RhoMania Founder Darren Olsen Talks Technology Family And Books

If saying white or red is as complicated as you make choosing wine, satisfaction is easy to find. After that, trying to decide which varietal to go with, the right year, the right producer…well, the selection process quickly becomes more complicated. In fact, the majority of consumers will select the second cheapest option on a menu and call it a day. This is bad business for bars and restaurants, and a missed opportunity for imbibers looking to enjoy delicious beverages suited to their tastes.


Darren Olsen hopes to remedy such misfires. He’s the founder and CEO of RhoMania. His company uses their trademark Grail technology, crafting interactive digital menus for businesses to offer their guests. Consumers enter in a few taste preferences, and the menus provide information and recommendations that make the process of choosing and purchasing alcoholic beverages much simpler. Olsen sees wine sales growing by as much as 20% in partnering businesses.



He turned his hobby into a startup while pursuing an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University. There he met his his co-founder Kevin McEachern. He may want to consider acrobatics in retirement. Before starting RhoMania, he’d already married and started a family, worked as a medical technician, and served as the Head of Operations at Noble Ambulance in Clackamas, Oregon. While at Carnegie Mellon, he also led a group in creating a toolkit that allows small micro-finance institutions to provide funding to entrepreneurs in developing countries.


Olsen put down the corkscrews, the tablet devices, and children, to share some of his vintage experience with KillerStartups.



How long have you been involved with the Internet?

I actually was involved with BBSes, the precursor to the Internet, in the early ’90s (nerd alert). I ran my own BBS, Total Eclipse Enterprises, as System Operator, or SysOp. People would call my modem and trade shareware files, post to message boards and e-chat. I started it when I was 12 years old.


What were your first steps? What was your first computer?

I had an Apple IIc, and distinctly remember being frustrated that you couldn’t save anything to the computer! I was mesmerized when I saw my first 8088 at a friend’s house.


What’s the first thing you do when you leave the office at the end of the day?

The first thing I do is pick up my kids. That’s exactly what I need to relax from a long and stressful day. After trying to sell to customers and investors all day, their run-and-jump hugs are exactly what I need.


When do your best ideas come to you? During dinner? On your third beer?

With an inbox that is constantly filling up, it’s tough to get out for a run. But I find that when I do, I’m able to work out some fairly complex problems without thinking directly about them. Likewise, pruning and weeding in the garden can prove to be some very valuable time.


What’s on your desk right now?

  • A glass of iced tea
  • a stack of post-it notes
  • my iPhone
  • a few business cards of people who I need respond to
  • a pen that is almost out of ink
  • the latest issue of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood publication.

I try to keep my desk fairly uncluttered.


Favorite book? Author?

Salt by Mark Kurlansky. Actually, his other books rank up there with me–Cod and The Basque History of the World.

I really enjoyed Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, and my most worn-down book is Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. It is pure genius. I don’t tend to be very good at reading books on business. But a good book about food, drink, or gardening, it’s hard to get me to put it down.


What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get their business off the ground?

Gather together a small group of talented people who are as passionate about the idea as you are. While you may be able to do everything yourself, you’d be missing out on the intelligence, creativity and enthusiasm that others could bring to the table. Sharing the pie is not always a bad thing.


Who has been your biggest cheerleader?

Personally, it has been my wife Meghan. We have a lot going on, with jobs, school, kids and everything else life brings, but we make it work!


For our company, our customers are our biggest cheerleaders. They know that we’re a startup and many times understand the trials and tribulations associated, and they’ve been cheering us along the whole way. That’s what makes our work gratifying.


Where can our readers get a hold of you? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Personal blog?

Twitter and Facebook. We also have a blog on our website.


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