Most guys who find themselves at the office at 8 p.m. on Valentine’s Day either don’t have anyone to take out to begin with or needn’t bother going home.
For Bulu Box co-founder Paul Jarrett, the exact opposite was true earlier this month, given that his wife and company co-founder, Stephanie Jarrett was a few steps away in the company’s Lincoln, Neb., headquarters.
“It wasn’t even a question of if we should go out,” Paul remembers. “I was on the phone correcting an issue with a vendor and we both just knew that this is where we needed to be.”
Cast aside for a moment some of the ingenious concepts of the almost-two-year-old company and you quickly realize the “it” factor behind the fast-growing web retailer of health and athletic supplements is the Jarretts themselves.
Self-described “tenacious, fearless, at times possessed,” the first-time entrepreneurs aligned with Dundee Venture Capital in July 2012 and never looked back.
“If I had looked at us as a venture capitalist, my knee-jerk reaction would have been, ‘Wait a second,’” Paul said. “But I think, the thing I would have come back to was here’s a couple that, they don’t have much, but they know hard work and they are in this 100 percent.”
Like a lot of great ideas, Bulu Box is a tantalizing balance of simplicity of concept with just enough personality to be intriguing. The company offers a wide array of health and wellness supplements and vitamins, with the added twist of a subscriber service that yields members a monthly box of product samples.
The concept is particularly effective with women, many of whom have never set foot inside a brick and mortar supplements retailer or are intimidated by the prospect of investing too heavily in a product they ultimately don’t like and can’t return.
“Women have, for a long time, been overlooked,” said Stephanie. “We were lucky to have come along at a time when all that is changing in the areas of nutrition, wellness and exercise which are beginning to make huge strides marketing to women.”
Despite Stephanie’s longtime passion for running and Paul’s stint as a Division I college football player, the company strikes an empathic note with ordinary consumers, bolstered by a thriving social media presence that nurtures customers’ participation in a health community.
“Social media allows you to create any version of yourself, including one that is very healthy,” Stephanie said.
Last year was particularly good for the company, as the subscriber base surpassed 10,000 active subscribers and 30,000 total customers. This resulted in the operational benefit of preferred pricing among manufacturers and vendors, boosting margins 10 to 30 percent.
The Jarretts said the most important factors behind the company’s growth are the company’s value statements, which are formally and informally reiterated at every opportunity. Statements promoting risk taking and teamwork are hammered home daily until they are a part of the everyday vernacular at Bulu Box.
This is more than just feel-good speak. Several employees, have taken their cue from these company axioms, have created some of the company’s best new ideas, such as a bridal-themed box that was recently added to the company’s seasonal assortments. For its part, management keeps approval channels to a minimum, which makes for quick decisions and keeps fresh ideas from getting bogged down in red tape.
The combination of creative thought, operational agility and tolerance for risk has driven monthly sales over $100,000 in 2013 and has accelerated the company’s march toward second round funding. Paul said the experience with Dundee Venture Capital played no small role in that rapid development.
“As an entrepreneur, I have always operated with what I call healthy paranoia,” he said. “There’s always certain things that you can’t do and you need to have someone that speaks your language and keeps you on point. Whatever I thought a VC-startup relationship was supposed to be, Dundee has far exceeded it in terms of expertise, communication and occasionally, tough love. It’s really helped keep us on the cutting edge.”