February 1, 2022 BACK
Presenting This Month:
Berri Pro, Inc.
Irrigreen (with an update)
Featured in this issue:
Phoenix Gonzalez from dotstudioPRO
Repurpose, sustainability designed for real life
Marcus Filipovich, Pasadena Angels' member profile
There's something different in this issue of the Pasadena Angels newsletter. First, a brief summary of the companies presenting on Wednesday. Then you'll find a profile of a founder (Phoenix Gonzalez), an eco-friendly tableware company (Repurpose), and a member of the Pasadena Angels, Marcus Filipovich.
Startups Presenting Groundhog Day, Wednesday, Feb 2
Presenter: Lauren Gregor
Rent-a-Romper is a rental clothing company for babies and toddlers because they grow so fast. We provide a subscription where customers receive a curated capsule wardrobe that they can swap anytime as their children grow. Our recurring revenue model is convenient and affordable for parents while reducing the burden of fashion on our planet by focusing on reuse and waste diversion.
COMPANY: VKTRY Gear
Presenter: Steve Wasikr
VKTRY Gear makes the "World's Best Performance Insole". While most insoles are simply made from foam and plastic, the VKTRY Insole is highly unique because of the product design and material. "VKs" are made from aerospace-grade carbon fiber which runs from heel to toe and provides energy return to athletes.
COMPANY: Berri Pro, Inc.
Presenter: Shane Dyer
Sports Drinks & Electrolyte Solutions with Clean Ingredients.
COMPANY: Irrigreen (Update)
Presenter: Steve Wasikr
Irrigreen makes Smart Sprinkler System that save ~50% water used in landscape irrigation - Over half of the water used for landscape irrigation is wasted due to inefficient mechanical sprinklers. The Irrigreen system is a patented combination of software, hardware and services. Irrigreen has over 300 installations.
Founder Profile - Phoenix Gonzalez, President Sales of dotstudioPRO
Candace Harbin (who is that you might ask?) has an amazing story, but you will never hear her tell it, because she died in a car accident in 1996. At the time, she was engaged to be married and pregnant with a child. The word “life” can mean different things. She lost her life, and then she regained life thanks to modern medicine, but not the life she had before. All that was gone.
She was resuscitated after the accident and stabilized in a medicated coma for months. When she came to, she had lost her child, her fiancé, her memory and the ability to walk and talk. During her six year journey to recover her life, people told her she was a “Phoenix,” arisen from the ashes of Candace’s life. The name just fit. Later she adopted her mother’s maiden name, completing her transformation to Phoenix Gonzalez. .
Candace was gifted with enthusiasm, passion and determination. As a teen in Canada, she was dragged by a group of friends to a tryout for theater group plays and Basketball leagues that she wasn’t especially interested in. She ended up winning the lead role in a play and landing a position on the basketball team. A few years later, after her accident, insurance wouldn’t pay for Phoenix’s cognitive therapy, so part of her recovery involved acting classes.
“Acting classes” are a long way from “being an actress” But, for Phoenix: if you can imagine it, you can accomplish it. Against the odds, she landed an actual role on TV, and that snowballed into more roles. Eventually she was a recognized actress in Canada. Then, she was in a Jackie Chan movie and in Cannes, starring in an independent film called “Love Disease”, appearing on billboards next to the X-men and Nurse Betty.
It was Brian Dennehy who encouraged her to come to the States and make her mark in Hollywood. She did move to Hollywood, and started over again. She worked in a second hand clothing store and ate ramen while she shopped her “reel” around Hollywood. Finally she got the call. It was an agent with ICM, one of the big agencies: “I’m not going to take you. You have an amazing reel, but this industry will swallow you whole. Go do something that will let you be the best you can be and don’t look back.”
So she did. Sort of. First, she became a valet driver and worked in a kitchen as a server in an assisted living facility. She helped with the business books for a bit and then started selling units. It turns out, she had a gift for selling. (Probably she had a gift for all those jobs, but there’s not much career progress potential for a valet or scullery maid.) Pretty soon she was outselling every other team in the nationwide chain. Then, she was the superstar fixer who traveled across Socal boosting the occupancy numbers wherever their buildings were struggling.
