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Robina Verbeek and Susanna Twarog, Co-Founders of SOS

We often get too caught up in getting ready for the day or for a trip and don't notice that we've left important things behind. And, more often than not, we find ourselves stuck in a situation where we cannot access health and wellness products when we need them. Robina Verbeek and Susanna Twarog, co-founders of the innovative start-up SOS, join J.R. Lowry to share how their vision was formed. They sit together to discuss the importance of access to premium health and wellness products on the go. Robina and Susanna share how they redesigned and reimagined the concept of vending machines and availability of personal essentials through SOS. Listen in and learn more as they tackle how they deploy a new generation of smart vending machines and continue to build their company.

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Robina Verbeek And Susanna Twarog, Co-Founders Of Innovative Start-Up SOS

 

On The Joys And Travails Of Co-Founding A Business Focused On Re-Defining Wellness On-The-Go

 

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming two guests to the show, Robina Verbeek and Susanna Twarog. They are the Co-Founders of SOS, which is transforming wellness on the go through a network of smart vending machines that deliver just-in-time necessities where and when you need them. Each machine offers modern premium health and wellness products from brands such as Cora, First Aid Beauty, Hero Cosmetics, Megababe, Kosas, and Ursa Major. The company's design-first hardware features a large engaging touchscreen and serves as a visually rich advertising and marketing platform.

SOS participated in Techstars 2020, one of the leading startup accelerator programs. Robina and Susanna jointly hold seven patents that underpin SOS's vending machines. Prior to co-founding SOS, Robina worked at State Street for almost ten years, which is where she and I met. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and also did studies in Amsterdam and Bologna. Susanna also worked at State Street, and prior to that, at Brown Brothers Harriman. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. Robina lives in San Francisco. Susanna lives in Boston. They are managing the company from both coasts of the US.

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Welcome to you both.

Thank you for having us.

Your story is an interesting one, and I want to get right to it. Tell the audience a little bit more about SOS and how the two of you zeroed in on this idea for the business. I know you met at State Street, so what's the backstory?

The vision for SOS is to transform access to premium health and wellness products on-the-go. That vision was born in a moment when Susanna and I were at work on the trading floor, leading our careers, focused on building client relationships, building collegial relationships with peers in the workplace, and consistently found ourselves unable to access health and wellness products when we needed them whether those were menstrual care products, hair ties, deodorant, or simple things that people need when they leave the house.

This is a problem that is universal. It is something that happens when you are at work, an airport, a hotel, or a restaurant. There is a lot of application and persistency in terms of the problem that we are solving, and that was one of the big things that we were most excited about when we had this vision to transform this space as there is a very broad application for what we have created. We knew that from the very beginning, vending machines, which are the most logical distribution channel for something like this, needed an update.

Most vending machines conjure these horrible images in people's minds of pretty broken devices that are sitting in a basement somewhere. From the first initial moments, we knew that we wanted to redesign and reimagine that concept and set forth to create the first of its kind SOS machine that now does hold those patents that you mentioned earlier.

We pride ourselves on being a design-first hardware company. It is something that we think about every day. We think about how the hardware elevates [the business model] and how one would interact with our devices, whether they are in a lobby, office, or sports stadium. It'll continue to be a big area of focus for us as we evolve into the next generation of machines and additional markets as we continue to build the company.

Founding stories are always interesting to me. What were those early months like for the two of you?

The early months were some of the more exciting months that we have had since founding the company. From the moment that we had the idea and we started to work on a business plan, we have been working furiously on nights and weekends. [It is] all-consuming in the sense that there is no moment where we are not thinking about the business and how we can make this vision come to fruition. From the moment we had the idea, we immediately decided that we were going to build this business and we sought to tap into our personal networks.

[Susanna speaking] I come from a family of lawyers. Robina comes from a family of entrepreneurs and artists. We both took our own resources and got in touch with a patent attorney to start to frame out from a legal perspective what building the business would look like if it was possible. Robina tapped into some of her networks to identify resources that we could work with them from a design perspective. There was a lot of attention to detail and a lot of attention spent in those early days, weeks, and months putting a framework in place that would allow us to take this concept and this vision to become a business and [bring] a piece of hardware to life.

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-Up

Financial education and business planning are skill sets that can be retained and are applicable in a star-up environment.

