Making Something From Nothing: Ryan Nelson of Jobi Capital On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine
21 min readJul 22, 2023

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Everything will take longer and cost more. This seems obvious now, but there was a time where I thought having a well-thought out project plan and budget could keep everything on track. Alas, life happens, and the universe has a way of laughing at even the best-laid plans. Thus, I now mentally try to operate and plan for things taking longer and costing more. The real trick is doing that without letting everyone else know that I am doing that, as then mentally they would adjust to my later deadline — and then things might get delayed even further out.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Nelson.

Ryan Nelson is a partner at JOBI, which provides capital funding, strategic guidance, relationship building, geographic expansion and brand creation to its clients. Within JOBI, Ryan co-founded Jobi Brands, an early-stage venture studio. JOBI has helped build celebrity brands including Homecourt, Courteney Cox’s homecare brand, and Oh Norman, an upcoming pet brand with Kaley Cuoco, and has also invested in Inbloom, Kate Hudson’s wellness brand. Ryan helps conceive and launch new ventures and provides ongoing support for existing portfolio companies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, a town outside of Chicago. Growing up, my parents were educators and thus very involved in my own education; it was very important to them and prioritized in the household. Even at a young age, they had me doing puzzles and learning about topics such as paleontology and marine biology. I realized I enjoyed a mix of both analytical subjects like math/science and creative outlets — and this mix has continued to characterize me to this day. Aside from studies, I was also encouraged to partake in a wide variety of activities, which included acting, karate, chess team, band, to sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, and even figure skating. From the emphasis placed on learning, I genuinely loved to pick up new hobbies and skills and enjoyed being curious — something that has managed to survive despite the challenges of the awkward teenage years.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never stop learning!” — I apply this to both my personal life and professional life. Continuous learning is essential for personal and professional growth, as it enables individuals to adapt to an ever-evolving world. In both personal and professional spheres, new challenges, opportunities, and technologies arise regularly. Therefore, if you are an expert in a field today, the landscape will change eventually, and you will need to evolve with it. Even in the consumer sector, where it may be less apparent than in something like deep tech, things are constantly changing with new trends, technologies, materials/ingredients, etc. always emerging. By embracing a mindset of ongoing learning, individuals can stay ahead of these changes, adapt quickly, remain relevant, and be at the top of their game on an ongoing basis.

Also, ongoing learning can boost self-confidence and job satisfaction by empowering people to take on new challenges and roles within their organizations. Personally, I like to have some degree of variation in my work, and find that learning new skills allows me to explore different functions to be able to add tangible value. By the way, one way to continuously learn is to turn to the people around you — everyone has something they can teach you. For example, I try to check in on what the younger people on our teams are doing — I learn a lot from them, e.g. how to use TikTok efficiently, what the younger generations care about in consumer brands, etc. Ultimately, the journey of lifelong learning is a transformative one that fuels personal growth, career success, and a meaningful, fulfilling life.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book Range by David Epstein. I used to look at friends who were the “farthest” along in their career and notice that all of them were hyper-specialized, aka those who had started one job/career out of college and done just that one track the whole time. Because of this, I felt like I was behind and regretted some of my career choices. Ultimately, though, I’ve come to realize that my career path, which has weaved between a few fields like management consulting and investment banking, has prepared me incredibly well for my career today. In consulting, you change projects every few months, and these took me across a variety of corporate functions like marketing, sales, customer care, HR & organization, project management, etc. — not only did I pick up skills in all of these, but I also learned how to learn quickly. Often, you are required to go from not knowing hardly anything about a field to being able to talk intelligently about it to senior management who have been doing it for many years. Even in investment banking, when on what was our version of the sponsors team, we looked at deals in a variety of industries that I had to quickly get up to speed on.

