel like you need to bring on people with this amazing resume. Or, you need to bring in skills to your company. Which, you do, but the more important thing is that big belief in your vision and where you’re going with the company and your culture. I, today, would 100% take someone who is hardworking, willing to learn, and believes in the VNTANA vision over that perfect resume. 

Boye: Good to know. 

Ben: Mine would probably be everyday is a new day. Because sometimes with lack of sleep and over work, you can end the day feeling like, ‘I don’t know how this is going to happen.’ And some days, you wake up the next day and you’re like, ‘Alright! I can do this today!’ We still have days where I’ll get a text from Ashley and she’s just like, “We got this! We got this today!” And, you know, maybe the week before I get a text like, “Oh my God. How are we going to get this out on time?” So, everyday is a new day. 

Boye: I like that. Ashley, touching on what you were saying, I’ve heard something similar before and it’s hire for culture over skill.  As long as, obviously, they’re willing to learn, having someone that fits the vision and the brand will take your business a lot further than someone with that skill. And sometimes those people with the skill have the ego, and they don’t always work out. Have you ever been in a situation where you learned that the hard way, and you had to let someone go? 

Ashley: Yeah. We learn most things the hard way. 

Ben: I was going to say, that’s the only way to actually learn it. 

Ashley: Yeah, definitely learned that the hard way in the beginning. We’ve had to let some people go. But I think the team we have now is pretty incredible. Part of it is, some people wouldn’t be happy working here if they want that big company and they want to focus on one thing. We’re a company where a lot of people wear a lot of hats. You get pulled into different things, and that’s super exciting and fun for some people. Other people, that overwhelms them and they don’t like that. So, I think it’s a two-way street. I think we’re trying to make sure we’re hiring people who will fit in with a culture not only to help move our company forward faster, but so they’re happy here. And then everyone else is happy working with them.

Boye: Yeah. Did you guys raise a round of financing for this? 

Ashley: We raised a seed round. So, we raised a little over 2M in seed funding, and then we were able to reach profitability last year. So, we’re more than doubled every year since we started which is exciting. But we were thinking about taking on some more capital, so we’ll see.

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Boye: Take it to the next level…Before I let you go, I’m curious to understand this ecosystem. Who else is doing this and where do you see the future of interactive experiences?  

Ben: What’s kind of interesting is that so much of the ecosystem has been focused on the hardware aspect of it or heavily focused on entertainment. And so, there are a lot of conversations about trying to make hyper realistic humans, avatars of humans, and things like that. I think where we’d like to see the market go is back to some of the basics; things that will get adopted quickly. I think that’s good for everyone in the space. A lot of times, people are trying to solve really big problems or difficult challenges, but for stuff that might be 5-10 years out as opposed to asking, ‘How do we get this in the hands of people today? So, as far as where the ecosystem is right now, I think that most of consumers’ interactions with AR are probably on phone apps because there are not a lot of AR headsets that are readily available. And it’s cool that people are doing stuff like that, but I think there’s other experiences that can be happening. 

Ashley: Yeah. I agree.

“A lot of this stuff is a step up in technological innovation. It’s not necessarily a linear progression. It’ll be something else that cracks things wide open.”

Ben Conway on the evolution of technology.

Boye: Do you see a near-future where we can see 360 holograms next to us? 

Ashley: Yeah. That’s light field technology, and there are a lot of people trying to solve that really hard problem. We’re not close yet. Microsoft just opened up their volumetric studio here as we are starting to capture volumetric, capture light fields, but it’s so much data that we realistically need quantum computing to be there. We need lasers to be less expensive. We need a lot of things to happen for that to become a reality, and an everyday reality that’s affordable and feasible.

Boye: For sure. 

Ben: A lot of this stuff is a step up in technological innovation. It’s not necessarily a linear progression. It’ll be something else that cracks things wide open. 

Boye: Gotcha. 

Ashley: And we can’t wait for that! Because we’ve built this software platform to work on that as well, so we’ll still be powering those interactive 3D experiences. 

Boye: Cool. Well, I can’t wait! It was awesome talking to you guys today. Curious where can we learn more about you guys? Where can we buy some Holograms and get them integrated into what we’re doing? 

Ashley: Yeah. Check us out at our website, VNTANA.com.  No “E” as you mentioned. 

(laughter)

Ben: That’s V-N-T-A-N-A dot com. 

Boye: Cool. Awesome, guys.

Link: https://www.vntana.com/

Instagram: @vntanalive

Highlites TheFutureParty

HI-LITES, HI LIFE

Not everyone can create a successful business. Noah Lichtenstein did it just for fun. Noah is a venture capitalist by day and entrepreneur by night. He has managed to create a playful, revenue driving, side hustle; really funky glasses that project shapes when pointed toward light.  We had a chance to sit down with him and learn how he has turned his side hustle into a profitable business.

Stay Curious: This is an audio interview, but we transcribed it below. When turning sound to words, we do what we can to make it readable and authentic. Sometimes the two mediums may not always line up, but we figured you’d rather it make sense without all the “ums” and “likes” – Enjoy.

Boye Fajinmi: We’re recording. Hey guys, I have Noah here from HI-LITES, a really innovative company. Let’s begin.

Noah Lichtenstein: Alright.

Boye: Noah, how do we pronounce your last name?

Noah: Alright, it’s Lichtenstein.

Boye: Lichtenstein. Okay. And where’s that from?

Noah: I think it’s German, but an eastern European mutt.

Boye: And where are you from?

Noah: Originally from Oregon.

Boye: Oregon. Nice. What brought you down here to LA?

Noah: Well, I started up on a farm in Oregon, and made my way down to college in the Bay Area. Spent about 15 years there in the tech scene and was looking for a change of pace, so I made my way further down south to LA. Who knows, maybe it’ll be San Diego and then Mexico next. Keep moving down south.

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Boye: Nice. So, you made your way down south, and now you’ve got this really cool thing that you’re doing called HI-LITES,  but it’s not your original thing, right?

Noah: I’ve been in the tech world for a long time, so I’ve been really passionate about building and investing in tech startups. That’s my background and what I do on a day to day basis, but HI-LITES was a fun idea and a fun project that we came up with and launched about a year ago.

Boye: This is literally your side hustle.

Noah: It is my side hustle. Yes. It’s my creative outlet.

Boye: First of all, what is HI-LITES?

Noah: HI-LITES are special effects glasses that can turn any light, whether it’s a stage light or city light, into a custom shape. So, you can think of it really as very lightweight augmented reality, but without any of the wires, circuits or the cost.

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Boye: I think I’ve seen some screenshots and I’ve tried them on. It kind of feels like you’re doing drugs.

Noah: Well, you know, some people…no comment on that. Some people seem to enjoy it.

