Hello Bello Co-Founder Connects the Dots to Her UCLA Anderson Network

Hello Bello Co-Founder Connects the Dots to Her UCLA Anderson Network


Jenn Pullen (’07) is now launching Zenn Capital to help promising startups

March 23, 2023

Jenn Pullen (center) co-founded baby care products company Hello Bello in 2019
  • Entrepreneur Jenn Pullen has spent her career connecting the dots between her UCLA Anderson education and network, and her deep contacts in the investment and finance communities
  • She brought her combination of talents to multimillion-dollar baby care brand Hello Bello, which she co-founded in 2019
  • Pullen’s next venture is Zenn Capital, which will help promising startups and fund managers effectively navigate the complex world of capital raising at different stages

“I have always been an optimist,” says Jenn Pullen (’07), co-founder of Hello Bello, a leading premium and affordable baby care brand and parenting platform. “Even when I first arrived in the U.S. from Shanghai as a 9-year-old, not knowing a word of English, I somehow knew that life was going to be OK. Growing up in a working class family instilled in me the importance of positivity, hard work, self-determination and proactive involvement in pursuit of my goals at an early age,” Pullen says. With this optimism as an anchor and loving parents and husband as her pillars of strength, Pullen evolved from that motivated young woman to a UCLA Anderson MBA student to an accomplished investment banker and then to a mother and, ultimately, to success as an entrepreneur.

After earning her undergraduate degree in business administration with an emphasis in information systems, Pullen joined Ares Management, then a relatively small asset management firm with only a few dozen employees. It gave Pullen the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the firm’s growing portfolio. (Today, Ares manages over $350 billion in assets). While at Ares, Pullen earned her MBA in Anderson’s Fully Employed MBA program. She says she did not have a particular career agenda during her time at Anderson, she just wanted to “learn, grow my network of like-minded professionals and develop meaningful relationships to nurture over the course of my career.”

Pullen once threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game on behalf of her company Hello Bello

During the challenging three-year program, Pullen mastered skills in managerial accounting, valuation, negotiation, organizational behavior, supply chain management and business law. Each of these would prove essential to her success as an entrepreneur two decades later with Hello Bello. But it was the extracurricular experiences that helped Pullen refine her leadership style and internalize Anderson’s core values of sharing success, thinking fearlessly and driving change.

“Whether in study groups or class discussions, I learned the value of collaborating with people from different backgrounds, perspectives and functional skills,” Pullen says. “The rigor of the teamwork environment taught me to share successes, helping me acquire lifelong friends in the process. My Global Access Project capstone in Barcelona drove home Anderson’s ‘thinking fearlessly’ and ‘driving change’ values. It was my first hands-on experience working alongside the founders of an early-stage company focused on solving a real-world problem. The startup aimed to build a cloud-based document management system that would enable the efficient storage, management, search and collaboration of large volumes of data. It inspired me to want to run my own company someday.”

“Access to funding was one of the most critical challenges we had to overcome because it enabled everything else that followed. That is the problem I want to solve for startups.”

Anderson’s values, along with her favorite Steve Jobs quote, would play a major role in Pullen’s career trajectory. In her 2007 commencement speech, Pullen quoted Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

MBA in hand, Pullen helped Ares grow its tech-oriented portfolio, securing her place on the company’s leadership team as a managing director.

Still, despite her 18-year success story at Ares, Pullen felt something was missing in her career. “I have a long history of evaluating companies from the outside looking in, now I wanted to build and run my own company,” she says.

Pullen’s next venture is Zenn Capital

Her personal network soon came through. Classmate Sean Kane (’07), a consumer products veteran and close friend, approached her with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: join a startup as a co-founder in launching a premium, affordable, baby care brand that would initially be distributed nationwide through Walmart stores and the company’s own website.

Hello Bello’s founding team also included TV producer Jay McGraw and celebrity couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, who would facilitate consumer adoption. The co-founders brought expertise in key operating domains: direct-to-consumer and brand marketing, sales, distribution and finance, including access to capital markets to finance the growth plan. As CFO and COO, Pullen would be able to connect the dots between her Anderson education and her 20 years of experience assessing and guiding the financial health of thousands of companies.

Hello Bello officially launched in early 2019 and, practically overnight, rewrote the playbook for a successful entry into the highly competitive baby care industry.

From the outside looking in, the opportunity to partner with Walmart in launching a new entrant in the premium baby products sector seemed like a “gimme.” In reality, it was anything but. Hello Bello sought to disrupt not just one but multiple product categories that were dominated by well-established major players with recognized brands and deep pockets.

To achieve this disruption, Hello Bello had a multipronged strategy.

First, the product line was positioned squarely on trending values in the baby care and lifestyle sectors, featuring safe, natural, ingredients that were organic wherever possible and environmentally sustainable. Then, the company was determined to democratize access to premium quality products, tapping into every parent’s desire to give their baby the best by making quality affordable. Celebrity co-founders Bell and Shepard were appealing, widely recognized as the brand’s “every parent/every baby” spokespeople. Hello Bello’s platform approach to its product vision was poised to build a long-term relationship with its customer community and create multiple revenue streams, allowing customers to easily stay loyal to the brand as their babies grew. Ultimately, the company expanded beyond Walmart and became accessible everywhere.

Hello Bello had to do all this while ensuring the “affordability” of its product and service range. Correct pricing was not just a key competitive advantage, but an essential requirement for distribution through its various channels. “Finding the right balance between costs and the brand’s quality promises required a constant balancing act,” Pullen says.

“The biggest and most consistent challenge facing Hello Bello is controlling costs so that the brand can continue to deliver its promise of premium products at affordable prices,” says Pullen. “To that end, we’ve been building a state-of-the-art diaper manufacturing plant over the past 18 months and we now manufacture 100% of our own diapers here in the U.S. As such a young company, executing this vertical integration meant finding the right funding partners, the right manufacturing experts and the right team. We are lucky that our attention to both the big picture and the details are paying off.”

“I have a long history of evaluating companies from the outside looking in. I wanted to build and run my own company.”

Hello Bello passed the hundred-million-dollar benchmark very quickly. After four years and many grueling 20-hour workdays, the co-founders have been able to step back into board and advisory roles, while a new management team runs the day-to-day operations. “Our size made it easier for us to partner with large investment banks on our fundraising efforts,” says Pullen. “But that doesn’t exist for most startups. And that is where my next business venture comes in.

“Access to funding was one of the most critical challenges we had to overcome because it enabled everything else that followed,” she says. “That is the problem I want to solve for startups, by launching Zenn Capital. We believe that every founder and dreamer should have the opportunity to efficiently scale their business regardless of their backgrounds or connections. Unfortunately, many first-time entrepreneurs don’t have the connections to source the right type of funding at critical inflection points. And larger investment banks don’t offer their services to earlier-stage companies. This forces entrepreneurs to fend for themselves, often with disastrous consequences for their startups.”

Zenn Capital’s holistic approach to supporting startups goes beyond just sourcing funding. Pullen and her partner Zain Pirani are committed to building lasting partnerships with the businesses. “On the investor side, Zenn Capital will not only offer fund managers fundraising services, but will also provide them with a high-quality deal pipeline that is specifically tailored to each investor’s mandate, reducing the task of sifting through irrelevant deal flow,” Pullen says.

“I am very optimistic about Zenn Capital,” she adds, “because it is another way for me to continue connecting the dots between my Anderson education and network, my professional experiences and my deep contacts in the investment and finance communities. For an entrepreneur,” Pullen says, “nothing could be more fulfilling than helping other deserving entrepreneurs realize their dreams and giving back to the communities that have shaped me.”