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Small Business: One Man's Cure For Startup-Envy

Small Business: One Man's Cure For Startup-Envy

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Paul Tasner, 70, was always a corporate guy with a wandering eye.

Born in New Jersey with a doctorate in mathematics, Tasner worked as a supply chain exec for 35 years with consumer products companies ranging from Clorox and California Closets to his last job at Method Products, which makes eco-friendly household cleaners, among other things.

But Tasner always had an itch to start his own company. He had an interest in packaging from a company his uncle started. But more than anything else? Tasner was influenced by the small business owners he had, over the years, done business with.

So when he got his walking papers from Method, he lept at the chance to start something on his own. In 2011 he launched PulpWorks Inc. with architect Elena Olivari, his cofounder. (She was brought on to design a manufacturing plant that never happened, but caught the “packaging” bug from Tasner.)

“I had spent my entire career working alongside entrepreneurs,” says Tasner, “At age 66, I decided it was time to join their ranks.”

His story:

The business

San Francisco-based PulpWorks (WWW.PULPWORKSINC.COM), designs and makes environmentally friendly, molded fiber packaging for the consumer products industry using waste paper and agricultural waste. The company has two-full time employees – Tasner and his co-founder, Olivari. The rest: contract designers. The manufacturing is outsourced.

The big bet

Developed a package made entirely from molded pulp and cardboard that replaces plastic blister packs.  It’s trademarked as “Karta-Pack.”

Why start a business after you’re 65?

“I was laid off by Method Products; the axe fell on me in December 2009,” Tasner says.  “I got interested in packaging working each summer in my uncle’s company.  It’s been a huge constant in my career. And then I added a passion for sustainability during my time at Method. Turning paper waste and agricultural waste into safe, compostable packaging is as sustainable as it gets. I had spent my entire career working alongside entrepreneurs and, frankly, I was much more comfortable with them than I was with my corporate colleagues. They were so much more real, passionate and candid.”

Measures of success

Profitable and revenues have doubled every year, Tasner says. Notable customers: Groupon, Burt’s Bees,  T-Mobile, and LeapFrog Toys. Debt? None. Outside investors? None. Awards? Seventeen “from various organizations concerned with sustainability.”

Boomer startup advice

One: “Having a business partner has meant everything.  Aside from sharing the workload, a business partner is a shoulder to cry on.”

Two: “Celebrate every little victory a good phone call with a customer; a good meeting with a customer; the first day in a new office; the last day in an old office.”

Three: “Enter new venture competitions!  This has been an amazing source of public relations for us.   Winning – or, at least, getting close – brings media attention and usually cash prizes, too. I was just named a Purpose Prize Fellow for 2015 as well as the Grand Prize Winner in the 2015 Global Gifted Citizen competition.”

Four: “Search Engine Optimization.  We have worked incredibly hard to make PulpWorks extremely visible on the web.  For example, on Google Search for ‘molded pulp’, you can find us 3rd from the top today, right after Wikipedia.  The labor to get us there was well worth it.  We receive new business inquiries every day.”

What he knows now that he wishes he’d known at the start

“We wasted almost a year trying to raise money to build our own manufacturing facility,” recalls Tasner. “I have to laugh at our incredible naivete.  Here we are in Silicon Valley and we expected investors to get excited about a venture that planned to turn waste into consumer product packaging – and with a rather slow payback. We’d go to pitch events all around the Bay Area and be pitted against 23-year-olds with a new mobile app that was going to change the world. After a handful of these humiliating experiences, we tossed in the towel and decided that our own bootstraps were just fine.  We created an entirely outsourced business model.”

The future

“We’re certainly looking for more acceptance of our Karta-Pack,” Tasner says. “Unnecessary plastic blister packaging has got to be eliminated.  It’s so toxic – in land fills as well as oceans and waterways.  The USA is the world leader in wasteful packaging – 5% of this planet’s population creating 25% of this planet’s garbage.  That’s a very embarrassing statistic.”

Why retirement wasn’t an option 

“Retiring to play golf several times per week is my idea of hell,” Tasner says. “Nothing in my professional life has ever given me more joy and fulfillment than launching a business.  I’m excited to start every day and see what new things have developed over night.  You just can’t beat that feeling.  Not even with a hole-in-one!”

 

This article was written by Hank Gilman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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