Cal Poly alumnus Jordan Kepler and Justin Farr came up with the idea of The Cardboard Guys during their time at Cal Poly. | Courtesy Photos/The Cardboard Guys

Savannah Sperry

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The nuisance of buying, selling, moving and storing furniture has plagued college students since the first booze-stained, hand-me-down couch was haphazardly dragged into an apartment.

Cal Poly alumni Jordan Kepler and Justin Farr saw an unconventional solution to this problem: corrugated cardboard furniture.

It’s light, inexpensive, quick to assemble, and 100 percent recyclable.

“Furniture is really hard to move around,” Kepler said, “You end up buying it, using it for the year and then tossing it because you couldn’t take it. Or if you did, it was really expensive.”

The story of Kepler, Farr and their idea of cardboard furniture starts in a class called Electronic Systems (IT 137).

There, the two industrial technology majors were paired as lab partners and bonded over their dreams of inventing, all while documenting their ideas in a little black book.

A year after the duo tried its hand at two skateboard-related business ventures, they were faced with their senior project. They reopened their black book of ideas and circled back to cardboard furniture. That’s when their startup, The Cardboard Guys, was born.

They aspired to build an entire bedroom set for their project, but the first step was to create a chair.

“We saw it as the biggest challenge,” Kepler said, “Because it actually has to hold a person. A desk only has to hold a computer and maybe a few books. It was definitely the biggest challenge.”

On their 14th round of testing, Kepler and Farr found a design that worked.

“We ended up holding a load of about 1,000 pounds on top of our chair,” Farr said.

The Cardboard Guys leave their furniture free of glue and adhesive so as not to compromise the cardboard’s recyclability. The setup does not require any tools, making assembly simple.

The startup currently resides at SLO HotHouse, a communal space in downtown San Luis Obispo that supports Cal Poly students and community members as they begin their own business ventures. Farr said he and Kepler use HotHouse’s resources in refining their own target market and customer development.

They have recently refocused their target market from college students to children.

“There’s definitely a need for the product among college kids, but selling to college students is always hard because they don’t have a lot of money to spend,” Kepler said, “Initially, as a startup company we think we can grow a lot faster going to the kids stuff first. Down the line we’ll have our adult line.”

As far as selling their products, The Cardboard Guys are still in product refinement mode.

“We’re actually going to be launching a Kickstarter video,” Kepler said, “It’s going to be our first step to get that initial boost in capital so we can go to large-scale manufacturing and start selling.”

The aim of the Kickstarter campaign is to create a video showcasing The Cardboard Guys and their products and share it across all social media platforms.

“It’s a story about what our product can actually mean to a family and how much fun a cardboard desk and chair can be to a kid – where they can build it and be creative and really make it their own,” Farr said. “And then we tell them a little bit about us and how we’re going to manufacture the product and kind of what we need.”

The Cardboard Guys have a hopeful long-term vision for the future of their startup.

“We want to help out those in need with a temporary, inexpensive product that ships easily,” Farr said. “We have so many different channels to go down with our product—there are so many possibilities.”

But until then, the duo has a few things happening in the short term.

One of these things is an event called Global Cardboard Challenge Day. It’s a worldwide event where children are invited to build whatever they want out of cardboard or recycled material. Organizations from around the world can choose to host the challenge.

The Cardboard Guys will host the challenge at the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum on October 11 at 11 a.m.

“We like doing stuff in the community and getting our name out there. Giving back is one of our main missions in our company,” Kepler said about the event in an email to Mustang News.

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