Lula’s founder has gone from small business ownership to raising funds for the new high-growth tech startup.
Bo Lais can relate to almost any entrepreneur, from the small business owner to the CEO leading a high-growth tech firm. That’s because he’s experienced business at both ends of the spectrum.
He started a successful web design firm in college. One fateful day, a client visited his office and eventually hired Lais for his startup. And when key team members joined and leadership roles stabilized, Lais had the urge to strike out on his own.
Lais’ journey has taught him lessons that translate to any business, and some that he could only learn through specific situations.
Building a Business
Lais began his career in 1999 as a self-taught web designer. He attended the University of Arkansas and had a friend there from Dallas. Through his friend’s connections, they began hosting and designing websites for Dallas nightclubs.
As they built up the business, they expanded to serve other clients. When Lais moved to Olathe, he brought the company with him. The firm, Brazen Web Design, grew to employ eight people.
The company was in a great place in 2008 when Michael Rea paid a visit. He explained to Lais that he was in need of help to create a platform for his business, Rx Savings Solutions.
The Startup Trajectory
Brazen built the first platform for Rx Savings Solutions. At the time, the company was marketing itself to consumers as a way to help them save money on prescriptions.
For nearly three years, Lais and Brazen managed the tech needs for Rea’s company—until a couple of big breaks necessitated a full-time CTO.
First, Mutual of Omaha approached Rea. The experience opened his eyes to a different type of client—health insurance and self-insured companies. It also showed Rea that his platform would need to grow much bigger, much faster if it were to take on clients with thousands of users.
Following that lead, Rx Savings Solutions landed a contract with the State of Kansas. Rea needed more help.
Lais was asked to join the team, but he was torn on whether to give up his profitable—and safe—small business.
“I thought perhaps I could maybe do both. You can’t,” Lais said. “I learned very quickly that you can’t—you have to have focus. … I sit here today and say I’m glad I did, but it was a very scary process.”
The State of Kansas contract and bringing on its first employees catapulted Rx Savings Solutions. It grew, taking on investments, clients and more employees.
In 2015, “it seemed like things were just moving up and up” at the company, Lais said. He’d been CTO there for four years.
“It started to get to a point where it almost didn’t seem like a startup anymore,” he said.
Again, the company was in a great place when the opportunity to try something new and scary came into Lais’ life.
“It was a tough decision getting into Rx Savings, and then it was maybe even tougher leaving. It was hard leaving a job when you’re getting paid well, you’re a shareholder and you have great health benefits—especially when you have a wife and two kids at home,” he said.
“Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, I don’t know,” Lais joked.
A New Venture
A frustrating experience as a new homeowner sparked Lais’ new idea. Just before a planned housewarming gathering, he discovered the air conditioner was blowing hot air. He started searching and calling for HVAC repair. Companies didn’t answer or didn’t call back. If they did, they couldn’t come out that day or offered convoluted pricing.
Lais decided there must be a better way to find household service technicians—and that led him to found his own tech startup.
“The real decision was a financial decision at this point—that’s scary,” he said. “It’s really tough getting a startup off the ground—it’s emotional, it’s expensive.”
His new venture is Lula, an app that instantly connects homeowners with qualified professionals who are available to come within four hours or less and complete the work requested. The Lula app uses the homeowners’ unique property data along with proprietary algorithms to deliver upfront pricing for all the services offered through the platform.
Though the company’s official launch was last fall, Lais had been working behind the scenes for two years doing market research, architecting the app, creating partnerships and securing funding. In November, Lula closed on a seed round of $420,000.
Learning by Doing
Each stage of his career has had its own challenges and lessons to be learned.
As a small business owner, Lais said, he had no one to answer to when it was time to make big decisions. At Lula, there are other partners involved.
“I want everyone’s feedback,” he said. “Ultimately I have final say, but I’m not someone who thinks I have the right answer all the time.”
The success of any venture depends on the quality of the team, Lais said.
“It has to do with team you put around you,” he said. “Early on, you need go-getters. You need some hustlers and bustlers that can do a lot of things well.”
But running a high-growth tech startup “is a completely different world” from running a small business, Lais said.
“With a small business, you have to be profitable, for starters. Things don’t move quite as fast, for sure,” he said. “With a lot of small businesses, a lot of it comes down to being great at customer service and good at what you do because there are a lot of options out there.”
Startups, on the other hand, often are trying to solve an acute need for a large market, he said—and they have to move fast before competitors overtake them.
“With most startups, you have to get quite a bit of funding because you have to scale quickly.”
And although he witnessed Rx Savings Solution grow from its very early days, Lais said being the front man at Lula has been a whole new learning experience for him. He’s had to perfect his pitch and learn how investors value companies.
In the end, Lais knows it’s hard work that will set up Lula for success.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Lula yet, but I’m going to give it everything I can,” he said.