Yesterday we brought you the story about Utah based startup HeadCase who is trying to make a social difference with their unique, premium headphones. Today we’re turning to Los Angeles and social entrepreneur Jeff Kudlishevich and his LA startup Upperatus.
Kudlishevich’s startup, with a really cool name, is taking uniquely designed t-shirts, pairing them up for social causes, injecting celebrity spokespeople and donating a portion to charity. We’re not talking about 50 cents or a dollar, no that’s all been done before. Upperatus builds in $11 of each t-shirt sold to the paired up non profit organization.
This month Upperatus has teamed up with classical singer Nathan Pacheco and artist Dan Mccauley to donate $11 per shirt sold to Save The Bay (The Santa Monica Bay for those of you keeping track).
The Santa Monica Bay is the centerpiece of Los Angeles’ beach culture, and the geographic center of the LA region. Stretching from Malibu to Palos Verdes, the bay is where millions of Angelenos relax and work. Because of their economic, ecological and recreational value, our waterways and the ocean are critical resources worth protecting.
- Santa Monica Bay beaches average 45 million visits per year
- The Bay generates more than $1 billion in visitor spending annually.
- Tourism accounts for more than 500,000 jobs in the greater L.A. area
The population of Los Angeles has skyrocketed in the past 100 years and it’s putting a lot of pressure on our environment. In the mid 1980s, improperly treated sewage led to dead zones in the Bay and harmful water quality. Thanks to the efforts of Heal the Bay and its supporters, the EPA mandated stricter sewage treatment processes, resulting in greatly improved water quality.
Despite the amazing gains, your Bay faces ongoing challenges, from marine debris to overfishing. The good news is that you can help protect our beaches and oceans. And remember, watersheds connect you to ocean, no matter if you live on the coast or 60 miles inland.
If you haven’t noticed, with the holidays upon us we’re featuring more social entrepreneurs. Upperatus is another great way for the slacktivists to get involved, and you get a cool shirt in the process. What makes Upperatus even better is that they’re changing the shirts and the causes every month so you aren’t stuck with the same shirt and your money going to the same cause.
We got a chance to interview Kudishevich. Check out the interview below.
What is Upperatus?
Upperatus is a social platform, whose sum is bigger than its parts. Each month, we work with a different non-profit, and give our customers an added incentive to donate by providing them with a stylish, designed shirt. Every shirt has a built-in donation of $11.
A celebrity advocate is matched up to a non-profit, and acts as a spokesperson, extending their clout to our project, and activating their fans. In addition, the celebrity has a connection to the non-profit so they have a vested interest in helping make a difference. If our customers connect with the celebrity, they in turn connect with us, so we hope that they will share the message with their friends.
Our shirts are made by a different designer each month, who help showcase the non-profit’s message in a modern, sexy way. Yes, a non-profit can be sexy! Each shirt is eco-friendly, made in the USA, and directly helps solve a social issue.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Vil Sologub is handling the operations of the business, has his MBA from Pepperdine University, and is on his way to being a CPA. Jeff Kudishevich acts as the liaison with the celebrities, and non-profits while also overseeing the company’s marketing, and has over 7 years of online media experience. Shaimoom Newaz is the creative director, who built and designed the website and works closely with each month’s designers; most of his life has been centered around art, while over the last 5 years he’s focused on web development and design.
Where are you based?
Los Angeles, California
What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?
That is making the assumption we have time to leave our computers! In general, the startup culture is vibrant in the more modern parts of LA like Hollywood, and the West Side.
How did you come up with the idea for Upperatus?
We were meeting several times a week for over a year, just brainstorming. It seemed every time we took an idea off our list, we added three more. Early on we knew we wanted to help the community in some way, so that win or lose, we still could say we made a difference. Once we trimmed the list down to ten legitimate options, we then stopped making decisions with our hearts and started using our heads. Logistically, Upperatus made the most sense to us. We loved the idea of directly working with non-profits, and in a way, helping them modernize their organization, even if just for a month.
How did you come up with the name?
That was all Vil’s doing, and he won a nice surf ‘n turf dinner at Mastro’s Steakhouse because of it! We had a running competition that whoever came up with the name would be treated to a surf ‘n turf dinner, and he knew he had it when after he presented the name, we were just speechless. “Upperatus” is a play on the word “apparatus”, which means a complex mechanism for a purpose. Upperatus is simply a platform, that together with the help of different moving parts, works towards a common goal.
What problem does Upperatus solve?
Many people really want to help non-profits, but find it tough to do economically, and are much more inclined to offer their help if they know they can get some kind of product or good in return. People need to purchase clothing and want to help organizations in need, so we provide them an elegant solution: a great looking shirt with a built-in donation.
What’s your secret sauce?
Our secret sauce is our passion. In general, this is not a brand-new concept – companies like TOMS have been positively impacting the lives of those less fortunate for years. We feel extremely strongly about what we’re doing, and plan on continuing to lose sleep and break plans with our friends and family (sorry!) along this awesome ride. It is a beautiful thing to wake up every morning knowing that the work you put in that day will make someone else’s life better.
Are you bootstrapped or funded?
We are self-funded, which has meant we need to quickly and efficiently learn from our mistakes. It also means that we call all the shots, and being a small team of just three makes it so that we can be nimble with our decisions.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
Understanding each of our own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to get out of each other’s way or when to lend a helping hand. It’s a tough concept, because you feel that you want your hand in each and every thing, but it is completely inefficient if your company has to do the same thing three times. With as many 3 am nights as we’ve had, you grow up pretty quickly as a company.
Who are some of your mentors and business role models?
We are fortunate enough to have an amazing network of friends and family, who we receive traditional and nontraditional mentoring from. This ranges from style advice to motivation to business questions. There are a lot of businesses we admire like TOMS, Threadless and Zappos, for what they do as a company and how they treat their customers.
What’s next for Upperatus?
Every day we find a way to improve our brand and our process. Once we have enough data to be able to intelligently make our next move, we will be introducing new products and Upparel (that’s not a typo). We will never be satisfied, so our passion will keep pushing us forward.