Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Von Raees CEO of Kraver: UnCorked Episode 1

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Welcome everybody to UnCorked. I'm your host, Benjamin Mann. On this show we sit down with

the world's most interesting and exciting technology start-up founders. And we share

the unabridged, uncensored stories of their lives, their minds and, of course, the innovative

companies they're getting off the ground. Now the show is called UnCorked, so we also

share a bottle of wine. Once the wine's done, so's the conversation. Today we're speaking

with Von Raees. He's the founder of Kraver. Kraver is a quote "krave to stomach solution

that ensures you get the food you're craving exactly when you're craving it." We're speaking

to Von inside the beautiful City Club in Los Angeles, so let's go inside and get uncorked.

Von. Hey Ben.

Pleasure to meet you. Good to see you.

Thank you for having us here at City Club. I understand you spend quite a lot of time

here? I do. This is sort of my office away from

the office. Excellent.

I have multiple offices, so this is sort of the central location downtown L.A. where everybody

kind of comes here to see me. Yeah, and see the rest of the city. It's a

beautiful view and fittingly we are on UnCorked, so during this conversation we'll be sharing

a bottle of wine that you have selected. So you've decided to go with a white. You want

to tell us a little about this wine and why you chose it?

Well, first of all I chose a white because red tends to put me to sleep.

Fair. You're a sharp guy, so I want to make sure

I can keep up. Great.

Secondly I chose Cakebread because first of all I've had it before and I just really love it.

It's a really great wine. And really, honestly, the name makes me happy. Cakebread

Cellars, you know, who doesn't get happy? about Cakebread?

I agree. The Cakebread? The whole thing? The Cellars?

Cakebread and Cellars, so you think about cake and wine. What could be better than that? Right?

I think that's fair. Cool. Well, I'm looking

forward to enjoying it and the conversation. So, let's just get to it.

Awesome. Let's do it.

Von, so you are the founder or co-founder

I should say of Kraver, but a lot of other things as well, and quite a long history in

business and start-ups and technology. So actually I am going to start at the beginning,

beginning. O.k.

And I'm gonna ask where you grew up. Where were you born and where did you spend your

early days? I was born in Iran. I came here in 1977 with

my family. O.k. And why did they move over?

We could ask my dad if he was still around. O.k.

But, You just showed up here?

He chose, he decided that we should come here and bless his heart that we did because right

after we came the country changed quite a bit. I grew up here in L.A.

So you came right to L.A., stayed here Pretty much, yeah. Santa Monica was our

O.k. you know, landing stop and we lived in Kensington

Motel on Ocean Avenue for a few months. O.k.

It was an interesting time. The transition

Yeah, that was an interesting time. I didn't go to school for several months; I would have

been in sixth grade. I got to know all the vendors on the Boardwalk in Venice. You know,

at eleven years old. You were just cruising by yourself cause you

don't have anything to do during the day. My parents are trying to figure out what we're

gonna do and I would just leave and go down, walk down Venice Boardwalk in 1977.

I guess it's probably safe You know in retrospect, probably not really,

but at the time I had a blast. All the vendors along the street got to know me, and I would

go down there and they would all, "hey, why aren't you in school?" Like, "Oh we just moved

here" and you know. And your English was solid at this time, you could interact

No, no, actually I barely spoke English, my parents spoke some English.

O.k. And then what's funny is during those five

or six months that we lived in Kensington Motel, I watched probably six-seven hours

of TV every day and I walked down the Venice Boardwalk and was chattin' it up with all

these guys and by the time we moved out of there I spoke like this. I spoke like almost

perfect English. Really?

Yeah. Television and vendors was your cocktail for English.

Television and vendors were my English, that was my ESL.

Our family is not traditional, we're very,

we're all very ambitious, we're all very independent. So we came here and my dad went back to try

to like liquidate some of our stuff, to bring our money. And then the revolution happened,

so he got stuck there for a couple years. So it was just me, my mom and two teenagers.

He could. not. leave the country? Right, he was stuck there for a couple years.

So he was stuck there and then my mom basically total change in plans, right? So my mom all

of a sudden has three kids here by herself. She's a superhero. True superhero.

Yeah. Like she's my hero. So, you know, it was a

little bit, that was kinda a tough time. Yeah. She pulled it off obviously.

She frickin' did magic. She is one of the most amazing human beings on this planet as

far as I'm concerned. And I mean, did you, do you recall if you

and your siblings--is it a brother and a sister? Yeah.

Actively appreciative of that? Cause I know like back in the day, I'm sure my mom did

a lot of superhero shit that I was just like, "whatever that's what moms do." Do you like,

do you remember like being there and being like, "oh man, this woman is my idol. Like

this is incredible what's she doing." Or you kinda think you were just sort of enjoying

L.A? I don't know about enjoying those first few

years, but we were definitely all caught up in it. You know, it was sort of like, "wow,

survival mode. We gotta do what we gotta do." And my first job was I was 13 and it wasn't

for work experience, it was like you want to buy some clothes?

You gotta help out. Yeah.

My next question I was going to ask transitions perfectly, was there anything in that time

that you look back and well that certainly has shaped the way I am now, the way I approach

my work, they way I approach, whatever, friends, life, love?

Big time. Yeah. And can you speak to that. Like what,

what do you think about when you're like, "oh that was definitely an influence from

my family and my earlier years?" We all sort of got thrown in it, right?

Right. And so we had to do whatever we had to do.

And I think it really gave us a certain structure that we had to create to survive. And that

just became part of our DNA, I think. Later on in life when things, you know, got better

and that work ethic, that drive, that ambition to survive at that moment turned into ambition

to thrive. Right.

And so, at least for me, I can't speak for my brother and sister, but, and for my mom,

but I can tell you our family is not a normal, like we don't just go and get jobs, you know.

Right. My sister's done amazing things around the

world. I certainly, we're all just sort of like non-stop.

And so I want to know about Von as a high schooler. I find that to be some of the more

formative years of the personality. Yeah, yeah.

At least those are the ones that sit with you.

Um hmm What were you like in high school? Where did

you fit into that scene? All right. I was the, I was the hesher-stoner

dude, Oh yeah?

with the hair down to here, pony tail. You know, Zepplin, Van Halen, you know, Rush

Rush? But even, those, you know little bit more

newer years. But, I was really into classic rock. I listened to a lot of classic rock

and stuff. And then in school I was the guy, you know, I didn't go to my prom.

O.k. Because you didn't want to go? I hung out with these kids who were sort of

like we were like the ones who left at lunch and went over there just outside the gate,

we would sit there and kids would be smoking and you know we were sort of like the, I guess

the equivalent to that now would be like the mods, I guess.

O.k. Not the mods, what's that, what's the dark

Oh, goth? Goth!

Really? But, but you know there was no goth at the

time, it wasn't all black or whatever, we were just the heshers who were just kind of

on the outside. Was it a big enough group that even being

on the outside that you had a lot of friends and were popular or were you really the sort

of the outcasts, like group of six or seven It was a smaller group.

O.k. It was a smaller group.

How was juggling school and being academic, like were you in that time a good student?

You mean in college? In high school.

In high school Were you getting good grades, were you impressive,

did you get along with your teachers? So here's the funny thing, I don't remember

ever doing homework. O.k.

Like that was not my thing. Maybe you didn't ever do homework.

Yeah, probably, probably. I did maybe some but what's funny is I aced every test in every

class. Like I would just get, I guess I was really tuned into the teacher and I got the

concepts. O.k. so you weren't a class skipper.

I skipped some class, but I got it. O.k.

You know, like it was just sort of natural like especially in math, I math I would sit

there and they would start doing some stuff and I would be like I get that, got it, done.

And now I can talk, I can do whatever and I don't need to do the homework, I got that.

You know, and so I was kind of bored really with a lot of the stuff that was happening.

So I didn't get all As because I never did the homework, but I passed because aced all

the tests and everything. Oh, I see. O.k. so you were getting beaten

up on the homework stuff. Yeah.

And you were squeaking by I was getting

Got it. the B or the C, some As with U U, unsatisfactory

work habits, unsatisfactory behavior, but he aced all the tests, so

It was very similar to my report card. I always remember my dad use to say the "a" word he

called it. He's like, "Ben, report card, great again, marks are good, teachers say you're

strong academically, but it's that a-word, attitude." I was waiting for it every time

I'd have a report card. I'm like, "fuck I'm gonna get the attitude speech again." It was

always like so I get these marks because these teachers like just found a way to keep the

marks not high enough Yeah, yeah.

to be way impressive, but it was because I was kind of a dick in class when I was there.

So if there...You know what's cool, if there were teachers that graded you strictly on

your tests, I was A, I would have been straight A student, you know. But if there were if

your tests and your scores only accounted for a percentage then rest of it was your

attitude and your homework and all of that, then I was in a little trouble, then I'm doing

maybe Cs, you know. Right.

Cs and Bs.

During all of this even in high school I had my own business.

Oh. o.k.

Like, I was a mobile mechanic, I took autoshop, right, so I had my car and I had tools in

the back and I had a couple of clients that were like construction companies that had

trucks everywhere O.k.

And I'd get these calls, these messages after school, I'd check, "hey there's a truck broken

down on the 101, dah, dah, dah go fix it, right?" You took this in high school?

I did this in high school. Oh.

And then but I also had a couple of jobs like I worked at 7-11 for a year or two when I

was 13 or 14 and then I worked at Pepe's Pizza, that's the longest job I've ever had in my

life. Pepe's Pizza. How long was that?

I think I worked there like 3 or 4 years during the latter years of junior high and high school.

Making the pizzas? I was doing everything.

O.k. so, I've always I don't know I know how to I actually know how to throw

a O.k.

Yeah. I don't know why I've always had this question,

it's kind of a weird question I've always had, but are the pizza skills you would learn

working at a pizza place like a Pepe's, although I don't know Pepe's, is that translatable,

like could you then go impress a girl on a date and be like, you check, and do the pizza

flip and the make or is it a very specific process to each like the Pepe's and the Pizza

Pizzas and the Pizza Novas, like is that I never ran into a teenage girl who was a

Italian foodie who would have been impressed by that.

Really? I wish I had.

Really? I would imagine like the flip of the pizza and like making a great meal at 16 by

anybody should be Well the only way I could do that, I guess,

is if she came to Pepe's Pizza while I was working and she would watch me.

Fair But I never had an opportunity to like do

that at my house or somewhere. You never made pizza for the family once you

had that job and like I, no not really

O.k. It was kind of a work thing.

All right. But I think it's kind of like riding a bike,

I think maybe I can tap into that skill now. I think I can probably still throw a piece

of dough up in the air. I would hope so.

And then my second year in high school, I mean, I'm sorry, in college I started a real

estate company. O.k.

With my brother-in-law and we started buying and selling foreclosures with we started with

very little money and my second year in college, I think, we did a bunch of deals and made

hundreds of thousands of dollars and Really?

I was sort of like, "why am I doing this--at college"

So a couple years into college So I dropped out.

And you say foreclosures, does that mean you're working through the banks? Are you

Well we would actually show up to the auctions and start buying up property

O.k. And flip 'em

And where did you have that cash from to My brother-in-law came up with I think like

$78,000 O.k.

I borrowed $78,000 from my brother-in-law O.k.

He had his own contracting business and so I started buying and selling these and I worked

out this whole system where we would buy a house. That same afternoon we'd turn in an

application for refinancing. I bought it at an auction so it was really maybe 50% of value.

