Building His Brand
CAPE Helps Online Retailer Start Up Right
After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2007, Matt Lehr worked for a public relations firm for a year but really wanted to start his own business. He thought of applying for an MBA program but decided he’d rather learn hands-on. So he moved back to his native Bay Area, got together with a partner and launched iCoupon.
His business sold products to local businesses at a discount through a website (similar to the original Groupon model), and he and his partner did everything themselves, including investing their own money. It was a roller-coaster ride.
“We had our ups and downs,” he says. “We had plenty of failures, but also some large successes, including being featured on the Today Show and Lifetime Channel.”
That first business was successfully sold in early 2012, and one of the things Lehr cites as a factor in its success — as well as helping him immensely in his current business — was taking part in the Leavey School of Business’s first CAPE program for entrepreneurs.In 2010, he saw a news story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the launching of CAPE — the California Program for Entrepreneurship, a six-month weekend program — by the business school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He applied and was accepted for the initial Class of 2010.
“So many aspects of starting a business were beyond our grasp and understanding,” Lehr says. “CAPE was a crash course of MBA-level seminars in subjects like law, accounting and management. We were getting top information from very smart people, and it was pertinent to what we were doing.”
As an example of the direct practical impact of the CAPE program, he cited the fact that based on what he learned at the seminars and from contacts there, he changed the structure of his current business, On Point Production, incorporating it as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which was more appropriate to what it was doing. Legal seminars at CAPE were also first-rate. “I have friends who are attorneys who’ve said they couldn’t explain it (business law) as well,” Lehr says.
He also cited the assignment of a mentor to his business as an immensely helpful experience, saying he still calls on his CAPE mentor two years later and gets “so many ideas we never thought of” from the mentor. “I still run stuff by him to this day,” he says, “
After selling iCoupon, Lehr launched On Point Production, which operates out of an office and warehouse near the UC campus in Berkeley. Its focus is on selling merchandise online in five general areas: jewelry, outerware, handbags, watches and technology products.
“The vast majority of what we do now is running our own brands,” Lehr says. Sales, almost entirely online, jumped fourfold from year one to year two, and one of On Point’s goals is to leverage its connections it has made with several major retailers’ online arms into developing a presence in their stores. “We’re hoping to have much more saturation in the brick-and-mortar retail market within the next year,” he says.
On Point’s different products aim to fill different niches. Clothing and jewelry, he says, are well made and targeted toward the higher end of the market, with lower margins owing to the discounts offered to attract initial customers. Handbags are mid to upper market, competing with brands like Coach and Michael Kors.
Last but not least, Lehr credits the CAPE program with teaching him how to make a proper pitch to investors and with connecting him to them.
“The contacts I made through CAPE got me in front of some of the biggest and wealthiest venture capitalists in the world,” he says. “That speaks to Santa Clara University being at the heart of Silicon Valley, and it’s changed where I am today.”