Ep. 27 - Matt Olin, Owner and Founder at Bluebot.com joins the show to discuss his journey and what he learned as CEO of Sierra Instruments and now as the founder of Bluebot.com. The discussion touches on leadership, failures, and having a simple mission and vision that allows the entire company to be aligned for success.
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Hello, and welcome to Why Sports Podcast designed to highlight the value of athletics is a foundation for any career path. Through interviews with professionals across industries. We discussed the impact of being part of a team, competition, learning to fail and how those lessons transcend athletics into the workplace. Join us as we explore the importance of sports as professional development. While our guests share what they have learned throughout their career. I’m your host, Justin Clymo.
Justin Clymo: 2:09 Welcome back to Why Sports. We are joined today by fellow pirate alum class of 1990. Matthew Olin, owner and chairman of bluebot.com. Matt, thanks for joining us today. Super excited to talk to you.
Matthew Olin: 2:26 Yeah, great to be here. Thanks. So what a great show you have Justin, and I’m honored to join you today and talk about why sports. I love the theme. I listened to all the other episodes of this terrific show. So thanks for having me on.
Justin Clymo: 2:39 Awesome, I appreciate that. We might as well just dive right in here. So softball to start, since you listen to these episodes in sports is important for you growing up and also in your household. But in what way has your background in athletics helped shape your professional journey? And what lessons have you relied on most as you have navigated your professional career?
Matthew Olin: 3:01 That’s a good question, lots of answers to that. There are so many dynamics, the sports as you know, being coached and the leader of the athletic program and students. And there’s the cliché thing saying teamwork, right. But teamwork goes so deep. It’s not just teamwork that I’ve learned as building my previous business sierra instruments where I was the CEO for 17 years, had over 250 employees, over 150 locations in 50 countries. How do you build a team that’s global, but it starts with knowing how to build a team, that’s the fundamental of great teamwork is piecing together the team. That’s number one. Number two is put yourself in a position to compete. So many people take themselves out of that competitive stance. And so how do you stay in a competitive mode through planning, strategy, and getting that team to form behind you with one of two simple goals. And then some plans behind that, but don’t complicate things. So, in a nutshell, I could go on and on. But in a nutshell, those two key things, I think.
Justin Clymo: 4:02 Awesome! I want to take both of those. Actually, I want to start with the piece about building teams. And you mentioned that when you were running sierra instruments, it was a global company, you had locations in multiple places in the world. What I’m curious about is how your background in teams being part of a team, you’ve been coaching, right as your kids were younger, and you were given back here at one point coaching basketball, how does that factor in when you are not just building a localized team, but a global team where there’s different cultures that you’re trying to figure out as well? How did you navigate that? And what can you share in regards to how your background formed how you did that?
Matthew Olin: 4:44 It starts with setting one simple goal, whatever it’s going to be setting the vision for the business. And what we did with our business being global is we set that goal and we there’s Simon Sinek you probably read his books. He has this y factor idea. It’s not ‘What’ you do, it’s ‘Why’ you do it. And so, it came with many global meetings, Zoom and Skype with the Chinese team, with the UK team, with a Dutch team we were meeting at all different times and setting the pace and the direction for the business. And making it really simple our mission for the entire business and that was the drumbeat. And it was something really simple to say was its called uncompromising focus on QDPICS. That was the mission of the entire business. What is that? That uncompromising focus on Q, which is quality, D, which is delivery, P, which is people, I, which is innovation, and the CS is like overarching customer support. Everyone had to articulate that whether it was the Chinese saying, “What does QDPICS mean to you?” It turned into more than just because we’re a product company, it turned into more like quality, we have to have quality relationships with each other, we have to have quality communication, D deliveries, integrity, P its people because people are your greatest source of success. But that translates into profit, innovation be created, realize you might have a plan, but it’s never going to go exactly according to plan. You’re going to be able to bounce around, but hopefully have a compass card that points you in a general direction. And then customer support and over 17 years of having that same simple to understand mission statement. And traveling all over the world and having those conversations with the team. That’s how you keep people focused. It’s the drumbeat, it’s you ask people you quiz on, “Hey, what’s our mission statement, what does that mean to you?” Just walk around the factory and people start to go, Matt’s going to ask me that. So they start to internalize it. And so it’s difficult to get people going the same direction. But if you can simplify the message, and not make it too complicated, where people are wondering where they’re supposed to be all the time, just keep it simple.
