EXCLUSIVE transcript from a podcast about the GENIUS CEO of a FAILING STARTUP
How could a company that was too big to fail...fail?
Doing something a little different this week! I’m very excited to share a preview of a brand-new podcast about the stunning rise and devastating fall of a company that seemed poised to change the world. Below is a transcript of the first episode — I hope you enjoy!
AJ KRUGER: When I first met Joe, it was like… this guy’s a rock star. I knew right away I needed to sign up for whatever it was he was doing.
SKIPPY BLUNDERSON: I’ve known Joe since we were kids, and you always knew that he was gonna go on to great things. He started his first business in fourth grade! He scribbled on this girl’s arm with a Sharpie marker when she wasn’t looking and then told her that it was a tattoo and she had to pay for it. He did that to like 10 kids and I think seven of them paid. Dude just had a brilliant, brilliant mind.
NARRATOR: Joe Blervis wasn’t just a genius. He was a natural-born leader with a magnetic personality. At 5’9 with medium-boring hair, he’s the spitting image of a mailman and dripping with charisma. And he would go on to found one of the most exciting companies of our age, BooBoo, the startup that promised to end world hunger… through shirts.
KATY DARCY: He’s young, he’s brilliant, he’s sexy, everyone wanted whatever he was selling.
DAVID TOLLHOUSE: I invested right away. You could just tell that he had “it” from the second you heard him speak.
JOE BLERVIS, VOICE BRAYING LIKE A DONKEY BEING MURDERED: The key to business is succeeding, and the key to success is being busy. Life should be 70% work and 70% play. You should invent your own fractions and disrupt your own math.
DAVID TOLLHOUSE: He read a ton, I think he had read maybe…I think three books, probably, in his life. So like here’s this genius guy, always quoting books and stuff. “Oh, the places you’ll go,” quotes like that.
NARRATOR: Joe was brilliant. Captivating. Engaging. AJ Kruger, who would become his company’s co-founder, recognized that right away.
AJ KRUGER: So Joe and I met in a coffee shop actually. Joe takes his diet very seriously — he likes to fast 20 hours a day and then drink 7 espresso shots with a chaser of Soylent and a microdose of LSD. So I’m behind him in line at the coffee shop and he’s explaining this to the barista girl who’s like, you know, “We don’t sell Soylent or LSD here” and Joe is explaining to her the benefits of biohacking, and I was just fascinated with him. So we got to talking and became friends. I’d been trying to start a business myself. I really admired that entrepreneurship mindset of making money and having a lot of money. That was always a goal of mine. And so we decided to go into business together.
NARRATOR: The two complimented each other perfectly. Joe handled the PR side of the business. He’d meditate for hours on end, then call every media contact he had to insist they write profiles on him. AJ handled the ideas side, brainstorming dozens of potential business concepts.
KATY DARCY: I’ve been writing about BooBoo for years. It all began back in those early days when Joe contacted me directly — he called me at 4am out of the blue on my home phone and said that we at INNOVATOR Magazine needed to put him on the cover. Of course he was already on my radar. I’d heard rumors about this guy, this wunderkind who was taking the world by storm, so I set up an interview time right away.
AJ KRUGER: We’re getting all this buzz, which was amazing, but at the same time I was kinda like, “Should we actually start a company? Or have an idea for a company?” But Joe always reminded me that the most important thing is to get people talking, which was a great lesson for me to learn.
KATY DARCY: From that interview I had with him, he was just so compelling and charismatic that I realized we needed to have him as the keynote speaker at INNOVATOR Fest that year to tell his story.
*sound of applause*
JOE’S HIDEOUS FOGHORN OF A VOICE: Thank you so much for having me here at INNOVATOR Fest! Today I ask all of you: what is an idea? What is your idea? Why are ideas, and how? Who is you, and why are you an idea? That’s the big question, all of those questions, together. And in a tech space, that’s the way you need to be idea.
AJ KRUGER: That speech was kind of a shock wave moment. Silicon Valley went crazy for it. Everyone was talking about it like it was a really historic moment — which of course, it proved to be. And from there we were able to get a lot of fundraising opportunities.