O.k. And then we'd refinance

So you have the cash to make the initial purchase? Yeah, we started with small properties at

like 70 Right

And then And then you go get a loan for it

Turn around and refinance it and get the, so we bought it, I think we bought our first

property for like $72,000 or $75,000 and we refinanced it and pulled out 120

Right Like within a couple weeks.

Right. Right, and then take that money and go buy

a little bit bigger, right and then Yeah

refinance 240 and sort of leveraging, leveraging, leveraging and that really works and we built

a lot of equity that way and we built a lot of cash that way. Until the market crashes

and then you lose everything and you have to move back in with your parents and

Oh that did happen? That's what happened

All the cash? So I dropped out of college, we started doing

this So before this, so you're like "oh we're crushing

it, I don't need to go to class today." Yeah, I'm making. I mean I'm gonna make millions

of dollars this year, so Mechanic stuff off to the side.

Yeah. I'm forget the computer stuff, forget I had a computer business too while I was in college,

too, I use to actually build, assemble computers and sell 'em to, I had some clients, but yeah

then we got into this real estate thing. I left college, did this, made a lot of money

while the market was good. So how many years were you doing that then?

How long did that last? Well our first property was 86? 87? 1986-87,

I know we went to probably about, I think I filed bankruptcy in 1993.

Oh. So we did it for a few years.

That's a good stretch. Yeah.

And that bankruptcy, that was a legit, that wasn't like a 50ยข move? That wasn't like

a "I'm just gonna file bankruptcy and just sort of chill for a bit."

Dude, the convertible got repo'd; I had, I gave up my penthouse in Hollywood Hills

Oh man And I moved back in in my old bedroom with

my parents and had to borrow gas money from my mom. So

How old were you? 23 when I filed bankruptcy. So that was

And both of you or this was the business bankruptcy or like this was you.

Personal, personal. And your brother-in-law, also, he's fucked

at the time? Yeah, I mean he, yeah, he had his own contracting

business O.k.

separate from this, so he wasn't as fucked as I was, but you know.

So back in with Mom? Back in with Mom and Dad.

And you did not finish a degree. Borrowing gas money.

You didn't finish at college? No, I didn't go back, I didn't go back.

So you never went back? I never went back to college.

So you move in with Mom and now it's a full restart? Um hmm.

I imagine that's what it felt like. Yeah, from scratch.

I mean just scratch, so 23 years old, you bankrupt the real estate dream, the real estate

bubble dream at the time is burst and you're now living back at home, you are borrowing

cab money, is that correct? Gas money.

Gas money, o.k. And whatever.

And all money. Yeah, all money. I'm borrowing all money.

Yeah. And so, now it's like full restart.

Um hmm And do, I mean, do you remember what you were

thinking or what happens at that point, like did you sit down and make a plan, like how

strategic were you about it? Or were you just fucking scrambling and trying to figure out

how to survive? You know one of my biggest assets has been,

I guess, thinking retroactively, my arrogance. I think at that point, having gone through

all of that, I never thought, "I'm done, it's over," you know. In fact I even got more sort

of invigorated, I was I remember being 23 and I was looking for what's next. And I wasn't

looking for a job; I wasn't like So you don't think you were stressed?

Oh I was stressed. O.k.

I was super stressed. I'm just saying I never felt defeated

O.k. in any way. In retrospect, that was better

than any degree I could have ever gotten. You know, in terms of business, just learning

the patterns of, you know, cycles and how to deal with I learned a lot from my mistakes

in terms of what to do next. Yeah.

And in fact, I'll tell you in my current business that lesson essentially is the reason why

this business is doing so well. Not Kraver, but my other businesses are actually doing

really well. No I agree. I think there's failing in school,

I think there's like some professor giving you an F.

Um hmmm And you're like, "o.k., well maybe I got some

questions wrong, maybe that guy doesn't like me"

Yep Maybe he's got a thing with his own life,

who knows what's going on in his head. Yeah

But then there's failing, failing in life. And I do think that that's probably more of

a valuable lesson to understand how to recover from a true objective failure.

If you haven't been down there Right.

I don't know that you later in life when it's necessary, I don't know that you have gotten

the life lessons necessary to get up here. I just

Yeah That's how I feel, I don't know. For me anyway.

Lots of people, I guess, never got down here they just sorta went like this and then all

of a sudden they invented something or you know created an app and just went pfttt, you

know? That's not me. No, I

That's not most people, I think. No, I agree, I agree. So you're excited now

and you're looking for opportunities, so what happens at this point then?

So then, you know, I'm looking for the big deal, right? Because now I'm hooked on the

big deals. Oh, you not a rebuild, start small

No, I'm not looking for a job, I'm not looking for a job. I'm like, "I need to go like raise

some more money from investors now that I've learned how this works." I've got to raise

some more money. I'm looking at buying office buildings and dah, dah, dah,

Come on and I'm meanwhile I'm looking at, you know

I'm borrowing gas money from my mom, right? Did you know investors, are we talking anybody

with money Yeah, I was talking, these are people I had

been talking to when I was doing really well. Oh, o.k.

But now the picture's changed, they're not having those conversations with me because,

you know, I didn't roll up in my convertible Right, your mom dropped you off and you're

like, "can you pick me up at 8." "Hey yeah my mom just dropped me off, I'm

here to get 12 million dollars for this building right here."

Yeah. So that was another learning experience, that

sorta had me kind of get in touch with reality. Right.

No, no, you got lucky to a degree because the market was going that way, it wasn't all

you, that had you do all those deals and make it like that. You actually gotta put in some

work and you gotta, you know, do what you gotta do to build, right?

Yeah. So, did a few different things, started a

graphics company; I've always been an artist, I use to sculpt, paint, draw, do all that.

So you actually have that physical, the natural physical talent?

Yeah, I got that from my dad; my dad was an artist, musician, all of that.

