Can You Really Make a Billion Dollars Delivering Beer, Condoms, Rolling Papers and Nerds Ropes?

Rafael Ilishayev (left) and Yakir Gola pose with just a sampling of the stuff goPuff will whisk to your door in 30 minutes.
Photo | Christopher Leaman

An Instagram celebrity is spearing sour gummies off a platter with a fork, then plopping them into his mouth with the slow-moving consistency of a windmill. Fatboy SSE, as his stage name suggests, is a heavyset (and heavily tattooed) guy from North Jersey, sitting on a makeshift throne covered in boxes of Sour Patch Kids. With 2.1 million followers, Fatboy is the 39th most popular Web star from the Garden State, according to one website that tracks such things. He gets paid to
do this.

A cameraman with an iPhone is attempting a tracking shot of Fatboy’s antics inside a vast, low-slung warehouse just north of Chinatown that’s lined with deli-style refrigerators and racks of hookah supplies, sodas and tons of diabetes-inducing snacks. There’s a bunker next door stocking beer. The cavernous space has the frothy coloring of a Willy Wonka setting, but it’s poorly lit, as if Wonka had fallen in love with bodegas.

Despite the camera, there’s no plot to the sequence being filmed. No dialogue, either. Just a near-naked Fatboy, muttering to himself, “I love the green Sour Patches.” He’s wearing nothing but a pair of pink underwear, necklaces, white ankle socks, and a bright blue cap that says “goPuff.” That’s the entire gag. When it’s finished, the video will be 21 seconds long. It will receive more than 1.8 million views.

This avant-garde marketing ploy has been staged by goPuff, an on-demand delivery company started by two former Drexel students that holds, at the moment, the coveted title of Philadelphia’s Hottest Start-Up. Over the past six months, the service has expanded at a rapid clip, opening a new location every three weeks. (At press time, goPuff was in 20 locations, from major cities like D.C., Manhattan and Chicago to far-flung college towns like Madison, Wisconsin.) It’s taken on $8 million in venture capital, primarily from a Silicon Valley backer. It claims to add a new employee at its corporate headquarters right upstairs from the Callowhill warehouse every 10 days. On an average day in Philly, more than 70 of its drivers complete more than 500 hours on the road.

If you’re wondering why the company isn’t a household name yet — even compared to, say, delivery service Instacart — it’s because goPuff simply doesn’t care about being a household name. It isn’t out to conquer Amazon. Its service is something more intimate: delivering essential goods — well, if you consider munchies and smoking supplies and condoms and booze “essential” — any hour of the day, within 30 minutes of when you tap the app. Unlike Instacart, goPuff doesn’t fetch your grocery list by buying directly from stores like Whole Foods. Instead, it stocks roughly 3,000 items at a centralized warehouse in each delivery radius. To bet on its concept is to dream of the next evolution of the 24-hour CVS. Or, as the Inquirer once put it, “Wawa on wheels.” Read more »

The Excellent Adventures of Digital Nomads Jason Batansky and Jeremy Albelda

Jason Batansky, left, in Rio de Janeiro; Jeremy Albelda in Isla Holbox, Mexico. Illustration by Elias Stein.

It was supposed to be the anti-spring break. Not a last-gasp bender before adulthood, but a moment to pause and prepare. That’s how, two months before graduating from college, Jeremy Albelda found himself in Medellín, Colombia, nursing a beer at a hostel. He was traveling to detach. ¶ It was 2010, and Jeremy had a well-established life in Miami. He was 22, a handsome guy with big blue eyes, a bright smile, and a girlfriend he thought could be the one. Getting his diploma was a formality — he already had a leg up on a personal-training career. But it wasn’t his calling. He knew that much. And if he didn’t find a way out soon, who knew, maybe he’d end up becoming one of those rudderless failure-to-launch millennials who hang around college bars well beyond graduation. So he ventured south of the equator, in search of something.