Boye: Not that I know what drugs feel like or anything like that.

Noah: Some people certainly seem to think it enhances the experience, I would say at a Burning Man… But, no, really, from young kids all the way through to adults, it’s just one of those things that brings joy and happiness to people. It’s so simple that I kind of scratch my head sometimes about how much goes into building deeply technical products. This is just incredibly simple, and it’s really fun seeing people happy and sharing that enjoyment together.

Boye: What gave you the idea to do this?

Noah: I was at a Christmas party about a year and a half ago, and I saw this little kaleidoscope toy, and I started thinking, wouldn’t that be really cool if you could turn that into glasses? You know, with all of the new lights and led displays at concerts, and with the emergence of AR and VR, I started looking into it. We actually didn’t invent this technology. We found that there was a patent for this technology that had been patented by some researchers back east almost 20 years ago. And what we decided to do was say, ‘Hey, the time is now to create something around this cool technology in this new reemergence of AR, VR, Retro is cool again, lights and visual effects at shows. So, why don’t we build a really cool brand around this old technology?’ And so, we secured the patent and went into production.

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Boye: That’s awesome. And how’s business?

Noah: Business is good. We’re a young company and this is a new experience for me. My background’s always been software. So, you go out and raise some venture capital money, you build, build, build, build, build, and eventually you launch this product to the world, and you can iterate quickly because it’s software. For me, it has been a fun challenge because we’re building a physical product – everything from supply chain to dealing with import, export, customs, direct to consumer, mixed with B2B. It’s really been a fun challenge to take my learnings from the tech world and apply it to building a consumer brand. But I guess more directly to your question, how we’re doing. I’m really excited because we finally, after a year of development, were able to launch at Coachella and had a big bang there, and now it’s just kind of off to the races.

Boye: That’s sick. I saw some photos. Some cool people were wearing those glasses.

Noah: Yeah. No endorsement officially from them, but we were very lucky that one of our activations was at Neon Carnival out at Coachella, and we did that activation with Bolthouse Productions, Neon Carnival and Wynn Nightlife. It turns out one of the paparazzi pictures that got released to the public, totally unbeknownst to us, was of Leo DiCaprio wearing them for about four hours. The next day we wake up with a little bit of a hangover from Neon Carnival and our inboxes are flooded because all of a sudden everyone’s like, what are these glasses Leo’s wearing? And it’s in Esquire, Cosmo, Time

Boye: That is so funny, especially since he’s always so incognito at all of those festivals.

Noah: Yeah, the photo that was released was basically him wearing a hoodie and, you know, super incognito with these glasses. Everyone’s like, why is he wearing 3D glasses? No, they’re not 3D glasses.

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Boye: That’s great. It sounds like business is going well. I recently read an article, I think it was in Recode, about all these new companies who aren’t raising venture capital and are doing really well and selling for a lot of money, which is like blowing everyone’s minds away. But in essence that’s true business. I guess, coming from someone like you whose main job is venture and now you’re doing this fun, cool project that’s making money. What are your thoughts? Are you going to raise a round of financing? Where do you see this all going?

Noah: I think that’s a great point you bring up and I saw that same article in Recode actually through your newsletter. So,  shout out to you guys on that one, but you know, in the venture world, it’s amazing to me how many people go out and think this is the only way to build a business. I’ve always been a big fan of people who go out and actually build a business without having to raise venture capital. You don’t raise venture capital because you have an idea, you raise it to accelerate the growth of a company and not all companies should be venture. It’s very simple. If you own 100 percent of your company and you giveaway 20, 25% in exchange for money, all of a sudden you own 75 percent of that. So, your company has to be that much bigger now in order for it to have the same amount of value to you as if you just own the whole thing. For me, this was a really fun experience because I was fortunate to self fund it, but it wasn’t something that was very capital intensive. We were able to test the market, get some initial orders without having to go really deep out of pocket and as a result, myself and my partner Mike own the entire company.

“You don’t raise venture capital because you have an idea, you raise to accelerate growth of a company.”

– Noah Lichtenstein comments on raising to grow a business.

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Boye: Amazing.

Noah: If we get to the point where we just can’t keep up with demand and we have big plans to go into retail and into more direct to consumer, certainly we’d evaluate taking on money. But really, there’s something special about somebody who goes out and does business that’s profitable. You know, one of those companies that was highlighted, Tuft & Needle, is a mattress company. And I remember actually meeting them early on when they were considering venture capital. They actually sent me a mattress.

Boye: Wait, so how’s the mattress?

Noah: It was good. It was good. I didn’t have room for it, so I gave it to my business partner and I think she still uses it in their guest bedroom. The quality was great, but more props to them because they went out and built a real business and they show that you don’t have to raise venture. You don’t have to measure your success by how much money you raised.

Boye: Yeah, one of my favorite companies to use and just to learn about is Mailchimp because they’ve created a $500 million dollar plus business in ARR and are completely bootstrapped.

Noah: It’s a fantastic product too. I use it as well and I think there’s no better story than when somebody builds a product that is funded by its sales.

Boye: Yeah, it’s perfect. But this isn’t about Mailchimp, it’s about you guys. So, what’s next for you? What’s year one, year two, three, as you go along?

Noah: One of my biggest learnings is that with hardware, the development takes so long. You have to design the product, then you have to go to the different suppliers that we use, and then there’s the shipping import, export. There’s a lot of pieces that go into dealing with physical products. And so the first year I feel like was our year of learnings and development, and now we have a product line that we’re really happy with. Now, it’s all about how we get it in front of people and out into the market. So, it’s really going out and doing deals with big brands and marketing and experiential agencies. That’s been a really good experience where we’ve been fortunate to partner with some really great brands so far. We did an activation at South by Southwest with Warner Brothers for Ready Player One.

Boye: Oh, I was there!

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Noah: Yeah, and iHeart radio. We did a bunch of activations at Coachella, and then we did EDC with Smirnoff. Our initial bread and butter is large volume orders. This is something that a brand can do to help activate their brand and create these sort of joyous, fun experiences because when somebody puts these on, it’s this magical moment of joy and then you immediately see them tap their friend on the shoulder and say, “hey, did you see this?” and the next thing you know, you’re holding up your phone. You’re taking videos and photos on Instagram or Snapchat through the lenses and then your friends see it and your stories and say, “how’d you do that?” And you can associate all this joy with your brand. We think the promotional market is a really great opportunity and we’ll continue to push that and a lot of exciting stuff coming up there. But, what I’m most excited about is some of the launches we’re going to be doing soon into direct to consumer.

