September 6, 2022 BACK
Updates This Month:
Lauren Gropper, Founder & CEO of Repurpose
Woody Sears, Founder & CEO of Autio (formerly HearHere)
Presenting This Month:
Frank Lyman, CEO of Lumoptik
Daniel Schindler, CEO of Buoy
Timmy Oh, CEO of Vara Safety
Featured in this issue:
Woody Sears of Autio
Mike Krebs, Pasadena Angels Member
This month we have two updates and three presenters. Below is a brief summary of the companies presenting on Wednesday. Then you'll find a profile of Autio founder Woody Sears and a profile of a longtime member of the Pasadena Angels, Mike Krebs.
Startups Presenting Wednesday, July 6th
Presenter: Frank Lyman, CEO
Lumoptik gives sight to Haptic medical procedures. Light-based needle guidance platform technology with many high value medical uses. The company's first product is a needle guidance system for epidural procedures.
Presenter: Daniel Schindler, CEO
Transform any drink into a deeply hydrating, functional beverage with one quick squeeze.
COMPANY: Vara Safety
Presenter: Timmy Oh, CEO
Vara is revolutionizing gun safety through technology.
Woody Sears and Autio
Taking his Journey to the Next Level
Two hours into his 30 minute meeting with Kevin Costner, Woody Sears wondered to himself if this was really happening. It was 2018, and Woody was trying to get his second startup, Autio, off the ground. After a brainstorm the founders had a short list of storytellers that they’d like to launch their new business with, and Kevin Costner was at the top of the list. Woody had networked and charmed his way into a 30 minute meeting with Kevin, and it was going so much better than he’d ever imagined.
Woody Sears, Kevin Costner and Bill Werlin - founders of Autio.
After all, the startup is centered on storytelling and Kevin Costner is maybe the archetype of a storyteller. Woody and his partner Bill Werlin conceived of Autio as they independently roadtripped around the country with their families. Woody loves traveling with his wife and three kids, but he wanted a way to peel his kids’ eyes off of their screens for a minute and engage with the world around them. That is ironic, because Woody had a lot of responsibility for putting those screens in their hands.
Woody’s previous startup was iStoryTime. Back in early 2009, kids were just being introduced to screens. Woody wanted his kids’ time with screens not to be mind-numbing and passive. iStoryTime was more based on the time tested format of picture books and gave kids an opportunity to develop early reading skills. His wife helped write the first story, and Woody struck deals with Dreamworks, Apple, Warner Bros, Nickelodeon, Sony and more for premium content licenses. iStoryTime was a hit, and content companies were approaching him for partnerships.
They had bootstrapped the whole thing, which was great to a point, but when a VC approached them with an opportunity for funding that would help them expand rapidly, they recognized the upside. But, within a few years, that VC’s involvement led to complications that, for all intents and purposes, forced an acquisition. Cupcake Digital seemed to be a great parent company, and Woody had a place in the new organization, which seemed promising. However, Cupcake had different priorities and its own ideas about strategy, and iStoryTime didn’t flourish the way Woody wanted. Seven years invested, with more lessons learned than paydays. The biggest lesson was to get to know your investors and make sure that the fit is perfect before tying the knot financially.
So, when Bill Werlin shared his road trips with his grandfather, learning about the geology of Colorado and stopping at historical markers, Woody could relate. His family stopped at historical markers, too. They always found themselves searching Google about that mountain in the distance or how this town came to be. They realized that stories about places could be downloaded to iPhones and triggered by GPS coordinates, and people traveling could learn about the places they’re traveling through.
They prototyped it and then tested it with 120 people and refined the proposition. People wanted well-crafted, curated content. They eventually launched in 2020 with 1,500 stories connected to the west coast. Within a year they had expanded to every state in the nation and over 8,000 stories. At the time of this writing, they have 9,600 stories that have been downloaded over 500,000 times. Woody’s managing 7 full time employees and 20+ contractors working on content, which is a manageable load for a seasoned entrepreneur, and frankly, comparable in difficulty to a thousand-mile road trip with a carload of pre-teens.
It turns out that Kevin Costner has homes in Santa Barbara and Colorado. If you know Kevin’s work, you know that he’s in love with the western United States, US history and native peoples’ history. You may not know that he and his family love to take road trips and stop at historical markers. He described to Woody how he encounters so many stories worth sharing, but many of them will never become feature-length films. However, they need a platform, and Autio is the perfect fit. By the end of the 30-minute meeting, which lasted half a day, Kevin Costner was an investor, co-founder and storyteller.
In the last thirteen years, Woody’s started two companies. Both were inspired by situations that he was experiencing as he spent time with his family. Both were about wanting to make his kid’s experiences better. Both shared the thread of storytelling through technology.
