Nolee-O Web Design In the Press

Twenty Under Thirty
North Country portraits of young success
Nathan Olson:
Sign maker - Web site creator

Nathan Olson picked the right time to be born.

A generation ago, the term "geek" was an insult. Today, geeks rule, and a young person who combines strong knowledge of new technology with drive and creativity can carve out a good life.

Olson has combined an established family sign business with the modern craft of Web site construction to form Nolee-0 Signs and Web Design, a booming business he conducts in an office that includes a pool table, an aquarium with a large turtle, and a collection of X-wing and TIE fighters.

"I like my toys," he chuckles, but there are other toys in the office, too, and they belong to his 18-month old and five-month old sons, Aidan and Gavin.

His wife, Sarah, a librarian, is taking a year off to be with the boys, and they're often off doing things with her. But they also spend a lot of time in the office, and it is clearly a closeness he relishes.

The ability to spend time with his boys is a fringe benefit of the Web-design part of his business. "With kids, it's a whole lot easier to work on the Web sites (than signs), because I can work whenever I want to a certain degree," he says.

Signs, however, are how he got started. Olson grew up in Lake George, where his parents had a motel, a sign company and a clock repair business. He had worked on signs with his father for years, and so it was an easy move for him to take over that part of the family business five years ago.

The other half of Nolee-0 also began in childhood.

"I started with computers when the Apple II-E came out," he says. "Dad bought us one. I've always loved computers; I grew up with them."

His first Web site was designed for the family motel when he was still in high school, and he gleefully dips into some archived files to show off some of the sites he then designed for his own amusement, loaded with comical special effects or convoluted trivia.

These pages may be hilariously self-indulgent, but what was play back then gave him an ease with the medium that is clear in the clean, readily navigable sites he now maintains for some 50 clients.

Olson is largely self-taught in Web design. A top student in high school, he already had some ideas of what he wanted and they didn't require, or include, a four-year degree.

"I got my associates degree in business at ACC and that was enough for me," he says. "Growing up with my father in the sign shop, I was always into hands-on learning. I got good grades in school only because I could memorize the stuff and then forget it after the test. Unless I did it in a hands-on way, I didn't retain any of it."

He took a few years to travel and work out the specifics of what he wanted to do, and where, and he and Sarah circled around a bit, living in Saratoga and Rutland before settling down in Queensbury.

During that period, he was beginning to build web sites for businesses, but admits that he hadn't quite worked out the marketing side of things. Taking over the family sign business and getting settled in his home territory helped him over that hurdle.

There is, he notes, a direct, logical connection between the sign at the curb and the Web site, on the Internet. Often, customers who come to him for a new sign will see what else he does and decide to establish a web site or have him re-do their existing site.

"Signs are about two-thirds of my business and Web sites are one-third," he says. "I'd kind of like to flip-flop that, but they work well together."

The sign business and word-of-mouth have combined to bring him a solid number of Web design clients (visible at, but such connections don't happen by themselves. Olson is very active with the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerces business networking group, which has helped him make contacts in the area.

And, if it seems odd for someone with Olson's geek skills to be active in such a traditional group as the Chamber, there is much in his approach to work that defies the stereotype of the young computer expert. In the global medium of the Internet, Olson retains strong elements of the local sign-painter.

"I don't think I would ever work just with e-mail or phone calls," he says. "I want to meet clients at least once, just to meet them and sit down with them and talk to them. It's a lot easier to have an initial meeting so I can feel out what they're looking for and get a sense of what kind of design they want."

Not only does he refuse the role of the global recluse, available only in cyberspace, but he isn't interested in playing the role of the temperamental artiste, either.

"I always make sure to tell them that whatever I come back with the first time is the first draft. It's not final. Some people kind of like to say, 'You tell me what you want, I'll do it, and thats it.' I don't think it's realty fair to work that way with people."

At 26, Nathan Olson has found a successful combination of exciting new technology and old, well-tested business truths.

By: Mike Peterson
The Post-Star
Tuesday, February 8, 2005 - E1