Chris Larsen ’95 wasn’t looking for a million-dollar idea when he picked up a homemade trivet, crocheted by a friend’s daughter, and tossed it across the room, Frisbee style. But when the disc sailed through the air, aided by an unintentional lip around its edge, the flight marked a pivotal event in Larsen’s life.
“It was that classic eureka moment,” he said. “We discovered that, my goodness, cotton can fly!”
Larsen and the trivet-maker’s father, Patrick Groft, eventually dubbed the new toy the Pocket Disc, and they began looking for a place where they could have it mass-produced, by hand, using fair-trade practices. On the advice of a hacky-sack importer, they began employing a network of Mayan women in Guatemala.
Larsen, a renewable-energy engineer, said that as an entrepreneur, he had “zero training beyond a genuine curiosity and a willingness to learn.” But four years after launching the company, both Larsen and Groft have quit their day jobs to produce Pocket Discs for clients that include small, independent toy stores as well as major retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports and L.L. Bean.
This year, Larsen and his family – wife Rachel and daughters Hannah and Ellie – moved from North Carolina to Chiapas, Mexico, where Chris is working to build a new network of producers to meet the company’s growing demand.
So far, the experience has been rewarding for the entire family, Larsen said. The girls, ages 11 and 8, have been immersed in Spanish at their local schools, gaining a fluency that their parents envy. And for Larsen, working abroad has added new experiences to a job that was “not even close to being on the radar” when he was an undergraduate at Princeton.
“Every day is different, and I’ve found it personally very liberating,” he said. “It comes with a lot of risk and sometimes stress, but I think that’s offset by the fact that we’re a very mission-driven company.”
Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.