Sramana: Lon, let’s start with the background that leads up to the Tylted story. Where are you from?
Lon Otremba: I grew up in Michigan. I am an identical twin and I was part of a family that was involved in the automotive industry. My father spent 38 years with the same company. My uncles and other relatives worked for the big auto makers. I spent a lot of my summers during college working in the plants. I saw firsthand what it means to be part of manufacturing and a part of that industry.
It was an interesting and eye-opening experience. I also knew that someday I would want to do something other than work for a big company. I knew that somewhere along the line I wanted to break away from the routine of spending the entire day doing a routine job working for a paycheck. People’s lives began the day they left work, and I wanted to begin my life the day I went to work. I worked my way through college working in plants and playing music. I met a lot of professional musicians, and they really are entrepreneurs. They run their own businesses and have to work hard to book shows.
I never set out on a path to be an entrepreneur. I always pursued things that I found interesting and, at the same time, allowed me to make some money. I was a sign painter for a while. I made pizzas for a while. When I was an undergrad I was presented a unique opportunity. I was an econ major and I needed an additional five credits, so I asked a professor if I could create an independent study proposal for five credits. A good friend of mine in the dorm got in trouble with the university and there was an organization, Student Legal Services, at the school that was established to help students who ran into legal or other trouble with the university.
He asked me to come with him to his first appointment at Student Legal Services and I found that the organization was a joke. I decided to write a business plan as part of my econ study to turn legal services into a pre-paid program. At the time it was funded by the university and it did not do much. I wanted to see something along the lines of an insurance plan. My professor liked the plan so much that he took it to the administration without my knowledge.
The administration was actually interested in putting it into practice on the idea that students would fund it by paying $5 or $10 at the time of registration. We got it going and we went out and hired lawyers. That organization, 30 years later, is still a big institution at the university. That was the very first entrepreneurial experience that I had.
I had to do a lot of things, particularly in the early days, that I did not anticipate. I had to find office space and I had to take trips to other universities to see how they operated their programs. That experience was one of the reasons I got a terrific offer from Procter and Gamble after college. I worked long enough there, around three years, to know that I did not want to work in a company that large forever. At that time it was not a place that fostered open thinking. I had a few clashes with my management, and I realized that I did not want to be there much longer.