That's great. And so started graphic design company, one

of my clients turned out to be a community newspaper. He offered me a job and I was like,

"I'm not interested in a job, I just want to do your graphics for you until you fill

that position--as a freelancer." And that was the model of the whole business,

just purely contract, freelance work. Yeah, so what I would do is I would go to

wanted ads and I would contact people who were advertising for a graphic designer positions.

I'd call 'em up and I'd say, "listen, I'm not interested in a job, but until you fill

the position, I can freelance for you and maybe" And what ended up happening most of

the time is they ended up not hiring someone because I did the job in half the time and

Right And, you know, better and so on.

And it was just I picked up a lot clients that way

It was just you at the time? You didn't have a team or someone else?

This is me working out of my bedroom at my parents' house.

Nice. Yeah, having gone through all of that stuff,

right? And so Did they do you think they had any idea that

that was the case? Did you present yourself as a dude in an office or were you transparent

The clients? Yeah were you like transparent, like "listen,

Oh no I'm gonna knock this out in my living room

after my mom makes me some macaroni and cheese and then I'll get you"

No, one of the biggest lessons I learned also was fake it 'til you make it. Right?

O.k. So, no I'm not walkin' in there, I'm walking

in there in a suit and tie. I'm here You're the best dressed graphic designer on

the planet. I'm here. The name of the company I had was

Graphics Factory, and I was like, "yeah we have teams that work on this stuff and dah,

dah, dah." No, it was like, you know, I'd walk in there and "we have an organization

and we can handle this, we can handle that for you." And yeah...

One of those clients was this newspaper. He, it was a young guy, he was 25 at the time.

His father lent him some money, he bought this community newspaper that had been around

for like a hundred years. O.k. How small a community are we talking?

Like is this a very local, hyperlocal This is up in Sierra Madre, like this town

has 10,000 people. Oh.

Tiny, tiny little community. And that's their audience? They just care

about 10,000 A little community newspaper.

Wow. This is 1995.

O.k. I was freelancing for him and he, I saw that,

man this guy's fallin' apart, like he's this business is goin' down and it's because this

guy is just inexperienced he has no sales team he has he doesn't know what he's doing.

So I started giving him some advice and he said, "well why don't you come and manage

this place for me?" And I said, The whole place?

Become the general manager of the newspaper. I said, "no I'm not really interested, thank

you I've got my own plans, I've got my own things. I don't really work for people." He

says, "well why don't you come and do this and I will make you a partner if you hit this

milestone." Revenue milestone?

Yeah, so I thought, "o.k. I'll try it." I wouldn't mind doing that and becoming a partner

in a business, that would be fine. And I really liked, I just fell in love with the newspaper

business, just with media because I've always been an activist. My family, we're all activists.

We're very political and we're very engaged in the process.

O.k. So

So you liked the idea of being able to have a voice

Absolutely And cover what you wanted to cover and

Yeah talk about what you wanted to talk about

And being in there for just kind of freelancing for him during that short period of time,

I really saw the impact that a newspaper could have, media could have, and so

O.k. I thought this is great and so I went, I agreed

and I went in there and we had, he had given me, you know, we talked about some milestones

and we talked about in terms of years hitting that. I did that in four months. I quadrupled

the business, the revenue in four months from December to April of 1996.

Now this is just good salesmanship or are you producing better content? Are you?

I built a sales team. I built a sales team. He didn't have a sales team.

So you put a strategy behind the sales? Yeah, I brought sales people in and it wasn't

that difficult, like salespeople, what a concept.

I won't go into it, but turns out that he didn't want to honor his word

Oh

So, I left. To make you a partner?

Right. Got it.

And so I left. And then And was that a clean break? Or was there a

lot of bullshit. Were like, "listen man, it's very simple, you said you were going make

me a partner, you didn't, I'm outta here." It was a little serial. He actually denied

that we had ever made that deal. O.k.

And I had it in writing. Oh

But then I thought, do I enforce this, with this guy? Why would I do that? I don't even

want to be, why would you want to force yourself to be partners with somebody who's like that?

Absolutely. Right so, I just walked away.

So you made a quick decision. Yeah.

And you got out fairly fast. I got out, I went back to my graphics business.

I had I still had all my clients, so it was good.

Were you actually maintaining clients on the side while you were doing this?

I was. I wasn't cultivating anything new. Oh, o.k.

But, yeah, I was still servicing the existing clients.

Amazing. And so so I went back to that and I got a

call from the someone in a neighboring city said, "hey, the mayor and I want to take you

to lunch." It's like o.k. So, let me, hold on. Do you have any idea

that the mayor knows who the fuck you are? Well yeah.

O.k. so I mean while I was at the newspaper

Oh o.k I see I got to meet all those people.

O.k. because if the mayor of Toronto they got to know me

contacted me and was like, "hey Ben." I'd be like hmmmm

So when I said mayor I'm not talking about like the mayor of L.A.

O.k. This is the mayor of Arcadia at the time,

which is a small city O.k.

These are all these cities in a cluster O.k.

So like I think Arcadia at the time had like 50-60,000 people.

Well, o.k., that's not nothing, but Yeah I mean it's a good

But you made a name for yourself within the magazine, you were noticed

Yeah, so I guess they noticed, they noticed that this little paper up there all of a sudden

just went, you know. Just blossomed, what you know, why did that happen? How did that

happen? And you know, they got that that guy that owned it for a couple years and it was

going the other way and then I came on board and all of a sudden and I was present everywhere

so I started getting involved in the community and just kind of building relationships for

the paper, so that's how they got to know me.

O.k. So then when I left they called and they said,

"hey, we want you to come." So I went to lunch them and they were like, "we want you to come

start a paper here." And I said, "well it takes a lot of money to start a paper." They

were like, "well we'll help you." So they asked you to come and start a newspaper

in this area and you tell them that's going to be expensive. Now between you and me and

everybody else who watches this, how how much of that was you actually projecting and predicting

how much it would cost and you trying to get like a secure financial foundation out of

what you knew would be a fairly extensive budget potentially?