Once I was able to realize that my true passion is being involved in the creation of companies, I realized that the wide toolkit I developed over my career was an incredible blessing that makes me dangerous in a variety of areas. When I encounter topics or areas where I am less versed, I’m very comfortable knowing how to ramp up on them quickly. It’s true many startups likely benefit from having someone involved on the founding team that is a true focused expert in that sector, but I personally believe it to be equally true that most teams would benefit from having someone like myself on them as well. Teams need someone who can wear many hats, bring outside perspectives to bear, problem solve unfamiliar situations, and just have an innovative, scrappy, can-do mentality no matter the problem.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

It is true that many people have good ideas all the time, but the magic is in being able to execute on these and bring them to life. The first and most important step (and one where many people drop off), is simply doing something about it. Very few people have the gumption to take their idea and move forward with it. For some, they might not have the time, for others, they might be overwhelmed or not know where to start. I find it helpful to learn about and learn from people who have undertaken this venture before. Plenty of entrepreneurs have written about their journey, i.e. Nike founder Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog might serve as inspiration to aspiring founders. Additionally, there are numerous podcasts that might be more bite-sized (such as “How I built this” with Guy Raz) and also contain more practical advice relevant for today’s modern era. Further, there are free educational series out there, such as “How to Start a Startup” by YC. Point being, with a little investigation, people can hopefully find motivation and learn from others that have undertaken this journey before.

Motivating yourself to actually begin the process of starting a company and learning the steps you will need to go through will set the foundation for being able to bring your idea to life.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

This is an important step as it is a common occurrence — it happens to me all the time where I “invent” something in my head that I’ve never heard of before, only to do a bit of research and see it already exists. For example, I recently had the idea for a glove with webbed fingers that you could use to paddle faster when surfing. The first thing I did to see if it existed was to ask a bunch of surfers (i.e. people in my target market) if they had heard of anything like this before — the ones I was with hadn’t.

Next, I do a web search — try to see what pops up using different words and phrases to describe it. I also check Amazon, other retailers, and social media. To me, this is very important because if it does exist but isn’t readily findable on the web/social media, that could indicate the existing product isn’t well known. In this situation, you could possibly still jump ahead of the competition with a proper go-to-market plan (though it could also mean the product doesn’t resonate with potential consumers, and so is languishing in the doldrums of the internet). The webbed glove already exists, and is available from a number of vendors on Amazon — so I dropped the idea at this step.

If you pass the previous steps — ask experts in the sectors who may be plugged into lesser known but upcoming products and tech. Then, you might want to even check for patents, engage an IP legal firm to help if you are serious enough and have the budget — or if you think your idea might brush up against IP law (e.g. tech products).

Finally, it is worth highlighting that even if something exists and is well known, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to do it better or find a white space/niche to attack. Before Facebook was Friendstir, Myspace, and a variety of other social media sites. Before Tiktok was Vine, Dubsmash, and others as well. Let’s face it, in the consumer space, it’s really tough to come out with a product no one has ever tried before. What is important is that you find a differentiated angle to take — one that people will want, appreciate, and importantly — pay for!

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Ideation: This is the initial phase where ideas for new products are generated. It involves brainstorming, market research, and identifying consumer needs or gaps in the market. Once I know a broad category I’m interested in, I like to speak to potential customers to help ideate at a high level, often in one-to-one interviews.

Concept Development: Once an idea is selected, it is refined into a specific concept. This includes defining the product’s features, benefits, and target audience (and/or brand proposition if focusing on a brand vs. specific product). One should look closely at competitors to see what products they offer, how things are positioned, what people like/don’t like, etc. — this is an important part of figuring out how you can differentiate. If you haven’t already, I would be speaking to potential customers to help inform this process at this point. We usually do a combination of one-to-one interviews, and also broader quantitative surveys to help us understand what customers actually want. It may seem obvious, but many founders have an idea they think is awesome and forget to make sure it is something that customers agree is awesome and are likely to buy.

Note: As your specific ideas firm up, you should be thinking about how to protect the intellectual property (IP) you will develop. You need to both check to make sure you aren’t infringing on other people’s existing IP and also to make sure you have the ability to have a decent chance of your own claim being accepted. If you are developing a tangible differentiated product, such as a new consumer electronic device, you may be able to file a patent on it. If you are focusing more on the development of a brand, you will likely think more about trademarks (or a combination of both!). The government patent and trademark databases are available online, and we usually do a quick scan ourselves — there are some online tools that can help make these searches easier to navigate. Once you are ready to move forward though, we’d recommend using IP attorneys that can assist you to conduct a thorough competitive search and handle filing of your claims.

