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Rishi Prabhu ’11 and Steven Szaronos ’11 in their New York City office.

Start me up: Rishi Prabhu ’11 and Steven Szaronos ’11

Start me up: Rishi Prabhu ’11 and Steven Szaronos ’11

Boosted by high-profile partnerships, two Kellogg alumni launch Bespoke Post, a monthly subscription service that helps young urban men live the good life

By Deborah L. Cohen

8/21/2012 - Editor’s note: In this monthly series, the Kellogg School shines a spotlight on young Kellogg graduates who are bringing bold new entrepreneurial visions to life.

The era of the “metrosexual” may be over, but if you ask Rishi Prabhu ’11 and Steven Szaronos ’11, they will tell you the market for high-end men’s consumer goods is alive and well.

Their startup, Bespoke Post, offers a monthly gift box of upscale items ranging from sunglasses to cocktail paraphernalia and grooming essentials, all targeted to 24-to-35-year-old mostly urban men aspiring to live the good life.

“We work with some of the best brands in the world,” says Prabhu, a computer scientist who handles the tech and product selection aspects of the business. “Each month is a different all-encompassing theme.”

Operating out of shared space in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bespoke Post charges subscribers $45 per box for the experience of discovering cool new stuff, allowing them to opt out if, for instance, July’s beach-inspired theme doesn’t strike a chord. The idea was the unlikely byproduct of a project begun as a mobile advertising firm called Nabfly while the young entrepreneurs were still Kellogg students.

An underserved men’s market
They got as far as designing an iPhone app that lets music enthusiasts capture vitals about a band and its music by scanning concert posters. But after Prabhu’s internship at Google and Szaronos’ at Chegg.com (a sort of Netflix for textbooks), they found themselves talking a lot more about online sales. It was hard to ignore what they saw as an underserved men’s consumer market.

“Most people focus on women,” says Prabhu, 30. “We saw that men’s ecommerce was growing rapidly and there was little innovation in the space.”

With the help of just $10,000 left over from $25,000 they initially had received from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a New York seed-stage incubator, the two shipped their first package of goodies to 100 male recipients in November of last year. It was the beginning of several monthly all-night marathons getting the boxes prepped and out the door.

“When we actually started getting pallets shipped to our office, we realized we couldn’t pack it ourselves anymore,” recalls Szaronos, 29, a former logistics specialist, who handles Bespoke Post’s operational functions. “We’re not giving out hard numbers, but we’ve grown exponentially.”

Spreading the word
Investors have noticed. The company, which is sometimes compared to the monthly women’s cosmetics sampler Birchbox, received $750,000 in seed capital this summer, money that will go in part toward hiring staff.

Bespoke Post has secured partnerships for its monthly shipments from the likes of American Airlines, Details magazine and beverage maker Diageo. It also relies on referrals, social media and the press to help spread the word.

Manufacturers such as Sempli, a Santa Monica, Calif. maker of modern barware and lighting, find exposure to an eager pool of product-hungry guys a compelling enticement to put their merchandise in the mix.

“It was a perfect match,” says Sempli owner Daniele Semeraro, whose whiskey glasses have been featured in several packages. “The upshot, of course, is the publicity it brings to the Sempli name.”

The ‘startup scene’
With Bespoke Post still only a bare-bones operation, the co-founders are quick to credit Kellogg for giving them the entrepreneurial know-how to handle what they say are the inevitable setbacks that occur when building a company from the ground up.

“It’s student-led. It’s scrappy,” Prabhu says. “The whole experience embodies the premise of entrepreneurship.”

Adds Szaronos: “I hadn’t been exposed to the startup scene. Kellogg got me thinking this is something I can do.”

Read more in the Start Me Up series: