We love our regulars – we consider them some of the city’s finest citizens. In this column, we meet and greet with the folks who make HubBub part of their daily routine.
The world of internet news is a wild place - the more content that's out there, the harder it is to sort through it all to find quality stuff about topics that feel relevant to you. That is the problem that Vyrtex, a social content-sharing website, is attempting to solve. This start up, (tagline: "Smart Reads for Smart People") was founded in 2014 by two University of Pennsylvania students, Taylor and Dilip, both of whom are regular customers at our Spruce Street shop! They have a small office space in Wharton's Vance Hall, but like coming to work at HubBub because, "it’s productive to be in a space with other people working...plus, coffee." Makes sense to us! We met up with Dilip last week to learn more about Vyrtex and life as a budding entrepreneur.
Dilip came to Penn as a first year student in 2011 from his hometown of Cincinnati to study business and computer science. He had a great experience at Penn, and grew to love Philly, though he says he was "stuck in the campus bubble for the first few years." He and Vyrtex's co-founder Taylor met as juniors when they were both inducted into a senior society. The following year, Taylor was the head of Penn's student-run newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and took an entrepreneurship journalism class. This is where the idea for Vyrtex first took shape.
"Increasingly, a lot of us get news from our social feeds," Dilip says. "But we’re seeing less and less quality content and more listicles and silly Buzzfeed articles...the fun, entertaining stuff is like dessert, but that’s not the full meal." Dilip and Taylor began brainstorming how to bring amazing, thought provoking content to people who are interested. While the idea has evolved, that goal has always been at the root of their concept.
The more Dilip and Taylor talked over the idea, the more it seemed like a possible business venture. Their first step was validating the idea through conversations with people and sending out surveys. Dilip built a beta version of the website, incorporating user feedback to make improvements. They received some financial backing from a UPenn alumni and were accepted into the Wharton Venture Initiative Program. Vyrtex had enough momentum behind it that when Dilip and Taylor graduated in May of 2015, both decided to stick with their new company instead of securing full time jobs. Dilip says: "It’s was a difficult decision, but we didn’t spend a long time agonizing about it. We knew it would give us great real world experience, and that it was a good time to just try it." He said that his parents questioned his choice at first, but ultimately have been super supportive. And while he's happy with his decision and the autonomy it affords him, taking risks does imply at least some stress and instability. "It’s just my co-founder and me, and it can be overwhelming. But that’s what I signed up for," he says.
In the year since beginning, Dilip and Taylor have put a lot of energy into product testing and outreach in the Penn community, and the next phase is working to broaden their reach to other schools around the country. They've also simplified Vyrtex to two main components:
- An email newsletter: every weekday, subscribers get an update featuring five articles about technology, politics, and culture. Dilip and Taylor select the content from what active Vyrtex members are posting and sharing. Signing up for the newsletter is easy and free. We signed up after talking to Dilip and have been enjoying their suggested reads, including this article about music and technology from the science magazine Nautilus.
- Vyrtex is also a curation platform, a bit like Pinterest, where users create collections of topics they’re interested in. So when you read an awesome article, you can save it to your relevant collection, and also follow the collections of other members. The content is all human curated - no algorithms. Dilip notes that some people say Vyrtex profiles can tell you more about someone than their Facebook page (you are what you read, it seems).
We asked Dilip to share any insights after a year in the start up world. He answered thoughtfully:
Wise words, indeed. Thanks so much to Dilip for sharing his story with us - it's exciting to know that our shops can be mobile offices for creative local start ups like Vyrtex!