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 »

Does Every Child Need to Learn to Code?

BSD’s Christopher Geary at the company’s Bryn Mawr HQ. Photo by Gene Smirnov.

BSD’s Christopher Geary at the company’s Bryn Mawr HQ. Photo by Gene Smirnov.

Christopher Geary doesn’t look as tired as he ought to. In the past week he’s met with educators who run private schools in Beijing and then some school leaders in Hong Kong, where he lives, and just this morning in late March with the headmaster of Hill Top Prep in Rosemont. He logged 286,000 air miles last year and doesn’t seem to be cutting back. Right now, at least he’s sitting in one place — the little reception area of his company, in its year-old American headquarters in the back of the Rosemont Square shopping center on Lancaster Avenue. He’s with Ashley Govberg of the Philadelphia jewelry-store Govbergs, who have become Geary’s business partners here. Their company is BSD Code + Design Academy, which was set up first in Asia and now is here to teach computer coding to our schoolchildren. The company holds classes and camps at its clubhouse of an office suite, sends a small staff out to teach at a growing number of local schools, and develops curricula for private- and public-school teachers to use.

One thing Geary does look is like a hipster: He’s dressed in black, with thick-rimmed glasses, scraggly Johnny Depp facial hair, and a man bun tied behind his head. But the hipster tag doesn’t quite fit. Raised by parents who toted him around Asia and educated him in Britain, he speaks with the kind of English boarding-school accent that sounds refined and exotic in Philadelphia. Geary, who’s 34, has a law degree. He’s written for the Huffington Post about the ethics of shark fin soup. With his wife, in Hong Kong, he owns a jewelry business concerned with “ethical sourcing” of metals and gems. He technical-dives off the coast of Indonesia. (Technical is deeper and more dangerous than recreational scuba.) He trains in martial arts in Hong Kong (really, the place you want to do it). Read more »

Kickstarter Campaign Launches for LGBTQ Dating App “Sapiens” Geared at Being All-Inclusive

People bata-testing the Sapiens app.

People bata-testing the Sapiens app. Provided by Icon Photography.

A new queer tech startup based in Philadelphia and New York plans to tackle gender inclusivity, harassment, body positivity, safe sex and feminism with a brand new dating app. Named “Sapiens,” its focus is on respect, empowerment and authenticity in the online LGBTQ dating scene. The creators are launching a Kickstarter campaign that is set for September 1st to fund what they are calling “a revolutionary approach to online dating.”  Read more »

Penn Backs Student-Created Start-Up That Lets Kids Cut Class

noteriety-940x540

You may have heard about a pair of Penn students who’ve come up with a nifty new idea. They’ve created a virtual marketplace, Noteriety (motto: “Get A’s. Make Bank.”), where students can buy and sell notes from their classes. The idea is that if for some reason you should miss a class, or are just having trouble learning what you’re supposed to, you can buy notes taken by somebody else who did go or does understand what the hell’s going on. An article about the start-up in the Daily Pennsylvanian mentioned that it’s “backed by the PennApps Accelerator Program,” a “mentorship and sponsorship” effort aimed at encouraging student entrepreneurship.

Coincidentally, the same week the DP article on Noteriety appeared, the New York Times ran a story on a new study showing that increased class attendance in college leads to improved grades.

In the study, professors teaching a popular Intro to Psych course at the University of Texas instituted a new teaching method that replaced grading based on a final exam with grading based on a series of quizzes given during every class. The quizzes were short and tailored to a student’s previous performance; get a question wrong, and you’d soon find it staring up at you again.

Read more »

ThinkFest Video: Josh Kopelman


The growing start-up community in Philadelphia is a major point of interest in this interview with First Round Capital founding partner, Josh Kopelman, and Philadelphia magazine editor, Tom McGrath.

Spending 25 years in Philly, Kopelman feels that it is not until recently that he considered Philadelphia a place where he works in addition to a place where he lives. He explains why within the past 5 years, Philly has taken a turn for the better and become a competitor in the financial ecosystem. Kopelman also asks young entrepreneurs their opinions on starting a business in Philadelphia, and shares a story about how his undergraduate office manager got his company a free photocopier for a year.