Author: Molly Cruitt

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About Molly Cruitt

Molly Cruitt was WashU Olin's digital content specialist for nearly three years until late 2020. She is passionate about telling great stories and showing the lesser-known side of things. Molly holds a master of arts in communication from Saint Louis University and loves dogs, food, and crafting.


Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21, recently spoke with St. Louis native Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI; former president of Y Combinator) for his newsletter/podcast, The Takeoff, which he runs with fellow WashU undergrads Lukas Steinbock and Roshan Chandna.

In the interview, Sam and Michael discuss Sam’s experience dropping out of Stanford to pursue a startup, the benefits of participating in YC, the importance of long-term thinking, the benefits of joining and founding a company early in your career, “getting good at sales,” risk-taking and more. Sam also shares his favorite food dish in St. Louis (Hint: it’s on The Loop).

Michael’s favorite quotes from the conversation:

  • On learning about startups: “Honestly, the best way to learn about a startup is just doing one. The first one may not work out, though sometimes it really does phenomenally well, but I think just getting going is super valuable.”
  • On OpenAI: “I certainly believe I will have much more of an effect with OpenAI than anything else I’ve ever done or will do in my career…make, develop, and deploy into the world super powerful general AI. We all think that this will be the most important technological development in a very long time, possibly in human history… but I will say I think in four years we’ll have systems that are world-changing.”
  • On playing a long-term game: “Learning how to avoid the distraction of short term games, particularly games that even if you win, you still lose, is a very valuable skill.”
  • On getting good at sales: “But, the fun kind of sales is convincing someone of something that you deeply believe in. And when you think about it that way, at least when I think about it that way, that sounds cool and definitely something that is important to me to get good at.”
  • On knowing when something is working: “Most things don’t work, but when something is truly legitimately working, it is unmistakable.”

You can find the full interview here: Sam Altman X The Takeoff

Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company working to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity. Prior to joining OpenAI, Sam was President of Y Combinator, the world’s leading startup accelerator. Sam’s blog can be found, here and his Twitter here.”




Schindler (center) with his cofounders.

A startup born in WashU Olin’s Hatchery course has continued to grow into a full product line, with a focus on improving hydration and fostering healthier consumers.

Buoy (formerly BetterTomorrow) started based on the concern that Americans tend to be chronically dehydrated. Daniel Schindler, MBA ’19, developed a formula for a flavorless liquid supplement that can be added to any drink to foster hydration and overall health by helping people retain water.

Three years after its incorporation, Schindler’s company has grown into a full line of hydration products. After completing what the team calls “phase zero,” Schindler is proud to report a series of updates on the product.

Sales

Through August 2020, Schindler reports a total of $177,467 in sales for the year—with a projection of $300,000 by the end of the year. “Our sales so far have come from very minimal marketing and ad spend, so once we begin our growth phase we expect sales to increase exponentially,” Schindler said.

Marketing

Schindler is proud of his new website, justaddbuoy.com. On the site, consumers can find three products under the Buoy label: BuoyBuoy + CBD, and Buoy + Immunity, plus “a bunch of cool merch.”

Schindler and his team have also invested in content creation—an essential piece of modern marketing. “We are about to begin unleashing everything through social media and Google to begin growing our brand awareness,” he explained.

Strategic growth

Schindler reports a series of growth updates as he looks toward the future:

  • Forming the structure for a commission-based sales team
  • Launching an ambassador program, “designed to increase brand awareness both across social media and among healthcare professionals.”
  • Creating a discounted subscription program for people living with chronic illness. Schindler reflected, “We’ve gotten a ton of touching feedback from that community. We’ll be the first and only company among our competitors to offer this type of program.”
  • Growing the team with 9 new employees.

Schindler’s product exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit WashU Olin students embrace, whether they’re starting their own company or working with larger ones—and his mission to promote health for all Americans shows his commitment to being a leader who changes the world, for good.




Leaving her full-time, stable job to take a leap into entrepreneurship the day before a national shutdown isn’t what Jessica Landzberg (right), BSBA ’17, imagined for herself. But she and Olivia Bordson (left), BSBA ’15, are redefining the women’s clothing industry—and they couldn’t be happier with how it’s going.

After their respective graduations from WashU, Landzberg and Bordson each spent years working for traditional retail brands. But, Landzberg explained, “we started to feel disenchanted by this industry that we thought we’d be working in for the long run.”

Landzberg and Bordson found themselves in an endless cycle of “more”—more product, more new ideas, more frequent brand launches. It was uninspiring, frustrating and—perhaps worst of all—wasteful.

Enter Pareto: a new venture from the Olin grads that seeks to make the best versions of the clothes women wear. Named for the Pareto Principle, an economic phenomenon remarking on the incongruence of causes and effects, the shop operates on the assertion that women tend to wear 20% of their closet 80% of the time.

This realization, confirmed by speaking with friends and other women in their lives, “pushed us to take the leap and start our own company.”

A deliberate, thoughtful launch

Bordson and Landzberg are doing things intentionally, taking their time and releasing pieces that are built to last, comfortable and made with an all-American, short supply chain. They started on August 20, 2020 with a traditional T-shirt dress that can be dressed up or down. On November 20, they launched addition No. 2: a comfortable, durable crew neck sweater.