Design and Prototyping: In this stage, the product’s design is developed, and prototypes are created. It may involve iterative cycles of designing, testing, and refining the product to ensure functionality, usability, and aesthetics.

Testing and Validation: Prototypes are tested to verify if they meet the desired specifications, functionality, and safety standards. We like to collect more user feedback where possible here (e.g. through focus groups, or even just having a few friends, family, or strangers that fit our target market try things out). If necessary, any desired modifications are made.

Manufacturing and Production: Once the design is finalized, manufacturing processes are set up, and production begins. Raw materials are sourced, and quality control measures are implemented to ensure consistency and reliability.

Note: before you start sourcing a manufacturer, you must first clarify your manufacturing needs and product requirements. Then, conduct research to find an appropriate manufacturer. This includes online searches, trade shows, industry associations, and referrals from your network and /or advisors (this can often be the most impactful!). After one has been selected, verify their credentials and capabilities (ideally check references if possible), then request samples and assess product quality — assuring they meet your quality specifications. After all due diligence is completed, negotiate the contract and terms, then start with a small sample batch/order. Based on these results, you can then make an informed decision to begin a partnership or not. (This can be time consuming, so if you’re in a rush, working with a vendor trusted by trusted people in your network could save you some time — but this is not without its risks.)

Marketing and Promotion: This phase involves developing a marketing strategy, including branding, packaging, pricing, and distribution channels. Marketing campaigns may be launched already to create awareness and generate demand for the product.

Logistics & Process Set Up: This includes setting up logistics and fulfillment chains when you are getting closer to being ready to launch your product (3PLs may be used). Customer care processes should be discussed & implemented, and potential pain points or bottlenecks assessed and mitigated.

Launch and Commercialization: The product is officially introduced to the market. This involves coordinating logistics, distribution, and sales efforts. Customer feedback should be closely monitored post-launch, and we’d recommend adjustments be made based on actual market response. I like to have an optimization mindset, and continuously think how to better delight our customers — I think that customer focus is the secret to a long-lasting brand.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

No one will care about your business as much as you do. As a founder, my mind is often on my businesses, and I think deeply about important issues and implications. I push myself fairly hard, and readily work extra hours to meet important deadlines (vs. having a clocking in and out mindset). Given I’m a founder, this all comes naturally — for me, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work because I have a passion for what I do. But for others on the team, this level of dedication may not be the natural inclination.

Some implications from this: if you want your employees to approach work with a similar dedication, it is important to think about how to motivate them and keep an eye out for signals of when motivation may be lagging. When people are motivated, the quality of their work and dedication to work goes up — they become better employees and contributors. They will be more productive and find creative solutions to problems instead of putting their pencils down at the first signs of potential obstacles. And the reverse is true, I have noticed one of the initial signals that someone is on the path to leaving is that they mentally “check out” or soft quit.

Additionally, when dealing with outsourced agencies or vendors, I have realized they often need a lot of guidance, monitoring and follow up. For me, an exceptional agency is one that makes an effort to understand your business and goes the extra mile — but these are very rare indeed.

Employees need to feel valued and have varying ways in which they would like to receive this validation. Just like there are love languages within personal relationships, there are appreciation languages in the corporate setting. As a person who indexes more toward the analytical side vs. emotional side, this is an area in which I am still trying to improve every day. In jobs in which I’ve worked in the past, many people just cared about high salaries and bonuses. But now, whether it’s due to changing needs of younger generations or the different mix of people you encounter when outside of banking/consulting, I’m noticing people need more. Some need words of affirmation, e.g. they need to hear verbally how they are doing a good job and you value their work. Even better if this is done publicly. Others need small gestures to feel like the company appreciates them, e.g. making changes around the office based on employee feedback, even if it’s just making an effort to stock certain snacks or let people bring dogs in. Sometimes, if I see someone is very busy, I proactively try to reach out and see how I can help take something off their plate or lend assistance. Different people value these varying methods, and I’ve been realizing there is a trick to try to meet people with what they need on an individual level where you can, and to do a mixture of things on a company level to try to cover your bases.

