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Alumni Spotlight

Figuring It Out

Alum creates fantasyland of entrepreneurship by just “jumping in.”

Jay Davis, founder of Pillow Cube

On the rare occasion that Jay Davis has a few minutes to relax, he enjoys reading in his office, surrounded by the thousands of books he’s collected over the years. Davis loves to learn new things, and books have always been a valuable source of learning for him. However, much of the learning this entrepreneur and BYU Marriott 2008 management grad has done comes from simply being willing to figure it out, even when he had no idea what he was doing.

His drive to learn is one of the reasons Davis enjoyed his time at BYU Marriott so much. “At BYU, I wasn’t just jumping through the hoops; I was learning,” he explains. “I had access to professors I had heard about my whole life, and they opened their doors and hung out with me. I would stop by their offices and ask them all the questions I’d ever had, and it was this access to knowledge that inspired and drove me.”

Enjoying the Experience

Davis had heard about BYU professors throughout his childhood because both of his parents are BYU grads. “The BYU culture was strong in my family,” says Davis. He grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, before moving to Colorado when he was 10, where his father worked as a management training consultant.

“My dad and I talked about two things growing up: business and the gospel,” says Davis, who is the oldest of five children. “That set the stage for the rest of my life. I always planned on attending BYU, and I always planned on starting my own company.”

A mission was also in his plans, and after his first year at BYU, Davis submitted his mission papers, expecting to receive a call to serve in the United States. “I was born with severe club feet,” he explains. “For the first 18 months of my life, I wore full-leg casts, and I wore full-leg braces until I was 3. The doctors told my parents I’d need them until I was 19, but through a series of miracles and priesthood blessings, that wasn’t necessary. However, because of the extra medical concerns, I anticipated serving in the states.”

Davis was surprised to receive a call to serve in Brazil, where he walked 10 to 15 miles a day, something he never thought he would be able to do—but he figured it out. “It was a pretty crazy experience,” he says. “But I learned at an early age that Heavenly Father has His own plans for us.”

In addition to strengthening his testimony and confirming that the Lord had a plan for him, Davis’s mission introduced him to people who deeply influenced his life. One of those influential people was his first mission companion, Eric King, who has been involved with Davis in several of his ventures, including The Color Run and Pillow Cube, a company that makes pillows designed for side sleepers.

After returning home from his mission, Davis chose a major—business management with an emphasis in entrepreneurship—and dove in. “Those first two semesters back from my mission were my best semesters ever,” he says. “I took all my prereqs and explored which business major I wanted. I even took an extra semester that I didn’t need to take, simply because I was enjoying the learning experience so much.”

Jumping In

Eventually, however, Davis had to jump into real life—and he did so with surprising success considering that 2008 was not the best time to be starting a career. The Great Recession was in full swing, and the only job he could find was as a customer service rep for APX Alarm, which would later become Vivint. However, it took Davis only a short time to move from customer service to product development, largely because of his eagerness to figure it out.

“Any success I can claim comes from being the person who jumps in when no one else wants to,” he says. “Over and over, something has come up that others either didn’t know how to do or didn’t want to do, and I’d raise my hand to volunteer. That willingness to learn, figure things out, and try new things has led to amazing experiences.”

Vivint’s roots were in selling and installing alarm systems, but around the time Davis came on board, the company branched out into home automation. When management asked for employees who had expertise or interest in expanding into home automation and product development, Davis volunteered. He didn’t always know how to do what was being asked, but he was more than willing to figure it out.

“I helped with developing new product offerings and the rebranding,” says Davis, whose efforts were rewarded with five promotions during his first two years on the job. “I got to do so many things that I had no business helping with, but it was so cool to be part of trying new things.”

Jay Davis next to bookshelf

Davis didn’t stay long at Vivint. His entrepreneurial eye started wandering, and he jumped at the chance to helped King with a fledgling business he had joined called The Color Run. The Color Run is an untimed 5K run inspired by the Hindu festival of Holi wherein runners are covered in colored powder at stations along the route. Everything about this business was new, and Davis had to be willing to learn. As a result, he became familiar with everything from logistics and operations to marketing and advertising.

It was at The Color Run that Davis and another friend started delving into video marketing, and the pair launched a YouTube channel. “There was no agenda, and we weren’t doing it to make money,” Davis says. “We did it to learn, to try something and see what happened. That’s a lot of what entrepreneurship is all about—that willingness, or faith, to plant seeds even if you have no idea if they will grow.”

Ridiculous Optimists

Davis planted a lot of seeds in the next few years, figuring it out as he went. During this time, he spent 18 months in a “real job” at an agency, continuing to discover the ins and outs of the marketing world. “Over and over again, I was willing to look at things in new and unique ways,” he explains. “I learned the way that things were being done, but I also explored the possibility that there may be a better way.”