Pareto’s first and second wardrobe additions, the T-Shirt Dress and the Crew Neck Sweater

“If you have a really great T-shirt dress and a really great crew neck sweater, that already solves a ton of your wardrobe needs,” Bordson explained.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t part of the plan—and it had the potential to change everything. But, in fact, the pair see the pandemic as simply accelerating what they already predicted.

“Long before today, we started to see this scary but inevitable reevaluation of what ‘normal’ looked like in consumerism,” Landzberg explained. “There’s this juxtaposition between industry actors who force brands to rely on endless product development, and consumers who are starting to question whether they really need to endlessly buy more.”

Anticipating a consumer trend?

The pandemic and resulting economic scares accelerated this reevaluation; in-store shopping came to a halt, and brands started to face harsh financial realities as consumers rethought their buying habits. The pair imagined that a brand focused on simple, sustainable and basic pieces meant to last could be the solution.

And that solution is rooted in a rethinking of growth, defined through values-based, data-driven habits. “We’re telling our community a story about every hand that has touched each one of our pieces,” Bordson explained.

That’s not an easy way to do business—and plenty have said so along the way. Bordson and Landzberg know their focus on sustainability, creating fewer, more purposeful pieces and making each of those pieces perfect is more expensive and time consuming. But with a capital-efficient model and a focus on what the consumer wants, they’re confident in their success.

So far, that’s been working for them: the company sold through 75% of their inventory in the first month post-launch. Bordson sees this as just the beginning: “We have an amazing, diverse set of customers from 20+ states. Many who initially bought the T-Shirt Dress in black already came back and bought it in gray because they found themselves wearing it day after day. That’s the best measure of success for us!”

“Growth doesn’t have to come from more product, more often,” Landzberg explained. “We’re going to be deliberate in the way we grow while staying true to our core mission. We’re excited to rewrite the playbook on what growth means.”




This election year, WashU Olin students, faculty and staff are making values-based, data-driven decisions as they vote early, vote in person or return their absentee ballots. Our community is driven by the desire to change the world, for good, by voting with their values and researching what’s on the ballot.

For some in our community, this election was their first. Kristy Chan, EMBA advisor, shared that she was “excited to vote for the first time as an American citizen!” Others waited in long election day lines, volunteered at the polls or helped to get out the vote.

Check out scenes from WashU Olin’s community of values-based, data-driven voters.




Lori Coulter, MBA ’99, Summersalt founder

 Early this year, Lori Coulter, MBA ’99, was flying high.

Summersalt, her venture-backed, tech-driven apparel startup, had just closed a $17 million Series B round of funding.

Then, flights to and from Europe were cancelled overnight. Online purchasing came to a halt. Summersalt’s business declined quickly.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed Coulter’s business for about six weeks—but thanks to foresight and a consumer-focused model, Summersalt navigated through the initial uncertainty and is back to pre-pandemic levels. Coulter says they’ve “launched over 3,000 SKUs this year alone and are benefitting from a generational shift in consumer behavior, accelerated by COVID-19.”

Coulter and her co-founder, Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin founded Summersalt three years ago to be “the go-to lifestyle brand for our consumer to own her entire wardrobe.” The brand began with a signature swimwear line before branching intoloungewear, sweaters, sleepwear and now activewear.

An emphasis on sustainability

Coulter set out to create something different, from the design process to how her consumer is seen: “The entire point was to offer joyful, elevated style in functional products with performance baked into the materials, quality and design of the product.”

Coulter emphasizes sustainability in her product: Nearly all Summersalt’s garments are created from recycled materials or cruelty free yarns, and their packaging is made from recycled material.

She also sees space to rethink “the way we’re presenting women and speaking to our consumers.” Ditching the traditional merchandise advertising playbook, Coulter and her team focus on creating a relationship with the customer through community building, body positive messaging, new product innovation and continued interaction with a focus on the real women who wear these garments.

That strategy is paying off—and Coulter sees it as part of an inevitable rethinking of how we buy our clothing.

“Venture-backed e-commerce brands like ours are growing explosively right now,” she said. And the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout has “essentially accelerated the decline of traditional retail.”

An apt moment for expansion

That’s due to a prolonged shutdown of in-store shopping options and an inability to quickly shift and respond to customer desires in the traditional major merchandising model. “We actually had beautiful products when, where and how the consumer wanted to be spoken to at the right time.”

The pandemic also reinforced Coulter’s recent decision to expand Summersalt and launch an activewear line—one that listens to the needs of women.

“So much activewear has been done in the same way in the past—so we just listened to our consumer about what she wanted right now.” Given how integrated work and life are during work-from-home and social distancing, “we created garments that transition her world and meet her where she is.”

As Coulter looks to the future and continued growth, she’s constantly reminding herself and her team to reflect on their values. “We always go back to making sure the brand reflects who we are, and that we’re authentically communicating that to our consumers.”

Sometimes that looks like using sustainable methods and carefully thinking through every design element. Recently, that looked like launching a text-based app that sent inspirational messages to women who might be struggling, or a $100,000 donation to Forward through Ferguson and Color of Change to fight for racial justice.

And Coulter knows that staying true to who she is, and what Summersalt is, will determine the future of fashion. “We don’t know what’s coming in the next few months,” she said. “But Summersalt intends to be ready to meet our consumer every step of the way.”