TX Huskies

Driven to Build Up Others

A portrait of the Elder family

The Elder family from top down: Jon, Hannah, Bella, Grayson, and new baby Garrett (not pictured)

Texas Husky Jon Elder, ’10, grew up in Redmond and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in construction management. While he started his post-college career working on massive construction projects, he found his true passion in building businesses. After growing and then exiting a successful business as a seller on Amazon, he started Black Label Advisor to help other entrepreneurs build their own business on the retail behemoth. We caught up with Jon to learn more about his path from campus to consultant and the values that drive his business.

UWAA: Why did you choose construction management at the UW?

Jon Elder: At first, I struggled to hone in on the degree I wanted. A friend of mine that I was living with actually told me about construction management and it seemed like a really good fit. I had actually done some construction projects in Tijuana with my church growing up. That was kind of a natural interest for me. It was an awesome experience. In that program specifically, we had, I think a graduating class of maybe 50 people max. It’s a very top notch program if you compare it to other universities.

Didn’t you also start your first company at the UW?

Actually, in my first year at the UW, I was in the Air Force ROTC program. That obviously didn’t work out. It just wasn’t a natural fit in terms of chemistry. I knew I wasn’t going to be in it for the long haul so I had to switch gears.

I left the program and that’s when I launched my moving company. I had to pay for tuition somehow! Myself and a buddy of mine, we just cranked out jobs like crazy. We would work after class late into the night, get up do our classes and do it again.

How did you make the jump from construction management to selling on Amazon?

I ended up working on a San Diego airport project right out of college. I dove right in to use those skills, everything I learned from surveying to managing finances, managing the schedules, and using all the software we learned in class. It was a really cool entry into the industry.

I actually left that job to go get married and then, right after the honeymoon, we came back and I ended up working for another project management firm working on the San Diego county women’s detention facility.

During that time I started looking into increasing income through a side business. I always had a kind of entrepreneurial bent. I launched my first brand, a sporting goods brand, and that took off. It led into five total brands and turned into an eight-figure business. That’s when I went full time with Amazon until I sold the business in late 2019.

We talk a lot about being driven by values at UW. How do values drive your business?

So I’m a born again Christian and I believe what the Bible teaches. So everything from business to how I treat my wife, how I treat my kids, how I treat a stranger is based on honoring God. That definitely affects my business in a very unique way.

It’s everything from not sugarcoating things for clients to being as transparent as possible. There’s a lot of consulting companies out there that will paint an image of what’s possible to get your business and then they can’t come through. Maybe I’m losing some business along the way by honestly saying, this is the capital you need to successfully run an Amazon business, not painting this beautiful grand picture when it’s really, really hard. It’s viewing clients as more than just a number. It comes down to relationships. I try to give out as much useful content as I can. I try to go out of my way to help people and provide solutions for them. But it really comes down to just loving people and honoring God through those relationships.

Going back to professors at the UW, they were really good at hammering home the message of integrity. The construction world isn’t known to be full of integrity, so they really wanted us to focus on that. Whether that’s submitting bids and submitting the best and most accurate information, not trying to swindle upper management, doing your best in terms of safety on the job site – not just checking a box but viewing every single worker through the lens of each of them being a human being. At the end of the day, the professors in the program did a really good job of teaching ethics and integrity through every aspect of construction management.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

It’s to go the extra mile for the customer. Whether that’s construction clients or clients I work with now on their Amazon businesses. Don’t just do the bare minimum. Go in thinking outside the box even though you’re not asked to do that.

What’s advice would you give to current UW students?

Pursue your passion and pursue it with all of your energy. Find something you’re truly excited about. That can really change your whole dynamic from “oh I have to go to work” to feeling like you’re changing an aspect of the world or making a positive impact on someone else. It’s something that can drive you, it’s going to produce a lot of joy in you because you’re doing something you actually like.

I saw someone on Twitter recently say that if you’re pursuing something you’re really passionate about, you’re not going to need to drink coffee in the morning. So I would say purse your passion and pursue it with all of your energy.

What if my passion is drinking coffee in the morning?

Then launch a private label coffee company!

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity