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,
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.
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
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
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 50¢ 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.