About this time, Davis began feeling the need to strike out on his own. “Ideas were gelling in my mind,” Davis says. “And I had a great mentor who said to me, ‘You have so much potential; you could do more. You need to create an agency that uses what you’ve learned to help startups that are ready for growth.’”

So Davis started Creatably.

Of course, before opening Creatably’s doors, Davis talked with his wife, Haley.

Davis and Haley met at BYU, and the couple got married their senior year. (Haley graduated in sociology in 2009.) She’s been by his side during his figuring-it-out adventures. “An entrepreneur’s spouse deserves many awards,” says Davis. “We’re such ridiculous optimists, and we need someone to ground us. It’s a crazy life, and it’s not always a secure, stable one.”

Haley admits that she didn’t know what she was getting into, “but I did know it was him I wanted to marry,” she says. “So if that’s what he wanted to do, I wasn’t going to be the one to squelch that. I wanted to be the one to support him as he followed his dreams, but it was a lot about being naive.”

After a decade of marriage, Haley was no longer naive when Davis pitched Creatably to her. “She said she was behind me 100 percent—with one request: for one year, I couldn’t do anything else,” Davis recalls. “No side hustles, no other gigs. ‘It has to be this one thing,’ she said.

“And that’s why Creatably succeeded,” he acknowledges. “As an entrepreneur, I am constantly in ideation mode, always looking for a new idea, a new challenge. But that first year of Creatably, I stayed focused.”

Jay Davis telling his story

Telling a Different Story

In 2017, Davis started Creatably, a group of what he calls “marketing growth strategists” who specialize in helping startup companies move to the next level. “We’ve discovered that the best way to get to the next level is to think about things differently and take a different approach,” explains Davis. “We start by telling a different story.”

The company has built a reputation for creating videos and other marketing materials that look and feel fresh. “People come to us with brand and growth challenges, and we work with them to solve those problems,” he says. “Startups always hit plateaus, and our strength is working with companies to get them past those plateaus.”

The company has worked with a variety of well-known clients, including Homie, Manly Brands, Owlet, Thread Wallets, and &Collar. As Davis watched these companies grow, his entrepreneurial instinct kicked in. Thankfully, the one-year deadline requested by Haley had passed, so Davis was free to start figuring out what came next.

“I remembered that I wasn’t an agency person; I was an entrepreneur,” says Davis. “I kept seeing our clients, these startups, experience significant growth, and I started wondering why we weren’t investing in them. And then I started wondering why we weren’t starting our own company.”

What People Love

The idea for Davis’s next project sprung from his childhood. In grade school, one of his best friends was Japanese, and Davis was fascinated by the Asian pillow box his friend’s mother used. “She had this box that was wrapped in a towel, and that was her pillow,” he recalls. “It stuck with me, and one day when we were sitting around the office, I mentioned it. I even glued two pieces of foam together to create a sample.

“When I showed people my sample, they told me it was my dumbest idea yet,” Davis continues. “But while the square pillow may have looked ludicrous, when side sleepers tried it out, they often let out an audible gasp.” Davis made more samples and handed them out to friends and family, and he knew he had a winning idea when many of them refused to give the samples back, claiming they had misplaced the pillow.

Davis and his team at Creatably pulled together the Kickstarter campaign for Pillow Cube in one week, which included shooting the video in the office and using staff members as actors. “I figured that Pillow Cube would be a side hustle,” Davis says. “I’d fit it in here and there between Creatably stuff.” In the beginning, Pillow Cube made $500 a day, but within a year, the company was seeing $10,000 a day in sales, and Davis decided that maybe he should pay more attention to the fledgling startup. Currently he spends most of his time overseeing Pillow Cube, while still serving as chair at Creatably and chiming in on other ventures.

“If you’re good at marketing, you can sell almost anything,” Davis says. “But that’s not what we want to do. We are committed to growing businesses and creating products that solve people’s real pains. That’s part of our secret to success. Whether it’s StairSlide, which is tons of fun, or &Collar, which is known as the unstainable white dress shirt, we give people what they love and need.”

A Fantasyland of Entrepreneurship

Because of his success, Davis can ensure that the environment where he works is conducive to the lifestyle he knows will bring the greatest sense of fulfillment, both for him and for those with whom he works. “We work hard,” Davis says, “but we also have a strict 40-hour workweek. We make the most of that time because when we’re done, we go home and spend time with our families.”

Davis and Haley’s family includes four daughters, ranging in age from 2 to 12, and his favorite thing to do, even more than starting a new company, is to spend time with his girls. They often visit him at the Pillow Cube office, where they help fold boxes, package pillows, and just hang out with Dad.

“This whole world I’ve built is a fantasyland of entrepreneurship,” Davis concludes. “When people ask me what my dream job is, I say that I’m living it. And I can’t be more grateful.”

_

Written by Kellene Ricks Adams
Photography by Bradley Slade

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