We hear rags-to-riches stories all the time, but what about rags-to-Nasdaq stories? Jorge Olson is a true self-made entrepreneur, coming from a low-income family and beating the odds to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs working in today’s business world. Having become a successful CMO and running two successful publicly-traded companies, Olson hopes his story can inspire others to take their first steps toward entrepreneurship.
Olson came from humble beginnings in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Jose, California. In his childhood, he didn’t have any running water or electricity, but when he grew up, he managed to commute to college at San Diego State University — a four-hour trip each way. He catapulted his career, starting as a VP of Marketing before becoming a CEO of US Operations for software companies.
Becoming a CEO before 30
Part of what makes Olson’s career so extraordinary is how he was able to make such substantial strides while he was young, having become a CEO in the software industry before the age of 30. However, Olson had even greater aspirations. He didn’t just want to lead a business — he wanted to become a successful entrepreneur, but he had to wait for the right opportunity.
Indeed, the business of becoming an entrepreneur is all about timing and opportunity, and the perfect one came along for Olson to enter the market in consumer goods. The first business he found that he could purchase was a wholesale distribution company, and he jumped right in. Making matters even better, the person he bought the company from decided to reinvest and became a mentor to Olson along the way.
Entering the consumer goods market
The biggest challenge that Olson faced in starting his consumer goods and wholesale distribution company — which he cites as one of the largest any consumer goods company will face — is finding good distribution partners. After a business has a product, wholesale distribution is the first thing they must do before their product can hit the market, making it one of the most pivotal steps in a business’s lifecycle.
That isn’t to say that getting a distributor is an arduous process — an entrepreneur can make a few calls and send out several test samples, and many distributors will agree to carry the product. However, “carrying” a product only means storing it in their warehouse until a retailer orders it. If a product doesn’t sell well with retailers, the distributor will return the excess stock to free up that warehouse space for another product.
“The job of an entrepreneur is to sell their product multiple times,” Olson explains. “Of course, consumer goods companies have to sell their product to the end consumer — the person it will eventually end up in the hands of — but before that, they also have to sell it to retailers and distributors. If entrepreneurs don’t convince retailers of the value of their product, consumers will never get the opportunity to buy it. And without getting a distribution partner, retailers won’t be able to maintain their stock of the product.”
Olson says that the approach that helped him succeed in his business was to find distribution partners that would only sell his products. He says that these people will be true believers in the products an entrepreneur offers.
“The best partners to have for any consumer goods business — be they distributors, investors, or anyone else — are those who are truly passionate about what they do,” Olson asserts. “They will buy your products and tell other people about them. That will not only get you more customers, but it will also help you get in front of more investors.”
Guiding two companies through IPOs
Olson has now guided two companies into the public markets in the span of one year together with his friend and co-founder Sandro Piancone. The first, Hempacco (HPCO) — which disrupts the $1 trillion tobacco industry with hemp smokables — went public as an IPO to Nasdaq. The second, Green Globe International (GGII), as a Reverse Merger to the OTC stock market happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented a unique challenge for him as an entrepreneur. During the height of the pandemic, traditional methods of securing funding and support were impractical due to lessened meetings and COVID-related restrictions. For Olson, this just meant that he had to change his approach.
To take GGII public, Olson led it through a reverse merger — an acquisition by an already publicly-traded (but otherwise inactive) company. This allows the company to become publicly traded without jumping through the traditional hoops of an IPO. There are still procedures and rules from the SEC that must be followed, but this made it much easier for Olson to take his company public during the pandemic.
To his surprise, Hempacco’s IPO was followed by an invasion of naked short sellers of the HPCO stock. These traders took advantage of the downward market due to the pandemic, inflation, and the invasion of Ukraine, actively undermining the attempts of many new businesses to enter the market. While the short-sellers were a thorn in Olson’s side, bringing his company’s IPO capital raise down from $18 million to $6 million, his perseverance and out-of-the-box marketing strategy allowed HPCO to finish their raise and close its IPO last month — the last small cap IPO Nasdaq allowed until further notice because of the naked short problem.
Olson’s story teaches the importance of perseverance and a clear vision when starting a business. Taking HPCO and GGII public is a far cry from where he was as a 10-year-old boy in Tijuana, Mexico. But when he took his wife and mother to ring the Nasdaq bell in September, 2022, he knew that he had accomplished something great.