In just a few weeks, thousands of BGS members will graduate from their universities and hit the job market. First, we congratulate all members who are celebrating this special milestone! We chatted with this young BGS entrepreneur about his inspiring story. Learn more about Brayden Olson and his interesting start-up, Novel, Inc.
Founder and CEO,
Novel, Inc. and Wilhelm Enterprises
Brayden Olson, founder and CEO of Novel, Inc. and Wilhelm Enterprises, found himself in a city full of corporate technological stars when he graduated from Seattle University in 2009. But instead of seeing companies like Microsoft or Amazon as competition, Olson believed he could make an impact without necessarily “working his way up” in the industry.
“I learned in college that if you have an idea about the way things should be and you have that spark, you’ve got to go take the risks yourself, become an entrepreneur and prove to the world that your idea is worth something,” Olson said.
With millions of dollars secured in venture capital and his first enterprise product set to launch, his idea might be worth something indeed.
Olson hit the ground running while still a teenager, holding an associate’s degree before high school ended thanks to a program called Running Start. This allowed him to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and highest honors in management at Seattle University in less than two years. He was able to launch his start-up soon after.
Novel brings gaming technology to the business recruitment and hiring process. With an avid interest in the 3D game Asheron’s Call at just 12 years old, Olson envisioned himself becoming a leader in the gaming industry. Born out of an idea from his undergraduate studies, Novel eventually became a reality.
The company seeks to guide people during the hiring process and place them in the organization for which they are best suited. The software will lead potential job candidates through a series of real-life game simulations in order to give the hiring company valuable insight.
The Huffington Post calls Novel “the matrix for business.”
“It’s entirely an online platform. We’re always thinking about reducing barriers to entry,” Olson said. “For really significant companies, we can do custom packages and integration, but we want to make it the kind of thing where a small- or mid-sized company can be using it within a couple of minutes from deciding they wanted to use it.”
Novel is considered one of the top three emerging businesses in its region as elected by the Chamber of Commerce. Olson is the youngest member ever admitted into the Seattle chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization. This same network also elected Novel as the top student-run enterprise on the west coast.
Olson is proud of these accolades but laughs when remembering the start-up’s early moments, when the going was definitely more status quo.
“I remember, before we got our venture investment, I didn’t even have enough money in my bank account to buy a Subway sandwich,” Olson admitted. “It’s funny because it’s so iconical, but it’s still what it takes to do it.”
Olson leans on objective statistics to showcase Novel’s potential. Sources estimate that young careerists switch jobs six to eight times before age 30 and that the amount of money spent on recruitment is $450 billion. The process Olson himself went through to hire and retain quality staff members for Novel taught him the problematic nature that hiring can present.
Simultaneously, he also discovered the massive gaming presence found around the world.
“There are more people who play games in the United States than [those who] don’t play games,” Olson said.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of an American gamer is 41 years old.
“Those numbers are even bigger in China and in other areas of Asia,” he said. “I’m going to grow up in a generation where 97% of people play games. The idea of that not impacting how we learn, how we do business, how we govern ourselves and, of course, how we entertain ourselves seems really funny to me.”
Consequently, Olson considers Novel a wise fit for the highly technological world. He hopes Novel’s solution will break the current pen-and-paper system and ease the difficulties HR departments face around the globe.
“It’s a super-fragmented market and everybody is using technology from the 1920’s,” Olson said. “You need a progressive solution.”
Olson is championing a progressive company culture as well.
“We really strive to take ego off the table [and] to take emotions off the table, and we’ve created an organization of people who are really comfortable with that,” Olson said of Novel. “So when it comes to making decisions, we are able to really evaluate things. I have to set that example, so as a leader I have to be prepared to say, ‘You’re absolutely right. That is a way better idea than what I was thinking.’”
It’s an interesting perspective for a young executive who manages employees twice his age. Olson said Novel’s culture is not just a big game of “follow the leader.”
“I think humility is a big part of that,” he said. “We’re very, very logical at Novel. I’m always looking for the best expertise and best opinion. I can work very well with people who are much older than me because I acknowledge where my expertise exists and where it doesn’t. I love having their experience. I lead by letting other people lead.”
Olson steps in, of course, on matters that pertain to his expertise: corporate negotiating. He indicated that Novel has “game-changing deals on the table right now.”
The 24-year-old is trying to craft a modern company culture. He said his employees are serious but flexible. Normal working hours at the company are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and time off is easily granted.
“We’re very much team-centric,” Olson said. “A lot of that command and control leadership method just doesn’t have a place in our organization and it helps people move a lot quicker and helps people know that they’re appreciated. But ultimately, people don’t stay here long if they are not serious, on the bus and working hard.”
For as serious as he is, Olson still keeps some sense of normality amidst his quick-moving life. He participates in activities like trampoline dodge ball and indoor rock climbing to stay active. As you might expect of a game enthusiast, he and his friends frequent arcades as well.
Olson also supports fellow entrepreneurs from the network he has established through the Beta Gamma Sigma Seattle Alumni Chapter.
“It’s been nice to meet those people who obviously did really well in school,” he said. “They are people who are on to something, and that’s a good group of people to know.”
Olson’s passion for leadership also drove him to create Wilhelm Enterprises. Wilhelm Enterprises is a holding company for Olson’s non-profit ventures in gamification technology. It also underwrites non-profit ventures in support of young leaders.
There is quite a large group of young entrepreneurs all over Seattle who hope to build a strong and business-friendly community. This, however, is tempered by big companies who want a big share of success for little contribution. In response, Olson is proud to be involved with a non-profit in the Seattle area called the Young Entrepreneur’s Social.
“There have been a fair amount of young entrepreneurs leading Seattle,” Olson said. “We’re getting together all the really successful young leaders who are under 30 in Seattle, and we’re building a platform to empower and incentivize them to make a difference in the community through volunteering, mentorship, offering incubations and more.”
Right now, Olson’s team is working hard to launch its product for the U.S. corporate market and is also preparing for future joint ventures. He would like to launch the company into the global scene as soon as it becomes possible to do so.
“We’re a business that moves photons. I don’t want to underplay the challenges of culturalization, but it is an incredibly low barrier for us to serve the world,” he said. “That’s very much our intent.”
It’s an exciting prospect for Novel, a company that has few known competitors.
“Our competitor is what people do today and have done for a very long time,” Olson said.