Kyle Geary — The Hale Center for Journalism
Paul Jarrett, CEO and co-founder of Bulu Box, a monthly subscription service for health and wellness products, received the Innovator of The Year Award at Pipeline’s annual ceremony last week. But only a few years ago, Jarrett didn’t even have a business of his own.
Jarrett, who is now in his early 30s, was not always an entrepreneur. He spent most of his time in college as an athlete.
“I accepted a full scholarship to Iowa State University, where I became a starter as a nose guard,” Jarrett said during a phone conversation with the reporter. After a few years, and several injuries, he decided to take a different path.
“All of my focus went from football 100 percent to advertising,” he said.
Jarrett then transferred from Iowa State University to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He attended an advertising club, and, at the first meeting, met Stephanie, who would become his wife, and later, cofounder of Bulu Box.
He believed that in order to make any career progress that he would have to get an internship, but could not find any nearby.
“I took 700 bucks, drove out to New York City over spring break, emailed, called, hung out in lobbies and chased people down over lunch,” Jarrett said. “I ended up contacting over 300 different advertising agencies, and I think I went through 50 interviews, 30 callbacks, and that turned into 12 offers for an internship.”
Jarrett accepted an internship from a Nike-affiliated advertising agency, which led to a full-time position. After a stint in New York City, Jarrett returned to Lincoln to finish his degree.
“You know they say a lot of entrepreneurs never quite finish college,” he said. “Just to make my mom happy, I ended up finishing it.”
After moving a few more times, and working at Complete Nutrition as vice president of marketing, he and his wife moved to San Francisco.
“In Nebraska, you’re surrounded by football 24/7. You are going to be involved in football. In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, it’s the same thing,” Jarrett said. “Everybody you talk to, everywhere you go out, you are always involved in or talking about startups.”
While living in San Francisco, they would come up with the idea for Bulu Box.
Bulu Box was partially inspired by a San Francisco half-marathon.
“I joke and say that I had to go home after the half-marathon to sit and ice my legs for the next 8 hours,” Jarrett said. “I had time to just sit down and hammer out the idea.” He claims that at the end of the night, he and Stephanie already had logos and concepts designed.
The business opened its figurative doors in April 2012. Jarrett decided to move back to Lincoln for what he believed would be a home-field advantage.
That home field advantage seemed to work. In under two years, Bulu Box is generating $100,000 in revenue monthly and just secured its second stage of funding from investors. Jarrett claims that there are multiple factors that led to this quick success.
“We didn’t know any better,” he said. “We just know one speed, and that’s fast.”
He said that he has always been a fierce competitor and that his team at Bulu Box are hyper-aggressive with their goals.
“When we look at our numbers and what we want to do, it’s always the maximum,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett describes winning this year’s Innovator of the Year award as surreal, and called the events leading up to it nerve-wracking. He compared it to the feeling of playing football in front of a crowd of 80,000.
Jarrett likened starting a company to a roller coaster.
“There are parts of that roller-coaster ride that are scary; there are also the most exhilarating parts,” he said. “Celebrate the highs, and, when you are on the low part of the roller coaster, make sure you look ahead and know that there’s another high part of the roller coaster coming. You just have to hang on and not scream too loud.”
Jarrett gives one piece of advice to all entrepreneurial hopefuls.
“Be resourceful, be fearless and work your ass off—and you can quote me on that.”