Noah: And for me this is another set of new learnings where we’ve seen how powerful brands can be built, entirely online and especially on Instagram. We’re in the process of launching that direct to consumer brand and getting this fulfillment and supply chain line for that. We’re launching new kinds of fun colors, new shapes and effects. We didn’t cover this, but not only are we turning the lights into special effects, some of those examples are things like hearts or smiley faces or snowman, or you can do a Star of David for a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. You can also create custom shapes so you can literally turn every light you see, whether it’s a street light or a stage light into a custom shape or logo or brand or anything. That’s pretty fun.

Boye: Can you boil down a little bit more about the science and technology behind that? Without ruining your trade secrets.

Noah: There’s really no trade secrets. It’s patented and I feel pretty good about that being locked in. But the best way it was described to me by the mad scientist that we partner with, is that if you imagine a stream of water in front of you and you put your hand in it, the water bends around your hand. Light travels in a straight line from its source. When you’re looking at a stage light, that light beam is traveling in a straight line from the source to your eyeball. And so imagine putting your hand in the water and then in that light. You’re bending the light. It’s essentially the same thing but we are bending the light into a shape.

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Noah: By the way, that could be totally wrong. But we’re going to go with that one.

Boye: I was recently watching a show about how science is indistinguishable from magic. In the sense of, if we were to show someone a hundred years ago some of the things that are here now, they would think everyone’s a witch. To hear your description of that and then to see it, and it basically feels like a toy. Like I said, I’ve tried them on and they’re really fun and cool. It just boggles my mind at how people create really innovative things.

Noah: Yeah, and a lot of these things are done by accident. I was reading a story recently about some researchers at Berkeley who had accidentally created glasses that help people who are colorblind see colors they never knew existed before. It was entirely by accident. This wasn’t done by accident, but I do think that it’s pretty amazing. A lot of times, great innovation just feels like magic. For us, it’s always enjoyable when we’re putting our heads down, we’re grinding, we’re doing all this unglamorous work, packing bags and printing out collateral, but when you go to a show or you just see somebody put these on for the first time and seeing their face in that moment of joy, I think there’s no better thing then when a product can deliver joy.

“I think there’s no better thing then when a product can deliver joy.”

– Noah Lichtenstein commenting that even the mundane tasks of his business are worth the final reaction.

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Boye: For sure. And with this sort of e-commerce play that you’re about to do, bringing it to the masses, what platforms are you going to use? Are you going to lean on Instagram and sell through there? Or Amazon? What’s the strategy beyond brand partnerships to get into everyone’s hands?

Noah: Yeah, I see a couple of different channel strategies. Actually, I’d love to turn the question around and ask you, being that this is something you’re an expert in. Really, I’m just trying to meet with people who are smarter than me and who’ve done this before with so many great brands out there, and learn what the best practices are. But, certainly, Instagram we will use as a channel and we have fortunately a number of great, I hate the word influencer, but people with followings and trusted brands that really like what we’re doing and have offered to post and maybe do some collaborations. Because we can custom brand, we can use really any frame we want. So, we’re going to explore a couple partnerships with existing glass manufacturers, some collabs with different artists, musicians and things like that. And then, in terms of direct to consumer, certainly Instagram, and we’ll have a traditional e-commerce on our website, do some SEO, SEM, and then lastly, we are exploring going into traditional retail.

Boye: Oh, that’s awesome.

Noah: Yeah. I think these would be great at places like an Urban Outfitters or a Spencer’s gifts. Things like that. It’s really been a learning experience for me, but, let me pause and ask, what do you think? What should we be doing?

Boye: Yeah. I, agree with a lot of what you said. I believe it’s important to be everywhere at once when it comes to consumer products, and I believe the most powerful tool in the future for manufacturers and people with fun products is going to be Instagram. It’s going to double as a magazine, as a TV channel, and as your store front. You can imagine the lifestyle that you can create around your product, the events that people go to just as a means for people to show how to use it. And then being able to just buy it directly from Instagram, I think, is so important. And then I think Amazon, I believe they are about to be the next trillion dollar company.

Noah: It’s amazing what they do.

Boye: It’s amazing.

“A lot of times, great innovation just feels like magic.”

– Noah Lichtenstein sharing that innovative products can be created, even at times, by accident.

Noah: We actually just got the approvals to go live on Amazon, so, we’re going to go ahead. You can buy them on Amazon now, but we’re exploring the options of us doing fulfillment versus the fulfilled by Amazon. I know a lot of folks listening to this are probably saying, “Oh, this is just the basics,” but for me this has been great because it’s new for me. I love learning new skills, and it helps me make better investments in the future when I understand the inner workings.

Boye: Totally. And I think on the store partnerships front, totally 100 percent, it’s just sales. Or, you just find a guy who’s done it before and have them go and talk to all those guys.

Noah: Well, look, one of the things I love about this is because we own the entire company, we can go out and find people who can help add a lot of value and we can make them owners in the company and share in the profits. So, we’re really out there looking for folks who have a lot of great relationships, whether it’s with the “influencers” who want to promote the product on Instagram or whether it’s event producers or brands. We’re always excited to say, hey, look, let’s share in the wealth and make those intros. I know you made some great intros for us at  Coachella, and I appreciate that.

Boye: Hey happy to – anytime. You know, the people reading this, they’re all creative, they’re all driven and when they listen, I like to make sure that they’re gaining tangible value. What’s some advice that you have for entrepreneurs, especially those who are trying to create side hustles to turn into businesses?

Noah: Wow, that’s a great question. Well, first and foremost, it takes a lot more work than you will imagine. It’s funny, when I thought of this initially, I thought it’d be easy. We’ll just get this out there. People already make sunglasses and we’ll just use the same frames and ‘Oh well, all this stuff will be easy.’ There are  a million things that I wasn’t even aware of, and I was definitely naive. So, I would say one bit of advice is really map out the business plan. Not necessarily write out a business plan, but map out how you get from the start to fully into market. Think through all those steps, and then go talk to people who’ve done it before. The best resources are the people who have walked that path and made the mistakes.  I think that’s one of the reasons why, when I invest in early stage tech startups, often times I hopefully have some street credit because I’ve spent 10 years building companies from the ground up and made pretty much every mistake in the book that you can make. And I’ll make hundreds more, but hopefully I can not make the same mistake twice. So, to boil it all down, I think one practical bit of advice is to really force yourself to do the exercise of how you get from the start to launch and then stress test that, asking people, “what am I not thinking of?” Because, if I had done that initially, I would definitely have saved months and probably thousands of dollars.

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Boye: Great advice from Noah Lichtenstein, who is both an investor and company owner with a side hustle. I love it. Do you have anything else to say?

Noah: I just would love to get more feedback from people who are listening and reading this. And if folks are interested in learning more, we’re happy to send you some samples and show you some love.  And  we’ll hook anybody up who is with Boye and TheFutureParty to get some good discounts. 

Boye: Love it. Where can we find you?