Team talent matters. This may seem straightforward, but when you are in a startup and either can’t attract top quality people and / or can’t afford to hire them, the temptation creeps in to onboard B-players. While I’m a big believer in being scrappy and making do with what you have, there can be a huge trade off in productivity & quality. When you don’t have the right talent in place, things can take longer and end up costing more. Suboptimal decisions may be made, and things may even need to be redone at points. And even if you have many A-players and only a few B-players, the B-players may slow down the efficiency for everyone, or place undue burden on the A-players to compensate. While I wouldn’t 100% agree with the old adage that you are only as good as your weakest link, I definitely think there is a large grain of truth here worth considering.

Everything will take longer and cost more. This seems obvious now, but there was a time where I thought having a well-thought out project plan and budget could keep everything on track. Alas, life happens, and the universe has a way of laughing at even the best-laid plans. Thus, I now mentally try to operate and plan for things taking longer and costing more. The real trick is doing that without letting everyone else know that I am doing that, as then mentally they would adjust to my later deadline — and then things might get delayed even further out.

Make sure you have a passion for what you are doing. The ride will be long, and there will be many downs in addition to (hopefully) some ups. As the leader, you will need to find your own motivation and then share that with the team. Most likely, you will need to put in years on your journey, while others may come and go. It will require sacrifices, and you may second guess yourself at times. And after everything is said and done, you still may fail — in fact, the odds are not in your favor as the majority of businesses end up shuttering. However, if you have a passion for what you are doing, you can hopefully find ways to push through all obstacles and achieve business success. And if you don’t succeed, you will at least have lived for a time in tune with your true professional drive.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

As we’ve mentioned previously, check and see if it exists already. Often, your idea either already is in the market, or it used to be. Next, speak to your potential consumers — find out what their needs and pain points are, then float the idea and see how they respond. Make sure you are building something that people actually want — and ideally, they NEED. Note: if they are friends, they might give you more positive feedback than the idea really warrants. Try to suss out the truth with neutral phrasing and consider going to strangers who won’t be as tempted to sugarcoat feedback to make you feel good.

Assess the idea along at least the following criteria.

Business-worthiness: Think about how good of a business this is. Is this a single product idea or can it become a true, lasting business? Look at the market — is it big and growing? Or is it very niche and declining?

Development ease: Assess the costs and time to create. How many years, and how many millions to develop?

Defensibility: Is it defensible with barriers to entry, or will it be very easy for competitors to replicate?

Unit economics: Can you sell at an attractive price and with good margins? Will customers buy your products repeatedly, increasing their lifetime value?

Marketing: Can you easily market to customers? Will they understand your product and proposition well? Are the marketing costs in your category reasonable, or is it very competitive?

Sales channels: Is it easy to sell/ship your products? (e.g. are they light and not fragile, or are they delicate or very bulky/heavy?) Will it be easy to secure physical channels to get your products on shelves?

Expansion potential: Is it easy to add on future products and services that will make sense with your company brand?

Find your team. Add experienced people with complementary skill sets. Make sure you gel nicely, as you will be spending a lot of time together and often under serious pressure. Sadly, co-founder conflict is a big reason why many business ventures ultimately fail. As a side point, you could bring on advisors (or mentors) in a variety of capacities to help fill in missing skill-sets or knowledge bases.

Develop a go-to-market plan. If you don’t have much background in this area, I would strongly recommend researching this. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch how-tos on YouTube, and speak to fellow entrepreneurs or experts.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I think it depends on what you are developing, and what your capabilities are. If you are aiming to do a complicated consumer product, e.g. something innovative in consumer electronics, my recommendation would be to have a technical co-founder or engineer on your team that has the know-how to develop your idea. However, if you do not have this in place, then using consultants or product development studios can help fill this critical position. Many are experienced and can help walk you through the process and avoid pitfalls other first-timers may stumble into. As an added benefit, many consultants not only can help with refining the concept and designing it, but good ones should also have links to potential manufacturers. Often, these consultants aren’t cheap, but good ones can definitely be worth it, especially if your alternative is spinning your wheels alone with an idea, and no one to help build it.