Justin Clymo: 7:00 Yeah, I think that’s really a good way to get people on the same page, especially when you’re dealing with different cultures, like you mentioned, right? China, UK, domestic United States, and how that phrase can be interpreted in whatever cultural way that they needed to be to stay focused on the drumbeat that you mentioned. I’m also wondering if you could in a kindergarten way, because I don’t understand everything that you do. But what was your instruments doing and not more importantly, but in the pivot that you’ve made after selling the company to Bluebot? What is that new mission? What are you trying to do with that company? And where do you see it going, hopefully, in the future?
Matthew Olin: 7:43 There Sierra is a global high tech company, founded by my father back in 1973. I joined in 1995, and took the helmet 2003. But we are a global high tech company focused on process control. So we were doing precision fluid flow measurement. So measuring gas, liquid and steam going into large facilities, big markets or automotive, aerospace, biotech, pharmaceutical semiconductor, all over the world. So it was precision measurement and control. The other side of the business was engine and vehicle testing. So again, precision measurement of engines, we worked with Formula One, Honda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, fine tuning their engines, so their vehicles would perform really great on the racetrack. So, the flow measurement side, we sold that company in 2019, sierra started this company called Bluebot, bluebot.com. And what it is, it’s home water flow measurement. So living in Monterey, what water is a big deal, right? It’s super, super costly. And so, I took my flow experience and came up with a really, I think, novel way to literally clamp on the outside of a copper PVC pipe any size up to two inches. The device, like my hand clamps on the outside of the pipe, connects to an app on your phone and actually notifies you in real time, if there’s a problem if you have a leak, or water has been running for a long time. So, I felt, why not me, why don’t I empower people to know more about their water in real time, rather than getting that bill once a month? That’s huge bill out of control. So it’s been really successful. We’re doing really good.
Justin Clymo: 9:28 Awesome! Thank you for sharing that gives me a little bit of information to utilize as we move forward, primarily a basketball player, right, played collegiate basketball after you left here at UOP, but also as a youth played Water Polo, and I’m not sure what else and as you’ve raised the boys, they’ve played a bunch of different things, right? There’s a lacrosse game later on today. How does the diversity of your experience inform your decision making and leadership and are there things that you were able to learn doing multiple things versus just being zeroed in on one?
Matthew Olin: 10:03 Yeah, I started out as a swimmer growing up on the barracudas, Carmel High School pool back in the day. But I always had a basketball in my hand, my dad was a basketball player, and obviously chose basketball for my path and really enjoyed that. The way I look at sports is, it creates, builds young men and women build the skill set for successful life where there’s lessons on the court or in the pool or on the field that you just can’t get in the classroom. That being said, I think the combination of sports and classroom just like Stevenson’s done, because you and Dr. Hicks have really built that spirit within the school, within Stevenson, it’s a killer app, isn’t it? It’s sports and classroom, especially when you have a teacher, who’s a coach, because you have a teacher who’s your coach, that relationship with the classroom is totally transformed. And so I had that with Coach Hakinson. He was my English teacher, but also my great basketball coach. And so, he had a connection in class that you just wouldn’t have otherwise.
Justin Clymo: 11:08 As you have navigated your athletic journey, and you came across some injuries and some other things, but I’m wondering how your resilience in those situations and in your need, at the time to deal with unforeseen circumstances has led to your success professionally? Can you speak to that and how you’ve been able to lean on those moments to get through the tough times you faced as a professional?
Matthew Olin: 11:37 I just think that in sports, there’s going to be injuries, there’s going to be setbacks. And you learn by doing, by happening to you. You live it in sports. And I think it’s like learning on the job, you learn that experience, you can’t teach that whether you get an injury, or there’s a big loss, how to deal with ..., how to enjoy winning, but also how to deal with losing and how hard it is to win and how hard it is to win. Because all the preparation, all the practices and you when there’s setbacks, I think we can bring into business, you bring in your career, you bring into life, you realize you just have to roll with it as time goes on, you pick up the pieces, you keep that vision, you keep that focus on what you want to do, and you just move on. So you got to get a little thick skin. And I think sports helps you with that.
