[M&A Series] [TIGER 21 Series] Business Development, Delegating Tips, and How To Leverage Peer Groups With Joh Olson

Joh Olson is the Chair of the San Francisco chapter of TIGER 21, an exclusive peer membership organization of ultra-high-net-worth entrepreneurs, investors, and executives. He is also a Mergers and Acquisitions Consultant at Pacifica Advisors, which offers M&A advisory services to small and medium-sized businesses with an enterprise value of $5 to $150 million throughout the Western US and Mexico. 

Joh has held various leadership positions in the corporate and healthcare sectors, including UCLA, UC Davis, Stanford, Redesign Health, and Carta Healthcare. He co-founded Treehut with his wife, and he is the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Treehut produces handcrafted wooden watches and sunglasses. 

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Joh Olson, the Chair of the San Francisco chapter of TIGER 21, about how to delegate in business and leverage peer groups. They also discuss the challenges Joh and his wife overcame to build Treehut, tips for growing a sellable business, and how Joh helped a client delegate and successfully exit her business.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:24] Joh Olson talks about his entrepreneurial background and the history of Treehut
  • [12:27] The value of understanding your customers’ needs
  • [19:17] How to overcome e-commerce cash flow challenges
  • [22:45] Joh’s tips for testing product ideas and delegating 
  • [29:33] Common drivers to delegation
  • [32:47] How to build a sellable business
  • [35:13] What makes TIGER 21 beneficial?
  • [38:40] Joh’s advice for leading other leaders
  • [39:57] The people who’ve had a significant impact on Joh’s life
  • [43:00] Joh’s favorite Treehut watch

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about delegation in business. We’re talking about buying and selling businesses, including what to do right and what wrong things not to do. And also, we’re talking about peer groups and how to leverage a peer group of other business owners in order to take your learning to the next level. My guest today is Joh Olson. I’ll tell you more about him in a moment. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:26

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:40

Are Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of this show. Thank you for joining us. And of course, you know, if you’ve listened to past episodes, you know, we’ve got great past episodes in our archive. So go check them out. We got Netflix, we got Kinkos, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree. Lots of great businesses in there. So check it out. And also, my guest here today, who I’ll introduce in a moment is a chair of a San Francisco TIGER 21 group. What is TIGER 21? You ask? It’s a really interesting model of peer group business owners who come together to share insights around learning and investment and things like that. I’ve got a couple of past episodes, check out the episode with Ian Burnstein and Stu Wolff, two great chairs from TIGER 21, who have had on before and shared a lot of great insights. 

And of course, this episode’s brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. If you’re looking to start a podcast and create more content marketing, contact us at Rise25.com. We are your easy button. Alright, Joh, I know we’ve been working on setting this up for quite some time. So I’m really excited about having you here. Today. Of course, you are Chair of the San Francisco chapter of TIGER 21, which is an organization that leverages the collective intelligence of its members to enhance their investment insights, make business decisions, make better family decisions, and you have held a number of different leadership positions both in the corporate healthcare world which is really interesting. UCLA, UC Davis, Stanford, are some of the cream of the crop best healthcare systems in the world. And then later, you went into entrepreneurship and you have some small businesses that you made big businesses, bought some businesses sold some businesses, and you also advise other businesses on exiting their businesses. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that as well. But first, I love asking people about entrepreneurial endeavors when they were young as a kid. So did you have any of that? Did you have any lemonade stands? Did you do newspaper routes? Did you get busted for selling weed in high school? Tell me.

Joh Olson 2:37

Awesome, John, thanks for having me on our minds relatively unique, and also maybe relatively small and not scalable. So I think the first thing I was reflecting on this, that I did to sort of make money in the early stages of my life was I drove I had a 77 Cadillac Deville it’s a big white car. Now the softtop the hardtop, and I drove to school, and we lived little ways I was up in Northern California and Santa Rosa, I drove to school and a couple of other kids were like, along the same route. And so basically it was sort of a mini school bus, we could fit five kids in that old Cadillac. And I think their parents felt like it was relatively safe given the vintage. We can talk more maybe another time offline about whether it was safe or not. But they entrusted me to drive my schoolmates to school. So I picked them up every day, every school day, and along with my sister and me, drove them back and forth to school. And that’s the first way I made money.

John Corcoran 3:32

Those things are a boat. The size of those cars. My first car was an 81 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Top. That was nice when my parents bought it. Not nice. By the time I started driving it in high school, and the thing was absolutely massive. So I can relate. I mean, even those cars back then didn’t have seatbelts in the backseat. They were like, you’re fine in the backseat, like if you got into it in thick sheet metal. Exactly. Right. Right. So um, alright, so you started your career basically, in healthcare, you’re an executive in the in the healthcare world. And you kind of work your way up in that. And then I want to ask you about it because this seems like a bit of a departure, but I’ll ask you about Treehut. So Treehut is this company that your wife started? Right around the time you’re having a kid, and they meet you make these beautiful wood watches? First of all, how did she end up starting this company around the time that you were having your first kiss?

Joh Olson 4:31

That’s a great story. So my wife is an interesting person. Her background is she was an MD. And then she did cancer research and studied cancer and became a Ph.D. realized she had some potential as a businesswoman. So when got her MBA down at UCLA at Anderson Escentual Student Yeah, yeah, very well educated and has a lot of great background. Trailhead doesn’t seem like it really fits any of those things that the story of Trailhead is short, its version is We went to Bali. In Bali, they have this woodworking that’s very intricate and down to the very smallest pieces of wood. We saw that there and I’m a watch aficionado I have literally the time I probably had dozens and hundreds of watches. One nice thing about owning a watch company you can you can buy watches as part of the company because of course, be them. 

John Corcoran 5:23

So sure, it’s research, it’s reasonably good.

Joh Olson 5:25

So to be careful a little bit. The last purchase was a vintage Bruce Lee watch, but in that, we can talk about.

 John Corcoran 5:33

 Wow, very cool. I have to say I’m not a big watch guy. But I was at an event with a bunch of entrepreneurs a couple of months ago and a guy had an autumn RPK on his watch on his wrist. And he was impressed that I noticed it from across the room. And it had been a special present to himself when he had a big, I think exit from his business. Those are not cheap watches.

Joh Olson 5:54

They’re not one of the few luxury purchases you can make or as soon as you buy it, it’s actually worth more on the open market. So great from a sort of investment perspective as well.

John Corcoran 6:05

Bang it into the subway turnstile, or whatever, exactly. It’s a sad day.

Joh Olson 6:12

A little brave to wear it, but it on him. So you sort of cross what we saw with the woodworking in Bali, and this sort of obsession with watches. And my wife was thoughtful enough to start a company she thought, you know, I was sort of the customer number one. And so we came home from that trip in Malaysia, and we started making watches in our garage and glen park, like Dremel, this sort of whole thing, putting them together as riding my bike literally doing it yourself. 

John Corcoran 6:38

Making yourself and yeah, yeah,

Joh Olson 6:41

I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in a minute. But at the time, every single watch. So I was like bicycling after work at Stanford to go drop them off, you know, on the weekends at the, at the post office over here. So it was just it started off as just this labor of love. And it grew, people loved what we were doing. It was the time when social media was really on the rise as a way to reach customers or timing. So riding that wave of e-commerce and social media was great timing there. And it was just a labor of love. And I think people could tell, you know, we would do special things and notes in the packages to customers. Early days, we started to customize the watches, and write a note on the back. So people would be able to send a message to their loved one through the gift, just like these little secret messages. And people would wear the message on their wrist, still a great company, love our customers, it’s grown, it’s actually still here in the Bay Area, but moved into another location in the South Bay. And many of our team members have been with us since day one. So that was really my trial by fire into into becoming an entrepreneur from working with huge teams, you know, big, big teams with 1000s of people, and big billion dollar budgets to you know, our own little thing and then growing it. So you know, some of the things I would credit with our success, there is the love of customers, understanding the customer and listening, doing a lot of listening and sort of changing and improving the meet what they told us that they wanted from us, and then our team, but the great team and many of those team members are still with us now. So yeah, it’s been a great experience. And it’s still a big part of our lives.

John Corcoran 8:21

You mentioned social media, I see you have 100,000 plus followers on Instagram, it looks like tell tell me a little bit about how you kind of figured that channel out as a good exposure for you.

Joh Olson 8:33

There’s some, particularly now the thing that works really well on Instagram is sharing audiences. So we have a pretty big audience. As you noted, there are other brands that have customers that could be in a community that could be interested in what we’re doing. And we’re interested in what they’re doing. So a great example would be maybe without being specific, because we have lots of sort of friends on Instagram would be like an outdoors brand. So if there’s a brand that has an outdoor affinity, maybe like a coffeemaker that you can bring with you in your backpack, we they might have a large audience and we have a large audience. So we’ve done great things like throw a contest where the two things you can get are trihard watch, and they’re, you know, backpacking coffeemaker our audience sees what they’re doing, and their audience sees what we’re doing. Both audiences benefit, because it’s like, you know, to really cool sets of people, communities, get to know each other. And that’s been that’s been one of our most effective strategies on social in general, but in particular on Instagram.

John Corcoran 9:36

Yeah, it’s amazing how these things are similar. You know, when I was building an audience and an email list, using webinars, it was basically the same idea, like find other partners who built a similar audience, and then collaborate together, you know, regardless of what platform you’re doing it on. That’s a kind of timeless strategy. Tell me about your wife, your wife. If she’s a doctor, she has an MBA, and then she’s starting this company. I mean, the deck is stacked against that type of scenario. I’ve heard it so many times before, right? Someone who’s, who is very academically smart, but maybe not boots on the ground kind of kind of experience. What were some of the challenges for her? And then she’s got a newborn, too. It just seems like there’s so many different challenges. Why do you think that you were able to prevail in spite of all those challenges?

Joh Olson 10:30

There are so many answers to that. But I’ll pick a couple of really solid ones. One is work ethic and professionalism. I think sometimes what you see in sort of side hustles, in general, was meant to be a side hustle in the beginning. So it’s supposed to be so my wife could be home with our kids turned out to be a lot more than that in the end, a big team and a relatively big business. 

John Corcoran 10:52

But it’s time-consuming to write. It’s not a side hustle. It’s like, you know, 60 hours a week.