Interview with Owners Place founder Jan Olszewski
Jan Olszewski is a second-generation member of a family business called Solaris, one of the biggest bus producers in Europe. After making a name for himself at Solaris, during which he was named second place at the Chief Innovation Officer Contest by Forbes Magazine and PWC, he has branched out as an entrepreneur, founding a fresh fast-food restaurant in Berlin and starting an online marketplace for family businesses called Owners Place. In this interview with Tharawat Magazine, Jan Olszewski shares how his innovative work in Owners Place is helping to facilitate global business among family businesses and explains how his life has changed through his entrepreneurial journey.
What is Owners Place and what gave you the idea to develop it?
Owners Place is an online marketplace for family businesses where members can connect and help foster business ties. For instance, family owners can use the platform to look for sales partners in another country or find potential buyers when they are looking to sell their business.
I was motivated to create this platform as I attended various family business events and saw the demand for such an outlet among family business members. Family businesses trust each other and therefore want to do business with each other, but as of yet there was no place to share their business opportunities efficiently. Owners Place was my solution for this problem.
With a small investment of my own savings, I was able to develop the online platform alongside a few former employees from my family business.
Afterwards, I tried to win as many family businesses as possible. I met many of them personally and the feedback was very positive so far. Within eight months of launching, we collected 90 great members from 29 countries, whose businesses cover a wide range of industries and record annual revenues of €500 million. These companies include prominent names such as the Maybach Foundation from the USA, LT Foods from India, Sao Manoel from Brazil, Hobart Group from Switzerland, Zubair from Oman and MV Holding from Turkey.
Our goal is also to establish Owners Place as its own sustainable family business.
Walk us through how the platform works and what can family business expect when using the service?
We have built an online marketplace, where members can help each other with their businesses. For instance, we bring owners together who are looking for a sales partner in another country or entrepreneurs who want to sell their business or a division to another family business. You can also search for a business partner in a new segment, find a financing partner, look for new suppliers, scout for a supervisory board member or recruit a supporter for philanthropic projects. In short, it can be described as, “A matchmaking marketplace for family businesses”.
We focus on owners of major family businesses and family offices, which means they need to have a minimum annual revenue of €10 million. The opportunities on the marketplace are mostly anonymous and only visible to members. If someone is interested in an opportunity and clicks on a deal, we step in and connect both members via email so that they can discuss the details of the deal offline with each other.
The membership to the Owners Place will cost in the future €3,000 a year, and it allows you to upload or search for as many deals as you want. Currently, it is free of charge to attract as many as members as possible in a short time. Our highest priority is to protect the privacy of our members and we adhere to the highest security standards in the industry.
What kinds of marketplace transactions have been completed through Owners Place?
50% of our opportunities deal with international partnerships, e.g. a cosmetics producer is looking for a sales partner in Asia. We look for international partners to become more global, and one example has been when we found some sales partners for the Al-Ghurair family from the UAE. Another example could be the Polish furniture and PVC profile manufacturer VOX, which is looking for a sales partner in Africa via Owners Place.
40% of our deals consist of investment opportunities such as when a family office is looking for co-investors in a start-up or a when family business needs a co-investor for a big real estate project.
The remaining 10% contain opportunities regarding philanthropic activities and activities that do not belong to the core business of the family.
As someone who was a member of an established family business that went on to become an entrepreneur, how has the experience been for you and what were the unexpected challenges and benefits?
When I set out to create Owner’s Place, there was a definite need for perseverance. Unlike our family business, I had to start from zero and had to do nearly everything on my own, which also meant that I personally had to convince every family business one by one of the benefits of my new project.
Another difference that being an entrepreneur has from working in the family business is that there is always the risk of failure because it is a new enterprise. But we think the potential is too big to miss out on such an opportunity.
On the other hand, there were also several benefits in starting my own enterprise. You meet very interesting business families from all over the world and have the opportunity to work together and help them solve their problems. I can also focus on doing what I love, being my own boss and realizing my potential. During my life as an entrepreneur, I learned a lot, gained more self-confidence, and improved my problem-solving skills, which are all the result of having less help in comparison to the resources you have working at a big corporation.
Why do you choose to work with family businesses instead of other types of companies and what are the challenges and opportunities of working with them?
I chose to concentrate on family businesses because I also come from a family business, which means I know how they work and think. This is a competitive advantage that I cannot ignore. I love the dynamics of family businesses, and I appreciate the values and thinking that they operate with.
Sometimes it can be challenging to work with family business owners because they are very busy people, so it can take some time to get quick answers back when you work with them. On the other hand, the biggest opportunity that I see when working with family businesses is helping them to reach their global potential because many are not or insufficiently engaged with foreign markets. When you ask these family businesses, they always explain that the reason for this is because of their lack of familiarity with foreign markets. Therefore, global access to other family businesses is needed to overcome this situation and this is where we can help via Owners Place.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their businesses?
I have five pieces of advice:
- Start with a good market research and competitor analysis.
- Start in an industry that you know (because it increases your chances of success).
- Talk to as many people as you can about your business idea. Talking is free of charge and you can get valuable advice.
- Listen to your critics, but do not believe everything that they say. Often times, they do not fully understand your idea or do not know your industry.
- Do not give up!