Noah: We are at gethilites.com. So, H-I-L-I-T-E-S, and also on Instagram at @hi.lites. So, highlights, but with our funky spelling.

Boye: Love. HI-LITES everyone. Thank you.

Link: https://www.gethilites.com/

Instagram: @hi.lites

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You’re The Star, It’s Your Digital Identity

As we dive into the week after celebrating our nation’s independence, I can’t help but think about the conversation we had with our community just a couple weeks ago about our digital identity. If you scrolled across Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, you’re sure to have seen a myriad of photos about the 4th of July, from your time with family on the lake to the exclusive day party you attended with your friends. Maybe even that cool new outfit you wore that totally sported the “Red, White, And Blue”. How fitting, after all, we’re all glued to our phones, and it’s our second self, our primary form of expression. Everyone in that room that evening felt the need to really understand this impact.

We had some world class speakers speak on digital identity. Our friends Brett Hyman, Tiffany Zhong & Billy Hawkins boiled down some truths on where our need to express ourselves is going. These guys are powerhouses to say the least. Brett runs an experiential agency called NVE Experience Agency. They are the definition of the experience generation as they’re pinnacle in ushering a future where experiential marketing is the most important kind of marketing. Through Brett’s leadership, they’ve nailed down the marriage of physical experiences and online expression. Billy runs Arsenic TV. They are a new women-first, upstart multi-media company that have exploded in the last couple years. Tiffany, at only 21 years of age has her own research agency called Zebra Intelligence focused on Gen Z, and before that was a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley!

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Combined these guys lead us on a winding journey. We talked about how everything online will become HQ via interactive live streaming as well as the future of digital characters like Lil Miquela. BTW, not everything is positive and even though it’s all “new”, we came to the conclusion that we’re all just the same people given new tools to tell different stories. We also covered our need to detach and step away from digital expression and the companies like Yonder and Brick who pioneer this school of thought.

My favorite learning came from a conversation a couple days later when discussing our event with a friend. It’s obvious, but what these tools and platforms have done is made us the star of our own movie. We now have our own platform to share and express ourselves in ways that people could only have dreamt just 10 years earlier. It used to be that only celebrities or accomplished people had the platform to take photos and images of themselves and distribute them to the masses, now anyone has the platform to unlock their own celebrity. Only time will tell if that’s a good thing or not. What we do know though, as far as business and creative art go, we’re in a watershed moment with lots of opportunity.

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This event was hosted at Kid In A Korner. It’s a 1 acre estate owned by mega-producer Alex Da Kid. It’s a creative wonderland of studios and awesome artists and the house is full of spectacle, so naturally it made for a great location. We’re thankful for our partnership with them. Shout out to our amazing sponsors especially Jacob Perler at Cryo Cafe. Ya’ll are up to something and we’re completely down. Stay tuned for the next one!

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CryoCafe Is Building The SoulCycle of Cryotherapy

Jacob Perler is a seasoned entrepreneur and currently CEO & Founder of CryoCafe, a new-age health & wellness centered cryotherapy lounge. It’s an unassuming escape right off of “Melrose Alley” in Los Angeles. We had a chance to sit down with him and his [partner and Cryo’s] Creative Director, Rachel Schoenbaum, to discuss what they’re building. We also had a chance to try out the treatment and can say they’re creating something special. In just a couple weeks of opening, CryoCafe has had thousands of people from executives to celebrities come and enjoy various types of cryotherapy sessions backed by their favorite musical tracks. Clients can grab a juice from the Juicebot machine, box at CruBox next door or simply hang out on the cafe-style patio. Armed with their new “#CryoCult” they’re taking Hollywood’s elite by storm, creating a community of wellness that is bound to supersede the wellness behemoths before them.

Boye Fajinmi:  So we’re recording. You guys want to introduce yourselves?

Jacob Perler:  I’m originally from New York and have been out in LA for almost four years. I’ve had my hands in a number of things. I have a history in strategy consulting for two of the top firms in the world, doing that for about seven years. I came out here and was involved in some tech startups, creative sports marketing, and have a number of other companies that I advise mostly for, but I’m excited to kick off CryoCafe.

Boye:  Awesome. What about you?

Rachel Schoenbaum:  I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I moved to California for college and got my start in fashion and music. Eventually, I kind of fell into applying the creative process I had learned from my experience in those two industries more towards brand strategy. Part of the passion-of-the-process for me is working with brands that are just getting started. Really helping them get off the ground by uncovering their vision and story, ensuring the authenticity of that story is maintained in what they present to their audience. Basically, making sure their message and what they have ideated from the get-go is digestible to their consumer. That’s how Jacob & I met and we’ve been at it ever since.

Boye:  I’m curious, what was your path to get here? It’s great to learn a little bit about you, but can you tell us more about the story from idea to this cafe?

Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. So about two years ago I met my current partner, Dr. Patrick Khaziran who is a physical therapist for hundreds of professional athletes, celebrities, and other great individuals. I have a passion for building brands, starting with business and financial modeling and actually bringing an idea into execution. Dr. Pat and I met and started talking about what he was doing with cryotherapy by bringing it into the mass market. An initial few conversations and several months of market research turned into a big passion. We knew that we could partner and build a major global force around cryo. As we started building the business, I brought on Rachel and several other strategic partners to help build the brand.

It’s been an amazing two years to get there, but it’s really step by step, right? You have the planning, the ideating of getting the branding, signing a lease, you make a commitment, you bring on partners, and all in the lean startup kind of way, which is usually applied more to tech and less brick and mortar. We just put ourselves out there and you learn as you go in, you have to be fast on your feet.

What’s been amazing and very humbling is how many people have walked through the door even in just about 10 weeks that we’ve been open. These people have an amazing experience and have a personal aspect to their body, health or lifestyle that they’re looking to improve. It’s been amazing to see that improvement from it. Some of that can be anecdotal but were seeing a lot of amazing impacts on people.

Boye: That’s awesome. And so what’s your role? Can you give us some more?

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Rachel: As I mentioned, Jake and I had worked together previously and had a great report. I was back home visiting family when he called me to talk about this amazing concept. Ironically, I used to be a patient of Dr. Pat’s and have always been extremely fond of his approach to his patients and athletes. I was excited to jump on board. Health and wellness is a really big part of my personal life. Having something that makes you feel good, something that gives you routine and stability – especially as a consultant without a normal day-to-day schedule – is vital for success. Jake brought me in as Partner and Creative Director, and we just dove right in.

We’re fast movers, we’re traveling, we’re working around the clock for ourselves. No one’s doing this for us. The mentality we had creating this brand derived from being our own target market. 

Boye:  So can you tell me more about the brand and the inspiration behind it?