Well listen, having just gone through that whole situation of moving back in with my

parents and how I didn't want to go through that situation again.

Yeah. So I wanted to make sure, obviously, that

I had a strong foundation, right? O.k.

Yeah.

So, but here's the thing, I started that way but it just, it didn't go that way. So what

happened was I went and I started, I actually made a budget, I think I came back, it's gonna

take about $220,000. Up front?

Well, about for the next year Got it, o.k.

For a paper to be able to survive the initial launch and so on and build up a clientele

and so on. So I did that and then I got back together with them and I said, "yeah, so I'm

gonna need some money to do this." And "like well, we can help you." I said, "like help

me write a check? or help me how?" Yeah. Lick some stamps and

Like "no, no, no we can't write a check but you know what we can do is talk to people

in the community, businesses in the community and have them support you with advertising."

O.k. so be your extended sales force? Yeah, I said, "o.k." that, you know, so I

went back and I talked to my mom, who had by that time she had a house and she refinanced

so she had some cash, maybe $100,000. Like now we're getting to the point where

you, yeah, your mom is actually hitting superhero status.

Oh this isn't even the superhero stuff. This is really...I'm starting to get this

now. This isn't the superhero stuff even, this

is just awesome mom stuff. The superhero stuff was when we first go here.

I go to her and I, she had a $100,000, I guess she had lent that to my brother. And--I don't

know if should say this but--so she had lent that to my brother, he built his business

with it and he's thriving, now he has the money in his bank account and he's about to

give it back to my mom, so I talked to her and she says, "oh yeah, I can take that now

and give it to you." So she talks to my brother and says, "hey, I need that money because

I'm gonna give it to him and he's going to start his business." He says, "no, I'm not

giving it to you." She says, "what do you mean? It's my money." He says, "no, if you're

gonna give it to him, I'm not giving it to you." My brother and I are not good.

Oh, o.k. But at the time. So, when that happened and

at that point I was still sort of up in the air, do I do this? Do I not do this? Cause

it just depends if I'm gonna come up with the money or not or whatever. When he said

he's not gonna give us, give me the money because of that.

Incentive? That was it. I'm like this is going to fuckin'

happen, I don't care what happens. This is going to happen. So between me and my sister

and my mom, I think we came up with $7000. I got an office about the size of this little

thing right here and So about 120 square feet?

Yeah, and then it was me and one of the sales people from that other

Yeah newspaper. A young guy who was in college,

he came with me on commission for sales. And between the two of us, oh and there was a

community, the lady who--Dorothy, she's another one of my heroes, Dorothy Den--she's the one

that called me and said, "let's do this." She helped me with content. Like so

O.k. she's very tied into the community. She's

a writer so she started writing She sourced a bunch of stuff

She helped me with, yeah generated herself? O.k.

She helped us with some content and Erik was this 21-22 year old guy who was in college

and he would sell on commission and I started working doing that. Second week in business

we ran out of money. O.k.

Paying for the paper, you know the printing and so. Luckily there was a huge political

issue in the community and there were all these factions that are fighting each other

and there was no other newspaper in the city at the time, so we became the vehicle, so

we became the mouthpiece for the two sides fighting each other.

Really? Right? So they're running full page ads, they're

running two full page ads. They're...so, Oh, not for the coverage, for their own propaganda.

Yeah, they're running ads in our paper Got it

against this or that and that went on for months and then we launched a subscription

campaign and we made it work with $7,000. So at that point it was a free publication

Yeah And then you launched a subscription concept?

It was free if you wanted to go pick it up but if you wanted to get it at your house,

you could subscribe. Got it.

And so, yeah, anyway, we made that work. And from there and then it took off.

Yeah and that company exists today and that's what pays the bills and that's what funding

Kraver and we have 23 newspapers now all over Southern California.

And the name of that company? We changed the name once. Back then it was

Core Media and right now it's Beacon Media. Beacon Media.

Yeah. And is it all locally focused publications?

Yeah, these are hyper-local community newspapers both in print and digital.

O.k. And we're actually bombing, the...I have a

CEO who runs that company. I'm not involved with it anymore. But we're setting records

every year, last few years. And I give props to Jesse Dillon, our CEO who's doing that.

And that funded--or funds--your other endless endeavors; you were talking before, you're

in all kinds of stuff. Yeah, I'm sort of a serial starter-upper.

Right, but you said you decided to focus on one

Kraver and that's Kraver

Um hmm So I guess then, first question Kraver, why'd

you pick that at a high level? It involves food, I love my partner, it's

exciting Your partner

Jill Richmond Jill, o.k.

And it's a new industry for me and it's a new sort of a business model for me.

O.k. And it just exciting for me. I'm always, if

there's something I don't know about, I'm gonna go that way.

O.k. so Kraver is a food recommendation engine. Except it's a little bit different than the

ones that are out there right now. We're trying to get very specific in terms of what we recommend.

Down to the specific dish. Not so much the restaurant. So you use Yelp?

Um hmm Right? So you're experience of that is you're

looking for something, but you're not sure what you're looking for or you're looking

for something very specific but you have to go find it, right? You have to find a restaurant

then you have to go look at the menu then you have to thumb through all the restaurants,

look at their ratings then go look at their menu then read the description of that menu

to see is it gluten free? does it have peanuts? does it have whatever?

Yeah. Or one of the ingredients, is it this, that

or the other? So there's a process to go through. And so we're trying to solve that problem.

