Lily Tran – Founder of BoxUp

[quote style=”boxed”]I would have spent more time learning about marketing and allocating more resources to it. It is no use having great products and services if people can’t find you.[/quote]

Lily Tran isn’t an ordinary entrepreneur. After returning from Africa where she worked on sustainability projects, the Columbia University graduate set out to change an industry, and she’s doing just that. Tran founded  BoxUp, a company that rents reusable moving boxes and other eco-friendlier moving supplies as an alternative to cardboard boxes.

Currently operating in New York, BoxUp is giving a 21st century facelift to an industry desperately in need of one.

Where did the idea for BoxUp come from?

The seed for BoxUp was planted while I was attending Columbia University for my M.S. in Sustainability Management. My studies at Columbia University confirmed my belief that building a sustainable business is good for society and good for the bottom line. I had a few business ideas broken into 2 categories: Bring people joy (e.g., make beautiful things) or reduce people’s pains. I moved a lot in my life and it was always painful. I founded BoxUp to alleviate moving pains while reducing pressure on the environment.

What does your typical day look like?

A typical day may involve answering customer calls, scheduling orders, helping with delivery or pick-up, cleaning equipment, and working on the next marketing campaign.

How do you bring ideas to life?

In order to bring a new idea to life, I do a lot of research and write a business plan. I like to know what the competitors are doing, what products are available on the market, and it’s important to run different “what-if” financial scenarios, and outsource what you are not expert at.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Local and organic food. It tastes So much better!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I always plan my day at 6am in the morning.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job that I ever had was working in a kitchen. As much as I love cooking, I prefer a job that is more intellectually stimulating.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have spent more time learning about marketing and allocating more resources to it. It is no use having great products and services if people can’t find you.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I would recommend to always follow up, whether it be calls or emails from customers, suppliers, friends, co-workers.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Online marketing such as Groupon and Google Adwords have proven to be far more effective in getting the word out than print advertisements.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In the beginning, we sourced most of our products from one supplier who failed to deliver. The search for new suppliers significantly delayed our launch. I was able to overcome this obstacle because I had reserved funding in my business plan to cushion unexpected events. This failure turned out to be in our favor; it forced us to develop and manufacture some of our products which have proven to be quite profitable.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

High quality frozen, organic dog or cat food that can be heated quickly in the microwave. People love their pets and would cook for them if they had the time and skills. I think frozen food could be the next best option, it beats eating can or dry food. Haven’t done research on it but seems like a possibility.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I heart eating spam. Gross, I know.

What software and web services do you use?

I’m a heavy user of Word and Excel (Windows version). I use Quickbooks online for financial management. Easy-Sign and PDF Printer on Ipad are great. Grasshopper is a useful virtual phone system. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are also invaluable.

What do you love about them?

I find the Windows version of word and excel easier to use than the Mac version. Quickbooks online as opposed to the desktop version allows me to share info with our bookkeeper and tax preparer. Easy-Sign makes in-person document signing easy. Grasshopper allows us to have multiple phone extensions at an affordable price and get voicemails sent to my email mailbox. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools offer great insight into website performance and they are free.

What is the one book that you recommend that business owners should read and why?

Making Sustainability Work – Marc Epstein. Being green is no longer an option for business, it’s a competitive advantage.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Steve Jobs. I read his Stanford commencement speech on the Internet shortly after he died. That gave me the courage to act on my dream to be an entrepreneur. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”.

Buddha. While I don’t believe in after life and reincarnation, I do embrace many of Buddha’s teachings. I think that being compassionate, living a more simple life and believing in karma frees
your soul and makes you happier. And isn’t that or shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal in life?

Carl Sagan. His book, Cosmos, was given to me recently and it has changed my view of the world, increased my appreciation for science and opened my imagination. This book adds clarity to the question “what is meaning of life”.