Rachel:  Last year Jacob went to Tulum and I took a trip to Mykonos. We were very pulled in by the tribal vibes and multi-cultural, worldly feelings of them. We were very much inspired by our separate experiences in both of these places, both very rooted in the feeling of people coming together. Jacob and I both love symbolism, so that tribal inspiration from our travels, mixed with the message of what we want to offer our clients, was compiled into a vision that resulted in our logo.

You need to add something healthy to your lifestyle. So the circle is essentially everything, life, in perpetuity. The three lines are the three pillars of life – mind, body, and soul. The triangle symbolizes whatever mountain it is you’re trying to climb. It’s also androgynous and obviously the Yin and Yang element is the dark and the light parts within the triangle signifying our continuous journey to acquire balance. Pretty much the overall meaning is – in mind, body, and soul, whatever mountain you’re trying to climb, the path to achieve balance in life is on-going. And we (CryoCafe) are the empty space underneath, the foundation to support you in reaching whatever that acme point is at the top of your mountain. 

Boye:  That’s beautiful.

Rachel:  Thank you! I feel like the logo really blends everything together. It doesn’t matter if it’s mental, physical, emotional, sleep, pain…any kind of balance, really. That’s what life is about. The journey of acquiring balance and figuring out what that is for you. I think that our vision of the company really supports whatever that path may be for people. 

Boye: Can you tell me about this cool hashtag that you have going on?

Rachel:  The CryoCult is the membership base and community we wanted to create around this. Kind of going back to that tribal mentality Jake and I like. A lot of us are running around, hustling 24/7. We’re young! We like to have fun, but we work equally as hard, if not harder. It was important to create an experience that was cool and inviting and obviously provide a service that was beneficial, while also creating a community of people with the same “work hard play hard” lifestyle. We want to create something really personalized, something that people can get behind, become involved in, and feel incredible from.

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Boye:  Can you tell us more about the process of the actual therapy? If I’m someone who wants to be treated, how does that work?

Jacob: Yeah. Basically we have two machines in there to start and four main services. We have whole body cryo which we call the WholeFix; quick localized spot treatments that typically focus on an injured area, which is the QuickFix; extended localized spot treatments, which is the BodFix; and our very popular CryoBeauty facial, which is called the BeautyFix. Our entire experience is built to be as long or quick as you’d like. We have many clients who love the vibe and experience and are happy to hang out, which we’re totally okay with. That’s why we named it Cryo Cafe. Like a cafe, you come in and you decide what you’re in the mood for.

We’re right next to Crubox and close to a handful of other fitness studios so we cater to the active fitness community right here. If you live an active lifestyle and have unusual muscle soreness, tweak a wrist or ankle, or just need a body reboot, cryo is great for that. One thing we’re really seeing a lot of is how different everybody is and how different everyone reacts to whole body, versus localized on specific areas. Even beyond fitness, we love having all kinds of people come in who want to try it out. 

The popular CryoBeauty facial is an amazing 10-15 minute escape. It’s great in the morning to help kickstart your day, in the middle of the day to give you that much needed pick me up, and in the evening it helps close you out. 

Boye:  Most people are familiar with the chamber treatment that you were talking about, but the idea of cryo facials and the mobile machine used seems really new. Is that a competitive advantage or what’s your vision with that sort of system?

Jacob:  Great question. So it’s not new on the facial angle. The beauty element of cryotherapy is a big thing that we are looking at spearheading, but it’s been around. I think there’s a huge gap in the market for it, so the facials and beauty elements will be a big part of the business, and we’re already hearing great feedback and case studies from people. 

Rachel: A lot of people, especially women, are paying insane amounts for certain beauty or body maintenance and treatments. Taking care of your skin is one of the most important things. This is a really great additive to skin care or even to support the other treatments people may be doing. It’s a pretty holistic way to essentially preserve your skin and your body in the long term. You’re working on anti aging, you’re working on the tone and health of your skin, you’re improving your musculature. A lot of people are hunting for the best “fast fix” to spend a quick buck on. While cryo is definitely more of a progression process, its a completely natural and non-invasive full mind-body experience. I think that’s really awesome to be able to offer people this different option.

Boye:  It sounds like you guys are doing something very unique and special and almost obvious in a sense. When you look at the health and wellness space, it seems like it’s doing pretty well in different sectors from yoga to even what’s happening with Soul Cycle and Peloton. What do you feel is the future? What’s the five year plan of CryoCafe and where does it fit into this health and wellness marketplace?

Jacob:  Health and wellness is exploding. It’s one of the fastest growing industries. Through technology, media and the world of digital influence in social media, more people are getting access to information about their bodies and living healthy lifestyles. People want to live healthy and recognize that they might live long or they’re going to feel better on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t you be focused on that more in your lifestyle? I think it’s really interesting too and one of the things we see a lot in Los Angeles, rather than just going out and meeting your friends at a bar and grabbing a drink, you can also come hang out and do cryotherapy along with other things that are health and wellness related.

People are boxing together, they’re going to work out together. They’re going to Runyon Canyon together and so that’s a really exciting thing and for us with CryoCafe, we want to be right there with that. You can live your healthy lifestyle, you can meet a friend, you can even have a business meeting and you don’t necessarily need to go get a coffee or grab a drink at the bar.

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“Rather than just going out and meeting your friends at a bar and grabbing a drink, you can also come hang out and do cryotherapy along with other things that are health and wellness related”

– Jacob Perler speaking about Cryo Cafe as a center for community and wellness.

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Rachel: Or if you do, you can come here for a hangover cure in the morning! Honestly, it’s a lifesaver for us. 

Jacob: Exactly. Whatever you’re doing with your life, you can build this into it. We have people who come early in the morning, they love kick starting their day with this. It gives you a huge endorphin release and a boost of energy. We have people who come before the gym to loosen up. We have our boxing trainers over here who come in right afterwards when their wrists are all really sore. We have people who come at the end of the day just to relax and get away and then have a great night sleep afterwards because it does really help with your sleep. We have people who squeeze cryo into their workday Monday through Friday and people who come on the weekends. When we bring cryo out into the market, whether it be private events or corporate offices, we see how much people love it. We have big ambitions to grow the business outside of our stores and Los Angeles, but at the same time you have to always first focus on the task at hand. Day by day, person by person. 

Boye Fajinmi: So you guys want to really create like a lifestyle.

Rachel: Exactly.

Jacob: Absolutely. We’re set on that growing in Los Angeles and then using that to expand.

Boye Fajinmi: Jacob you’re a businessman and the lifestyle and everything sounds awesome, but I’m curious on a financial level, how big do you think this business can become?

Jacob: I think it can be massive. You know, if you look at the pure financials of it, I think many cities around the world can sustain multiple locations plus the mobile angle we’re driving. There’s no reason this can’t be at the same level of your Soul Cycles, your Equinoxes, you know, health and wellness companies that have huge footprints. We can build this into 50, 100, multiple hundreds of locations with events, popups and a lifestyle around all. I do think we can build this into something special.

Boye Fajinmi: What are the market caps of those companies? Like 100 Mil? 200 Mil?

Jacob: Yea in the 100’s of millions.

Rachel: Even just partnering with those types of companies – popping up in their waiting areas and offering treatment to their clients before or after their workouts. To be able to insert ourselves into some of these successful environments that have the same kind of mental physical bottom line is a cool thing, for both parties. 

Boye: Jacob, I know this is probably your third start up and it sounds like you’ve done a lot of different kinds of things. What are you bringing from your learnings and the wins and fails in the past?

Jacob: I think you always learn from your failures and your successes. A lot of people say you learn a lot more from the failures, but I think a lot of it is bringing the knowledge of how important brand, lifestyle and really connecting with people is, especially today with all the noise out in the market overall. We’re making sure that we’re building something that is very in tune with people. The cryo and the benefits speak for themselves and the product is amazing, but at the same time you have to get to people on that personal level and that’s one of the big things I’ve learned a lot in the last four or five years, is how to actually do that. What brands work very well and how do you replicate and design your own.

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Rachel: Yeah, I totally agree. I’d say pulling lessons from failures and celebrating successes is definitely one of our biggest collaborative strengths. Something a mentor of mine taught me that has always stuck in my mind is, you have 15 seconds to make a first impression, that’s on a personal level as well as on a professional level when creating a brand. If I see an ad for something that has beautiful typography or font on Instagram, I am clicking it. I’m not looking at the product – yet. But if the design looks cool enough to me and I am intrigued by the vibe of the brand, they’re going to get that click. So making a strong first impression is about luring people in and starting a conversation. Whether it’s just someone walking in here and asking what we are or what we’re about, that’s an impression that we as a brand have made on someone. And that impression will stick. I want to make people smile every day and I think that’s part of the brand.

Boye: So what’s been the response so far from everyone coming in?

Jacob: It’s been great. What’s crazy is the number of people that you can personally impact on such a high level. We have a lot of people that love it. We’ve probably seen 1500 people in 10 weeks who’ve walked right through this front door including celebrities, athletes, trainers, and your everyday person who wants to experience it. 

Boye: I hear a rumor about Kim Kardashian maybe.

“You have 15 seconds to make a first impression, that’s with your personal self as well as a brand.”

– Rachel Schoenbaum advocating for Cryo Cafe’s design ethos.

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Jacob: Kim & Kourtney Kardashian walked right by here. Although they haven’t come into CryoCafe yet. They did both go boxing next door and rumor has it they liked it so…one of their close friends has come in here, along with many other great people. While that’s all exciting, even more than that, you know it’s the people that no one knows about who have lupus or arthritis, back pain, whatever it is. They come in here and see a huge impact from cryo, sometimes in a session or two.

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Boye: So you guys got this off the ground and you’re inspiring other people. You’re touching people’s lives. Who in this process is someone who believed in you guys to help get this off the ground? Who really supported this and helped make it a reality?

Jacob: There’s a lot of amazing people that have been vital to everything, and obviously family is a big part of it too. But I would say a close friend and advisor, Antonio Tambunan was really the first person to put a lot of capital and a lot of time behind this. He really helped us get the idea and all the planning to market. He is a very successful entrepreneur and investor globally. He’s got businesses all over the world and he was the first person to really buy into it and believe that I could build a brand that I said I could. He’s been there every step of the way. He continues to be an integral part of this, but he’s the first one that really allowed this to take shape.

Boye: I always wonder who helps make things happen.

Jacob: It’s the people behind it and it’s actually a great point for this company. I made an early decision of having a bigger cap table, bringing on various partners who fill different roles. Some people advise, even if they aren’t involved in the day to day at all. They pick up the phone when you call and give you guidance, sometimes in much needed circumstances. To me this was really important because although I’ve been involved in other businesses, there’s a lot to this that’s very new and when you think you can build what might become a billion-dollar company, there’s a lot you don’t know and you want great people around you…

Rachel: From different industries and backgrounds.

Jacob: Having an amazing investor, advisory, and partner group around me gives me access to a lot of different intellectual capital points as needed. 

Boye: That’s great, so what’s next for you guys? Like immediately next.

“It’s the people that no one knows about who have lupus or arthritis, back pain, whatever it is. They come in here and have a huge impact from the cryotherapy treatments.”

– Jacob Perler on his customers who have seen the most major health benefits from Cryo Cafe

Jacob: Immediately next is really getting this location blowing up, having a lot of people come in here, getting our second location which opened a few days ago in Encino moving, taking the city by storm, events, partnering with different companies, having the mobile angle of the business and the pop ups really flourish and kind of doing all that simultaneously. A lot of people might say opening the second location 10 weeks after the first location is a little risky but we want to move fast. We built an amazing team. We’ve been working on this a long time, so we just really want to attack the market, at least Los Angeles right away and have everyone around digitally and personally see what we’re doing, which only will drive up the demand to expand further.

Boye: What’s the best way for your average person to find you guys to use your product. Just come in? Go to your website?

Jacob: Come into the cafe from Melrose Alley, off La Cienega and Melrose Ave. We definitely want people to come in and find us through the back alley. That’s the exclusive fun element of it. But email, call us, hit us on Instagram, which is increasingly the popular method of communication. 

Rachel: Follow us on Instagram, join the #CryoCult or slide on into our DM’s. 

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Boye: I love it. One last question, what’s the one piece of advice both of you guys have for an entrepreneur looking to build something that touches people?

Jacob: I would say build a great team around you. That’s investors, your employees, your partners, whoever it might be. You’re really only as good as the people that you’re surrounding yourself with and it’s really important to surround yourself with people that level you up, that you can help level up and who add value where you are missing or may be weaker. On top of that, I guess you would say really know your strengths and know your weaknesses and the holes that you have, you fill with other people. 

Rachel: I would tend to agree. I feel really lucky to have found that balance and respect in a business partner as well as having some amazing mentors that play a huge role in setting me straight along the way. I would also say, just find something that’s authentic to you. If you’re not working on something that you’re passionate about, that you can really dig your teeth into, then I don’t think that you can do your best work. When you’re creating a brand or business, it’s almost like you need to become it, really live and breathe it to make it thrive. That’s something I truly live by. I think Jacob and I both really live by that. Immersing yourself in all aspects of an idea and making it tick. 

Boye: Just kidding. I do have one more question. I’m curious, in a world of everyone trying to build apps, we’re seeing this renaissance in physical experiences and this seems to embody exactly that. Do you have anything to say about the experience market that you’re seeing that others may not?