 

Practically speaking, what that meant was we were working around the clock. We would wake up, we were on the trading floor for the market open, and would work a full day. The day would end. We would walk over to a conference space in Susanna's building at the time. This was years ago. She has since moved, but in this conference room that was ironically called the Innovation Room, we would sit there for another four hours, sometimes longer than that. I would then commute all the way back home, which was an hour. It is easily twenty-hour days for a long time working together. What fueled us was this blank canvas. What we are building does not exist.

It is an exciting space for a human to go and create something. There is something very fundamental about the human experience that seeks out ways to create and shape things. We were very much fueled by that and fueled by the collaboration between the two of us. We'd have these moments where ideas would start pinging back between the two of us and we'd continue to build on them in terms of market strategy or the stakeholders that we could bring in. It was a very exciting time.

Neither of you is an engineer or designer by background. To me, it is particularly interesting that you chose to pick a hardware business. You mentioned a little bit about seeking out that expertise, but talk a little bit more about how that whole process unfolded for two non-engineers to design a hardware product and get those seven patents. I'm pretty impressed.

Thank you. A lot of it was sheer willpower. You can imagine people told us constantly we did not know what we were talking about and we did not. They were right. We did not have the ability to speak the same language when we finally did identify an industrial design firm to work with. We did not have that same framework. What we had to do was find in our own way a productive manner to work together and convey our ideas in a way that translated.

Over time, we have gotten much better at that. We understand for instance [that we need to develop a] scope of work and what that means in the context of a design project and the type of details that need to go into that as we have continued to iterate on the hardware over the years. We have started to become a lot smarter and more agile in how we work with those different types of partners. It is part of the beginning. We did not have not just the experience, but we also did not have any relationships in these worlds. We are fusing retail, real estate, and hardware, and we came from finance, so that did not have any benefit for us, unfortunately, in those early days.

Part of beginning to try to understand and dip our toe in the water with these industries when we had no clue what they were about was refusing to hear a "no" as an explanation. A simple example of that is if you have seen our machines in the market, they have rounded edges. A lot of vending machine hardware that is in the world has square edges. From the very beginning, Robina and I said, "We want this machine to be a round, curvy, and attractive piece of hardware that is design-first, and it is different than anything that exists for women. Women are curvy and want the machines to be aesthetically pleasing."

We got told, "No" and we said, "Tell us why." We had no experience with steel manufacturing and fabrication, but we refused to let a vendor or a third party tell us "no" and not get an explanation of why. Ultimately, that ferocity has paid off because we have ended up with a product that looks identical to the product that we had imagined and dreamed could exist. We maintained that passion and insistence that we needed solid answers to be certain that something was not possible before we walked away and decided to move on.

Did you fund your own operations or did you get outside funding right from the get-go?

We each invested in the business initially, so that was our startup funding, so to speak, which was scary. We are working hard to build these careers in finance and we effectively each dumped our savings into the business. It is not cheap to build hardware in the world and we very much understand that because we put our own capital into this enterprise. That initial funding helped put the bill for a lot of the patents and the initial design work and the CAD renderings that we developed in those early days, but we soon did need to raise outside funding.

While we were still working at the bank, we went and raised a round of funding that would allow us to continue to develop those prototypes because, at that point, we were still pre-production and pre-prototype. We were able to manage the day job with the evening job because we were able to tap into these third parties.

[bctt tweet="Give people a chance to do something that nobody's done before. " username=""]

Coming back to the patent aspect, did you tap into your family's legal connections, Susanna, to work that piece of it?

Coming from a family of lawyers, I always have run things by my parents or my sister, all of whom are lawyers. The initial idea I ran by my father, who supported it immediately, which is an exception for him since he is a pretty practical guy. He initially responded and said, "We should set up a meeting at Mintz, which is a Boston-based firm, and speak to a patent attorney.” For Robina and me, that was a capital outlay initially that we had to commit to.

This was not free. This was going to be engaging with a law firm and having a statement of work for a project where we had no idea what the outcome would be, but it was important to make the vision and the idea real by investing capital into a legal team to work with us that was not family. While my family members will happily look over an agreement and, for instance, they helped us set up our first operating agreement for free, which was very much appreciated.

We did intentionally invest in hiring our own counsel and also engaging in a proper statement of work with the contract manufacturer and design firm that we identified through Robina's family. While we did tap into and were very lucky to have resources help us, we engaged informal working relationships pretty much from the beginning, which has paid off, to be honest, given the fact that we did that so early on.