NARRATOR: Joe and AJ still didn’t have a name for their company, or even a concept for it. Some might say that they didn’t technically have a company at all. But Joe wasn’t worried. AJ remembers that first investor meeting being a little nerve-wracking — but Joe knew exactly what he was doing.
AJ KRUGER: When it came time to pitch our first angel investor, I remember there were these two girls in front of us and we could kind of hear them through the door — you know, both had Doctorates in Business from Harvard, they’d put together this incredible team, and they had this product that was like you could just enter your Social Security number and it would do your taxes for you for free. So I’m kinda sweating, right? Their pitch sounds incredible, like they have all these assets and charts and results of all this testing they’ve done on it, and we don’t even have an idea for a company. But we walk in and Joe just starts free-styling and it’s like… if Abraham Lincoln could give a TED Talk. That level of speech. Just mind-blowing.
JOE, WHEEZING AND BELLOWING SIMULTANEOUSLY: I said to this guy, “Look around this room, and look inside your heart. What do we all have in common? Humanity. And what does all of humanity want? To connect, and to dream. And what are dreams made of?” and at this point I notice he’s wearing a T-shirt. “T-shirts,” I say. “What if your T-shirt… could connect…. to a dream?” It just came to me in the moment. The guy actually started weeping. He signed us the check there on the spot. Sometimes it’s not about the pitch, it’s not about preparing, it’s about that connection in the moment.
AJ KRUGER: We still didn’t know what the business would be exactly, but now we had a direction. We knew it had to be about T-shirts somehow. That investor said he’d never fund another company but ours. He went all in on us. And those girls, the doctor ladies, I think I saw recently that they did finally get some funding. It’s been like 15 years they’ve been at it. Which is good for them, their product is incredible.
JOE’S VOICE, THE WORST SOUND YOU HAVE EVER HEARD: Some people just don’t have business sense.
NARRATOR: Once they got that initial flow of cash — and the gears turning for an idea — they were unstoppable. David Tollhouse was an early investor.
DAVID TOLLHOUSE: So the concept was that every time you bought a T-shirt, it would help stop world hunger. Which is an amazing idea, like I signed up immediately, no questions asked.
KATY DARCY: When they revealed that new concept for the company, it was like a bomb had gone off in Silicon Valley. Suddenly if your company didn’t have a mission like that, you were tiny little trash babies. Everyone started pitching their ideas like “It’s the BooBoo of sandwiches,” you know, “it’s like BooBoo meets Uber and every time you call a car someone’s death penalty sentence is pardoned.”
CARRIE PROVOLONE: At this point, I’d just graduated. It was 2010. And I’d heard about this buzzy, exciting new company with this CEO who was supposed to be like if Mark Zuckerberg had a test tube baby with Steve Jobs and they infused Picasso’s spirit into his genes while incubating him. Just this fascinating, brilliant leader. And so I interviewed with what would become BooBoo and I was brought on as a combination Executive Assistant to Joe-slash-Director of Geospatial Infrastructural Design, which just meant I was in charge of assembling the IKEA furniture-slash-Community Wellness Manager. It was a lot. I was working like 80-hour weeks, and my starting salary was $3/hour. This was still right around the recession, so I was just happy to have a job at all. In the beginning, it was very lean. Joe didn’t even want to have to pay for my flights so he actually just bought me a little vest so I could be registered as a service dog.
NARRATOR: The environment was exciting, and Carrie’s friends were jealous of her amazing career opportunity. But working with Joe one-on-one could have its challenges.
CARRIE PROVOLONE: I was 22 and he was only 28, so there wasn’t that much of an age difference between us. So I was surprised the first time that he asked me to open email for him. He didn’t know how to turn on a computer.
SKIPPY BLUNDERSON: Yeah, it was kinda crazy in college because he’d always just like, ask his roommates or classmates or whatever to do the computer stuff for him. He was very charismatic, you know, so nobody minded. I think one semester his RA actually paid him to turn on Joe’s computer for him.
CARRIE PROVOLONE: In my role as Community Wellness Manager, I needed to onboard all new employees and make sure that they were fitting in, which could be difficult because Joe was so unorthodox. You couldn’t always approach him with an idea since he was in the meditation pod for up to 17 hours a day. But it was still an exciting place to work — you felt like you’d gotten in on the ground at Facebook, but like before they had to testify before Congress, or Twitter, but before the big Nazi problem, or Uber, before the labor strikes. Just that sense that nothing could ever go wrong for the company.