Since the end of the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Medellín had seen violence plummet and tourism rise. The hostel where Jeremy was staying was less a slummy crash pad for backpackers and more boutique, with high-speed Internet, an open-air hammock area, and a wooden deck with bar service. There, on that sun-swept deck, the course of Jeremy’s life would change when someone called out his name. Read more »

Lauren Boggi and the Death of Lithe

Illustration by Gluekit.

Illustration by Gluekit.

Lauren Boggi is sitting in a windowless room that looks like the place where casinos take people who are caught counting cards. It’s deep inside a Center City office building. The walls are bare except for some bilingual posters that read fbi investigates bankruptcy crimes. Philly fitness maven Boggi, dressed in all black, is staring at two large men — stewards of the bankruptcy court — who are trying to figure out just how broke she really is.

A lot of people in the boutique-fitness world have been wondering the same thing. Three days before Christmas, Boggi sent out an email to clients informing them that the bank accounts of her company, Lithe Method, had been frozen and the three Lithe studios — once mentioned in the same breath as SoulCycle by the New York Times — were shuttered. In the months since, Boggi has been her same old enchanted self on social media, posting about Louis Vuitton, chlorophyll milk, and a new subscription-based online fitness company that bears her name. The disconnect between what she owes (north of $650,000 to clients and creditors) and what she projects has left some observers scratching their heads.

Boggi built a posh brand. Lithe was the premiere boutique-fitness fiefdom in Philly, fueled by the relentless positivity of its founder, who’d developed a cardio-cheer-sculpting workout regimen that attracted the who’s who. The wait list for 6 a.m. classes was notoriously long. Women killed themselves to achieve #Varsity status — attending 250 classes in a year, priced at up to $28 a pop. There were Lithe-branded juices, apparel, even vacation getaways. Being part of the community was a status symbol. Read more »

Amy Gutmann Is Brilliant, Boring, Inclusive, Safe, Distant, Warm, and Able to Stand on Her Head.

Photograph by Justin James Muir

Photograph by Justin James Muir

One afternoon in early December, Amy Gutmann, dressed in a puffy blue coat, exits her office and traverses Locust Walk to her next appointment, a quarter mile away. It’s a five-minute jaunt for an able-bodied adult who isn’t the president of the University of Pennsylvania. Alas, that rules out Gutmann, who is approached by students wherever she goes. They encircle her like puppies swarming their owner. One student strikes up a conversation about food insecurity on campus. Another asks for a hug. Someone promotes a dance show. “I can’t make it, but good luck,” Gutmann replies cheerfully. A bespectacled pupil named Katrina, short of breath, doesn’t even know what to say.

“I’m just amazed that I see you in person, that’s all,” says Katrina, who sounds like she’s speaking to Hamlet’s apparition. “People always joke: Amy Gutmann, a sighting is like Where’s Waldo?” Read more »

Has a Revolution in College Affordability Begun in Philadelphia?

Illustration by Glukit

Illustration by Gluekit

Some kids go to church to learn their virtues. I got the basics from watching Seinfeld reruns. Lessons like why it’s wrong to pee in the shower and why to never, ever trust a car dealer. (Episode 167: Jerry ventures to buy a convertible and is pummeled with hidden fees; he ends up with an “insider’s deal” because his friend is dating the salesman.) Part of being a good car salesman is making the buyers feel like they’re walking away with a steal (bonus cup holders!), whether or not it’s actually a good deal. That’s why car dealers offer discounts wherever possible. Sticker prices tend to be fickle. Read more »

ThinkFest Recap: Asa Khalif on Trump, the Blue Shield, and the Future of Black Lives Matter

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Asa Khalif had promised the crowd an educational experience at ThinkFest, and on Tuesday morning, he struck a professorial pose on stage, sitting across from Tamala Edwards of 6ABC. The leader of the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter spoke about the antecedents, accomplishments and future plans of his movement, both locally and nationally.

