Kemar Newell — founder of Flip, the “eBay for the Snapchat generation” — was our latest Silicon Valley Insights speaker. He sat down with STRV CEO David Semerad to talk about the differences between work life at Apple versus Google, what it takes to shine at Y Combinator and his rumored multi-million-dollar sneaker collection. (And you thought your shoe obsession was borderline crazy!)
The intimate fireside chat was held at our new Karlin office space on June 23. Kemar was such a crowd-pleaser, we bussed him to Brno the following day where we hosted our first-ever SVI event in the Moravian capital at Sono Centrum.
After graduating with honors from college, Kemar landed a job at Apple, where as an intern he pitched an idea that purportedly laid the foundation for the first generation iPad. He then jumped to Google, explaining that he was looking for a more open company culture.
“At Apple, everything is on a need-to-know basis. Everything was super secretive. You have very limited access to what other groups are working on,” said Kemar. By comparison, “you can almost google what people are working on at Google.”
He lasted there for two years before deciding that he was ready for a challenge: He wanted to work at a startup. He walked away from the forefathers of Silicon Valley and started talking to execs at Snapchat and Uber. But nothing seemed to be a good fit.
Then Kemar had an epiphany.
“I’ve been a sneakerhead all my life. I was running a sneaker market out of my living room before getting a storefront,” he said of Flip’s early beginnings.
Kemar wasn’t selling just any old sneakers, though. He sought out rare limited-edition designer sneakers from the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kanye West, which would retail for around $100. He’d buy up as many as he could and then turn around (or “flip”) and sell them for upwards of $750 in 90-minute auctions.
The concept took off — “it was basically eBay on steroids,” as Kemar described the setup. Kemar immediately started looking for investors.
What he discovered instead was Y Combinator.
“I stopped talking to investors and focused on building a product instead,” said Kemar, noting that he had been reluctant to even apply to the prestigious San Francisco-based accelerator and had to be talked into it. (YC uses Kemar’s application video as an example of how to stand out.)
“It was amazing. It was probably one of the best things I could have done as an entrepreneur,” he said. “It’s kind of like a secret fraternity, but not a secret fraternity. It’s like the Illuminati, but not the Illuminati. YC is made up of a ton of super smart founders and partners … and we get to ask these people for advice.”
That advice went a long way: The iOS version of the Flip app, developed by STRV, made its Apple App Store debut earlier this year. While Flip is solely focused on sneakers at the moment, Kemar, whose impressive personal collection is valued (he says) in the realm of $3 million, hopes to offer other one-of-a-kind products in the future.
“I would like to think that I am making a positive difference,” he said. Ultimately, however, being a startup founder is not as sexy as the press is making it out to be. You have to deal with a lot of BS. It’s extremely tough.”
Following both SVI fireside chats, STRV hosted after-parties featuring beer, pizza and networking!