Dara Schaier A08 is trying to change how people think about cardboard. Her company, BOOP, creates furniture made out of cardboard for young, urban dwellers that is both lightweight and sustainable. Schaier studied architecture at Tufts with a minor in Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, then went on to receive her MBA from Emory University.
ELS recently spoke to her about BOOP and lessons she has learned as an entrepreneur.
What led to the creation of Built Out of Paper (BOOP)?
After graduating from Tufts, I moved back to New York and basically led the typical post-grad life of moving to a new apartment every single year because you get priced out of apartments very easily. During this time, I was living in a fifth floor walkup and didn’t have a car, so this whole cycle of getting furniture was incredibly stressful and I kept thinking about the needless waste created every time I moved. I would end up tossing out so much furniture because there just wasn’t a good way to move it. It didn’t make economical sense to move it. It was a constant cycle of stress and waste.
I went to work for a paper company and it was just by chance that they had acquired a Chinese company. I stumbled upon a room with all of this cardboard furniture that I thought was incredible. At Tufts, my major was architecture and I’ve always been interested in materials and design, so this struck me right away as an interesting use of material.
When I asked someone about this furniture, they dismissed it and said it didn’t work. I said, “No, I think I have a market for it. I am the market.” This furniture was a really good solution for a problem that I was currently having. I was justifying that I would do it on my own. I had a good design background, a good analytical background from Tufts, the drive, and business skills from the ELS minor. Then, I just went for it.
Are you working by by yourself or do you have others that work with you?
It is just me – I’m running the show. I have outsourced the manufacturing to a local place here in Atlanta. My products are all made in the U.S. Right now we are chugging along; it took a lot of time and effort to get it off the ground. I had a commitment that I wanted to manufacture in the U.S., and that’s becoming increasingly difficult. This month (April 2018) I created a small first batch of my first product, which is the bookcase. It comes to you for free. It’s shipped right to your door, and weighs less than nine pounds so people have no problem lifting it or bringing it up stairs if needed. It can be assembled really quickly without the use of any tools. You keep it for as long as needed and then when you move, you recycle it in your normal paper recycling bin and you don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that you sent another piece of furniture out to the landfill.
Are you currently marketing this to those in college that move around every year?
No, I’m currently focused on recent grads, but I do hope that college grads still hear about this. I am currently in a stage where I am testing everything. If the data tells me I’m wrong, I would pivot and try the next alternative.
How are you going to spread the word about BOOP and how are you planning to change consumer behavior?
That’s the million dollar question. I’m just starting to get the word out now. I’m hoping that there will be some early adopters that can help to perpetuate a grassroots campaign. For the rest of the population, I’ll be reaching out with more traditional kinds of marketing. My biggest hurdle will probably be educating consumers about this product. A lot of people have the same first reaction: “Is it strong enough?” Since we get Amazon boxes every month, there is a notion that cardboard is dirt cheap and throw-away material, but in reality it’s a great material that happens to be good at making boxes. It’s not as cheap as people might think – it comes from trees, and there is a real cost to it that is translated in the price of the product. I am going to have to change the way that people think about cardboard for BOOP to be successful.
What has been you biggest challenge at BOOP? What’s the biggest challenge since graduating from Tufts?
The biggest challenge at BOOP is just putting it all together. There are all these different areas that an entrepreneur must cover to succeed. They must be a jack of all trades – able to do the numbers, the design, and the advertising.
My biggest challenge since Tufts has probably been figuring out what I wanted to do. When I left Tufts, I was really into architecture but I wasn’t convinced that it was the career for me. After working at a corporate law firm, I decided that was not the career for me. And then I ended up at the paper company. This job was great and taught me a ton about business. I learned a lot about a very particular industry that I thought was interesting and it allowed me to be creative on a daily basis. I think and hope I have finally found the thing that Tufts prepared me to do.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known earlier?
I wish I had become more comfortable with risk-taking earlier. Being an entrepreneur obviously carries an awful lot of risk. I’m foregoing a salary right now and there is inherent risk in everything that I’m doing, but I still think I acted conservatively for too long. The whole year that I’ve been working full time on this, I was taking a very calculated and very careful approach. In retrospect, I was limiting the experimentation and was limiting the open-mindedness. So I think from this point forward, I’m trying to go against my nature, and if something seems like a good idea it’s not going to bankrupt me, then I need to give it a try.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in and/or starting their venture now?
Start with something! It doesn’t necessarily have to be the idea that you think is going to be your big idea. The earlier you start selling things and talking to customers and thinking like an entrepreneur the better. Then when you find your big idea, it will be easier to jump right in with full force.