Jason Kulpa, CEO of Underground Elephant

Jason Kulpa is the CEO of Underground Elephant, a performance-based provider of online-marketing technology & customer acquisition solutions. He architects business, technology & manages high-level strategic partnerships. Jason Kulpa is the driving force behind Underground Elephant. He brings 13 years of web traffic monetization experience, spanning multiple product and industry channels. Underground Elephant has been highlighted on the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies for four consecutive years. In 2012 and 2013, the National Association of Business Resources recognized UE as one of the Nation’s Best & Brightest Companies. UE is also a two-time winner of the San Diego Business Journal’s Best Places to Work in San Diego. In 2014, the American Business Awards honored UE with a Gold Stevie for its corporate social responsibility initiative, “Serving those who serve our Community.” Underground Elephant has also been a long-standing supporter of the San Diego Police Foundation. The company has provided donations to the SDPF in order to fund the adoption of two police dogs for the SDPD K-9 Unit.

How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?  

I love to work. Despite having the ability to take a break after selling my previous company, I wanted to get back after it pretty quickly and founded Underground Elephant. My value is being able to create multiple opportunities for success so that a positive outcome is more likely.  This takes being able to look at every situation with a high-level of empathy, and then creating mutually beneficial scenarios.  Thinking about things from multiple angles also allows me to work though bias that can hamper growth.  I am also a coach who must clearly communicate to team members why their work is meaningful and why they are important

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

We have been profitable since the beginning. We have pivoted and grown based off our receivables. It’s been a great with providing us autonomy to do what we want, but also a burden when we have had to make tough decisions based on cash-flow.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Never.  For better or worse we’ve operated under the burn-one’s-boats philosophy. Doubt, and other crutches have no place in our business, “Conquer or die.”

How did you get your first customer?

It was as simple as asking for their business.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

We use a lot of tactics, some expensive i.e. tradeshows some essentially free such as email. Success has to do with having a quality solution to a problem.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

As CEO I feel like tough decisions are just par for the course but the hardest is trading this-for-that in my opinion. We have found that the hardest decisions are saying no to something we know in our hearts we can do well but that it’s just too much above our current capacity to take on.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

Preparation and hard work. Plain and simple. I don’t believe in luck, Ray Kroc said it best “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.”

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Watching the people around me and develop and grow over the years. I’ve been fortunate to have many of my core employees still with me after 9 years and it has been amazing watching and helping them grow into the professionals they are today.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

This industry is constantly evolving. Digital continues to evolve every six months and throw new curve balls, and we’ve been able to pivot and adjust with the changes of the market. Never a dull day and that’s what keeps me excited.

What business books have inspired you?

  1. 48 laws of Power by Robert Greene
  2. The Wisdom of Life by Schopenhauer
  3. Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc
  4. Power Forward: My Presidential Education by Reggie Love
  5. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
  6. Better, Stronger, Faster: The Myth of American Decline . . . and the Rise of a New Economy by Daniel Gross
  7. Heroes and Ballyhoo: How the Golden Age of the 1920s Transformed American Sports by Michael K. Bohn
  8. Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
  9. Colonel Sanders and the American Dream (Discovering America) by Josh Ozersky
  10. The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker
  11. Heart for the Fight: A Marine Hero’s Journey from the Battlefields of Iraq to Mixed Martial Arts Champion by Brian Stann
  12. The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America by Tom Buk-Swienty
  13. A Quiet Adjustment: A Novel by Benjamin Markovits
  14. Discover Your True North by Bill George
  15. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?

Trees. We have five one-hundred-year old large olive trees placed in the heart of our office. We had to shut down our street traffic and remove the front wall of our office to crane them into our office. The peace and serenity they add to the open and collaborative culture constantly continues to inspire creativity and innovation in our business.

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