“Right now, you can buy an entire barn on Amazon and they’ll deliver it to you, all the wood, everything, and yet you can’t even get a small package picked up from your house,” says Mark Lentini ’08, who, along with former Taft classmates Ben Freedman and Brendan Maaghul, cofounded the start-up Boomerang to simplify the returns process when shopping online. “The sell side of e-commerce has been optimized to the millionth degree, but the customer experience on the return is just nonexistent.” To fix this growing problem, Lentini, Freedman, and Maaghul—the self-proclaimed Boom Team—partner with online retailers and package carriers to enable customers to return unwanted items directly from home.
The idea first occurred to Lentini when he lived in an apartment complex in Atlanta. “I noticed how nice it was to walk down to the front desk and hand off all of my return packages and just leave, whereas before I had to drive to UPS or the post office,” he explains. “Business pickups happen constantly, and yet these companies weren’t putting much emphasis on returns.” And as online sales skyrocketed during the pandemic, the need was only increasing.
As Lentini and Freedman—who had previously worked in corporate strategy for UPS and Walmart—began to devise their new venture, they realized they needed someone with a background in finance. That’s when they reached out to Maaghul, who had been advising start-ups and who happened to be part of a tight-knit videogame-playing crew along with Lentini. “Mark’s appendix also exploded while he and Ben were skiing in Tahoe. That really helped put things in motion,” Maaghul recalls. “I went out there do a wellness check—and to get in some skiing—and while Ben and I were chilling in the hot tub, he [asked me] to come join Boomerang.”
Their initial model centered on the customer, whom they envisioned using an app to schedule an independent driver to pick up their packages—think Uber meets the post office. But they soon discovered the limitations of the direct-to-consumer approach. “We realized pretty quickly we would have to change the psychology of our customers, to make them think differently when they wanted to return a package, and that was going to be pretty tough” Lentini points out.
So they pivoted, instead taking their service straight to retailers. Now, each individual business can offer a home-pickup option on their website, powered by Boomerang, which automates the back end, connects the company with the ideal carrier to execute the pickup, and determines the best facility to process the return. Not only is the experience far more convenient for the customer, it also makes restocking simpler for the retailer—and keeps unnecessary waste from piling up in landfills.
In discussing Boomerang’s growth, all three are quick to share credit with the many Taft connections that they’ve made that have either offered professional advice, invested in the company, or connected them with potential customers. They also see their individual strengths as complementing each other. “Ben is the only one of us who has experience with complex supply chains, from manufacturing to warehousing, and Brendan, in addition to his experience in finance and the fact that he’s an excellent writer, gives us a little spark that focuses Ben and me when we go off into the clouds,” says Lentini.
Maaghul concurs, adding, “Mark has always been the most thoughtful of the three of us. In a world where things are expected to happen really quickly, it’s been great to have him so committed to what we’re building and how we want to grow. Otherwise, Ben and I would just be running at 16,000 miles an hour without lifting the blinders.”
While none of them could have imagined when they met at the beginning of their sophomore year that they would one day be business partners, Freedman sees this longstanding friendship as the key to their success: “Managing your emotions is the most difficult part of building a start-up. Some days are amazing, and some days suck, quite frankly, so having a support system of people who are grounded, whom you can trust, is to me the most important part. That’s what’s been so special about building this with two people I’ve known for 15 years: it really feels like a partnership.”
—Christopher Browner ’12