Whirl – Silicon Valley start-up founders Ken Sobel ’12 and Jay Cady ’14 Steve Sobel ’14 sold Whirl to Visa in 2017

By: Ken Sobel ‘12

Are you supposed to enjoy your first job out of college?

Two weeks into my career, this was the biggest question weighing on me. I didn’t sign my job offer with the expectation of hating my job, but here I was. With the encouragement of Andrew Stevens ’12, I decided on the solution. “I’ll start my own company!”

And so Whirl, Inc. was born. I quickly joined forces with my biological brother, Steve Sobel ’14, and former Pro Consul Jay Cady ’14, both who, unlike me, knew how to design circuits and write code.

With a founding team in place, we got to work. Our product was a point of sale system that accepted fingerprint payments. It would dramatically improve the speed, convenience, and security of everyday retail transactions. After working nights and weekends for six months, we had our first prototype by the spring of 2014.

Still resembling an RPI science project, that prototype helped us raise capital from Y Combinator, a startup venture fund based in Mountain View, California. We quickly relocated to the SF Bay Area, where we spent over two years figuring out how to transform a prototype into a business.

In those two years, we learned how to design hardware, build production-quality products, file a patent, write a pitch deck, form investor relationships, acquire customers, and partner with large banking institutions. Looking back, it was not my RPI coursework, but rather my experience in Sigma Chi that best prepared me most for the intensity of starting a company.

By late 2016, Whirl had processed over $1.2 million on behalf of its customers, and over 1000 people used our product to pay by fingerprint. In 2017, Visa tendered an offer to acquire Whirl’s patent rights – and we accepted.

Steve, Jay, and I continue to work as a team at b8ta, a new type of retailer that allows emerging consumer brands to sell through physical stores over the internet.

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