Two University of Michigan Ross School of Business alumni and former classmates, Harry Zhang and Leore Avidar, were honored on the Forbes 30 Under 30 rankings under the category Enterprise Technology for co-founding Lob.com, a company that specializes in sending physical mail as easily as email through a suite of application program interfaces.
After beginning as an idea in 2013, Lob now operates out of San Francisco with a team of more than 25 individuals. According to their website, Lob creates customized pieces, sends them on their customers’ behalf, helps A/B test different variants and tracks mail as it's delivered. This occurs all under the idea that “sending physical mail should be as easy as sending email.”
Avidar said they are empowering developers to build applications.
“Our goal is to enable developers and enterprises to build applications that they couldn’t previously,” he said.
Prior to creating Lob, Zhang, who graduated in 2011, began as a product marketing manager at Microsoft, where he worked as a domain expert in direct mail, taking 60 to 90 days to send out millions of pieces of mail at a time.
Avidar, who also graduated in 2011, gained experience working in the web services department at Amazon, where he learned how to build and sell APIs. At Amazon, Avidar said it took 30 seconds to send one million emails.
The two domain experts were able to combine their respective talents in making an API similar to Amazon’s, which could send physical mail as easily as email on an automated schedule.
“We were domain experts in building up these tools,” Avidar said. “We would create a script using the tool that we had built then we would send it out. So that was kind of the ‘aha’ moment. We were like, ‘hey, let’s build the exact same tool that Amazon has built but for a different medium.’ ”
Avidar said the company made over $9 million in revenue last year and has received over $29 million in funding since its inception.
“So we are providing them a toolkit,” Avidar said. “The best metaphor that I can say is that most people were using pen and paper beforehand, and we’re providing the new age calculator to the developer.”
Avidar said being honored by Forbes was a validation of Lob as a company, but won’t change their day-to-day operations going forward.
“It’s not really a recognition of myself, because I’m not a sole builder of Lob,” Avidar said. “So it’s more of a recognition for my team. What it means is that my team has done a great job building the company over the last three and a half years. I have a team that’s dedicated to a really important mission. I think it’s just validation for our team and validation for our idea. It will build more trust for the customers deciding whether or not to use Lob.”
Avidar credited a lot of his and his company’s success to his ties with the University of Michigan, where he met Zhang in the Business School. Avidar and Zhang reunited in Seattle, where they continued not only their business endeavors, but their friendship.
“He was the first person I reached out to,” Avidar said. “Me and him grew very close when I was there; we have the same interests. We both have the business acumen. We both respect each other as people. He has led us to get amazing companies at Lob.”
Zhang leads Sales and Marketing, and has been able to gain access to companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Square.
Avidar said the four core members of Lob met while attending the University. Avidar stressed the importance of working closely with people in college because you might again in the future.
“The Michigan ties are huge,” Avidar said. “Don’t underestimate the people you went to school with or the person that sat next to you in class. You never know, one day you might be starting a company with them. I am building a company, but at the same time it feels like me working with a bunch of friends.”
The Business School also made a statement congratulating the two businessmen.
“Congratulations to two Michigan Ross alumni, Leore Avidar and Harry Zhang, BBA ‘11, on being honored on Forbes’ annual ‘30 Under 30’ list,” the statement read.
Avidar said there is a new API being released in March and another at the end of the year, with the long-term mission being to create a suite of APIs for companies to choose from.
“We want to show that we are the best at building and selling APIs,” Avidar said. “It’s empowering to our team that we hit a milestone and we can celebrate it. But we have many more milestones that we need to achieve. It’ll push us to our next milestone.”
Business School Dean Scott DeRue wrote in an email interview he believes the success of Avidar and Zhang demonstrates the benefits of a business education at the University.
“We're so proud of Leore and Harry for their success with Lob.com,” he wrote. “Being named to Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ List is an achievement that speaks to their outstanding creativity, determination, and leadership abilities. Leore and Harry's story is a wonderful example of Michigan Ross' tradition of excellence in entrepreneurship, and it is an inspiration for students across the University of Michigan who also possess bold ideas for the future of business."