Crashing into an opportunity
It took one too many bike accidents and a background in online sales for Jason Bolt to make up his mind. For months he had been buying and selling used cell phones on Ebay. His impeccable customer service skills and seemingly innate business savvy had landed him a top rating on the website.
Everything was going as planned: Both Jason and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were in the pre-med program at the University of Oregon in Eugene and the Ebay business was running smoothly. But in the back of his mind, Jason couldn’t help but think that there was an easier product to sell online. Something that was “lightweight, easy to ship, no moving parts” and, above all, something that people needed.
Then a mountain biking accident happened and out of the chaos an opportunity arose.
Jason was lucky enough to walk away intact, but his sunglasses didn’t fare as well. While the frames were still fine, the lenses were scratched up to the point that the waste basket was the only option. But that’s not Jason’s style.
“I started looking at the lenses and popping them out and went and got some other sunglasses and popped out the lenses and was like, this is really easy. They aren’t one product. It’s clearly two separate products.”
That’s when he made up his mind. Instead of buying and selling cell phones, he would get in the sunglasses business. Well, more specifically, the lens business. So, like any good entrepreneur, Jason dove full force into researching his potential product line.
“I was in the post-baccalaureate, pre-med program at the time so I would be in classes like Organic Chemistry during the day. Then I’d come home and do homework first, and then from 9 to midnight, or 9 to 2 sometimes, I’d be researching.”
While doing this research, Jason realized that his new business plan just might work. He found out where sunglasses were being made and started reaching out to manufacturers in China. The problem was, everyone buying lenses back then wanted them in the frame as finished sunglasses–Jason just wanted the lenses. It took a ton of emails back and forth, but Jason’s persistence payed off and he was able to get a few manufacturers on board with his plan. With everything in place, he jetted over the Pacific for his first business adventure in China.
While overseas, Jason formed relationships with the factory owners, who made him his first 200 pairs of sample lenses. He was ready to come back to the States and launch his new company, Revant. The only problem was that Jason didn’t exactly have any experience with moving products across international borders.
“I had two duffel bags full of sample lenses and a bunch of sunglasses… So, I roll up to Customs with these huge duffel bags and the guy opens them up and he’s like, ‘Really.’—He even said that to me—And I was like, what do you mean, ‘Really’? And he says, ‘You know, there’s this whole process for doing this. Do you know about importing?’ I was like, ‘Nope, actually I don’t,’ and I told him my story.”
After hearing Jason out, the customs officer decided to let him, and his duffel bags, back into the states and sent him off with a friendly, “Well, next time make sure you go through the correct channels. Go ahead. Good luck. I’m pulling for you.”
Rolling Out Revant
Once Jason had made it back to Eugene, he stopped by a local jewelry store and bought some small boxes to be repurposed as packaging for his lenses. He printed off packaging labels, took some photos, and introduced Revant to the world on Ebay. With the setup done, he headed out on a trip to Tahoe with a friend. And then things got interesting.
“By the time we got down there all of them had sold. All of them! … I immediately called my friends back in Eugene and [my parents] and I was like, ‘I need you guys to start packaging these things up. I’m gonna send you shipping labels.’ It was crazy because on Ebay, of course, you have to ship out within 24 hours or you get a negative rating. I had no idea—I figured I’d be back in time to ship. So, almost immediately, I was like, ‘This is a viable business.’”
From that point on, things happened quickly. Jason moved into a bigger apartment to accommodate the growing mountain of boxed up lenses, and then into a house so that the garage could serve as base of operations. He left school without his MD so that he could put all of his energy into his burgeoning business. He got married. His wife finished at the University of Oregon and was looking at physician assistant schools. It was time for a change. It was time to move to Portland.
“We settled on moving to Portland because [my wife] was able to go to OHSU, and I knew it would be a great spot to grow the business – we really just enjoyed the community.”
With the help of this new Portland community, Jason and his growing team were able to break through some of the challenges that came from the rapid expansion of Revant’s early days. They smoothed out the hiring process to attract the best talent while freeing up Jason’s time for administrative duties. They zeroed in on the best ways to establish and monitor their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Over the last two years, Jason’s team has “stepped up to get the right monitoring dashboards setup and now [they] are dialed-in to scale faster.”
Not only is Revant ready to scale faster, but they’re also ready to scale in a whole new way–by making their own lenses. Thanks to some amazing technology, including a space-age looking five-axis router, Revant will now be able to make one-off lenses for any type of frame. This means that they’ll go from offering 6,000 different lens types to over 60,000.
But expansion isn’t everything to Jason. While he wants to see Revant continue to grow and mature, he also wants to ensure that that growth is reflected in his community–both inside and outside of Revant.
Standing for Something
This idea of community and humility is something that Jason had been building into the business since its beginning. Looking back at his original ventures on Ebay, Jason reminisced about the lessons that he had learned: “The value of word of mouth… creating an amazing experience and being relational rather than transactional… that’s at the heart of what we are and how we’re growing Revant.”
Over the years, his business philosophy has transformed into the mantra “community over capital”, and it can be seen throughout the community engagement, customer relationships, and internal culture of Revant.
“We work for more than just money and profit here. We work to better the community and serve others.”
Acting on this commitment to service, Revant has partnered with a number of not for profits. Currently, they’re working with Outdoors For All to help provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in skiing, cycling, and other outdoor activities.
“We not only give [Outdoors For All] money; we participate in supporting the events and coaching and things like that.”
In addition, recently Revant partnered with Warfighter Made, a nonprofit organization uses shop talk, tools, and a dose of adrenaline to help empower and support wounded veterans. They donated 1% of profits to the organization for 22 days, and also financially backed the restoration of a Light Strike Vehicle that veterans could drive in the Mexican 1000 race and also sent their Revant Raptor vehicle down to serve as a support vehicle. You can read more about this partnership here.
It’s this positive involvement that drives Jason and the whole crew at Revant: It gives them something bigger than a financial margin to focus on, it adds meaning to their daily work, and it proves that doing good and giving back can be a strength and not a sacrifice.
“We have to make sure that we continue to own that story and expand on it and show that it can be successful.”
As the economy of the region continues to swell, companies like Revant will play a vital role in guiding its growth—proving the importance of community through belief and action. Their efforts to create quality products, to make business synonymous with social and environmental sustainability, and to align economic progress with mission-driven morals has the potential to reinforce long-term prosperity and encourage a culture of inclusion and equality here in Portland and beyond.