After receiving a bachelor’s degree in information systems from the BYU Marriott School of Business in 2016, John Koelliker leaned on his family, friends, and colleagues to gain the confidence to start his own business. Now, as CEO of startup Leland, Koelliker focuses on connecting people so they can pursue their dreams.
Koelliker became fascinated with the world of tech while at Brigham Young University. He took several computer science classes that piqued his interest, but the people and opportunities at BYU Marriott ultimately won him over to declare a major in the business school.
“I felt like information systems was a great combination of computer science and business and would give me some of the technical skills to work in tech,” says Koelliker. “I could also surround myself at BYU Marriott with other people that I could learn from.”
Koelliker even started his own company while in school. “It was a baseball company called Kore Baseball Products,” says Koelliker. “I got a taste of entrepreneurship and loved it.”
Upon graduation, Koelliker moved to San Francisco to work for LinkedIn. After a few years, he decided he wanted to work for a smaller company where he could have more of an impact, so he transitioned to tech startup Curated. It was in this startup environment that Koelliker cemented his desire to build his own company.
“I loved working at LinkedIn. I could learn from people at a big tech company and learn how a world-class company is operated,” Koelliker explains. “But I still had this itch to go to smaller companies.”
After those years at LinkedIn and Curated, Koelliker began the MBA program at Stanford. Koelliker knew from his experience applying to Stanford that the process of getting into graduate school can be difficult. Helpful resources, such as coaches, are valuable to applicants but oftentimes expensive and out of reach for many individuals. Koelliker wanted to make those resources more available to everyone—which led him to the idea for his company, Leland.
Leland is a marketplace that helps individuals connect directly with coaches to help them achieve their professional and educational goals. The site makes resources more affordable by cutting out the additional fees added on by firms or programs that manage coaches.
However, starting Leland was not an easy task. When first forming his company, Koelliker reached out to several people from various stages in his life. “One of the interesting things about starting a company,” says Koelliker, “is it’s like an exercise in going back to all of these people that you've met or built a relationship with over your life and saying, ‘Hey, we could use your help.’’’
His efforts paid off as friends and former coworkers came to work for Leland. “So much of what Leland is came from what I learned, who I met, and the people that I associated with while at BYU,” Koelliker explains.
“I think having a good network comes from trying your best to be a good person. If you give of your time to help people, then when the time comes, people will help you because there’s actually a relationship,” reflects Koelliker.
From this foundation of solid relationships, Koelliker felt confident to start a company and bet on his success. "The risk of a less fulfilling career or less fulfilling life was scarier to me than the risk of failing,” Koelliker admits.
Getting his startup off the ground required hard work, but Koelliker’s love for his wife, Karli, and their three children helped him balance his priorities. Even when there was so much going on at work, he made a point to be present with his family and spend time away from the office.
“I think in some ways, having a family and having constraints actually forces you to really prioritize, because the answer can’t be to work all night,” Koelliker says.
Koelliker’s focus on building authentic relationships has helped him to move not only Leland but also his life forward. “A mentor of mine once told me that if you’re smart, you’re hardworking, and you care,” Koelliker says, “there’s so much that you can accomplish. I really believe that.”
Written by Kacee Call