Jeremy Olson Builds Tapity on His Own Terms

June 04, 2013 at 7:23 AM

The most interesting thing about Jeremy Olson isn’t what he’s doing at Tapity, it’s how he got here — because it foretells where he’s going.

Tapity is an Apple Design Award winning company that Jeremy co-founded with his father and brother in 2009, his sophomore year at UNC – Charlotte.  Together they have built some of the most popular tools on the App Store.

How He Got Here

Jeremy, a self-taught self-starter, is a true product of an encouraging and creative environment.  Home schooled along with his six brothers and sisters until college, he had a focus group at his fingertips for his endless stream of ideas. His parents continually fostered new concepts for web-based learning tools to stimulate, quiz and assess. His father, a real estate developer, taught him the value of a good “user experience”.

By age 8, Jeremy was absorbed with painting and sketching and saved his allowance for easels and brushes. To supplement his income, he launched his first business, a lemonade stand, and admits that his sisters were underpaid and overworked, but a very cute and effective sales team.

By age 9, he wanted a real company – something big.  With ever-present support from his parents, he pursued a range of ideas – board games, a restaurant, software.  Although none came to fruition, he did learn programming, which opened a new world of pursuit and exploration.

By age 12, he had his first web design client. For Jeremy, it wasn’t about failing fast, it was about the pivot.

By the time Jeremy got to UNCC, he was way ahead of his time in life experience. In addition to having a few good failures under his belt, he had learned that passion does not always equal gold.  Without a market, a revenue model or an offer that could scale, that good idea was best left in the shower to make room for a winner.

Where was the next winner? For Jeremy, it was in the frustration of getting a D on a sophomore stats exam.  Grinding over what he needed to do to recover, he came up with the idea of an app for that. Grades would download the syllabus for each class, weight each test and quiz, and pop out what score was needed on each to earn an A. Photoshop mock-ups let his classmates get a glimpse of what the app could do for them, and their reaction motivated him to commercialize it.

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When Grades 2 won an Apple Design Award in 2011, Jeremy quit his part-time job and incorporated Tapity, with his father Todd as partner. He also started scouting for good people to collaborate with, and found Christian Billings, who became instrumental in the development of the next home run app.  Christian proved to be a quick study, and the two formed a close friendship that evolved into Tapity’s first full-time employee outside the family.  “The partnership has been great, and we bounce around design ideas” said Jeremy about working with Christian. “He’s a tremendous asset and a good friend.”  Just like his childhood days, Jeremy builds off the ideas, enthusiasm and occasional editing of others to hone his thinking.

Where He’s Going

Today Jeremy is taking a strategic approach to his next wave of apps by focusing on his design and marketing prowess, and outsourcing development to partners, most of whom will work at risk for a share of the upside. His consulting business pays the bills and provides capital for long term product development.

Jeremy is well positioned to pursue whatever excites him, and that may not be what the world expects. In his meager spare time, he’s contributing to Smashing Magazine, writing a book and a blog, chipping away at his final courses at UNCC, and speaking at conferences around the world.  Already married and thinking about how to raise his kids, Jeremy is working to pass along his approach to learning, creating and giving back.  He also mentors other entrepreneurs an estimated eight hours a week, an amount he mentions he needs to pare back.

Building a new generation of products, people and innovators –Jeremy Olson on his own terms.

- Lori Collins

About Lori Collins: 

Lori has always loved starting new things, and cut her teeth building new businesses at great companies like American Express, Fidelity Investments, Bank of America, and LendingTree.  Just recently she served as President of Abundant Power Solutions, an emerging energy financing venture in Charlotte. She was an early adviser to Clean Power Finance in San Francisco, and a Board member then CEO for SmartHippo, a startup in Montreal positioned as the “TripAdvisor for financial services” that provided consumer ratings and reviews on lenders.

As a member of the original Executive Team at LendingTree, she helped grow the company from $7 million to $476 million in revenue over seven years and participated in the sale of LendingTree (NASDAQ: TREE) to IACI (NASDAQ: IACI) in 2003 for $750 million.  It was a wonderful ride in many respects – an amazing values-based culture (“winning despite obstacles”), a focused mission to be the dominant online loan exchange, and awesome all-day Halloween parties.

At Bank of America, she led the mutual fund marketing team that grew assets from $28 to $68 billion. At Fidelity Investments, she helped launch their mutual fund marketplace and led the team to drive assets from zero to more than $9 billion in three years. At American Express in New York, she helped envision and launch American Express Gift Cheques as well as various travel insurance products. She’s a Tarheel alumni and also admits to being a Wildcat, although she didn’t have much time for sports in grad school at Northwestern.

What the Arts Have to Do with It: Inspiration comes from many places, and for Lori, it’s the arts. Lucky to be in the inaugural class of the Innovation Institute at the McColl Center for Visual Arts, she and her classmates learned the discipline of creative thinking from artists, sculptors and craftsmen.  Now she has the great pleasure of working with Dwight Rhoden, a world class choreographer and founder/owner of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York, to create a new work for the NC Dance Theatre’s Innovative Works annual performance.  She’s learning the creative process from Dwight by commissioning his work, and savoring the rare treasure of “angel investing”.

Happening Now: Lori currently serve as a strategic adviser and coach for emerging ventures, particularly in the areas of marketing, business development and strategic growth. She’s a coach for SEED20 innovators and is helping launch the Social Innovation Fellowship, an accelerator in Charlotte, NC for social entrepreneurs.  



Tags: Success Story entrepreneur
Category: Live Blog

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