James Oliver - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Focused on success: James Oliver shares his startup journey

James Oliver - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

James Oliver (MBA ’02), founder and CEO of WeMontage

James Oliver Jr (MBA ’02) knows firsthand that becoming an entrepreneur requires grit, determination and perseverance. Oliver is founder and CEO of WeMontage.com, the world’s only website that lets you turn your photos into a large custom collage printed on removable wallpaper. He’s also co-founder of the world’s cutest twins, Thaddeus and Zoe. We asked Oliver to share his insights and lessons learned throughout his startup journey.


Were you entrepreneurial as a child?
Yes, I think so. I didn’t really start spreading my entrepreneurial wings until college, though. As an undergrad, I started and ran an entertainment production company with a few friends – we flew in acts from New York to entertain students in Atlanta. That was fun.

Tell us about your career path after completing your MBA degree.
My path was circuitous at best. When I finished Business School, I tried to launch a digital lifestyle magazine for black golf enthusiasts called Seven Under with one of my classmates. The funny thing was, this was in the pre-iPad era. Investors couldn’t appreciate the changes we were proposing to the conventional publishing business model.

How did you come up with the idea for WeMontage?
I was watching an interior design show on HGTV in which they were covering an entire basement wall with beautiful photos. I wanted to display photos from my wedding in the Dominican Republic in that format, but what they were doing was not available to the general consumer – so I started WeMontage.

What do you wish you knew before starting your company?
I think what’s more important is what I didn’t know. I’m glad I didn’t know it would be SO hard – I might not have started. In this sense, I think ignorance is likely a key ingredient to the success of entrepreneurs.

What advice do you have for students or alumni considering launching their own startup?
Make sure you have a supportive spouse if you are married and are starting a new business. Without that support, either the business or your marriage – or both – will fail.

Make sure you are 100 percent committed to the success of the business. Otherwise, when things get hard – and they WILL get hard – it will be too easy to quit. Persistence and grit matter – a lot.

Surround yourself with a community of like-minded, positive people because non-entrepreneurs won’t always inspire you or understand you.

Stay positive and focused on your vision when things get tough. Keeping a positive mindset is critical for so many reasons.

How did the Money magazine feature come about?
Luck and hustle. Any time I get great PR, it’s a combination of luck and hustle. I wrote about it here.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of founding WeMontage?
Getting testimonials from customers every week telling me how much they LOVE their WeMontage, then seeing them come back and order more. It’s pretty cool.


Read more about Oliver’s ups and downs as a determined entrepreneur in Money magazine.