Brayden Olson

Entrepreneur | Activist | Author

If you’re here, you probably already have some pre-formed ideas about me and my life. After all, there is a lot of information out there! Much of it is true, some of it is misleading and a few things are just downright strange!

Well, you’ve come to the right place to learn my actual history. Before we begin, I’d like to summarize a few of the points I feel are the most important.

For some reason, there is a broad and totally wrong perception that I was born into a well-to-do family, had prestigious schooling and met with early success. The exact opposite is true. I was born into a working-class family with parents who had to work so often I barely saw them. I struggled to afford my college education and that meant using the state supported Running Start program to get my Associate’s Degree from Community College.

Finally, I took big risks – risks that led first to failure and then later to success.

On this journey, I learned that three of my strongest character traits are persistence, innovativeness, and being committed to live by honorable values. That’s why my proudest accomplishments surprise people. Simply put: the technology I invented is the first of its kind. This made my companies far more likely to fail because they didn’t follow established business models. I feel that it’s been worth it because I know these inventions are transforming education, business, and soon government.

Oh, and that fictional character stuff didn’t go down like you probably think it did. As with so many stories these days, some accurate stories were published, followed by an inaccurate story that went viral, only to be followed and quoted by hundreds of other stories without a single person reaching out for a fact check. [1]

Today, I am continuing to create new technologies that I feel are revolutionary. I’m also finally getting the opportunity to launch a technology I’ve been talking about for almost 10 years now, and, as you probably know, I am very politically active.

In addition to running for Congress, I’m about to release a book that I hope will change the national conversation on the key issue that is destabilizing our country. I reject the idea that I’m solely a politician or a political candidate. I’ve always been, and will always be, an activist.

Brayden's Story Begins In...

1987

I was born in Vancouver, WA to two public school teachers. Growing up, my dad worked three jobs so my mom could get her education. Struggling to make ends meet, we had no connections and no resources, but a great deal of will, determination and a strong set of values.

1999 (11 years old)

I fell in love with computer games after my family moved to Texas. The game that changed my life was Asheron’s Call. I knew from my first log in that I wanted use games to improve the real world. I saw where gamification could go, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. What I didn’t learn until later, is that entrepreneurship could turn that dream into a reality. I planned to work my way up the corporate latter and eventually try to convince others that my ideas were worth acting upon.

2003 (15 years old)

My first entrepreneurial endeavor was writing scripts (think short lines of code) to automate the movements of my in-game avatar in a game called Star Wars Galaxies. By doing so, it generated in-game money and made my account valuable. I made a few thousand dollars, which was life changing for me at that time.

At that time, I also learned my first few things about automation and digital currencies.

2006 (18 years old)

After moving back to Washington and going through the Running Start program, I graduated from Meadowdale High School with an Associate’s Degree from Edmonds Community College. In the months to come, I was going to meet my first entrepreneur and realize I could create my own path. Prior to this moment, I had never met a business owner. My family wanted the best for me, but none of them ever conceived that this could be an option.

2006-2008 (18-20 years old)

Growing up, I didn’t know how I was going to be able to afford college, but I was fortunate enough to receive a large merit scholarship and attend Seattle University. I spent only 18 months in college working in the school cafeteria and starting my first company, while also overloading all my courses and attending summer quarters.

I went on to compete in two Seattle University business plan competitions, and learned my first lessons in try, try again. I never even placed. Articles of winners 

I graduated college both Beta Gamma Sigma and Magna Cum Laude with a dedication to start my own business. BusinessWeek Article

2009 (21 years old)

At my first meeting with an investor, he said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking kid, but once you fail, come back because you would make a great assistant.” The financial collapse just happened, and I was told that I had a “less than 1% chance to successfully raise capital.” To this day, I remember that remark every time I am told an outcome is improbable. I persisted, trying again and again for over 12 months.

I scrapped, traded and partnered to hobble together what I could without any financial help to move the dream as far forward as I could. As with almost every startup story, this was the ‘launched in my friend’s basement phase.’

2010 (22 years old)

I lost my Business Plan Competition again, but won the Global Student Entrepreneur Award (video). In this video, you can also see the first time I speak to the growing economic problem and the Millennial generation’s responsibility in solving it.

When I started to raise funds for my business, I had less than $10.00 in my bank account. That night, when I was hungry, I remember logging into my bank account to realize I couldn’t buy a Subway sandwich. I celebrate my Subaversary on April 30th every year.

On average, tuition at private schools has increased by $7,120 per year since then.[2] If I were attending school now, even with the scholarship, overloading classes, and working in the cafeteria, I would not have made it. I would have never become an entrepreneur. My debt would have made my life decisions for me. 

To succeed, every kid in this country should have the same chance we did 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. That is what the middle class must ensure to survive, and it has changed quietly beneath our feet. Because of systemic debt, kids today no longer have the same chance we did – no matter how hard they work or how brilliant they are.

That same year, the Huffington Post ranked the work I was doing as one of the 30 most important innovations of the year. This work was just $10 away from not happening in 2010, but under today’s cost of education, would have never happened at all.

2011 (23 years old)

In 2011, I was selected by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce as the Young Professional of the Year (video). I was also selected by Fortune Magazine as one of 5 “Startup Idols” to come speak at the Fortune Brainstorm Conference (link).

Around this time, I also had the distinct honor to join the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which less than 6% of businesses ever qualify to join. At the time, I was told by the Membership Chair I was the youngest person to have ever been admitted, and to think, just one year before, I couldn’t even afford dinner.

Novel was my first company. We set out to define a new industry, which was later known as gamification. At the outset of Novel, there wasn’t even a name for it. Our contribution was going to be using games to help assess potential job candidates in a way that would remove bias, but we didn’t yet know how to get there. So, in the meantime we built two consumer facing games while we did our research to fund our future developments.

I immediately set to work creating an organization called the Young Entrepreneur Social that was going to help foster the young leaders in our community toward service. We threw a couple of events bringing together influential Millennial leaders running companies in technology, the arts, healthcare, real estate and dozens of other industries. 

But before we could start our mission, tragedy stuck.

2012 (24 years old)

In 2012, I lost my first company. I trusted when I should have verified. This was one of the most gut wrenching moments of my life. It taught me to become resilient in ways I did not know I was capable of at the time. From this experience, I learned, adapted and shared my story and lessons with other young entrepreneurs.

We finally had the research done to begin building our game-changing product, and I wasn't going to let the failure of one company stop the mission. It was too important and had the potential to help too many people. I didn't know how at the time, but I would later dust myself off, get back on my feet, buyout the IP to the company and go on to prove our theory. That theory was that games could remove bias from the recruiting, training and promotion process to help more people end up in the right companies and roles. Based on merit, not pedigree, connections or random chance. Case of the Missing Lightsaber

2013 (25 years old)

I can’t tell you how much losing Novel hurt. I fought in ways I never imagined possible, working my way up from the bottom, and starting a company when no one believed I could. To have a chance when no one believed I should get one. I worked 16-hour days, sometimes living in my office to work ever harder. Missing holidays. Friends. Family. I believed in a dream that would make the world a better place, and to me, the word “Novel” became synonymous with “Brayden”.

It was as if part of myself had died. But, I picked myself back up, and by the end of 2013, had founded Recurrence (video) and InteractCE (video), vowing to never be dependent on any one company, product, investor or person ever again.

2014 (26 years old)

I worked out a deal to purchase the inventions of Novel so that I would be safe to continue that work again in the future within another company, and before I was back on my feet, I had the opportunity to help get the Washington J.O.B.S. Act passed into law. We did.

This act would help people from poorer families like mine have a chance. Once more, we thought this could help address some of the inequity in private equity, which goes almost exclusively to Caucasian men, by giving more communities the chance to participate in private equity. The more entrepreneurs we have in this country, the stronger a country we have.

In 2010, I spoke of the Millennial responsibility to fix the economy and now I was creating jobs directly and working on policy to create even more. I dove into this opportunity to make a difference, and then continued to look for opportunities to support campaigns and local political initiatives.

I also publicly, vulnerably shared my story of failure with students and young entrepreneurs in the hopes that my lessons could help others.

2015 (27 years old)

My life changed when I was compared to a fictional character. Prior to the movies, it was far more casual. You know when you meet new people, and they say, “You know you kind of look like X celebrity?” I heard a lot of comments like that from people who had read the book.

But once the movies were announced, I started receiving messages from around the world and calls to do interviews. The character was from Fifty Shades of Grey. He was also a 27-year-old, with dark blond hair, and blue grey eyes. He was a Seattle entrepreneur with multiple companies (e.g. a holding company). It didn’t help that I had also worn suits since I was 19, as did this character. I started this habit with the idea that it would make me look more credible to investors in spite of my age.

This was the moment I did the article. Was I a 20-something who was about to say some things I regret? You bet. I have made many mistakes, and I try to own them. Great people among us make grand mistakes, but in my study of great people, I have observed that the greatest are defined by learning from their mistakes. I strive to learn from mine too.

Was there a part of me that was flattered by a comparison to a fictional character? Yes, I admit that I was. It was a lighthearted and silly comparison at the time. It was also an opportunity to talk about work my friends and I were doing in promoting domestic violence awareness, an initiative of ours which had started years prior. Did I agree with the whole comparison? No, I never did. In fact, I specifically said on video here that I was afraid people were going to project everything on to me and lose who I actually am. Boy, did that happen.

I completely believed that if I said nothing, the articles were still going to come out, and I hoped that by participating, I might steer some part of the conversation. It was clear to me that this article was going to happen. The question was whether or not I would have a part in what it said.

The Business Insider story changed everything and, for once, I am not going to link that article because so many hundreds of others have. It was not the first article, but it was by far the least accurate, and it became the dominant article on the topic around the world. Their staff reached out to me to request an interview. We spoke as much about dissimilarities between me and the character as the similarities. We also talked at great length about domestic violence.

Unfortunately, they had a story they wanted to tell. I was asked to confirm that I had an i8, that women had flown to meet not date me, and a few other questions I was completely taken by surprise by at the end of the interview. I confirmed these questions, and the answers were taken out of context, which ended up assassinating my character. By the way, the question about those women who flew out, wasn’t asked in a romantic context. In context, the stories are no more unusual than meeting someone in a city, staying in touch and having them come visit you later. You’ve probably had the same experiences.

All of the innovations, awards, struggle, and history I was once proud of disappeared overnight. 

I then picked myself up again and traveled to London to focus on building value at my businesses.

2016 (28 years old)

Recurrence began launching in classrooms, I joined my legislative district board, and I began working as the Young Democratic Chair (here). I knocked on doors and kept pushing new ideas on how we could make equity crowdfunding from the Washington J.O.B.S. Act of 2014 accessible to communities that would benefit from it. 

I also began to write more opinions about places in our system we could easily fix, like this one on STEM education (link).

2017 (29 years old)

Recurrence quickly expanded to over 50 universities and began to make a real difference in education. IntertactCE was now in multiple states and also expanding quickly. I was considered for a political appointment, but it was not yet the right time. However, I got the opportunity to talk about more specific issues in our community (here) and the virtues of supporting a Millennial Movement of younger leaders into office (here).

I was approached and asked instead to consider running in the 8th Congressional District. I said I felt we would have a better candidate than me, and that I would like to support them. I was nonetheless convinced to do an exploratory committee – and we spent months meeting people from Auburn to Chelan to find out what they wanted. We also paid for exploratory polling across the district. It all came back with an answer that surprised us: more so than any other profile, this district was looking for an entrepreneur with an economic plan for families like mine. At this point, I recognized that choosing to do nothing was not an option.

So, I recognized that choosing to do nothing would also be making a choice.

2018 (30 years old)

Today, I’m an entrepreneur and an activist. My companies are working with universities, companies, government, students, and professionals to improve education. I’m proud of the work we have done and the work we are about to do. Our new product will help reduce bias and inefficiency in the workplace, making it evident where talent and opportunity can come together.

I’m taking what I’ve learned growing up without means, being a small business owner, being an entrepreneur and innovator, and an activist in politics, to do what I can to improve my small piece of the world. I will soon be releasing Twilight of the Idols: An American Story. This is a book that will point to solutions in an effort get our government back. In this same vein, I’ll be releasing an App to help people around this country organize toward this purpose and to decentralize information, so we can stay connected with what is happening in real time. 

As the year goes on, I’m excited to begin talking more about these ideas, and hope you’ll join me. After all, what happens from here isn’t just my story – it’s yours.

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