And actually I think we've solved that problem. We're about to solve it. So what we do is

when you download our app you create an account and we run you through a questionnaire and

we, it's very short and it's a very intuitive kind of an interface. We find out about your

restrictions. I'm allergic to this or that or what have you. We find out about your preferences

and then we find out about your habits. And so based on that what we can do is give you

very specific recommendations for a specific item at a restaurant

Um hmm Around you. And so at a particular time. So

for example, you're in a busy working environment and you get an hour for lunch everyday and

you spend you know 30 minutes of that pursuing food. Right? Get on the phone, order it, pay

for it or just go down the street, get in line, takes you 15 during lunch time and busy

areas might take you some time to get up, order it, wait for it. You basically spend

half of your lunch time acquiring, running after food.

Right. So imagine instead of doing that we've, you've

created your own menu of items that we've recommended to you, all of which meet your

criteria. They're all gluten free, they're all peanut free, they're all no red meat,

whatever, whatever, right? So, specifically items that you've chosen on our process and

then you can even schedule those for pre-schedule them for delivery, so you really have 0 interface

on a daily basis to get lunch. Right.

What happens is I scheduled myself to get lunch on Tuesdays at 1:00. Every Tuesday and

Thursday, I don't want to do it everyday, whatever, so Tuesday 1:00, you simply get

a delivery. Period. And it meets all your criteria and everyday you can either, if you

want to you can choose, "you know what, I don't want that item today I want something

different." Or "You know, I don't want it delivered today, I'm gonna go pick it up."

So you have options like that. But that whole process of payment, ordering, going after

it, picking it up, whatever, that's all taken care of.

So, you have the option to manually select what you want on Tuesday or you can just let

the system Or you can pre-schedule it.

Pre-schedule it. Or it could be a surprise, technically?

Absolutely. Based on the fact that you trust the system.

So here's the part, here's the part that makes us unique. We have an AI engine that's running

in the background, we're learning about you. We're learning your behavior, we have thumbs

down/thumbs up on specific items that we send you, so when you create your own custom menu

that you want us to deliver to you on an on-going basis, you can choose to have us randomize

that so you get a surprise every time that there's a delivery.

Um hmm. Which could be fun and interesting and every

one of those items meets your criteria and is stuff that you've picked before.

O.k. Right?

And is that always the case? Is that there is a set list, so this list from which you're

choosing to select the food that I'm gonna get on the Tuesday lunch at 1:00 is that always

from a static list or is that list continuing to build and you're recommending new things?

Absolutely. It is, so it's always updating, so

You can choose your own items or you could ask us to keep recommending stuff for you,

which meets your criteria. Cool. And as you bring more data into the

system and new vendors, you can keep recommending new things and new places.

Absolutely. And we're learning more and more about you

so we send you, you know, during the last two months we've sent you five fish dishes

and you thumbed down on them every single time. Well, you obviously don't like fish,

so we're gonna send that to you like once a month to see how you like that. If you still

thumb down on that, we're not gonna send you anymore fish.

So there's a whole behavioral learning process in the background. We're also building an

interface aside from this with NLP, natural language progression

Yep where we can start to have conversations with

you and more importantly how we're really going after this is like one of our main,

our first platforms that we're integrating with and building onto is Slack.

O.k. So these are chat ops that we're gonna be,

so we'll be monitoring the channel you're on on Slack and if you're talking to your

friend and you say, "I'm hungry. You want to grab lunch?" The Kraver bot saw that

pops up and says, "hey, you said you're hungry, what are you in the mood for?" So then you

start to have an actual Or if you know who the user is

conversation. Hey you're hungry

Well we do who the user is do you want to get Thai?

Exactly. We do know the user. We're not arbitrarily popping up, we're popping up for you. You

said, "I'm hungry." We pop up and say, "Hey Ben, you just said you're hungry, what are

you in the mood for? And where are you?" "You know, I'm feeling like Thai seafood soup."

"Awesome." So Kraver will actually reply in natural language, say, "Awesome, I found

four Thai seafood soups around you, here they are. Which one do you want to order?" "This

one." "Do you want it delivered or do you want to pick it up?" "You can deliver it."

"Great, done." So that ends up taking the form of a Slack

chat. In a way. Like you're talking to your friend. Your friend

says, "hey, I'm gonna go pick up some food for you."

It's like your secretary popped into the Slack conversation

And said, "hey" Like, "hey, can I just grab you, do you want

me to get this for you?" That's it.

Right. O.k. That's it. That's the experience.

Very cool. And we're looking at integrating that into

multiple platforms, chat platforms, so you'd be able to do that on by SMS, on Slack, possibly

on Facebook, on various other platforms where and at some point we'll innovate voice where

you'll just be able to you know, right now you say, "Siri," you could just say, "Kraver,

I'm hungry." Yeah.

And just have a full-on conversation with Kraver. And there would be a natural conversation

and we're learning from you and Cool

And being able to service your eating habits better and better.

So I wanted to know about what makes the technology special. You mentioned AI, you've mentioned

learning, so do you have partnerships or at least some sort of relationship with the food

vendor to dig in to the real nuance of the ingredients? Because, I guess, where I wonder

how you'll know what I didn't like is if I have a dish that is a seafood soup with tomato

and broccoli and cauliflower and broth and all of a sudden it's spicy and it's the spicy

or the cauliflower I didn't like, how do you end up, do you have the intelligence to figure

out which one of those things, like do you compare it to the other things I didn't like?

That's a great question. There will be some of that where we're trying to figure things

out, based on your behavior. But we also are in communication with you, so you can just

straight up say Oh you can tell, so when I give a thumbs down

I can say, "here's why I didn't like it?" Yeah, "Kraver, you know that was good, but

I didn't like the cauliflower in there." O.k.

You know, so next time we'll find you something that doesn't have cauliflower.

Got it. So, we have over 60 plus tags that we put

on each menu item. Wow.