Additionally, you might want to consider onboarding a technical advisor who can review the work of the consultants, just to ensure that everything is done efficiently and using best practices.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

First, venture capital can be tough to get at a very early stage (e.g. pre-product, pre-revenue), unless you have a strong network. If you do have access to VC, they may offer aggressive terms.

If possible, consider raising from friends & family for the first round (or potentially crowdfund if F&F isn’t an option). Raise enough to get a minimum viable product out and prove initial traction — raising VC money will be much easier and potentially on more favorable terms once you’ve managed to reach this point. Even better if you can wait until you have proof of product-market fit. One the plus side, having VCs can bring access to their expertise and know-how, which could be beneficial. That said, you can solve for that in other ways, e.g. by bringing on advisors or working with mentors.

If you can fully finance and bootstrap it yourself, that could be a good solution. But that’s not an option for everyone, and it adds to the risk. Entrepreneurs already take on significant risk by working on their own business vs. having a cushy full time job. Ultimately, which route you go may be a function of your own particular circumstances. Try to work with what you have!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At Jobi, we try to build a social mission into each brand. For example, with our homecare brand Homecourt, we use 100% PCR (post-consumer recycled materials) for our bottles, as well as sustainable and upcycled ingredients.

For Oh Norman, we are still exploring a few angles, but all our products will be “better-for-all.” For example, one of our toys will likely be made from recycled plastic bottles. Additionally, we want to go further than this and plan to work with dog rescues and animal shelters to try to help place dogs in need of loving parents.

Even INTER_, an interactive art experience I helped launch, includes a playful self-exploration/wellness angle where we hope to encourage people to live in harmony with themselves and each other.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Hopefully, the most amount of people who exist have yet to even been born; thus, to benefit the most amount of people, we need to think about future generations. To make sure the earth is still a great place for our progeny, I would love to inspire a movement centered around rewilding our planet (both land and oceans). The reality is that the earth has finite resources, and we are going to push up against these limits sooner or later. We might as well deal with that possibility now, and reap the benefits sooner rather than kick the can down the road to when the planet is in a much worse position. In terms of benefits, rewilding our wilderness is crucial for both people and the planet for several reasons.

First, rewilding enhances the ecosystem, facilitating clean air and water, soil health, and climate regulation. Indeed, restoring natural habitats improves the resilience of the planet, mitigating the impacts of climate change and hopefully reversing some of the negative trends we are (debatably) beginning to see affect our planet. Left unchecked, these trends will worsen and have a major long-term impact on humanity in generations to come.

Additionally, while rewilding can yield recreational and educational opportunities for people, it can also actually help create tangible jobs. Further, promoting sustainable development could lead to innovation in processes, technologies, and materials. These innovations might benefit humanity beyond the immediate implications for improving the environment.

Finally, one of the more important benefits from rewilding would be the mentality shift that we would need to make to successfully achieve this. It would foster a sense of stewardship for future generations and a responsibility toward the planet. Hopefully, this movement would inspire people to live more responsibly, which could mean everything from living with a smaller carbon footprint, reducing beef consumption, buying sustainable products, demanding renewable energy, driving electric vehicles, etc. If everyone were to make small course corrections in their life now, the long-term trajectory of the species would be significantly improved!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would choose Obama. I have some personal similarities that always made him resonate with me on a personal level. We are both bi-racial with ties to Chicago and both attended Harvard. Aside from this, he accomplished so much in such a short time, and broke through barriers I didn’t know if I would see in my lifetime. He is also a deep and thoughtful person who leads from the heart, an amazing speaker, capable of equally riling up crowds and conveying complex issues simply. While being very accomplished, he also seems down-to-earth, and someone you could have a beer or shoot some hoops with.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.