When Ken Jacobus attended a green business conference in 2007, he expected to hear some great speakers, pick up some knowledge, and maybe get some networking done.
He didn’t expect his life to be turned upside down. But that’s exactly what happened.
It was there that Jacobus had the opportunity to listen to social justice entrepreneur, author, and news personality Van Jones speak.
“Jones spoke about the need to create social justice by creating jobs that raise people up and improve our environment at the same time. I was so inspired that I immediately created a plan to quit my job and take a year off to explore how I could help.”
“Initially, my career was in advertising, but I ended up in software sales and Silicon Valley for about 17 years. I had a pretty successful career with lots of international travel, but I felt empty inside. Like I wasn’t really making an impact,” Jacobus recalls.
With a fully supportive wife, he turned in his notice. Actually, he waited three months, just long enough to collect his bonus, before quitting. “I wasn’t crazy,” he grins. “Well, not totally crazy.”
Jacobus started his research and found a point of convergence among the things he cared about.
“I care a lot about food. I was interested in the restaurant industry. I was interested in the environment.”
“I found that even back then, we had this unbelievably huge problem with single-use disposable plastic and its impact on the environment. It’s upstream in the manufacturing process and our food chain, because it’s in the oceans. It’s a big, big problem.”
At the same time, as Jacobus studied innovative companies that were making plant-based alternatives to traditional single-use plastic, he discovered they had a big problem of their own--they didn’t know how to get those products to market.
“I saw an amazing opportunity to address that, and at the same time, build something that had a real connection to business owners.”
So, just like that, without any experience in the physical packaging world and no background in shipping or warehousing, Good Start Packaging was born.
In 2008, as he got his business off the ground, Jacobus bootstrapped his heart out, learning firsthand the challenges most small business owners face.
“I learned that when you need them most, suppliers won’t give you much attention. So, gaining momentum is that much harder. You’ve got to use some elbow grease and build relationships over time to gain some advantage in the market.”
Despite his commitment to building a socially responsible business, Jacobus encountered his share of self-doubt early on.
“Even as I was putting all my energy into making Good Start Packaging viable, I still questioned internally whether selling disposable cups was really the best way to apply my life experience to the world.”
But about five years in, his perseverance began to pay off, and his confidence in living his purpose grew.
Today, more than 10 years later, Good Start Packaging has warehouses on both coasts of the United States, 12 full-time employees, and contractors who handle logistics and warehousing.
Its national and international clients are a study in diversity, which includes fast casual restaurant chains, food trucks, cafés, ice cream shops, juice bars, corporate cafeterias, and other distributors.
Jacobus has been intentional about the ways he’s invested in and grown his business.
“We have big appetites for technology and data; we use inbound marketing tools like HubSpot and AdWords that attract and nurture potential clients through their buying cycle.
“We’ve also chosen to focus our staffing on sales and marketing, outsourcing the management and movement of our inventory to third-party logistics companies that do it more efficiently. This allows us to be very nimble, scaling our inventory up or down, based on demand and seasonality--without incurring the large fixed capital expenses of a warehouse or dedicated warehouse staff.”
Jacobus offers would-be entrepreneurs two words to incorporate into their business-building mantra: heart and grit.
“I think too many leaders act as if their ultimate mission is to make money, crush competitors, and/or flip their company in some arbitrary period of time.”
To Jacobus, this runs contrary to “good” business, where everyone in the value chain--suppliers, customers, employees, and the planet--is treated with integrity, or heart.
“I believe business can be an incredible force for good, raising up all of these boats instead of exploiting them, and becoming financially successful because of it, not despite it.”
“And you can have the biggest heart in the world,” says Jacobus, “but if you don’t have an innate stubbornness (grit) to keep getting up in the face of countless setbacks, you won’t survive in the long run. Instead of looking at each setback as an unfair act of the universe, I try to look at it as the ‘tuition’ I need to pay to get stronger, wiser, and better.”
Good Start Packaging has grown every year and has seen 80 percent growth in 2019 alone. It didn’t hurt that he was featured in a Capital One Spark Business advertising campaign, which brought former contacts out of the woodwork, and also caught the attention of prospective customers.
Future plans include not just the packaging arm of the business, but education and inspiration through the company’s sister brand and budding media channel, Good Start TV.
Thanks to his marketing background, Jacobus is well aware of the importance of storytelling in customer retention. “These are things [our customers] are not as good at, but that really inspire their customers to come back.
“And we are really good at telling our customers’ stories over social media. So, we use our newer brand, Good Start TV, to do short-form videos on our clients.
“We tell their stories, while also informing consumers about the negative impact of disposable plastic, and we communicate great things everyone can do to improve the health of the planet.”
As he rotates the many hats all small business owners are familiar with, Jacobus stresses the need to prioritize what’s important as part of his overall growth plan.
“Sometimes, we simply don’t have enough resources to delegate the critical work that needs to get done. I feel like I have to do it, or we won’t grow as fast as I’d like.”
So, he does what needs to be done.
“Long-term strategy, coaching, and culture building are really where I should be focusing more of my time,” Jacobus acknowledges.
“I continue to make sure those areas are given increasing prominence on my weekly schedule, while forgiving myself for deferring some of the smaller tasks that might provide short-term gain but at a longer-term opportunity cost.”
As Good Start Packaging begins its second decade, Jacobus reminds himself every day why he went into business in the first place: a belief that each day presents opportunities to not just do good but to inspire others to find ways of doing so as well.
“Visualizing the world we can create with the viral effect of this, drives my passion for what I do,” he says.
Jacobus hasn’t just visualized the world he can create.
He is creating it, one sustainable package at a time.