Justin Clymo: 12:22 Yeah, no 100% I wonder, as a coach myself, and as I think about the dynamic of athletics, and how quickly things move, and you have to respond, you don’t have time to process and think about whether you did it right until afterwards, when you can debrief a little bit. And so you’re forced to really be on your toes, right, really, as you said, adjust and have a good mistake response without having the time to sit and whine about some per se. And as you navigate the professional space, you’d have over 250 employees, right, multiple locations. Are you able, as a leader to see or to feel, observe whether or not people’s background with team based activities is present? And if so, without throwing anybody under the bus? I’m just curious if it’s noticeable people that have a background being part of a team or not as you bring them into the fold of your company?
Matthew Olin: 13:19 So, it’s terrific question. And, yes, when you’re building teams, you get a sense, if you’ve been on a team, you know the team players like kids that you’re trying to form into become a team player. And in business, we employees that just want to do it on their own. And it takes a lot to cultivate that person into a team setting, instead of me, it’s us and those sorts of using even the words that they use, I can pick up on it pretty fast.
Justin Clymo: 13:45 And how do you go about with feedback loops, right? So if we’re getting coached and you mentioned, Hankinson, I played for Coach as well. And there’s a constant correction in athletics, right? Here’s what we’re trying to get you to do. Here’s where you can do a better. No, that was wrong or whatever, you get better at giving feedback. And in what way has your growth as a leader and way in which you use feedback loops informed, how you’re now building this new company and what you were able to take out of sierra instruments?
Matthew Olin: 14:15 You know, it comes from being coached, you learn that process, and being a CEO of a business is the same thing, you’re really coaching. And you’re looking for constructive feedback. You’re looking to make corrections or annual performance reviews, all that stuff, which is important, but it’s the daily, “Hey, you did this great”, but let’s try to push harder in this side. Here’s why, here’s why because it’s going to improve QDPICS and I learned how to be a good leader by actually having good coaches, believe it or not, and learn their habits, levels of organization, game plans, and finding who the leaders were on that team and getting them to help be on the court leaders. That’s what I did in my business, I found on the court leaders per se in my business and those people I cultivated become the eyes and ears the business. I couldn’t be in China, I couldn’t be. So, I had in each of my locations, I had that person the team captain.
Justin Clymo: 15:06 Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. And you mentioned that you learned by having good coaches. Are there the things that you remember that you lean on today that maybe your mantras or lessons that are specific that you’ve always held on to and never let go of, that you can point to and be like, oh, Coach Hanks taught me this, coach this taught me this, Coach Thompson taught me this, are there things that you lean on and you remember that you’ve tried to pass down?
Matthew Olin: 15:28 I don’t have a specific I have a feeling. I just remember being pushed, do things I don’t want to do. Let’s face it, if it’s conditioning, if it’s being pushed to the next level, even thinking about the game in a different way, reframing the picture of the problem in a different way. Those are the lessons. So, “Hey, Matt, did you think about it like this? Maybe, you want to try that?” I would try that it would work great. But I’d be like, okay, that’s a lesson learned right there.
Justin Clymo: 15:57 Yeah. And so, I think to the point of that feedback mirror, again, where your employees, right might be doing something at a B level, and you want to get them to an A and it’s just asking the question, maybe explaining the why there’s a different way to do it. And how you take that and leverage it into getting their top performance in a way in which you want to do as a leader. I’m sitting here thinking as I’m listening to you, and I’m wondering, as a guy that poured a lot into your athletic underpinnings, let’s say when you were younger, and the boys did as well, when sports has been such a big part of your growth in your life. How do you transition when it’s gone? When you know, basketball is somewhat of a lifetime game, but it’s not like tennis or golf, your body is gonna break down at some point. But how do you transition when you no longer have that outlet? What strategies have you used to make sure that was a transition that was productive?
