They shared their stories of building new ventures with the Startup Alley podcast team at the Lang Center. A group of 2023 CBS graduates—Steven Franzetti, Amrita Mazumdar, Austin Milan, Graham Rowe, Diana Sull, Swayam Thacker, and Ilya Weinstein—host the podcasts, focusing on all things entrepreneurial.
Recent guests included three founders helping to build the circular economy by developing ways to recycle products, offering alternatives to landfills. Another founder discovered an effective acne treatment in Korea and introduced its use in a new personal care brand in the United States. Carolyn Butler ’18 and Rich Amsinger ’18, who spoke with the Startup Alley team last spring, built Manymoons (formerly Borobabi) as “the first circular retailer,” making children’s wear their first target.
The couple said they sacrificed and took huge financial risks to create Manymoons. “A lot of times entrepreneurship is glamorized, like you’re making millions of dollars,” said Butler. “Maybe at Series D but not in the early days. You’re taking tons of risk putting your own capital in, but you’re also building equity and you own it.” She and Amsinger find the rewards are worth the risks.
Butler, a former chemical engineer, said she took advantage of every possible CBS resource, including introductions to investors. “We got a lot of introductions to VCs, and our lead investor was an introduction through David Olk (’11).” Jack Kaplan, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at CBS and founder of Datamark Technologies, introduced Butler and Amsinger to entrepreneur Liz Elting, who became a Manymoons investor.
But there also are those you pitch to who don’t invest. “I think there’s a specific gene people have to be good entrepreneurs, and I think it involves a lot of resilience and perseverance because you’re going to get told no a lot,” she said. “You’re going to have to pivot and learn and drop the ego.” Getting comfortable with risk and ambiguity are essential requirements.
“What I found in the waste industry is that a lot of how things are structured is for certain special or entrenched interests as opposed to society or how you would optimize for economic efficiency,” said Gonen. He thought waste management would be a great place to start, not only to optimize but also to increase transparency and sustainability.
Gonen began building Recyclebank during his first year at CBS. A high school friend proposed an idea to reward people for recycling by measuring the amount of materials they recycled. “I thought it was a great idea, and with my consulting background, I could build the software and business model to execute on that concept. That’s how Recyclebank got launched,” he explained.
Gonen’s Recyclebank was backed by the Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurship Center’s Lang Fund. “They gave me my first $100,000 as an entrepreneur,” said Gonen. Since then, he’s raised billions of dollars. “That first $100,000 is far and away the most important part of what I’ve raised to date for my ventures.” In her Startup Alley podcast, Ju Rhyu ’08 discussed meeting two milestones with her startup, Hero Cosmetics: reaching $100 million in sales and selling Hero to consumer products giant Church and Dwight for $630 million.
Her flagship product, Mighty Patch, an effective treatment for acne, kicked off the company’s sales. Rhyu had discovered the effectiveness of hydrocolloid skin patches in Korea and wanted to promote the treatment in the United States. It was a hit: Hero achieved $1 million in sales in the first year.
“What I’ve realized about startup life is you’re always convincing skeptics—in the investor community or with retailers who aren’t sure you’re going to work in their stores,” Rhyu said. But, she added, “I learned at Columbia Business School: persuasion is a journey.”
Since its inception in August 2022, Startup Alley has also featured David Olk ’11, co-founder of ShopKeep and Junction Venture Partners, and Connor Wilson ’15, co-founder and executive chairman of the Thursday Boot Company.
The podcast series began as an effort to showcase CBS alumni who have participated in Startup Alley at TechDay NY. The largest event in the United States for startups, TechDay offers a venue for founders to exhibit their concepts and products currently in development.