New Zahn Startup Discusses the Art of the Pivot

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Yesterday, we welcomed all CCNY students back to campus. While many spent it getting in some well-deserved R&R, our students were hard at work getting a jumpstart on the Lean Startup Bootcamp. By the end of the semester, they’ll learn the ins and outs of running a business. And of course, they’ll each present their innovations to the City College community at Demo Day and compete for $150,000 in prizes at the Final Pitch.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be cool to get to know them? We think so. Each week, we’ll introduce you to one of the startups competing this year for these prizes in an interview. And although this blog seems long, it’s a quick read!

This week, let me introduce you to Runr (formerly Vendr), a contender for the 2017 Zahn Technology Prize. Like many of us at City College, the Runr team is really sick of delivery services like Seamless and Grubhub failing to properly serve campus (it’s not entirely their fault, we do have one single address for almost 10 blocks of buildings). For someone not familiar with campus, it’s very difficult to navigate, and usually requires the hungry patron meeting their delivery person on a corner at the edge of campus. Often I ask myself, if I’m leaving the building, why am I ordering takeout anyway?

Runr plans to solve this problem. They will create a hyper-local delivery service meant for campuses that allows college students to delivery to other college students. The great thing about their model is that it also creates an easy job for a student to pick up in between classes.

The idea developed from their original idea, which was to bring more technology to food trucks and street vendors. Can we say pivot?

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I sat down with Mahmoud (Moody) Khedr, a sophomore applied psychology/economics major and the mastermind behind Runr and his team, made up of Kevin Navarra, a recent business and finance graduate (yes, of Migo and Frip fame), and Nashid Chowdury and Mikhail Foenko, juniors studying computer science and computer engineering respectively. We talked about how they got involved with Zahn, why they applied, and what they hope to get out of the program.

Zahn: So…no food trucks, huh?

MK: Haha, yeah, we’ve made a big pivot. Part of the plan is to focus on small business in general. Maybe the original Vendr will come to life eventually.

Zahn: Cuz you know how much I love food trucks…

MK: I do too! That’s how I came up with the idea. I eat a lot of halal, and I wondered why someone like Halal Guys made it big, and other street vendors don’t ever expand to more than one cart. I talked to my halal guy, and realized that he was missing the technology he needed to expand. We wanted to bring technology to him and other vendors like him.

KN: But we kept thinking of the problem and how we’d execute it…we’d have to get enough users to go the vendors…so instead we created more utility for delivery and connectivity.

Zahn: How did you get involved in the project, Kevin?

KN: Well I got to know Moody through Zahn, and we started bouncing ideas off of each other until we settled on Vendr.

Zahn: I feel like a lot of people say “oh I met them through Zahn” (meaning the Zahn Center and its programs). How did you first get involved with the Zahn Center?

KN: Zahn was an accident. I wanted to extra credit for my senior design class last year so I applied with Migo. But I got addicted. Migo didn’t win, and we weren’t asked to join the Summer Accelerator, so I joined Frip’s team. I learned so much over the summer, from meeting with investors, building a bigger team, and raising funds. I had to do it again.

NC: I also became involved with the Zahn Center by accident. As a freshman I was sitting in the library looking for programs to join on campus because I was very involved in High School and felt like I needed to stay that way. The guy sitting next to me saw what I was doing and told me to check out the Zahn Center, and that’s how I got involved. I was an intern through their program, and I’ve applied to the Competition with my own idea. When Moody told me about Vendr, I just had to get involved.

Zahn: And Mikhail? How did you get involved?

MF: I went to the Networking Session at the end of last semester, where we could meet the startups of the new cohort. This idea was the only idea that stuck out to me because it was realistic. The world is bringing technology to places where it didn’t exist before. With Vendr, and now Runr, we can very quickly make a big impact. And if not, we’ll pivot again.

Zahn: And Moody, we all know you pretty much live here.

MK: Yeah, I think I came to the Zahn Center after my freshman orientation. I applied to the internship program, and have since been a part of the Entrepreneurship Student Club and the University Innovation Fellows. I’m finally a part of the competition now though.

Zahn: Speaking of the competition, what are you most excited about?

MK: I’m pumped about getting customers, meeting mentors and investors, and working with the other startups. And learning how we can beat them…just kidding!

MF: But seriously, we’ve been researching them.

Zahn: I mean, do you think you’re in a good place already?

KN: We’re pretty solid with the way we’re moving, we’re all motivated to keep going. But my biggest fear is not going fast enough. We’ve been working pretty much full time schedules all winter.

MF: Same, I’m afraid of slowing down. And not having an idea to pivot to is scary. There’s no Plan B now.

NC: I don’t know, I always think, it doesn’t matter if it works out the way that you want, so long as it works out.

MK: Whoa.

Zahn: Yeah, wow, that’s a quote that belongs on a calendar. And it’s a perfect example of the entrepreneurial mindset. I personally think that a lot of CCNY students have the entrepreneurial mindset alive within them. I mean, you’re literally called strivers at CCNY. What advice do you have for students on campus who may be hesitant about getting involved?

KN: I’m not sure everyone is cut out for it. You have to be open to change, and change makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

MK: But a lot of people won’t know if they like it unless they try it. And why not try it now?

NC: When I was younger, I didn’t want to be part of startup because I had this perception that they were lazy, worked out of their parents’ basement, and didn’t make any money. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Startups work a lot harder than what people give them credit for, and some people aren’t cut out for it. I certainly never thought I’d do it.

MF: Yeah, a lot of people aren’t open to it. They want the nice house, the 9-5. Do what makes you happy, but I don’t want to do that.

Zahn: Right. Definitely do what makes you happy, but you’ve gotta stay scrappy. Especially in today’s world, you never know how the economy will tilt, and you have to be self-sufficient and able to make it work, no matter what.

MK: What’s your quote again, Nashid?

NC: It doesn’t matter if it works out the way that you want, so long as it works out.

Exactly.

We can’t wait to see how Runr evolves, and we hope you’ll keep following their story (along with the rest of our startups) on our social media pages.