Building a Business During a Pandemic? For Some, It Works

From left: ReVased co-founders Aviva and Arielle Vogelstein | Photo by Shawn Wehland

Gettacar CEO Yossi Levi said his startup is exceeding its 2020 sales forecast by more than 100%. 

“It’s just been bananas,” he said.

The Northeast Philadelphia-based online car dealership launched in 2018 and has seen an explosion of interest since March. 

“We designed our business to alleviate the need to go to a dealership. So, as soon as it became unsafe to go to a dealership, it was something that we were already equipped to help with,” said Jake Levin, co-founder and head of marketing. “We’ve definitely seen a lot more people be open to the concept of buying a car online.”

The pandemic and accompanying economic crisis have not been kind to small businesses, but Gettacar is one of several Jewish-owned startups in Philadelphia addressing new consumer concerns and behaviors.

Customers can select a used car from the Gettacar website and have it delivered to their home. After delivery, they have seven days to test drive the vehicle and decide if they want to keep it. 

The company has also developed an entirely contactless delivery process. Paperwork that can’t be e-signed is placed in the trunk so it doesn’t have to change hands.

Levi said new Gettacar customers are motivated by safety concerns, especially now that flying is considered risky and people aren’t taking vacations far away.

“They’re also feeling shortages of new cars because production shut down for a few months, so they’re opting for a more affordable used car,” he said.

ReVased, a floral upcycling startup, is also responding to supply chain disruption. The company launched in 2019 with the goal of reducing floral waste at events and expanded its shipping service to Philadelphia in July after changing its suppliers.

ReVased co-founder Arielle Vogelstein arranges flowers | Courtesy of Aviva Vogelstein

Sisters Aviva and Arielle Vogelstein —  both University of Pennsylvania graduates — originally partnered with organizations and venues to resell and donate bouquets after large events. 

Of course, the pandemic changed everything.

“The entire events industry was hit extremely hard,” Aviva Vogelstein said. “It also hit a lot of countries that grow the flowers really hard, not only the U.S. but countries in South America.” 

Large events could not take place after March lockdowns, and flower farms that usually catered to them had excess supply. ReVased now ships flowers directly from these farms to consumers as part of its subscription service. The company also continues to donate bouquets to seniors in isolation via contactless delivery. 

Vogelstein said demand for flowers for smaller events is starting to pop up again. People are also sending each other bouquets to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays.

“People who are thinking about their friends and can’t see them are sending flowers,” she said. 

While some Jewish entrepreneurs are adapting existing business models to better serve consumers during the pandemic, others have launched completely new enterprises in response to the crisis. 

Emily Bartos and Zach Forman started Local 5, a web-based subscription service designed to support local restaurants, when they noticed some of their favorite eateries struggling due to shutdowns. 

“What do they need? Foot traffic,” said Forman, a sophomore at Emory University.

In July, they launched a digital membership card for Apple Wallet that costs $5 per month and provides discounts of up to 15% at participating businesses.

“If you give discounts to people they’ll be more incentivized to go to the restaurant, so it was a win-win for everybody,” said Bartos, a sophomore at Franklin and Marshall College. 

Bartos and Forman have 19 local restaurants on board so far, including Jewish-owned businesses like Star of David Kosher Grill.

Local 5 does not take any commission from restaurants, and the discounts incentivize customers to order directly from restaurants rather than relying on delivery apps that eat into their already-thin profit margins.

“I had no idea how much Uber Eats and Grubhub take from these places,” Bartos said.

Bartos and Forman plan to lengthen their list of participating restaurants in the Philadelphia area and invest in targeted advertising for restaurants on social media. They also plan to expand Local 5 to Atlanta and Short Hills, New Jersey.

Adena Sternthal also identified a market niche as a result of the pandemic. Stuck at home during quarantine, she threw herself into cleaning out her family’s closets and selling old clothes on sites like Poshmark and Mercari. The only items she couldn’t sell were bags of her daughter’s old Camp Ramah gear.

The special education teacher spoke with friends in similar situations and realized demand for those items was out there. After many summer camps canceled their seasons, camp swag represented nostalgia for past summers and hope for future safe ones. 

“Why couldn’t I create a place where people could go and resell their camp stuff that can still be used?” Sternthal said.

She launched Comeback, her online secondhand camp gear store, on Aug. 5 with more than 200 items from overnight and day camps in her inventory. 

“I do know from personal experience with my own child, she’s always looking for new stuff to wear around at camp,” she said. “People have been posting and listing older camp shirts that now could be considered vintage, and kids love that stuff.”


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