Why one woman left behind a career in finance to reinvent the pizza box

I saw so many people who started with nothing and became successful. That, in itself, was motivation.
Jennifer Wright-Laracy
co-founder GreenBox

Forget about thinking outside the box. For Jennifer Wright-Laracy, it's about thinking of the entire box — a pizza box, that is.

Reimagining that iconic food container was not a career Wright-Laracy envisioned for herself. She spent more than a decade working in the financial industry at places such as Citigroup.

But when the economic crisis hit in 2008, she headed to Columbia Business School to get her MBA and soon discovered she had an appetite for a new career: helping to redesign a pizza box to include a top that would become four plates and a bottom that would transform into a storage container. Oh yeah, and it would be made from 100 percent recycled corrugated cardboard.

"I realized that it was a fun idea," Wright-Laracy told CNBC in early 2015. "I didn't know if I would pursue it full time, but I thought I could add value."

Her finely tuned financial palate appealed to her friend William Walsh, the inventor and patent holder of the convertible pizza box, and his business partner, Ned Kensing. "We started pursuing Jen to come in and join our team," Kensing said.

Wright-Laracy moved forward slowly — introducing the team and its product at competitions and other events, creating a business plan as a school assignment and enrolling in an entrepreneurial class in which the multifunctional pizza box received $50,000 in bridge funding.

Feeling boxed in, Jennifer Wright-Laracy left finance to co-found GreenBox, a company that makes convertible pizza boxes.
Source: GreenBox

Eventually, she sunk her teeth into the idea, co-founding GreenBox with Walsh and Kensing in 2009. A year later, the business exploded following a one-word tweet from actor Ashton Kutcher that said, "smart" with a link to the GreenBox YouTube video.

Of course, not everything worked as planned. In November 2011, GreenBox creator Walsh suddenly died at age 44. "It was a very difficult time for us," Wright-Laracy remembered. "That was definitely a hurdle that we had to overcome, and we ultimately did, because we knew that's what he would want."

Today, the company estimates that it's growing by about 40 percent every year. It operates out of 12 manufacturing locations and works through distributors to supply product or technology to places like QuikTrip, Cumberland Farms, Whole Foods Market and the Hyatt Regency, as well as several colleges and universities and hundreds of independent pizzerias and regional pizza chains around the country. Some of that success is thanks to a trip to the Shark Tank in early 2015 and a deal made with Kevin O'Leary.

Though it was difficult to shake off the golden handcuffs of finance, Wright-Laracy said she's glad she did. "I can't imagine going back and working for someone else."

Wright-Laracy shares her top tips for others looking to change careers:

1. Do your homework!

Make sure you know what you are getting into and that the change you are making plays to your strengths.

2. Believe in yourself.

Drastic changes can bring out the naysayers; doses of reality can be a good thing, but it is also important to weed out the pure cynics.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Proactively asking questions and seeking the advice of experts in your field will help you stay on the right path and avoid costly mistakes.