That could be so that's very granular Yeah

Like we can, we can give somebody raw vegan, you know, gluten free, peanut free, with you

know, with kale, you know. Yeah, no, which is I always use this example

because I feel like people forget people get so caught up in, you know, automation, but

they forget this benefit of, this detail, the data-tagging, which is how something like

Pandora Um hmm

got so big because they had experts sitting down

they actually have people sitting down yeah, people sit down and say, "here is what

this song is these 200 things Absolutely

and that's what made it so effective. Yeah.

Is it got so granular with it Yeah

that you were able to pick the right songs because they had these extra 7 criterion behind

it. You're familiar with Trunk Club?

Yes. So we I sort of describe us, I don't know

if my partner would agree with this but, if you put Trunk Club and Pandora in a blender

and you made it about food Yes

That's what we would be Yeah,

Right? Which is great.

So we get a sense of your style, we deliver what we think you're gonna like, you can thumb

down/thumb up Yep

And we can mix it up, you can subscribe to a channel and we'll, we're more than happy

to recommend stuff to you and surprise you knowing your restrictions, knowing your preferences,

or you can choose very specific things that you want from very specific places and we'll

do that too. And it's based on a lot of detail at the end

of the day. Absolutely.

Which is what people Right

with food It's all about how robust is your data?

Yeah. Right? And so when we have people sitting

there doing a tremendous work tagging these things and they're knowledgeable, these are,

they go through some training to learn what is, about food, you know,

Yeah, What is this? What is that? What is this?

So and then they do research they actually call the restaurants and ask them, "does this

have peanuts? O.k. great." You know?

So yeah, so we don't want to get into the

delivery business because that is a whole other animal by itself and so what we're doing

is we're building partnerships with various delivery partners.

O.k. And it may be one company in New York and

another company in San Francisco and another company in L.A. It just depends on who's doing

that and we're actually building redundant relationships so multiple relationships in

the same area, so there's always a an opportunity to get timely delivery.

So with Kraver then where are you in the process? Are you looking for funding? Are you staffing?

You ramping up? Where exactly are you guys and what are you looking for?

Well, so far I have been the seed investor and a founder throughout the whole since the

beginning. Where we are now is we're looking for funding, we're looking to raise about

750,000 and well over the next month, month and a half, we're actually really ramping

up production and we're adding all kinds of we've sort of done this we're doing the hockey

stick in terms of just in terms of the product. Is that all of engineering resources?

Yeah, a lot of engineering. We're about to do a huge sort of a blitz on a lot of engineering

that we've been slow on for the last few months. We're going to be able to do transactions

actually in a couple weeks. In app?

In app transactions in the next couple weeks. And so we're adding a lot of functionality,

we're actually just we've been sort of scattered with the team in different locations. We're

opening an office, we're all gonna sort of centralize. And yeah, we're gonna start building,

you know doing some transactions and having a track record that we can then go and raise

some money. Cool. And are you guys in a beta right now?

Do you have active users yet? Beta is in a couple weeks.

In a couple weeks? O.k. We have some users right now that are friends

and family. We have maybe 100 users that are using it, but

O.k. It's not, there's no transactions. It's just

sort of experiential like. Got it.

"How's that going?" You know. We're using, we're getting a lot of feedback about, "well

this didn't work, that didn't work, this worked, this is really great, let's add to that."

But we're actually launching Beta with transactions in about two weeks.

Amazing and what cities are you doing that? We're just concentrating on L.A. right now.

We're gonna do this corridor from Downtown, West Hollywood, West Side, Santa Monica, Venice,

those are the cities where we're concentrating right now with Beta.

And how do you describe your size? Would you say with here's a number of dishes? Here's

a number of restaurants? How do you quantify the experience when you give someone the Beta?

Like, "if you use us you'll get [blank]?" Well, we literally have 10s of 1000s of items

in our database right now. Wow. O.k.

And so in each area what we'll do is, based on how specific you get with the criteria

for your for what you need, you'll get anywhere from three to six recommendations and if those

don't work for you, you just say, "I don't want any of these." Then we'll give you three

more or six more.

So enough, pulling back to a bit of a philosophical

level then, you've been involved in a lot, you've seen a lot, especially given the family

history and you know absent the roller coaster that has been your professional life, I always

have this question that I like to ask is whether or not you consider yourself successful in

this endeavor for instance or your other endeavors and what it is that makes you feel successful.

So, one thing that I'm always sensitive to is you know each culture, whether it's city-based

or country-based or religion, has this sort of idea of how one would progress through

life and be successful. You know you have a girlfriend, you get a degree, you buy a

house, you have a family and there's always this track that looks like success, smells

like success. Yep.

And so when you become an entrepreneur and you you sort of go along your own route and

you fail and you start and you fail and you succeed and it's this hodgepodge of success

and failure, it becomes a lot more difficult to gauge whether or not you're successful.

Now you could look at a bank statement but I feel like if you did that you'd never get

through the first two years of any business as an entrepreneur, so have you been successful?

Is Kraver successful? Is everything like how do you feel about what you've done and whether

or not you have succeeded in being an entrepreneur in a start-up guru?

Well that's a really loaded question. It is, entirely.

Well, you know just depends like you said it depends on different people's definition

of success, right? The Persian version of success is "did you become a doctor or engineer

or a lawyer? Do you own a house and a Mercedes?" Sounds like the Romanian of my parents, sounds

like that version of success as well. Yeah. So in that regard I guess I don't have

two kids, I have one. She is the center of my universe and so I'm extremely successful

that way, I think. In terms of finances I'm comfortable, I'm not I mean, I do a lot of

work in developing nations, I build schools, I do a lot of work with a lot of NGOs and such and

you know, compared to what's happening in the rest of the world, we are beyond successful.

Yeah. We actually something that they could never

imagine. That's a great way to look at it.

Compared to, you know, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, I don't exist.

Right. Right? It's just like so it's a loaded question.

