Editor's note: People over 50 are among the country's most active entrepreneurs, starting businesses at rates higher than their young counterparts. In this series, Inc. profiles the new wave of Boomer founders.
Paul Tasner traces the roots of his business, PulpWorks, to a late-career gig at the natural-cleaning products company Method. After decades as an operations executive in the corporate world, including 15 years at Clorox, Tasner moved to Method in his late 50s and became immersed in the sustainability ethos. When the recession descended, unfortunately, the one thing not sustainable was his job.
It was 2009. Tasner, then 64, had never been voluntarily without work. "I knew I did not have a great chance of getting hired somewhere," says Tasner. "But my kids were grown. It was a better time for us financially. It gave me an excuse to do something independent."
A friend of Tasner's at Method had left the company to manufacture packaging made from compostable materials in China. The friend asked Tasner to rep for him in North America, an opportunity he turned down. But Tasner liked the business--"green jobs, green manufacturing. What could be better?"--and asked his friend's blessing to start his own version in the United States. "I guess I can't stop you if that's what your passion is," the friend told him.
From the get-go, Tasner dreamed big. He planned to remodel a factory in a recession-challenged neighborhood in the Bay Area and searched for an architect with experience in green manufacturing to help. He found Elena Olivari, then in her 40s. The two became partners and set off on a quest for funding. "We met with a lot of people and did a lot of pitching," says Tasner. "We got a lot of 'attaboys,' but nobody pulled out their wallets." Although most investors were cordial, Tasner says, one "basically told me I was too old. I should be practicing my golf game."
After a year, Tasner and Olivari abandoned the money hunt for the cheaper outsourcing route. They contracted with manufacturers in China (including Tasner's friend), Egypt, and India, as well as the U.S.
The product they designed, called the Karta-Pack, is a plastic-free replacement for blister packs. It is composed of a piece of cardboard at the front and molded wood pulp at the back, with a cavity where the item being sold rests. Each package is custom designed for the corporate client. Groupon, for example, hired PulpWorks to create a package for its new-member kits, which include an iPad and a stand. Other clients include LeapFrog toys; EO Products, which makes essential oils; and Light & Motion, a manufacturer of high-end bicycle lights. PulpWorks has also picked up some international work, such as packaging for gas meters for a company in Tunisia.
Tasner attributes PulpWorks' success--the company does upward of $1 million annually and is profitable--to his decades of experience as a supply-chain manager buying from entrepreneurs like himself. "I have tried to conduct myself as a person that I would have wanted to meet when I was sitting on the other side of that desk," he says. "In a few instances, I have been told that they appreciate that I knew what their pain was." In addition, his large professional network has produced numerous introductions; and he's done business with former employers, including Clorox. "So many of the people we connect with are part of my past," says Tasner. "I can't imagine these people that are bond traders all their lives and then become carpenters. That is amazing to me."
Tasner says creating a green business has made him, in his seventh decade, not just a first-time entrepreneur but also a first-time idealist. "We are replacing a plastic package that will most likely be landfill with a biodegradable package that will leave no stain on the earth," he says. "That really matters to me now." His unexpected career has also earned new respect from friends and relatives. "My granddaughter wants me to talk to her Girl Scout troop about eco-friendly packaging," says Tasner. "I was flattered."