Made with love: student-created company excels from Fresno

Date in a Crate ships boxes of fun for couples

The Fresno business, created by Tyler Turk, is a monthly subscription service that sends date activities to help improve relationships.
Up Next
The Fresno business, created by Tyler Turk, is a monthly subscription service that sends date activities to help improve relationships.

A class assignment and a wife’s complaint combined to spark an idea that has turned Fresno State senior Tyler Turk’s entrepreneurial dream into a reality.

Date in a Crate is a monthly subscription box that costs $15 and is filled with themed date-night items and activities that are focused on strengthening relationships between couples. When he started the company in December of 2014 with $100 and a basic website without any media or advertising, he didn’t expect it to take off so rapidly. But it did.

“In 2 1/2 weeks we received $2,300 in sales from couples all across the country,” Turk said. “At that point, we didn’t have a whole lot, so it was amazing to see all these people who just really liked our idea, who were so willing to try it.”

Now, Turk is being honored on Wednesday by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce as the 2016 College Entrepreneur of the Year. His business has continued to expand, with customers in 48 states and a Groupon deal of 5,000 orders, but Turk said none of this might have been possible without Fresno State and the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Turk transferred to Fresno State in 2013 to finish his degree in business administration after moving from Sacramento with his wife (then-girlfriend), Michelle Turk. Michelle had been accepted into the masters program for marriage and family therapy, and Turk was just happy to be with her. He knew he could get a business degree anywhere, but now two years later, Turk is more than happy he chose Fresno State.

One of the assignments with the Lyles Center was a subscription box service he was to pitch at the end of the semester, but Turk was having trouble brainstorming ideas.

It was amazing to see all these people who just really liked our idea, who were so willing to try it.

Tyler Turk, who created Date in a Crate

After a busy day at school, working two jobs, Turk came home one night and was watching television with Michelle when she asked him a question. She was wondering where all the romance had gone from earlier days, remembering movie nights and scavenger hunts, little activities that Turk used to do with her to show his affection and earn hers.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Turk said. “At first I was upset. I had multiple jobs, was going to school to try and prepare for a future. ... But the more I thought about it the more I realized she was right. If I’m going to spend the rest of my life with this person, you have to invest in the relationship every day.

“So I said to myself, the most cliche entrepreneurship slogan, that there’s got to be a better way.” And thus, Date in a Crate was born.

After talking with mentors from his program and from his previous experience as a recording artist, armed with only an idea and his girlfriend at his side, Turk launched Date in a Crate in December of 2014.

To date, they’ve put less than $1,000 into advertising, but new customers from as far as Boston, New York, Canada and Puerto Rico have tried out Date in a Crate. A church from Phoenix called for 700 orders for the entire congregation, and with just the two behind the business, they were daunted to meet the demand but excited to see their dream finally seeming to be turning into reality.

Last August, their business expanded even further, when Groupon, a global e-commerce marketplace, offered to make a national deal for 5,000 orders in 2 1/2 months. It was a surreal moment for Turk. Since then, he said, business has been nonstop.

Turk says his wife’s background in psychology is instrumental to the success of the business, along with their relationship. Michelle Turk received her undergraduate degree in psychobiology in human development from the University of California at Davis, and just completed her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Fresno State.

“We usually talk about the theme, what the items will be and talk through some game ideas and how they would benefit couples,” Michelle Turk said. “A lot of the theory behind it comes from what I’ve learned, from the basis of how couples interact, or the importance of communication or relieving stress, because stress has a huge impact on not only your relationship but everything you do.”

Turk has pitched his business Shark Tank-style across the nation as well, in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Orlando. He won one of only 20 spots in the nation as part of a fellowship for the Chicago-based Future Founders Foundation, which mentors youths toward entrepreneurial careers.

What Tyler has done, the passion he exhibits when he talks to people about the concept is truly outstanding.

Brad Sandstrom, Turk’s mentor with the Lyles Center

Turk’s success with Date in a Crate stems from more than just hard work, according to Brad Sandstrom, Turk’s mentor with the Lyles Center program. Sandstrom, vice president of commercial marketing at Citibank, said that Turk has jumped at every opportunity to meet with all the mentors in the program – 30 in total, who Sandstrom said would take 15 years to meet on a professional level outside the program.

Sandstrom also noted a market that doesn’t seem to be dwindling any time soon, saying that taking care of your spouse or partner shouldn’t be something couples place on the back burner.

“Of course, you need to keep dating when you are married, so his concept was perfect,” Sandstrom said. “I kind of laughed, because I’m 54; I’m your audience, because we’re the guys that stop dating. We get married; we’ve been around for a while. You court somebody when you start dating and you stop when you’re married, and you shouldn’t do that. This concept is relevant for an 18-year-old kid, a 50-year-old or a 70-year-old.”

Turk said that entrepreneurship is what he lives for now, and with his success, he wants to help other entrepreneurs and small businesses. He has partnered with Raizana Tea Company in downtown Fresno and Max’s Cookie Company in Visalia, providing cookie and tea samples from each business in his boxes to customers to try and hopefully establish new customers for them as well.

“What we like to say is what we offer goes beyond the items; we want to give couples a moment. We want to offer an experience,” Turk said. “You can go out and spend $50 on a dinner, or $40 on some nice flowers, but that’s just a one-time thing. We want to provide you something that will last forever.”

Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614

Related stories from Fresno Bee