Jacob: As far as the brick and mortar?

Boye: Yeah, the brick and mortar approach to the digital world.

“Find something that’s authentic to you. If you’re not working on something that feels authentic, that you can really dig your teeth into, then I don’t think that you can do your best work”

– Rachel Schoenbaum talks about only working on what you love.

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Jacob: Yeah, people will always want to go places and hang out and gravitate towards environments that they enjoy. Even in a digital world that does suck you in, whatever it might be, people will always still like to go out places. I think, it’s all about creating a great experience and vibe for people. I mean you look at Apple. They are one the best companies of all time, focused on products, and their store is welcoming and inviting, fun to hang out in for 30 minutes if you have nothing to do and you’re nearby. So I think it’s very important to build that experience. We’re living in the digital age where everyone is hooked into their technology, but we need to get out and about to experience things and enjoy life. 

Rachel: Definitely. What people are so enthralled with on their phones and on Instagram can either be consuming in a way paralyzing as they are just sitting on their phones, ir it can be inspiring and drive them to travel and go try something new. Via digital, a picture or video of an intriguing experience or something new and cool is what gets people to “go and do”. It get’s them to connect.

That’s essentially the basis of this “cafe culture”. This is not just a cafe, but it’s the culture of taking time out of your day to spend alone with yourself or with other people in a relaxing, fun, and inviting social environment.

Boye: Love it. Thanks for your time.

Jacob: Time to jump in the chamber and get your freeze on.

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Apple Will Make You Pay For Selfies

If you were born in any time other than the last 10 years, you likely remember an age when you had to actually buy a camera. In those days you could purchase a disposable camera you would turn in to Walmart to develop your photos or bulky digital cameras needing a USB cord to upload your pictures. With the dawn of the Smartphone, camera use changed and now our cameras are one of the most defining pieces of technology for the modern age. That’s why it turns heads when Apple files a patent that can disable your camera, opening the door for censorship, extra fees and abuse of power.

When you go a little deeper, Apple providing a way to curb camera use makes a lot of sense for the technology giant. Imagine a world where artists worried about a ruined live experience, like Alicia Keys and comedians like Dave Chapelle who say “no cameras allowed” are suddenly incentivized to allow camera use if their customer pays an additional 25 – 50% of their ticket price? Or what about museums? You just paid $10 to go to the Smithsonian and now, to use your camera, you have to pay another $5?!

This would be a win for special screenings in Hollywood, which currently employ companies like Yondr to keep cell phone footage from leaking at test screenings or premieres by locking your phone into their branded pouch. This Apple patent however, would allow for entities to simply leverage infrared technology to disable your phone directly.

In theory, this sounds intriguing and may actually make perfect business sense, but when you get into situations like protests, rallies, legislative meetings, and corrupt public workers, the idea of “recording disabled” sounds more violating than anything. As the camera increasingly becomes an actual tool for expression and communication, the idea of censorship treads right up against The First Amendment. The thought of “Big Brother” monitoring our data is crazy enough, and now the possibility of them deciding when and where we can use our technology is even scarier. Apple is soon to be a trillion dollar company representing a higher GDP than most countries. Do you really want to entrust your freedom of speech to any company or organization?

This is the problem inherent with the proliferation of technology. We give up more and more control in our quest for convenience and comfort until we are ultimately inconvenienced, and without freedom. We become addicted to the use of the thing we hoped to give us joy.

Phone camera censorship could actually be a big opportunity for companies like Instax or Polaroid, the latter having somewhat survived the digital photography revolution after being a film company for almost 100 years. There may be a future where the best way to capture a special moment or an injustice without censorship, payment, or hurdle is to use a Polaroid.

Apple submitted this patent in 2009 and it was granted in 2016. It’s caused a lot of private debate and conversation. Any person who leverages the phone camera, for communication or business should be paying very close attention as its implications are far reaching. This issue will likely grow as our cameras become more and more ubiquitous, and organizations want more and more control, but for now, you can enjoy your selfies.

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Roy Choi Cares About Community

Wednesday night was a compelling evening. Hundreds of Future Party veterans came through to enjoy a night of music, food and conversation. For a while we’ve toyed around with the idea of Future Sounds. We really like trying new things and we figured why not merge great speakers across various topics with compelling musical acts. When we got connected with Airbnb Concerts, it was a lot easier of a reality to kick things off and we’re glad we did. It was awesome to see everyone come together. There were people from all walks of life including artists, agency executives, musicians and investors.

The special guest of the night was Roy Choi. For those who don’t know, Roy is one of the Godfathers of modern LA food. His big break came with the Kogi Truck at the rise of the food truck movement and from there he went on to found several different restaurants and food projects from A-Frame to Chego! and Alibi Room. He actually flew in from Vegas where he’s working on a major restaurant.

MIKNNA, the musical act of the evening and Roy have been friends for some time now. Before their performance, Roy spoke about LocoL in Watts, CA and the process behind the building of that restaurant. Behind all the restaurants is a sense of love and inclusion in everything he does and cooks. One person from the audience asked, “If you were to have a billboard that would be seen by 1 million people, what would you put on it?” MIKNNA answered “a mirror.” Roy was in the moment and said “Future.” It’s a fun exercise to try on your own.

The theme of the evening was community. Community brought us together that night, community has propelled MIKNNA’s music and community has been the secret ingredient behind the launch of Roy’s career and new restaurants like LocoL. “Trust your passion project.” Roy says. So many of us have passions and it’s easy to have imposter syndrome, but you’re heart needs to be in the equation.

We hosted the event at at The Great Company. For those who have never been, The Great Company is a great location downtown in the warehouse district, it’s incredibly spacious and beautiful with wood floors, brick walls and an artistic vibe. They host great experiences like the one we did that night. Cheers to community and cheers to pursuing your passions. Whether you’re a chef, musician or creating the next Facebook. Lean into community. More to come.

Thank you to our sponsors!

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The Philosophy Of Kanye West

Whatever you think about his music, no one can argue the cultural power of Kanye West. The Atlanta born producer, songwriter and rapper turned fashion mogul is an anomaly; he manifests his own success and has been all of his professional career. Kanye’s supposed net worth is around $145M and his music and fashion resound around the world. He is at the top of the A-list.

Kanye is of a rare breed similar to Elon Musk or dare we say, Donald Trump who create their own hype and media, leveraging publishers and social media daily with the words of their own mouths. People want to hear what he has to say, that’s why when Kanye recently came back to life onto twitter after a two year hiatus, all eyes are on him.

The last we heard of Kanye, he had prematurely cancelled the St. Pablo Tour and had a mental breakdown leading him to jump off of social media all together. Now, he’s back with a vengeance and in just the last week, to the tune of about 10 tweets a day, Kanye has announced two new albums, teased a collaboration with artist Murakami, released new designs on his Yeezys and debuted the beginning of his new philosophy book, to be distributed live on twitter.

