Rather than turning to golf after hitting retirement age, Paul Tasner tells Aegon he is enjoying a rich and rewarding life by running a business that turns garbage into planet-friendly, sustainable packaging.
Paul was a key inspiration for Aegon when we launched the Silvers Starters program. Read about how it all began for him.
What drove you to start your business?
At age 64, I was the director of operations at a consumer products company in San Francisco. One day I was called to a meeting that was already in progress. It turned out to be my exit interview. I and several others were fired. Retirement simply wasn't an option for me. Therefore, after 40 years of continuous work experience and a good network, I became a consultant. But I simply had no passion for it.
After a few years, an idea started to take shape. Drawing on a concern for the environment, I decided to create my own business – PulpWorks - to design and manufacture biodegradable packaging from waste. These products are an alternative to toxic disposable plastic packaging to which we have become addicted. Clean technology to reduce the billions of pounds of single-use plastics packaging that is dumped or ends up in the sea - is something that is really meaningful for me.
I know retired people my age who play golf twice a week and frankly they are very boring. But I am sure their hearts are in great shape. When I spoke to Aegon a few years ago I was struck by the comment that "you couldn't be taking better care of yourself than doing what you are doing." It has been three years since then and I can't wait to get up every morning to check my emails and take care of business, talk to clients, and just pursue what I am pursuing.
Paul told the story of founding the start-up as a Ted Talk in 2017. It has been watched over 2.2 million times.
What were the main challenges you had to overcome?
Paul: Marketing is a big challenge for any start-up. I was very fortunate to be selected to tell my story as a TED Talk. The platform is huge, with 18-20 million subscribers worldwide. I had many responses because first few days after a talk is posted you get deluged with but since then I have gotten millions of responses. While my appearance on TED gave me exposure this does not in itself guarantee the business would flourish. It is the ability to deliver on your promise.
When looking for funding I had one venture capital source – who was the same age as I was – ask incredulously what I thought I was doing. In general, however, the issue of age completely disappears in the business relationships that I have. I don't think they could give two hoots whether I am 66 or 26. As long as I am delivering what I promise in terms of timing and quality and economics that is the most important to thing for them. If it is a distant relationship, I would say some don't have a clue how old I am. Until recently we did not have zoom meetings we spoke on the phone or email. I don't think we win their business because we gave a Ted Talk, you still must feed / meet the other important criteria.
What are the best things about running your business?
Paul: I talk to a lot of people in the course of my work and they ask me where you want to be in five years where do you think your revenues will be? I have to kind of stop them and say I am not looking to triple my revenues and I am not looking necessarily to sell my business. I am looking to continue to live the rich and rewarding life that the business has afforded to me.
Thanks to the TED exposure, I do get invited on podcasts that span a range of topics and are all fun. These events give me a platform to talk about ageism and things like that. Recently, I spoke with two young guys who run a podcast from a basement. We talked about inter-generational working and I felt I had more in common with them rather than with people my own age. We share a common language as they have just started out and I feel my business is young in many ways. Everyone I work with is younger than me and it is a great mix.