The founder of Rollerblade, one of the most iconic lifestyle products to come out of Minnesota in the 20th Century, Scott Olson shares his inventor's process, business disappointments, and his next big idea at the intersection of fitness and thrills.
Wednesday October 5, 2022
Scott Olson is the founder of one of the most iconic lifestyle products to come out of Minnesota in the 20th Century: the Rollerblade. He didn’t invent the inline skate, but he improved on a design that had virtually no market traction and made it an international fitness phenomenon and a product that endures still today.
Launched in 1980, Rollerblade steadily grew into a hot commodity. But by 1986, Olson was out of the company. Just 19 when he started working on the product, he had the vision and drive, but lacked the business know-how to scale the brand. Money problems forced him to sell to Robert Sturgis and Robert Naegele, who soon took over the company and eventually sold it to Nordica, which is now a division of Technica Group and still the parent company to Rollerblade.
"I was bummed out for a day or two," Olson recalls. "But I had to regroup. I still had the goal of being successful with this product." And despite the disappointment, he considers his Rollerblade run a success. It's the product that defined his entire career and allowed him to pursue other dream products including his latest focus, the human powered Skyride, another invention at the intersection of fitness and thrills.
"The entrepreneur and inventor seldom see anything—they can never hold on long enough to see the rewards. I held on to a little piece," Olson says. "I've been lucky enough to keep doing what I love to do: innovating and inventing."
After our conversation with Olson we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship where Alec Johnson chairs the entrepreneurship department and makes sense of Olson's business journey.
"The transition from idea to running and growing a business is something a lot of founders don't make easily," Johnson says. "It's a bit of the Field of Dreams approach here—if I build it, they will come. My advice to founders: be prepared for the fact that they don't always come. What are you going to do to bring them in?"