Khalif and Edwards covered a lot of ground in their near-half-hour on stage, though a few snippets stood out:

Breaking down the blue shield. Repeatedly, Edwards pushed Khalif to offer specific, concrete changes that Black Lives Matter would like to see made in Philadelphia. The overarching sentiment he offered was that police officers needed to change their perception of people of color in this city: “I want police officers to not look at black and brown people as demons, or something that is out of a Friday the 13th type of character.” Khalif also demanded a cultural change within the police department, particularly one that would encourage self-censorship in rooting out prejudiced behavior. “We need to train police officers much better than they are at this point. Every cop knows which officers are racist in their group,” Khalif said. “If police want help in terms of snitching, they need to start snitching on their own and break down that blue wall of silence that they constantly hide under.”

On the election of Donald Trump. No surprise here: Khalif is not one of the people who’s of the mindset “to give Trump a chance.” Rather, he insisted, “anybody who voted for Trump is a racist bigot, period. And a homophobe. And clearly have issues with women.” Though we’re at the onset of some dark and turbulent years ahead, he believes, the election results weren’t altogether a shock. “Nothing that America does scares me. Nothing that America does surprises me. Donald Trump poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning. The racist opinions have always been burning. We didn’t see the fire, but the house was clearly burning.”

A mainstream political future? In 2020, could Black Lives Matter run a candidate against Trump? Across the country, prognosticators have tried to predict where Black Lives Matter is headed. One point of discussion is whether the movement would aid itself by gaining a stronger foothold in the political sphere or remain an outside check on the political establishment. There have been signs of the movement taking both routes — Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson running for mayor of Baltimore last year (though he ran as a Democrat) and the release of a national platform of reforms that Black Lives Matter would like to see enacted. Then again, the movement chose not to endorse a presidential candidate in this election. On Tuesday, Khalif suggested that the coalition might be getting more involved with politics in the years ahead. “I see us working on a third party. I see us running our own candidates. I see us having a voting bloc,” he said. “I see us still in the streets, but I see us at the table in the decision-making process.”

Follow @malcolmburnley on Twitter.

ThinkFest Preview: Asa Khalif on the Black Lives Matter Movement

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Critics of Black Lives Matter haven’t been shy in airing their skepticism of the movement. Where is their agenda? Where is their inclusiveness? How is this movement sustainable? And, seemingly at every turn, Black Lives Matter activists have responded: releasing a multi-point platform of demands, building coalitions with politicians and other groups, and, most impressively, demonstrating time and time again how much they have staying power. Read more »

Why Philly Refuses to Become a 24-Hour City

Illustration by Gluekit

Illustration by Gluekit

Every so often, an out-of-towner crashes into Philly with a bold new idea. Almost inevitably, said out-of-towner runs into a brick wall. One recent example: An August story in the Inquirer detailed an audacious plan to transform a block in Callowhill into a world-class destination for late-night clubbing. The project — a luxury 16-story residential tower and 1,000-person dance club, complete with a Finnish sound system and bottle service — is the brainchild of a 24-year-old impresario from Connecticut who looks like a postpubescent Rick Moranis. Predictably, Philadelphians ripped the entire concept apart on social media, like pigeons attacking a day-old Amoroso roll. Read more »

Opening Day: Questions and Answers With Doug Pederson

Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The city has come a long way since you were the Eagles quarterback in 1999. What changes stand out? The fan base has always been very passionate and very excited about the Eagles. That’s the part that hasn’t changed. Obviously, the NovaCare facility and Lincoln Financial are all new since I played here in ’99. I love to see the excitement in the community. Change is exciting. Read more »

Center City Sips: The Summer of Sips

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

It’s the once-a-week frat party you’ve yearned for since college.

Or maybe it’s a bunch of crazy kids terrorizing our taxpayer-funded sidewalks. It’s a boon for Philly nightlife, or the cheapest, worst thing ever, and it’s holding back our city’s refined cosmopolitan rebirth. It’s simply the best or most dreaded part of leaving work on summer Wednesdays. Read more »

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