Matthew Olin: 16:53 It’s not it’s sad. When it’s over, when I decided college basketball, I didn’t want to go pro or anything like that wasn’t good enough Pro, I wanted to get my MBA. So my daddy Ruth San Diego, I have become a really good fan. Part of what I did when I transitioned was I did do some coaching at Stevenson under with Hankinson as an assistant coach varsity team that helped me and still be around the game. But really, transitioning is difficult. You got to find new outlets, new sports, but it’s not never going to be the same. You just have to get over it. So it’s never going to have that glory of being on the court with all the fans. You got to hop on a mountain bike, pick up a tennis racket, play basketball with your kids, I’ve always played basketball with my sons, Parker, Connor and Cooper, and try to be as involved as possible. But it’s sad, sadly.
Justin Clymo: 17:47 Yeah, no, it’s hard. And it’s something I just realized the other day, I was talking to a buddy that I was able to meet in this group I’m in and he used to play in the NBA. And part of his deal when he retired was like your identity is so wrapped up in that, that you never really have a chance to figure out who you are, until that goes away. And then it’s that struggle and that transition of figuring out what’s next. And so, it’s really something to, as you said, “How do you replace it with something right?” How do you take that energy and commitment and put it into something else, which it looks like you were able to do with sierra and now you’re doing Bluebot?
Matthew Olin: 18:19 Yeah, it brings up after I got done a Pacific, I really focused on getting my business degree, get my master’s in business, and going and running the family business. And that became my new thing. The new thing that I took all that energy and pushed it in that direction, and just I was dedicated, that’s what I was gonna do. I was going to run the family business I was going to grow, it was going to be great. That wasn’t really my thing. So all a lot of energy got pushed into business,
Justin Clymo: 18:43 Do you have as a leader, as a professional, as a business owner, a moment of failure that you can look back on and say, Wow, this is transformational for me. And it’s really helped me move forward on my journey?
Matthew Olin: 19:00 There’s so many so many little failures, I can’t even name them. All say there’s no one big moment. But I sure messed up a lot along the way and learned and adjusted quickly and kept moving. Whether it was maybe you made a mistake on a team maybe went down a bad path on maybe a new process of the business, but quickly identified, quickly correct. And guess what? That meant that you’re going to make mistakes. That’s life. It’s getting over it [and] moving forward, that really counts.
Justin Clymo: 19:31 Yeah, that would speak to its only a failure if you don’t learn from it, if you make a mistake. And it’s a learning lesson because you see it as an opportunity then ... If you try to explain it away and act like, it didn’t happen then it really becomes a failure.
Matthew Olin: 19:48 That’s right. And if you have a culture that does that you’re not going to have any creativity at all.
Justin Clymo: 19:52 Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I think that’s probably important for you to empower your staff and team with, so that they can take some risks and know you’re going to support them. And you’re going to have some opportunities to debrief what worked or what didn’t work and how to do it better than next time.
Matthew Olin: 20:06 That’s right. And it starts at the top. And if I made a mistake, I would have the whole staff in front of me and say, guys, “I screwed up. But guess what, we’re moving forward.” And they would see that attitude and start to mirror that also. And I would never punish anyone for taking a calculated risk and maybe, didn’t work out. I’d say, “Hey, you did your best. It was a good idea at the time. It didn’t work out now move forward.”
Justin Clymo: 20:31 And would you say that was something you were able to cultivate through your background in athletics in regards to accepting accountability, not trying to blame and using it as a leverage point to move forward?
Matthew Olin: 20:44 For sure. Because that’s what sports is winning and losing, and you learn how to pick up the pieces regroup, and go out and compete again. And for sure that taught me that, for sure. 100%.
Justin Clymo: 20:56 Love it. So this one’s a little bit of a question out of left field. And it’s something that I’ve been noodling on for quite some time. I heard it on a bike ride, listen to a podcast and the question that just came up, and it was, what have you most recently changed your mind on and it got me thinking, I rode home, walked in the house, grabbed any candy that was in the kitchen. I was like, “What have you most recently changed your mind on?” And my whole thing was, the question wasn’t as important for me is the concept of you need to be open minded, you need to reevaluate your positions on things all of the time. And so that’s what I was trying to get across to my teenager. But at the same time, I’m always curious, as people think about, especially in a professional space, where you’re pivoting from one role to another, you’re starting a new company, or the things that I used to be over here. And now I’m over here. And here’s why?