Whatever you think about his music, no one can argue the cultural power of Kanye West. Kanye’s dive into “philosophy” is fitting. According to author Julius Bailey, “West’s philosophy draws off the backs of a long line of existentialists, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose ideology focuses on creating meaning for oneself and identifying their purpose as an individual, a staple of Kanye’s music.”

His tweets sound like a self proclaimed guru, and while we may never see his quotes of wisdom come to life on the level of a Confucius or Aristotle, don’t be surprised if his sayings become memes, t-shirts and cultural revolutions. The self proclaimed “Genius” has already shared lots of wisdom.

Kanye’s behavior is quite polarizing and often inspiring. Kanye, at his core, has tapped into his work and art so much that he knows what he gives people is absolute talent. It resonates beyond his music as everything he does is a work of art. His albums and tours are cultural movements full of unique marketing activations and other forms of creativity that celebrate the music. Standard for Kanye, get ready for a marathon of art and innovation as over the next 6 months we’ll see interesting news on live shows, performances, music videos and new unique activations.

Kanye hates conformity, he respects authenticity, and when he sees something he likes he goes after it. He’s incredibly emotional and has a reality distortion field that would make even Steve Jobs jealous. Many are inspired by Kanye even Elon Musk himself. Virgil Abloh is a collaborator, Kid Cudi is like his little brother, and thousands of creatives look to Kanye as an example.

We all have an inner Kanye, the creative entrepreneurial self that feels that what they are doing is truly important and isn’t afraid to say it. Any entrepreneur, artist or executive who’s driven and wants to do “something great” could take a page out of this book, and now, literally you can. All you have to do is follow Kanye on Twitter. Here are some simple steps to becoming more like Kanye.

INSTRUCTIONS TO BE MORE LIKE KANYE:

  1. Login to your personal Twitter account.
  2. Go to Kanye’s account (@kanyewest) and make sure you are following.
  3. On the right side of the Following button on Kanye’s page, there is a vertical circle button (More user actions). Press that button and hit the submenu item titled “Turn on mobile notifications”.
  4. Soak it all in and be inspired by Kanye, every day.

The Future Of TV

Digital media is evolving so constantly it’s hard to keep up. Just recently Hollywood dodged a writer’s strike giving way to more support for the hardworking writers who create compelling stories for the TV & Film industry. It’s a big win for creativity, and while one might think that the future of TV is bright, it is one that will be crowded, netting out some big winners and even bigger losers.

This week, traditional broadcasters like Fox, CBS & ABC take to the annual New York Upfronts where they will pitch advertisers on why they should be awarded billions of their advertising dollars. The problem, cord-cutting is accelerating as broadcast viewing has been down year over year and is rifled with troubled media stocks. Cable providers are bemoaning the cooling ad-market and are overall suffering from a decline in Pay TV subscribers (1.4M in subscribers last year combined), while digital advertising has already surpassed television advertising in the United States.

Fewer people are watching “Live TV”, and it’s affecting everything, even sports, which was once thought of as untouchable. Now, staples like ESPN are issuing layoffs amidst declining viewership and competitive new platforms challenging the traditional model.

While the old guard is marred with issues as they adapt to the new landscape, the internet is disrupting how we view content on every other screen. This shift and opportunity is giving way to major tech companies with large amounts of distribution, like Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Apple and Spotify. All these companies are creating original content with large amounts of money to spend, huge celebrity castings, challenging new ad & subscription models and massive user bases.

Meanwhile, shops like Hulu, AT&T, Dish & Sony are convinced they can lure people back to live TV packages by offering a slimmer selection of channels at lower cost to your traditional cable package termed as “skinny bundles”. We’re also seeing a lot of investments, acquisitions, mergers, & integrations as the incumbents strive to stay alive.

None of this should be surprising though, what’s truer than ever is that there will always be content, viewers will always watch, and businesses will forever try to figure out a way to capitalize on that. Companies who can grab user attention and adapt to technological shifts are poised to make money. In the future of TV, businesses who can adapt to all the platforms are the victors, but consumers carry all the leverage and are the ultimate winners. They are unbundling and watching various amounts of content wherever they want on whatever platform they choose.

Being the winners you are, we’re curious to know your current favorite TV shows. It could be Master of None, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale,whatever. Let us know and we’ll include the top ones in our newsletter next week.

Subscription Economy

Oh boy, are things about to change. As the world becomes more automated and technologies and services mature into “on demand”, the way we pay for things will transform. These days, you can subscribe to everything from movies (Netflix) to various products (Amazon), food (Blue Apron) and even underwear (MeUndies). All are part of a massively growing “Subscription Economy”. In this burgeoning market, customers will eventually subscribe to anything and everything…and we think that’s a good thing.

Subscriptions are no foreign concept to the western world. Anyone with a cell phone plan or pay-TV service is a “subscriber,” but the concept is permeating through other industries as well. Music was one of the first to be disrupted by subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music), we see it in the cloud service industry (AWS), and recently rideshare via services like Uber. Subscription box serviceshave been growing like crazy and even established companies like Apple have a subscription plan.

Just last week, Live Nation created the “Festival Passport” that allows avid fest-goers access to up to 90 festivals for $799 annually. They did the math and figured giving people a wide array of choices would overall be better for their bottom line. A win for the experience generation.

Other companies are tapping the market as well. Zuora for example, created a subscription management platform for businesses. They process about $35 billion dollars worth of transactions for more than 800 customers around the world, including Ford, Dell, DocuSign and The Wall Street Journal. They are huge proponents of the subscription economy and through their leadership, they’ve found that subscription businesses are growing at nine times the rate of the S&P 500. Also, according to the Economist, “80% of companies are seeing a change in how their customers want to access and pay for goods and services and 50% of these same companies are changing their pricing models as a result.”

The subscription economy is driven by the customers themselves. Subscriptions are about relationships, and relationships propel businesses. In fact we’ve graduated from a product centric economy to a relationship one where customers want more than just great products. Customers prefer access, over owning things. Subscription economy companies live and die by their ability to focus on the customer. There’s a whole “experience” behind a subscription, and like Tien Tzuo, Zuora CEO mentions, “People just want an outcome. People want a service. People want to know the vendor, the brand, the person on the other end that’s providing that service in a trusted relationship.”

Like anything, the subscription economy will be met with some challenges, but it provides flexibility, scalability, lower upfront costs, predictable budgeting, the ability to launch new features & bundles, and ultimately a more valuable experience for the customer. Done right, people won’t need to worry about owning anything in the future and they get the freedom to try, by, upgrade, downgrade, pause or do whatever they need to be satisfied.

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