But, that’s not where she crossed paths with the Pasadena Angels. First, she had to quit that job and join a hospice company. For someone who had already died, working on end-of-life care had some natural logic to it. In classic Phoenix Gonzalez style, she successfully opened ten new territories in ten months. But, the Credit Crisis caused a change in management, and the new team didn’t know what they had in her. Wanting to start fresh, they laid off the old team, and Phoenix found herself unemployed, sitting in her car at 3:33pm on Friday October 3rd 2008, needing to rise from the ashes again. She didn’t ask God. She told Him: “Whatever you have planned for me, that’s what I’ll do.”
At this point, in 2008, you’re probably thinking: why doesn’t she start a video syndication platform? Yeah. Neither was I. But, she and her future husband, Joe Pascual, conceived of dotdstudioPRO right then. Roku was introducing their app universe inside their set top box, and Phoenix realized that Youtube was a lousy solution for businesses that owned expensive content. They needed a way to monetize their catalogs via their own channel, and dotstudioPRO was the platform to enable that.
Phoenix is the Co-Founder and President Sales at dotdstudioPRO. They have been incorporated for almost 12 years now, and they’ve only had to raise about $2.5 million in capital, self-funding the rest from revenue. Last year, they reinvested about one quarter of their $4 million in revenue to stay ahead of the industry.
Sometimes it’s a curse to be too far ahead of the industry. Many a visionary has burned capital trying to do something that the industry wasn’t ready for and the technology didn’t quite support yet. But, Phoenix, Joe and their third partner Selena, have managed to stay far ahead and be relevant enough to generate revenue, which is something of a magic trick, but nothing compared to some of the miracles Phoenix has pulled off in the past.
Company Profile - Repurpose
(with Lauren Gropper)
In 2009 Lauren Gropper was designing sustainability into TV and film sets in Hollywood. It was the very beginning of the application of sustainability to the entertainment industry. The ideas were fresh, and the opportunity for improvement was vast, and great progress was being made. Then Lauren stepped out back to grab a bite, and she was bombarded by plastic spoons, knives, forks, plates, cups and water bottles. Catering was addicted to plastic, and the contrast was so stark that she halted in her tracks and realized: this is an opportunity.
The more she talked about it with friends, the more she became convinced that there was a business opportunity for eco-friendly replacements for traditional disposable products. She and Jordan Silverman founded Repurpose with one purpose: to solve the problem of plastic. (At least solve part of it.)
The process for making biodegradable plastic out of plant material had already been invented, but what was needed was good design thinking to apply it to tableware and other traditionally disposable products. Lauren and Jordan started small, self-financing and outsourcing production, banging on doors to make sales.
They got their first break with Bed Bath and Beyond in 2011 for an “in-n-out” (a seasonal product). That placement convinced friends and family that this was a viable business venture, and funding started. Overall, conditions were favorable for everything “natural,” “sustainable,” and “organic.” Demand continued to outpace their ability to supply it, and they knew they needed financing to expand.
In 2013, the Pasadena Angels met with Lauren and Jordan and got the vision. That investment round was close to $1M and provided a much needed infusion of cash, which enabled expansion of production. A new supply chain partner and additional hires positioned the company for additional growth, which was critical, because this was about to happen:
Probably the most famous turtle in the world (not found in a Disney film) instigated a furor over plastic straws, and Repurpose was there to fill the demand for alternatives. Suddenly, Walmart, Target and CVS were calling, and that opened the door to plates, bowls, cups and trashbags. The event triggered a continuous wave of legislation and media attention that continues to this day.
Repurpose has ridden that wave. All in, Repurpose has replaced 436 million pieces of plastic. That would fill one massive football stadium with compostable materials. And, it replaced a similar amount of ocean pollution and landfill. The company’s value has increased 5x since that Pasadena Angels investment. Repurpose has become the #1 eco trash bag in the U.S. and the most searched compostable brand on Amazon.
Repurpose has consciously avoided getting into the race to the lowest price in the commercial segment. A dozen brands are competing for the high-volume, low-margin food service sector, where restaurants, hotels and stadiums buy in bulk and command low pricing. Instead, Repurpose has built a brand valued by consumers who are environmentally conscious and upper-middle income. “Whole Foods aspirational” is how Lauren describes them. They buy some organic food, and they really want to buy eco-friendly products that are available in their market and priced reasonably. And, creating and nurturing that brand has allowed Repurpose to expand into related products, which now include paper towels and toilet tissue made from bamboo.
