Vator Splash Gives a Boost to Local Entrepreneurs

Vator, a San Francisco-based organization that champions the startup scene, came to Santa Monica last week, parking ocean-side for a day at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica.

Mark Cuban mixes it up with fans at the Loews Hotel after his talk.

The reason for the visit was to host its popular Vator Splash startup event, to identify promising startups and funding for deals.  From start to finish, it was an action-packed day.

Mark Cuban of Shark Tank fame was one of the headline attractions. Bambi Francisco, CEO and Founder of Vator, got Cuban to discuss how Cuban sold garbage bags door to door in Pittsburgh as a young man.

Nick Green, founder of Thrive Market, talks with Vator CEO Bambi Francisco.

As Cuban puts it, he was the first kid to start a garbage bag route. That’s how he got his start – so he could buy tennis shoes.  Today he makes his own kids earn money in order to buy what they want.

Given that we are in the middle of a presidential election, it was probably inevitable that politics snuck into the conversation as well.

A questioner from the audience took Cuban to task over Cuban’s support for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

At first, Cuban said, he was intrigued by Trump, because Trump wasn’t a professional politician and he wasn’t scripted, said Cuban.

Erik Rannala, co-founder of Mucker Capital; Alex Taussig, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners; and Eric Manlunas, a co-founder with Wavemaker Partners.

“Then he started talking,” added Cuban, drawing laughs from several in the audience – but not from his questioner, who was clearly very anti-Hillary Clinton and very pro-Trump.

The exchange got pretty heated between Cuban and his questioner, and it would have been tempting for Francisco to try and cut this particular political conversation short, but Cuban was happy to engage.

To watch a video of Mark Cuban being interviewed by Bambi Francisco at Vator Splash, go to:

Bianca Gates of Birdies and Toni Ko of Perverse Sunglasses.

After the Cuban interview, it was back to business.  Several speakers were interviewed by different moderators for the purpose of learning “how they did it.”

Tri Tran, who escaped Vietnam on a boat at age 11, started a highly successful home-delivery catering service called Munchery.  Munchery has its own team of cooks and the menu changes daily.

Brandon Williams is the co-founder and hardware lead for a digital game board called playTable, made by Prizm.

Nick Green of Thrive Market just raised a financing round of $111 million.  Thrive Market is kind of a “Whole Foods meets Costco Online” play.  The company’s goal is to make healthy living affordable for paying members.  Members can save over 30% compared to buying at Whole Foods, according to Green.

Toni Ko, originally from South Korea, started a makeup and beauty supply company at age 25.  She recently sold her company to L’Oreal for $500 million.  Ko is now selling inexpensive but fashionable sunglasses via Perverse Sunglasses.

Ko urged entrepreneurs to not overspend, even if they get funded – or maybe especially if they get funded.

“Don’t spend like a rockstar,” she said, “unless you are a rockstar.  And even if you’re a rockstar, don’t spend like a rockstar.”

Lawrence Coburn of DoubleDutch has one word of advice: “Focus.”

DoubleDutch founder Lawrence Coburn said maintaining a singular focus is critical to success.  It’s easy to try and chase too many opportunities all at once.

DoubleDutch specializes in “live engagement marketing,” connecting attendees and events.  “Boring and big markets are awesome,” he added.

Bianca Gates discussed her fun, fashionable and very comfortable footwear line called Birdies.  Birdies are “slippers with style” women can put on after getting home from work.

Mike Jones, CEO of Santa Monica-based Science, talks with Jonathan Scheiber, senior editor at TechCrunch.

There was a pitching contest, and judges picked those ideas they thought held the most promise in the near-term.

One was “Industry,” which matches up prospective service and hospitality workers with restaurants, hotels and caterers in need of help.  See

Another was ArbiClaims, which hosts inexpensive arbitration hearings via online video.  CEO Stephen Kane said the company’s first focus would be on those who would normally find themselves in Small Claims Court.  ArbiClaims hopes to reduce court caseloads everywhere.

Eric Manlunas, co-founder of Wavemaker Partners (see said he thought the marriage of content and hardware – virtual reality – is where the magic will happen in coming years, but possibly not as quickly as many hope or believe.

Dana Settle of Greycroft Partners; Brian Lee, CEO of The Honest Company; and Mike Jones of Science.

Mike Jones of Science, a Santa Monica based incubator and venture fund, said a fragmented industry can often spell opportunity.  He discussed a small regional company in the Midwest that built an app that connects homeowners with those who mow grass.

Soon the app maker added leaf blowing and snowplowing services.  This company is really taking off, according to Jones. A seemingly small business idea, powered by the right mobile app, can really scale, he added.

Science (see was an early supporter of Dollar Shave Club, a local company that parlayed clever videos into a growing business that was soon enough bought by Unilever for nearly $1 billion.

Several entrepreneurs had booths set up in an exhibition hall. displayed a prototype for an electronic gaming table called playTable that allows players to play several traditional board games, all on the same digital board.

Notice the industrial two-way communications device on this man’s wrist. The device is made by RufusLabs.

By clicking on various icons on the playTable, the game board instantly changes from one game to another.  The system can keep score and one set of physical game pieces (with sensors on the bottom) work for all games.

Another startup in the gaming space that was in attendance was Jump.Game, which has a platform that allows players to play any online video game from one single screen.

This is difficult today, because many games require a specific type of equipment (PlayStation, Xbox, etc.).  The Jump platform overcomes this issue.  For more information, see is an old-fashioned buyer’s layaway program, only all done via mobile app. takes pocket change left over from online purchases and then stores them up in an electronic piggy bank.

The shopper lets the system know what she is looking for – most of’s customers are female – and, when ready, the app facilitates a direct purchase. There is no credit involved; either the buyer has the funds or she doesn’t. was showcasing a communications tool one can wear on his or her wrist – bigger and more accessible than a watch.  The device has great potential in industrial settings where workers have to manage logistics, according to a company representative.

Bambi Francisco, CEO of Vator. allows everyday people to upload videos of themselves describing products they like. If a viewer agrees, there is a quick online pathway to purchase. sells cannabis paraphernalia, employing a TupperWare sales model. sells a razor blade system that heats up, providing for an easier and smoother shave. finds members seats on private airlines. facilitates the production and purchase of digital billboard space across the country, all from one dashboard.

It was a busy day, with lots and lots of energy in the room. Said Eva Ho of Fika Ventures: “It has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in LA.”

Kate of “Heartbeat” discusses the power of Heartbeat’s growing army of female millennial ambassadors. These fans discuss products they love on Instagram.

There are more engineering (programming) grads in LA than anywhere else in the country, according to Ho, and more and more of them are deciding they want to stay right here.

Ezra Roizen, business adviser and now author, talked about his new book, Magic Box Paradigm.  He said it takes a long time to put together a deal – and that even when you think you have a deal, it can all unravel at the end.

“Your value to a buyer,” he said, “is a function of the perceived scarcity of what you have to offer.”  It’s always best, Roizen added, if an entrepreneur can convince a funder or buyer that the idea was the buyer’s idea in the first place.

For more information about this Vator Splash event, go to: