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Starting a Million-Dollar Business at 64

Kerry Hannon July 15, 2019
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How Paul Tasner, founder of PulpWorks, is making it work.

In 2009, Paul Tasner lost the strategic management post he had held at Method Products, which makes environmentally friendly soaps and household cleaners.

He was 64.

“Retirement was not an option for me,” Tasner told me. He turned to consulting for the next couple of years, but the desire wasn’t there, and he worried that he might never land another top full-time job.

So he devised an idea for a potential new business, motivated somewhat by his time at Method, where he had experienced a late-in-life switch to a deep concern for preserving the earth. As Tasner told me, “I felt a passion to make a difference for people and the planet.”

His other more tangible incentive was struggling while trying to open a package of kitchen shears his wife had recently bought. We can all relate to the frustration Tasner felt as he struggled to tear open that hard plastic package. “Ridiculous,” he says.

An engineer by training, Tasner set off on a mission to gather all the data he could about how to make a package that was simpler to open. And with his newly founded sensibility, he wanted to learn as much as possible about packaging that would be recycled and biodegradable.

While molding recycled goods into packaging isn’t novel — egg cartons are a familiar example — Tasner knew that most sellers wouldn’t want to show their goods in something so dowdy. His exploration led him to processes and materials that could be combined to turn paper, cardboard and sugarcane fiber into a thin but sturdy, glossy-white packaging material.

Hoping to construct a green manufacturing facility, he started another hunt — this time on LinkedIn, where he connected with Elena Olivari, a local architect dedicated to sustainability, who was two decades his junior. “I was looking for a new job that would give me a stronger feeling of purpose,” she says. “When Paul briefly explained why he was writing to me, my wishes were answered.”

For Tasner, it was a calling. “I wanted to build my own business replacing the toxic disposable plastic packaging to which we’ve all become addicted,” he says.

The duo teamed up to form PulpWorks, which opened for business with its first sale in March of 2014. This year, revenues are expected to hit $1 million, and the business carries no debt.

I asked Paul to look back and share his thoughts on starting a packaging business when he was over 60.

Kerry: What did starting your own business mean to you personally?

Paul: It was the realization of a life-long interest, perhaps, even passion at times. I never felt completely comfortable in the corporate world.

Were you confident that you were doing the right thing? Any second-guessing?

Actually, and surprisingly, I was always confident that this business was the right thing at the right time for me.

How do you measure your success?

By the way I feel. I have never been this pleased and proud of my work. How can that not be interpreted as “successful”!

How big a role did financial rewards play in your decision?

A modest role. Yes, financial rewards were important but not to the exclusion of all else.

How did your preparation help you succeed?

Because our business is not a great leap from the work that I did as an employee, one might say that I had 40 years of preparation. All of my work leading up to the founding of PulpWorks has been an incredibly valuable resource and foundation.

What do you tell other people who ask for your advice?

I tell them to find a good partner to share the joy and pain. Also, I suggest that they enter new business competitions to gain free exposure and potential financial rewards.

What are some of the unexpected rewards and surprises?

I’m told that I’ve been an inspiration to some.  That is a role that I never envisioned for myself. It’s an honor, a privilege, a gift. Truly, it is.

What was the biggest challenge?

Sales. I’m not a natural salesperson. Being successful at sales is very difficult. I have a whole new admiration for good salespeople. It’s an art – and a science.

An adaptation from “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life by Kerry Hannon. Win a copy of Kerry’s book by entering our July book giveaway.

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Kerry Hannon

Kerry Hannon is a leading authority and strategist on career transitions, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. She is a Entrepreneurship and Personal Finance Expert for Nextavenue.org and regular contributor to The New York Times and Forbes. She is also a frequent TV and radio commentator and is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences.

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