Now with a top 10 brand in trash bags and tableware, Repurpose is positioned to take advantage of a strategic partnership that might open up new markets and/or new product categories. A partner with distribution muscle could leverage Repurpose’s brand across international markets, because Europe, Australia, Asia and even Latin America are also ready for eco-friendly brands. Until then, Lauren and Jordan will continue working together as they have since they were friends in preschool. Their friendship and cooperation has truly been an example of sustainability.
One of Lauren and Jordan’s first Repurpose meetings (when they were preschoolers).
Member Profile - Marcus Filipovich Using Both Feet
You might know Marcus Filipovich as an angel investor, CEO of a tech firm, or startup mentor, but you may NOT know that back in the day, Marcus fronted three 80’s synth-pop bands as a singer/songwriter/musician and achieved some significant degree of “moderate obscurity” in the Minneapolis music scene. But, surprisingly, when Marcus says that he has a “foot in two worlds,” he’s not talking about syncopated electronic music.
Marcus has one foot in the world of the businessman and investor, which he has been working at for a long time. So long, in fact, that it’s almost like he’s had two careers in the businessworld.
Career one was at Medtronic, where Marcus started as a tadpole in the engineering department of the pacemaker division. He became a full fledged employee in short order, and he engineered custom pacemakers until several promotions found him managing global pacemaker design. Then he transferred to Europe and directed worldwide field marketing efforts for Vitatron, a Medtronic acquisition. Returning to the U.S. in the mid-90’s he successfully led the global launch team for deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease. That revolutionary product transformed the lives of Parkinson’s patients, and it is still one of the most rewarding projects of his life.
Career two was post-Medtronic, when Marcus became an entrepreneur and investor. He had promised himself that if he wasn’t an entrepreneur by the time he turned 40, he would quit his job and pursue that dream no matter what. So, despite a two decade career with substantial success at Medtronic, Marcus kept his promise to himself. He also fashioned his first rule of entrepreneurship:
“Figure out what you need next, and then tell everyone who will listen. Opportunities will come from that.”
At a church birthday party he found himself talking to an actress/flight attendant. He told her what he needed next: a technical partner to help him found a digital music company. She suggested that he talk to an old friend - that Marcus hadn’t seen since camp as a teen - who had invented a whole new way to encode audio. Funding came in the form of $3M from a German industrialist, and they were on their way with their first startup.
Not long after, Marcus was at an MIT alumni event when he was introduced to DuWayne Peterson, founding Chairman of the Pasadena Angels. The next morning was a Wednesday, and Marcus dragged himself from Venice to Pasadena for a 7:00am breakfast. It was worth it, and he jumped in with both feet, becoming a member in September of 2002, a Director in 2003 and now a Managing Member of PA Fund II. Since then, he’s invested in scores of startups and mentored 100’s of entrepreneurs through Santa Monica New Tech, Expert Dojo, Founders’ Boost, General Assembly, the Design Accelerator and Pasadena Angels.
But that world only has one of Marcus’ feet. The other one is planted firmly in the Ukrainian Orthodox community. Marcus was baptized and married in the church that his grandfather helped found and where his parents were married: St. Michael’s in Minneapolis. Today he’s a committed member at St. Vladimir in Hollywood. He’s traced his family lineage back 500 years to saints, nobility and advisors to Tsars.
Many recent ancestors were forced to abandon their family history for fear of persecution in Soviet Ukraine. Some were purged by Stalin and others were persecuted in Nazi labor camps. But a few survivors made their way to Minnesota where they preserved their family traditions.
The Pobóg clan coat of arms to which the Filipovich family traces back its lineage.
That history has made Marcus keenly aware of the threats against Ukraine that have simmered and boiled over for more than a decade now. You might imagine that someone with one foot in the Ukrainian Orthodox community would be all the more committed to preserving and celebrating that culture as it faces ongoing threats. You would be right.
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Dave de Csepel
Chairman, Pasadena Angels