Written by Andrew Seale
If only the kid version of Jay Klein selling candy out of his backpack could see him now, checkout counters and supermarket shelves dotted with The PUR Company chewing gum, mints, and popcorn. Somehow, despite the major brands' dominance of the chewing gum sphere, he managed to find enough space on the shelf to build a mini confectionary empire.
“I always loved making something out of nothing, creating a transaction,” says Klein, who founded The PUR Company in 2010. “Making money always intrigued me.”
Not the concept of having lots of money, no that wasn’t it. It was that idea of creating something people wanted. At first, he ignored it, that nagging voice, instead acquiescing to his mother’s calls for a sensible career as a lawyer, something stable, something with direction.
But the voice was too loud, and after all, as a single mother, she’d already set an example, embedding a level of tenacity her son couldn’t ignore. So in his last year at York University, Klein launched a marketing and advertising business, something to call his own.
“Being an entrepreneur at that time in 2001/2002 wasn’t as sexy,” recalls Klein. “Having a career and being professional was far more desirable than just trying to start your own business.”
But he worked really hard and took it seriously for seven years. “In my apartment, I would get dressed to go to work from one room to the next,” he says. “The business grew, everything was great – the business still operates today – but in 2007 I saw how much work it was to get an account or have to re-sell services all the time.”
He decided he wanted to be in a more stable model, something people could connect with. Functional snacks and drinks were on the rise and Klein saw an opportunity to create a chemical-free alternative to the chewing gum on the market.
“I moved from big marketing pitches to small chewing gum sales,” says Klein with a laugh.
Everyone told him not to do it; not to go into the gum business. He says he knew the competition was so massive that PUR would probably not even be in the same stratosphere. But that’s about all he knew.
“Sometimes when you don't know about things, you do better,” says Klein. “I didn't listen to everyone, I followed what made sense to me and it wasn't easy and had I known more I probably would've stopped but I didn’t.”
He set his sights on the long-run – what did he want the company to look like in five years? “I think that's why we've succeeded,” says Klein. And uncompromisingly so. While the incumbents were flailing, trying to meet the oncoming barrage of healthy trends, PUR has stayed what it’s always been: natural. And he did it in his hometown.
“You have everything you'd need in the city,” he says. “Industrial areas, financial areas, everything that represents the world, you have a diverse audience, a worldwide palate, creative insights.”
He still finds himself thinking of those days at York and what the school instilled in him. “York opened my eyes to opportunity,” he says. “You can't learn to be an entrepreneur, you get hungry and you push yourself and you become one… but having a platform that encourages you to be an entrepreneur gives you a runway to become one.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)