A lot of early-stage companies would not have invested in seeking patents and getting the protection with all the legal costs that go with that, so it is certainly going to help you in the long run.

We did get a friends and family discount for sure. Our investors are happy about that.

Robina, I know you come from a family of entrepreneurs, as we've talked about a couple of times. How did they help you in terms of their expertise? Susanna mentioned one of the ways, but how did they help you more generally?

One of my uncles has an industrial design firm in Holland and he has worked with a lot of clients worldwide over the years on various hardware initiatives. He would probably call himself a hardware entrepreneur as well. It is interesting because I've never spoken to him about business in my entire life, but then I told him this idea and said, "Is your company a company that we could work with in these early days to help put a design together that an engineer could interpret and a manufacturing team could produce?" That is exactly what he does and that is the learning that we had.

Most people do not know that in the world of hardware, you have an industrial design firm that brainstorms with you and creates what is called a CAD rendering. It is a 3D model of what you want to build. It is built in a way that could be handed to a manufacturer and then fabricated. That was an important exercise for us early on to go through that with the design team, and then we worked with them to identify our initial contract manufacturer.

As a kid, did you envision yourself becoming an entrepreneur and continuing the family tradition?

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-Up

For anyone starting a new venture, finding a partner that you can lean on when times get tough and help bring you up when you're having a bad day is integral to the journey.

 

My family never understood why I went into banking the way that I did. I always had an entrepreneurial itch, and for a long time, certainly once Susanna and I became friends at work, we would toss these ideas around to one another. Some of them were nuts. I can't even remember all of them because we got so homed in on this one when she came over to my desk that day, but we were both so ready to do something completely different from what we were doing day-to-day at that time.

When she came over with this idea, it was like, "This is a no-brainer. We need to go pursue this." I knew from a very early age that I would want to work for myself one day and that has also been a key driver for me. This autonomy and ability to create and build things that you want to, which is on point now since we have a team and we have secured funding to go build this company, is a real privilege that not many people have. We feel very lucky and fortunate to be in the place that we are now.

What about you, Susanna? Did you envision being an entrepreneur as a kid, or what were your childhood visions?

I don't think I even knew what the word entrepreneur was as a child, but I was always looking at the world through the lens of, "Why can't this be better? Why is it this way? Why is this something messy, not done right, or inefficient?" Over the years, my family, particularly my father, would get the occasional email or call from me, asking him about an idea or telling them about something that I thought might be patentable.

When he got the call from me about SOS, I was like, "I have an idea. This is the one." It was not intentionally because I was dying to be an entrepreneur, but it was because I had constantly been looking around, seeing the world with that vision or lens where there is so much room for improvement and there is such a wide audience who is impacted by this horrible, awful, problem, and we should be the people to solve it. I ended up being an entrepreneur. My family probably would say that they always thought I would be, but I did not necessarily.

You both worked in big financial firms before making this jump, how did the experience of working in the financial services industry and a big company help you and not help you in terms of making that shift into what you are doing now?

We have talked a little bit about how it did not help. It was not relevant in the context of subject matter expertise and the networks we had built to that point. Also, they were not very relevant for what we were building from a capital P product perspective, meaning the machines themselves, but we talk a lot about the professional experience that we gained working in that environment.

The front office [sales] experience that we gained [was useful], the ability to build relationships and networks, close deals, negotiate terms, and think about the business operations. What are the goal setting or frameworks that you need in place daily, weekly, or monthly to manage a team? What are the kinds of requirements that you need to build and bring new ideas to market? What's your go-to-market strategy?

A lot of the business planning and business strategy elements that we were exposed to in our work have translated into some of the frameworks that we use at the company. We have OKRs [objectives and key results] and KPIs [key performance indicators]. We even run a small-scale structured working method, which has led to a lot of productivity and amazing output and traction early on.

That deal-making expertise that both Susanna and I had from a pretty young age in the finance world has also paid dividends because whether we are selling a financial service or we are selling SOS, [we have the] ability to interact with executives and very senior members of leadership teams in various organizations. That is a skill set that is retained and is applicable in our new environment. I do not know what the right word is per se, but that education, so to speak, was very helpful.