Matthew Olin: 21:43 That’s a great question. You asked some good ones, Geez, I’ll tell you one thing coming through, we’re all in this together, we all have COVID, whether we have it physically or work in it, it started out last year real negative, everyone was didn’t understand it. There’s a lot of negativity around COVID. And as people started to understand it, and start to live their lives and adapt their lives around the new normal. I’ve changed my mind and seen all the silver linings that have come from this, whether it’s more time with your family, realizing you can work from home and manage your time on your own, and the beauty of the human race to adapt, to change. I am absolutely, dumbfounded by, so I’ve changed my mind a bit on my original attitude on COVID. I think we’re going to handle it, we’re going to come out, that’s just fine. We’re going to be better for it. And so that’s one example.
Justin Clymo: 22:38 I loved that and ... It’s a very hard question. And it’s really, it’s a gift offering that I got from someone else for you to carry with you and share with the boys and we carry and everyone else, it’s, “Hey, here’s something to think about.” And, to your point about COVID. I’ve said this since March, when this went down, it’s like there’s COVID winds all around you, if you’re looking for him, you just got to be willing to grab them and do something with them. And this medium we’re doing right now is one of those right? It was an opportunity to get some people together in my network and talk about some things that will benefit our students, will benefit the general public. And how can we get your story out there?
Matthew Olin: 23:15 Terrific, terrific. Your whole this entire thing came from that. So there’s a silver light. So I think sports we get back into that sports actually, playing sports teaches you to roll with it. Go through adversity. COVID is the ultimate adversity that hits every corner. But if you played sports and if you’re with teams, you realize that’s just part of it. You got to adapt.
Justin Clymo: 23:37 Yeah, no, for sure. So I’m going to ask a couple more that we didn’t plan for. But as a guy who’s run a business sold a business now you’re starting another one. And there’s an entrepreneurial aspect of that you have an MBA, right? You’re obviously steeped in learning in that space. What advice would you have for people that maybe, they’re thinking about getting into starting a business, but they’re nervous. They don’t know. They’re trying to figure out all the pieces. How would you advise as a mentor, someone who came to you and said, “Hey, Matt, I have this idea? What are your thoughts?”
Matthew Olin: 24:11 I would do just that I would use your network for sure. People that have gone before you they’ve made the same mistakes that you’re about to make, they can help guide you around that. But to start talking to people that have done it before you, people that you admire, you’re close to, even someone, maybe, you’re you know, and you want to try to get interviews too, do that legwork, especially, if they have a business that similar to the one that you want to start.
Justin Clymo: 24:33 I think that’s [inaudible 24:35] to your point of making sure you have advisors that you can reach out to even as adults. We have the advisory program here at school, but as you move on in life that doesn’t shift who can you go to that’s done it, who can you go to get information, even if you don’t necessarily come from the same place.
Matthew Olin: 24:52 And here’s a little kernel wisdom is those people that have done it before you they’ve been successful, they get more fulfillment out of helping You and seeing you succeed, then maybe, you will. So realize that people want to help you, they want to support you. And so, that’s a whole flipside of giving back is actually more rewarding. Ask that successful business guy, how he made it, [he will be] more than willing to help you.
Justin Clymo: 25:17 Absolutely. And it’s interesting, right? Because what the history and tradition will tell you is almost like, the more you give back, the more success, you end up having yourself just the way in which karma works. So great advice.
Matthew Olin: 25:30 That’s very true.
Justin Clymo: 25:31 Yeah, one more question. We’ll end on this. You have an opportunity, right to put this out to anybody that’s listening that maybe is considering I don’t know, if we should get our kids in sports when they’re young. We’re a little bit nervous about X, Y, and Z. What advice would you have about the value and foundation that would be your sales pitch for why you want your kids involved in things growing up?
Matthew Olin: 25:54 If you want to have a child that’s well rounded and that can meet the challenges of life, you got to get them into athletics, period.
Justin Clymo: 26:01 Nice. That’s an easy way to say it. Keep it simple, like you said early on in the mission statement. So, [I] appreciate you coming on. Looking forward to Bluebot. Explosion coming up here. Thanks for joining us today.
Matthew Olin: 26:15 Thanks, Justin. Appreciate it. Love the show. Have a great day!
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