NARRATOR: With the company growing so fast, their next challenge was to find a bigger space. Once again, Joe’s charm and resilience came in handy to seal the deal.
AJ KRUGER: So we walked into this building that’s just perfect, our dream location, great amount of space, and the landlord is like “this building isn’t for rent. I’ve already promised it to another tenant.”
TONY STROMBOLI: Oh, I remember the day I met Joe Blervis very clearly. I’ll never forget it. He comes in with his business partner, very insistent, and I keep saying “this building is not for rent.”
AJ KRUGER: And then finally — and this was kind of wild — Joe pulls out a gun, and he’s like “We’re gonna rent this building.”
TONY STROMBOLI: Now I’ve seen a lot of things in my years in real estate. But nobody’s ever pulled a gun on me. You had to admire the confidence. I was impressed. I looked him in the eye and said “Son, you got yourself a deal.”
AJ KRUGER: I didn’t even know he had a gun, that was a surprise to me. But not a shock, because I was used to Joe being a bit of a wild card. He’s very unpredictable, which is what makes him such a good business partner.
NARRATOR: Now they could focus on their mission: ending world hunger through the power of T-shirts.
CARRIE PROVOLONE: That was when Joe really became like a celebrity. He was flying all around the world, in his private jets so no one had to be a service dog, and you’d see him popping up on Instagram with Katy Perry and Gisele and North West. That summer he flew the whole company out to Turks and Caicos, to celebrate our first shirt sold.
KATY DARCY: Anyone who’s anyone, at that point, wanted to be near Joe Blervis. It was so exciting to be around him because he’s a millionaire, then he’s a billionaire. He’s doing so well, so you can tell that he’s really making an impact on the world. He has 65 yachts at this point, so just imagine how much hunger they must have been stopping.
DAVID TOLLHOUSE: Any reasonable person would look at this guy and be like: the world is so fucked up, and we have so many problems, and this one man can solve them all. He’s the answer. Like... a savior or something. So that’s how I ended up giving him my life’s savings, which seemed like a very safe investment, at the time.
CARRIE PROVOLONE: The environment was very stressful, but it was the coolest workplace. BooBoo had its own vocabulary. We don’t “sell products,” we expand opportunities, and we aren’t a “workplace,” we’re a coven, and this is not “capitalism,” it’s a vibe.
KATY DARCY: Nowadays you see every company call their workplace a coven but that was actually Joe who pioneered that. He changed the industry in so many ways that continue to ripple today.
AJ KRUGER: I think our employees were very excited to be there. We were literally curing hunger. There was no work-life balance, for sure, and we did expect them to be in the office all of their waking hours and we didn’t offer health insurance back then. But we did this very fun thing every Thursday morning called “Beer Pong Brainstorm,” which was like a team meeting but way more fun, and of course we had awesome perks like unlimited beer and free LSD.
NEWS ANCHOR: BooBoo, the company that’s saving the world through T-shirts, has become the first company to raise seven trillion dollars in capital. What’s next? Its rock star CEO Joe Blervis announced today that they will be the first company to build a flagship… on the moon.
NARRATOR: Not even the sky was the limit for Joe and the company he’d built from scratch. What could possibly go wrong?
Next time, on Not Your Average Joe, things start to go wrong for BooBoo.
KATY DARCY: Suddenly you see this wild dip in the stock and everyone on Wall Street is losing their minds. This was not supposed to happen. There was no way BooBoo could fail.
CARRIE PROVOLONE: When the ProPublica expose came out… morale at the company really dipped. It turns out that the shirts were made from puppies. So it didn’t actually stop hunger. It just killed puppies. And when that news came out… there were a few people in the coven who started to lose faith in our mission a little bit.
AJ KRUGER: We had a New York Times reporter email him to request a comment on those employees who’d died, and Joe just sends back a dick pic. And I was like, “Wait, what are you doing?” and he was like, “Disruption.” Obviously he still had my full trust because it was Joe, but it was a tense moment for sure.
DAVID TOLLHOUSE: I was visiting Joe on his private island, and I open a newspaper and see the headline “WORLD HUNGER AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH.” And I’m like… so where did my money go??