[bctt tweet="It’s better to move more into an eliciting position than a directing position." username=""]

Corporate grooming might be some of what has paid off in terms of those executive-level relationships to be able to carry ourselves, especially in the early years of founding a company. In terms putting on a good show, telling the story, and gaining trust and confidence from executives is something that we had both spent a lot of time in our careers working on professionally. It is something that we have had to continue to do and it's certainly very important for running this company going forward.

Fast forward a little bit to now to give a state of play. You started this back in 2017, and so few years in, where are you in terms of deployments and people working in the organization and all of that?

[Here's] quick rundown of where we are now. We have gone through, at this point, three rounds of funding. That funding allowed us to bring our initial machines to market in 2020. Our initial installs were in Boston at very premium and well-known enterprises and venues like the Prudential Center, Fenway Park, and South Station. We were very proud of that and we have continued to build on those initial installations to continue to build out a very robust pipeline of clients, cities, and locations where we are going to be bringing SOS this year.

As you mentioned, I live in San Francisco, which happened at the end of 2021, in terms of my move, which has brought an entirely new lens to the company about how we think about bringing SOS out west and expanding the business here. For us, we have a target of getting to hundreds of machines in the market as soon as possible. We are very well positioned to do that with the clients that we are working with. It is amazing, [from] when we started to now, the types of conversations that we are having with executives.

In the beginning, it was a matter of convincing people that this was needed and there has been so much that has happened in the world that the conversations now are around locations wanting SOS in their offices because they perceive it as the standard for health and wellness. One of our initial learnings, we are two women, and we were focused on a very female problem, but our first customer was a man.

This concept of building a business for everybody and thinking about our positioning in the market, and evolving has been another learning that we have had over the last few years that we'll carry on into the future [in terms of the] go to market strategy for the company. We are a team of twelve right now. We are going to be expanding. We are probably going to be raising another round this fall. For us, we want to build a national brand, and we won't stop working on this until we do, knowing how far we have come already.

You've stuck with it for a few years. You have seen the hardest days in terms of having that faith in yourself. Everybody always says to be an entrepreneur, you have to be an optimist. You have to have an incredibly strong sense of conviction to stick with it. Otherwise, you'd give up. You've made it this far.

One of the things we did not talk about, but it is an interesting point for folks that have never started a company, [is our partnership]. It was fairly serendipitous that Susanna and I started this venture together. We had never necessarily formally discussed starting a business together. One of the greatest surprises and delights that we would both say SOS has brought us is this business partnership. We had never worked together in this way ever.

For anyone starting a new venture, finding a co-founder and a partner that you can lean on when times get tough and can help bring you up when you are having a bad day and vice versa has been so integral to this journey. It is an important point to raise for anyone that is reading and thinking about doing this. Finding a person where you feel like, "I could go through the trenches with them." We were blessed to find in one another without knowing or vetting each other in that way beforehand.

How do the two of you complement each other?

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-Up

Think about the resources you can tap into to ensure that you’re providing your clients with best-in-class service.

 

It is like a lightning striking to have a partnership like ours, in the sense that from that founding story at that moment where we had the idea, stepping into a conference room, and investing our own capital, we have been truly in lockstep with the commitment and passion that we put into this business from the very beginning and have worked through and invested in, having tools as a partnership to get us through the hard times.

From a co-founder perspective, Robina mentioned that being collaborative leaders and running this company makes the highs so much higher. The celebrations with one another during our process are wonderful. On the downside, the bad days, weeks, months, or even almost an entire bad year [have been] easier to survive because we have [had] one another to lean on.

You asked how we complement one another. We are fairly aligned strategically on what we are trying to build, which is very important. We do challenge one another. As the business has grown and especially in the past year, have started to divide and conquer in terms of the verticals that our business touches, and that is proving to be quite successful.

We are there as support and the ability to check one another when we are decision-making on important factors, but we are able to take components of the business where there is a little bit of edge or there is a bit of an alignment on a skillset and lean in on those verticals to be more productive and to also work with a growing team.

Other fun facts. I [Robina] am a night owl. Susanna is the early bird. I am the blonde. She is a brunette. I am a little taller, but over the years, we mastered this dance together of, if I am having an off day with a client and I feel like, "I've got to step it up and put on my best act," and I am not up for it, she is someone that can step in and do the same song and dance. This interchangeability is powerful between the two of us, but as she mentioned, our recent focus has been on efficiency and productivity of the team.