So, how I describe it is if I'm moving forward and I'm being vital and relevant then I'm

successful. O.k.

If I'm creating I'm successful. Cool and obviously you're doing that.

Right now I'm creating. You're creating. Yeah.

And I feel very successful, I feel great.

So now that we are officially below the label

on the bottle of wine. I think we've ended the label.

Yeah, given metaphorically then get below the label and so gonna ask a couple questions,

rapid fire to get to know you a little bit better outside of the realm of start-ups and

business. So, whatever comes to your mind first when I ask these questions, you just

rattle it off. What is the or are the funniest movies of all time?

Rolling Thunder, I think is the name of it. Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black

Oh, Tropic Thunder Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder, O.k. That came to the top of your mind, Tropic Thunder?

Well, I mean there's a lot of them, but that particular one had me like I had stomach aches

laughing so hard. Tropic Thunder. What's your favorite reality

TV show of all time? What do you think the best reality TV is out there?

I mean there's a lot. I like Survivor Man. Survivor Man?

I watched Survivor Man. O.k.

That's one of my favorites. Cool.

In case I ever get stranded on an island, it's really good.

Not Naked and Afraid? That one too, but Survivor Man I have an affinity

for him. O.k. If there was one celebrity who you could

just tell to stop. Just cut the shit. Donald Trump needs to get the fuck out of

here. For good. Popular answer, I'm sure. And he counts as

celebrity. Yeah.

If you could sit front row, court side, best seats in the house to one entertainment event,

could be anything, could be theater, could be sports, whatever, what would you take?

I want to watch Kobe's final game. Kobe's final game as a Laker?

Yep. This year.

Yep. Court side.

That would be That's gonna be an expensive ticket.

That would be probably a million dollar ticket, I don't know. But that would be awesome.

Next to Jack, maybe. Yeah.

Window seat or aisle seat on a plane? Aisle seat.

Why? Freedom, no restriction, don't have to ask

anybody to move for me to move. I can always see the view.

If someone handed you a check right now for $10 billion to use at your own personal discretion,

no responsibility, no requirements to investors, just $10 billion cash, all yours. What are

the first couple things you'd do with that money?

Take $100 million for myself and my family, set up--and this is only because it's $10

billion, the numbers would change if it was a billion dollars

Yep So, take about $100 million and sort of accommodate

life in the future for myself, my daughter all that. And then take the other $9.9 billion

and start building schools and clinics all around the world. Oh

Medical clinics? and you know what else? Medical clinics. In

developing nations. And one of the other things I would do is probably set up a scholarship

and start a lobbying firm to make it mandatory for all high school students in the United

States to have to go spend two weeks in a developing nation learning about that culture.

And is that for education, perspective, both? It's so we don't end up with people like Trump.

Got it. Have 'em understand what's out there other

than what they hear on Fox. Fair.

If I catch you buy yourself in your car, in your bedroom, where ever, and you're just

grooving to a tune, you're singing out loud, whatever you're doing that's weird by yourself

that has to do with music, what are you probably listening to?

I listen to a really wide range of things. O.k.

Mostly electonica these days. Like EDM

Like track music, yeah, like EDM O.k.

that kind of thing. Trance, that kind of thing. But I have a really, you know, I have a wide

range. One time I lent my car to my nephew, he was like 20 something, he takes my car

and he calls me like 5 minutes later from the car, he's like, "Uncle," I'm like, "Yeah?"

He's like, "what the fuck?" I'm like, "what?" He says, "what is this?" And he plays, I have

Japanese kabuki music going on in my car. He said, "what is this? Why you listening

to Japanese kabuki?" So I listen to everything. I listen to Chinese opera.

But if you could sing along to Japanese kabuki music, I'd be really impressed.

I totally can. The ones that I listen to all the time, I've learned it all.

O.k. What trait will your favorite type of person have?

They will love unconditionally. Love unconditionally?

Yeah. O.k. What trait will your most annoying type

of person have? Just Donald Trump. Just go with that.

O.k. What's something at which you're really, really good at that has nothing to do with

your job? Zero O.k. if I had to say that I've mastered one

thing like truly mastered this thing in my life, it's backgammon.

Really? Believe it or not. I will take on the world

champion. Huh! There's that much skill involved? I don't

know. Isn't there dice involved? There's dice, but

a die? that's even more of a need for skill because

you have to account for that. Oh, you're good at rolling?

No, I'm good at strategizing so that the dice become less relevant.

Interesting. So.

Backgammon. What's something at which you are just fucking terrible? What can you just

not really do very well at all? Shouldn't be that hard, there's gotta be something.

You don't wanta act like there's nothing, there's gotta be something.

No, there's a lot, there's a lot. I'm having a hard time choosing which one to talk about.

I have a hard time getting into the minutiae of like you know I sort of operate business,

I'll put it in the context of business, I have a hard time, you know, I'll work on strategy,

I'll work on policy, I'll work on that kind of thing, but you have to sit now and write

the policy out. Right.

You know? That's painful, that's just absolutely painful.

Minutiae? Right, minutiae.

Got it.

That's it for rapid fire, anything you want

to leave us with, any final thoughts you want to say about Kraver about your other business?

Life? Anything? Any final thoughts at all? Yeah, you know, I will make a recommendation.

Yeah. Google A Slendid Torch by George Bernard Shaw

O.k. And that's the banner on my Facebook page.

A Splendid Torch? A Splendid Torch by George Bernard Shaw

Is it an essay, is it a book? No, it's a short, it's a short like two paragraphs.

O.k. So, yeah, check that out. Bring unconditional

love and light everywhere you go to everything you do. That's my recommendation.

Great. And that concludes the bottle of wine and the conversation.

All right. Cheers.

Thank you so much. Thanks for being on Uncorked.

This was really fun. This was great. Thank you.

Thank you.

The Description of Von Raees CEO of Kraver: UnCorked Episode 1