And, the thing Woody likes most about Autio is how it can bring people together and enrich their experience. Listening to a 20 minute story about the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in central California can lead to a 30 minute conversation about what that Manzanar experience must have been like. It’s one thing to read about it in a textbook, but it’s a whole different thing to look outside your car and imagine this inhospitable landscape 75 years ago, when it would have been much more foreboding, and picture what it must have been like to be released from Manzanar without even so much as a bus pass. History comes to life when you see it and share it with other people, and that’s what Woody loves about his latest venture.
Mike Krebs Delivers!
Twice a week Mike Krebs brings meals to seniors in the Long Beach area. He’s there to help create a spark of joy in a homebound senior who is depending on that delivery for their next two meals. He has been delivering Meals on Wheels for six years now, and he really enjoys those bi-weekly routes. Besides the fun of the driving in the cool, blue Long Beach mornings, there’s also the relationships developed with the meal recipients. At one point Mike had a 100-year-old client named Walter, who lived alone on his boat at the Marina! Needless to say, Walter was always glad to have someone stop by and chat.
Mike was born in Long Beach, but it took him a couple decades of living elsewhere before he made his way back to the area. At age 2, he moved to Illinois and then a couple years later to Kabul, Afghanistan. His father was working with Columbia University to help establish a primary education system in Afghanistan (1965). Mike attended kindergarten and first grade at the American International School of Kabul. His mother, who was trained as a psychologist, was the guidance counselor for the high school students. In the early 1960s it was a challenging job counseling students applying to colleges they had never seen via postal mail from central Asia. No TV or radio, Mike remembers everyone gathering in the school gym each Saturday night to watch a black and white movie.
Mike celebrating Christmas in Afghanistan.
From Kabul they moved back to Evanston, IL and then to Ann Arbor, MI when Mike was in 4th grade. Wanting a break from Ann Arbor, Mike went to college at Notre Dame in South Bend, IN and studied Accounting. Upon graduation, he took a job as an auditor with Touche Ross in Chicago, where he met another new hire who would become his wife. Linda and Mike realized that beyond the passion for each other, they also shared a passion for doing something other than auditing and accounting. Mike moved back to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan where he pursued his MBA. After graduating Mike moved to California with Linda where he took a job with Honda Research and Development in Torrance. There Mike worked out of the design studio with designers and engineers on next generation product development. Linda returned to school for her teaching certificate and started her second career that lasted 30 years; teaching 2nd - 5th grades at a school less than a mile from their house.
While at Notre Dame Mike had joined army ROTC, mostly for the easy classes and $100 monthly stipend (tax free!) Mike fulfilled his 6-year army reserve commitment with the 420th MCC in West LA, which is how one of the few existing pictures of Mike came into being. Mike’s promotion packet needed a picture, and it’s possible that this charming image put him over the top to Captain. The 420th wanted him to take a command role which would include being financially responsible for millions of dollars of army assets. After thinking it over, Mike quickly concluded that it would be wiser to spend more of his limited weekends with his two young kids. Thus ended his short military career.
After two Accord development cycles at Honda, Mike was looking for something new and found a good role at Mitsubishi, eventually becoming VP of product planning, responsible for all North American product plans. At various times at Mitsubishi, Mike had VP level responsibility for distribution, logistics, vehicle pricing, as well as managing the multi-million dollar incentives budget. But after 17 years, with the company looking to save money, Mike as well as the VP of Marketing were let go and replaced by Japanese nationals. With a nice severance in hand, Mike was ready to explore a second act.
After working for 25 years with large public companies in mature industries, Mike didn’t have a lot of exposure to the startup sector. It was through some consulting he was doing that he first learned about angel investing and was shown a sheet of investment deals being considered by the Pasadena Angels. Mike submitted his application to the PA that night. Learning about the investment process and meeting with founders has been both fun and interesting. “I learn something new every day and there is a lot more to learn,” says Mike, who hopes to be an active investor for many years to come.
Walter the Mariner and Linda Krebs.
July '22: Open Sesame (Steve Lyons) and James Schaefer
June: HavenLock (Alex Bertelli) and Anil Jha
May: Discotech (Ian Chen) and Gary Awad
April: Sashee Chandran, Seatrec and Susan Marki
March: Yezin Taha, Spine Align and Jamie Bennett
February: Phoenix Gonzalez, Repurpose and Marcus Filipovich
January: Ksenia Yudina, BeTheBeast and Larry Uhl
November '21: Roy LaManna, TotSquad and John Keatley
October: Dr. Chorom Pak of LynxBio and former president Al Schneider
September: Luk Network, Brandon Cavalier and Nancy Dandridge
July: Electrum, Jose Gomez and Julie Pantiskas
June: Ready, Set, Food, Dr. Mirianas Chachisvilis and Joseph Pitruzzelli
May: MagicLinks, Christopher Hussain and Janice Orlando
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We hope you enjoyed this edition of the Pasadena Angels Monthly Newsletter. Any suggestions for future pieces, questions or comments? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave de Csepel
Chairman, Pasadena Angels