At the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, we are excited to highlight student entrepreneurs and share their personal experiences, achievements, and brilliant insights. We invite you to join us as we celebrate these ANTrepreneurs and get inspired by their stories.
In today’s e-commerce-driven market, small farmers without an online sales platform have been at a disadvantage. Recognizing this gap, Dan Ta (UCI Class of 2022, B.A. Business Administration) and Dylan Riffle (UCI second-year, Computer Science) teamed up to develop a solution that allows farmers to sell directly to consumers and cut out the middleman.
Leprendo is an online marketplace designed to empower small farmers and help them compete in today’s economy. With Leprendo newly launched and actively recruiting vendors and customers, Dan and Dylan sat down with Ryan Foland, Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, to discuss the development of their company and their goals for the future.
Ryan: Thank you for sitting down with me! Can you start by introducing Leprendo and its goals?
Dan: Leprendo is essentially an online farmers market for specialty produce. From our previous experience of selling dates (the fruit) online, we found that the farmers we work with don’t have the support needed to sell online. Existing platforms like Etsy and eBay aren’t meant for selling food, so farmers end up selling to and getting undercut by middlemen. We’re developing our platform to become a no-code solution to help our farmers tell their stories and sell their products directly to consumers.
Ryan: Selling dates?
Dan: Yeah, so prior to Leprendo, I co-founded an online business to sell dates online. When we were cold-calling farmers in Coachella Valley, we found that many of them were being taken advantage of by intermediaries and didn’t have the know-how to sell their products directly to consumers. With my first venture, we sold over $300k in revenue for our first year. So I knew first-hand that consumers love to get their produce directly from farms. That’s when we decided to expand to other produce and start Leprendo.
Ryan: That’s really interesting! Dylan, when did you get involved with this idea?
Dylan: I met Dan and his business partner Steven Guo during my first year of college through the entrepreneur’s club Manifest @ UCI. After we talked, Dan and I decided to expand their project to help more farmers by building an online farmers market.
Ryan: What makes you passionate about Leprendo and its mission?
Dan: Enabling farmers to sell directly to consumers is something that really excites me. As someone who has experience selling produce online and establishing a direct link between farmers and customers, there’s nothing better than knowing how delighted your customers are with the product. I’m striving to recreate this same feeling and experience with Leprendo.
Dylan: I’m passionate about Leprendo because we have the very real ability to help farmers sell online. Due to technical barriers, many farmers have been left out of the e-commerce space and are forced to sell to larger distributors. We’re aiming to disrupt this and give farmers more autonomy and power.
Ryan: I heard that Leprendo recently celebrated its official launch. Congratulations! How’s that been going?
Dan: Thanks! Currently, our company has everything developed on the backend and the front end. We are in the process of starting the network effect within our platform by talking to multiple farmers and getting them to partner with us. We’re excited to work with them and gain their feedback so we can continuously improve our platform.
Right now, our biggest challenge is acquiring our first suppliers and customers. Jump-starting the network effect is an ongoing challenge, but it helps that our team has the grit and perseverance to make it work. It helps knowing that similar startups have gone through the same ordeal and made it through. We will do the same and better!
Dylan: Remaining positive has been important throughout the entire process of creating and launching Leprendo. There have been many hurdles, ranging from building a website and finding vendors to establishing a brand. But Dan and I have continued to work on these challenging issues by reminding ourselves that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
Ryan: I think that’s great advice for other student entrepreneurs as well. But speaking of the challenges you’ve faced in developing your business, what resources and support have you relied on?
Dan: UCI has offered tremendous support, especially during the initial steps of building the business. For instance, the UCI ANTrepreneur Center offered a space for Dylan and I to connect and share funny moments that eventually led to us becoming co-founders. The ANTrepreneur Center also gave us access to funding through their Student Startup Fund. Not only did this funding allow us to perform market validation, but it also gave us the confidence to pursue our business idea.
We also participated in several UCI Blackstone LaunchPad programs and events. For instance, we took part in Startup Weekends that Techstars hosted with Blackstone. Some of the other memorable events I attended include a fireside chat with Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, and the virtual ANTrepreneur fair held during the pandemic, featuring TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing Nick Tran. Finally, we competed in several UCI competitions, such as the New Venture Competition and the Butterworth Product Development Competition, which all offered amazing workshops and mentorship that helped us with the development process.
Dylan: Aside from the resources offered by UCI, we’ve also tapped into online resources that other entrepreneurs have created, such as the Startup School and Y-Combinator videos and podcasts.
Ryan: Awesome, thank you both so much for sharing your business journey and some of the resources that made your launch possible. I know I speak for the entire ANTrepreneur Center family and UCI community when I say we wish you the best!
Dan: Thank you! We’re excited to keep moving forward and create memories that we’ll look back on fondly.
To learn more about Leprendo, check out their website. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center and how it can support your entrepreneurial journey, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.