Figuring out what those verticals are that I would run with or she is going to run with has been a great additional recent evolution of our partnership, which is paying real dividends. We have such trust in one another at this point that it makes that a lot easier, because if something is in her court, it is going to get done.

Having that strong connection, the alignment that you have both described, the ability to depend on each other, and know that it will work out if you are maybe not at your peak, as you were saying Robina, is a huge advantage to have in a co-founder. The two of you are lucky. How have you filled in around yourselves? What do you look for in your team? What's most important to you?

There are so many spaces and places we need help.

From the beginning, and I think back to our corporate experience and being in finance and the roles that we held, we have never been shy about outsourcing what we are not good at, finding experts to ask for their advice, and bringing in people, teams, or vendors who fill the gaps. As non-technical founders, we clearly come to the table in a hardware business with a lot of gaps and we haven't ever shied away from saying, "Let's identify the right resource. Let's find the right person to bring in."

Prior to [hiring] any additional team members, in terms of the working relationships and the people we would ask for advice, we have had a very open mind to identify great people, great teams, and great vendors. I will pass it to Robina to talk about the team-building component and our first hire, but we have been very intentional and very open-minded to having the right people around us, from advisors to investors and also now team members.

[bctt tweet="Keep moving forward. You need to be in motion and moving. Otherwise, you will get outpaced. " username=""]

On the team side, one of the greatest stories we can tell is our first ever hire worked at our first-ever location and saw what we were doing and was like, "I want to go work on that. That looks fun." She came in as a generalist. She came in with no formal experience in a typical tech product role but has evolved into our product manager, and she is exceptional.

We are extremely fortunate to have someone like her. Her attitude and perseverance, like ours, fuel the team and the folks that are reporting to her, which is amazing, not only for her as a manager but also as a person, [making] this evolution over the last couple of years. She has moved into a more specialized role from that initial general entry point.

As we think about gaps, we were able to bring in one of our earliest investors as our head of strategy and growth. In 2021, that was tremendous. He has served as president or COO of many organizations and has stepped in and provided us with terrific additional management and executive perspective on how we are going to grow our business and the frameworks that we need in place internally to support that growth.

We think about, what are the kinds of executives that we are going to need to have, and what are the mid-level hires that we are going to need to make? From a junior perspective, what are the types of resources that we can tap into to make sure that from our client's point of view, we are providing them with best-in-class service?

We have found a group of people on the team right now that is similar to our initial mindset, so unwilling to accept no as an answer that they are ferociously creative. They are passionate about what it is we are building, and it is very exciting to work on this problem together with people that are now more than Susanna and I.

It is a group of twelve people and soon to be even more than that, who are all focused on, how do we create this amazing, first-of-its-kind smart vending machine network and brand. How are we going to push the boundaries, and what are we going to do that surprises and delights people when they interact with our devices? We have a team of people that are now thinking about that every day, and it is awesome.

You've got a mix of advertising and sales, but how have you thought about the broader revenue model and where you want to go with that in the longer term?

We have had a three-pronged revenue model since we were building out our first financial model years ago. It is one of the most exciting parts of our business. You mentioned digital out-of-home advertising. Our machines and hardware have 32-inch prominent digital displays that serve programmatic and direct campaigns through our network. Advertising and the media component of what we are building have always, from day one, been the largest value driver of our business. What we can do for brands on our screens with a captive high-value premium audience is extremely valuable.

The second is the distribution channel that our machines facilitate for products and retail. Each machine has ten unique products, and we are able to transact on a retail basis and generate revenue through product and distribution. The third is an amenity fee. From the beginning, SOS was designed and built as an amenity service. We are introducing unprecedented first-of-their-kind amenities. We run a model where we are paid a per-month, per-unit service fee by location. Whether it is a corporate office space or a stadium, we are generating revenue from running our proprietary network in those spaces.

I did not think about that third piece, the amenity fee, but clearly, as you say, you are giving people that early chance to do something that nobody has done before.

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-Up

A brand announcement should be curated and chiseled to ensure that it hits on the right themes and targets the right audience.

 

We are beyond providing access to essential products to people who need them. We are giving these locations and real estate partners access and oversight that they've never had before into what's happening in their space in terms of inventory management and control that is web-based and cloud-based. In addition to that, we are able to drive interactive feedback and surveys on the network for those location partners and corporations.

That value and the data that we are able to collect and generate for commercial real estate partners and corporate partners is huge. Again, it is the first of its kind and a type of information that is very valuable to location partners. With the value that we are driving and the network that we are running and operating, we have costs. We are running licensing software, designing and building hardware, restocking, and managing inventory oversight. There is a lot of cost to SOS that we must at least be paid for.

It is not a simple business that an app would be. There is a lot to this business that keeps you busy and challenged all at the same time.

It is a physical business. We are in the physical world. We are a part of the built world, and that introduces a whole host of complexities, whether it is how we navigate the supply chain, or how we think about merchandising a machine to make sure that people passing by have the best experience possible. It is like a game of whack-a-mole, which is something that keeps us engaged and busy on most days.

You have gotten a lot of good PR over the last few years. What have you done to drive the PR story around SOS?

Thank you. We both would agree. We hope to get much more PR soon. We have not invested much resourcing into that. It is quite an undertaking that you do not see as someone reading different articles. There is a lot of effort that is put into how a brand message or brand announcement is curated and chiseled to make sure that it hits on the right themes and targets the right audience. That is something that Susanna has been leading for us, and it has paid dividends. I'll let her speak to that a little more.

From a press coverage perspective and getting our story out there, we have had an advantage from the very beginning. We have been punching above our weight class. We did not have a physical machine. We were locking in Grade A commercial real estate partners like Boston Properties, Tishman Speyer, and Oxford to take our business seriously. On the brand side, we had consumer packaged goods [CPG] brands signing up wanting to work with us even before we had any hardware.

Getting our brand, SOS, aligned with real significant substantial national and international businesses from the very beginning, certainly helps our credibility. Those are the kinds of names that the press and decision-makers look for when they are evaluating a business and its viability. That has helped.

Since the very beginning, we have taken this from a concept into a product launch and product expansion. Again, I've continued to be intentional with investors that we have brought on, who've been extremely influential in making sure that our story and product are talked about. We have had good fortune, but I'd also say a lot of intentional initial legwork has put us in a position where we have a strong company story to tell.

You have both mentioned your investors and advisors. How did you go about picking those groups, and how have they helped you, maybe in ways that we haven't talked about so far?

[bctt tweet="It's very important to communicate when you appreciate what people are doing. Expressing your gratitude can go so far. " username=""]

We had to start from scratch. That is the first point. We were not able to and did not bring in anyone that we had met through our careers at that point. In 2017, we had to forge completely new relationships from scratch in entirely new industries we we  had zero experience. There was a lot of, as you can imagine, "no's", kissing of frogs, and people we came across where we were like, "This is not someone I want to be involved in what we are building. It is too important to us." It is almost like dating.

A lot of conversations and meetings were held before we finally would meet someone where it was like, "They understood the vision. They understood what we were building." They had experience or individuals in their network that we felt were aligned strategically with where we needed to go. It would be a fairly simple discussion about bringing them in in some formal way, whether that was through an investment or through an advisor relationship.

We knew, and we were told pretty early on, that establishing a board of advisors was something that would be quite helpful. The way we went about doing that was, we looked at the different verticals of our business, real estate, advertising, CPG, beauty, etc. We went and tried to find basically the best and most influential and helpful individuals within those markets based on the network that we had available to us. We then brought them on informally and created a pretty formal corporate structure, where we would meet with them on a regular basis and update them on where we were in the business, focusing on certain topics and having them help us and continue to build that network and traction early on.

What are your goals for 2022? You have talked a little bit about that and you mentioned that you envisioned seeking another round of funding and continuing to grow the organization, but where do you want to be at the end of 2022?

I now live in San Francisco. We do not yet have a machine in this market, and that is definitely on my list. I want to see more SOS machines in San Francisco by the end of 2022. That is selfishly a goal that I have. We are in the process of expanding with several very amazing sports teams and organizations across the MLB, NFL, and NHL. Going to a couple of games where our machines are all throughout the stadium is on my bucket list too. You cannot only get a hamburger and some french fries, but  also can maybe grab a deodorant wipe on the way back to your seat. That sounds pretty awesome to me.

[Susanna speaking] I'll go out there, throw a number on a goal, and say we will have over 100 machines deployed in the market. We will have signed or be reviewing multiple term sheets for our [next funding] round that we'll be hopefully close to closing by the end of 2022 or have closed, and we'll have grown our team. In order to support the business and the growth that we are going to have this year, we are going to need to bring in more people. Those are all things that we want to have to happen this year.

What about for the two of you individually? What are you looking to develop in yourselves this year to help advance the state of the business?

On a personal note, I have been working quite a bit on active listening and I am getting better at that. For so long, it has been Susanna and I, the two of us going and talking to one another, and we have a certain style of communication. [I need to focus on] taking a step back and listening to the team and their ideas. As we have said, we have such amazing people on the team that hearing from them and letting them start to guide and take ownership in some of these areas is something that excites me. We have the right people in place to do and run some of these big initiatives and projects underway, so taking a step back a little bit, not necessarily in my day-to-day work, but in my approach with the team, I am moving more into an "eliciting" position rather than a "directing" position, if that makes sense.

What about you, Susanna?

For me, I am a new mother. For the first time in my life, I have two babies. The first and the oldest is SOS and the second is Sebastian, who I welcomed in September 2021. 2022 will be an exploration of having two main focuses that compete with one another and finding balance in both. I love both dearly and both are very important to me, continuing to evolve as a new mom, entrepreneur, or founder and proving to a lot of people who might challenge me that it is possible and I can do it.

It is a lot to have all of that going on at the same time. Any career lessons that you would want the audience to take away that we have not talked about?

We say this a lot but just go do it and move faster. You are moving too slowly. If you have an idea, start with something. It will build and evolve. It might be a Frankenstein type of solution temporarily, and our first machines, I can't even tell you how many problems there were with them, but you have to keep going and moving forward. Do not take "no" as an answer. It is about this constant motion. You need to be in motion and moving. Otherwise, you are going to get outpaced.

[Susanna speaking] I totally agree. It is true that anything is possible. Robina and I left finance and created a hardware company that is operating in multiple markets and running a tech stack completely outside of any of our core experience. There is no person that I would encounter who shares an idea with me now that I would say, "Do not try." It is totally possible to do it. You have to have commitment. To Robina's point, you've got to go do it, [get] motion, ask the questions, and get started.

One other thing on a high level, which ties back to something you asked us, is we are all human, and it is very important to communicate when you appreciate what people are doing. Say, "I am excited about this. That was awesome. This is great." These small little words of recognition go far and they go even further when you are working at a startup, where capital is so constrained. You can't pay people like we used to get paid in finance. It is a totally different environment.

[It's about] being mindful of the impact that the world has on people these days. I hate to say it, but it is true, we have been living through these very unprecedented times. This concept of recognition and expressing your gratitude goes so far. It is something that we have and we'll continue to very actively roll into our team culture. It is showing people how much we appreciate what it is that they are doing.

That certainly goes a long way, and as you said, especially when you don't necessarily have the ability to financially reward people in the way that they might be rewarded if they were off working for a big established company, financial services, or otherwise. This has been awesome. I appreciate the time from both of you. It has been interesting to hear your story. I am looking forward to seeing how this year and beyond goes for you.

This wraps up this episode of the show. I want to thank Robina and Susanna for joining me.

 

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About Robina Verbeek

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-Up

Robina Verbeek, along with Susanna Twarog, is a co-founder of SOS, which is transforming wellness on-the-go through a network of smart vending machines that deliver just-in-time necessities where and when you need them most. The company’s design-first hardware features a large, engaging touchscreen and serves as a visually rich advertising and marketing platform. SOS participated in TechStars 2020, one of the leading start-up accelerator programs, and Robina and Susanna jointly hold 7 patents that underpin SOS’ vending machines.
Robina was recently named a Venture Partner at Riverbend Capital. Prior to co-founding SOS, Robina worked at State Street Bank for almost 10 years. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and also did studies in Amsterdam and Bologna.

 

About Susanna Twarog

CSCL 10 | Innovative Start-UpSusanna Twarog, along with Robina Verbeek, is a co-founder of SOS, which is transforming wellness on-the-go through a network of smart vending machines that deliver just-in-time necessities where and when you need them most. The company’s design-first hardware features a large, engaging touchscreen and serves as a visually rich advertising and marketing platform. SOS participated in TechStars 2020, one of the leading start-up accelerator programs, and Robina and Susanna jointly hold 7 patents that underpin SOS’ vending machines. Susanna also worked at State Street Bank and at Brown Brothers Harriman. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and recently became a first-time mother.

 

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