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40 Under 40 - Class of 2020
Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 9 months ago

Jonathan Solomon, 34

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Founder and president, Proleve
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

In Proleve, the CBD company he founded in 2018, Jonathan Solomon has finally found his niche. Over the past 13 years, he’s been a seller or distributor of a wide variety of products, everything from houses to teddy bears to stem-cell supplements. He even did a brisk business selling — wait for it — starfish, or, as he calls them, “nautical home accessories,” on eBay and Amazon. 

Solomon says he would decorate the starfish and also had an Etsy shop for his custom designs. But many of the starfish he sourced were deformed and unsuitable for custom decoration, so he started to sell them in bulk. 

“We became the biggest distributor on Amazon of nautical life,” he says. “We would sell around 60,000 starfish per month. We also had sand dollars, shells. … It was just the most random thing.” 

Courtesy. Jonathan Solomon, before founding Proleve, sold starfish and other marine life via eBay and Amazon.

Products made with CBD don’t produce the same high as THC-based products and don’t require a medical marijuana card to purchase. Whether in gummy, salve or tincture form, CBD products are often used to alleviate pain and stress, and the relief they give to customers has become a huge source of motivation and satisfaction for Solomon. 

“What I enjoy the most about it is the people we help,” he says. “People always say, ‘Oh, it's a great industry — you're making tons of money.’ But it's really about the people we help. When we first started the company, we did it because we knew we could make a difference, and we could clear up a really cloudy market and make some money doing it.” 

One of Proleve’s best and most loyal customers, Solomon says, is a 94-year-old woman who places her CBD orders directly with him. “She will call and say, ‘I need to speak with John.’ I’ve had people say, ‘Well, he’s the president; he’s not really available right now.’ And she’ll say: ‘Tell him it’s Letitia. He’ll take my call.’”

Letitia, Solomon says, once told him she was having a tough time opening the bottles in which her Proleve products were packaged. So he personally put them in bags, mailed them and then called her with instructions to store the products in Tupperware containers after opening the bags. 

“I love helping people, and I love hearing their stories and feedback,” Solomon says. “That’s the most rewarding thing about it.” 

Name: Jonathan Solomon

Age: 34

City of residence: Tampa

Employer: Proleve

Title: President

Birthplace: Hudson, N.Y.

Years on the Gulf Coast: 22

Marital status/children: Single/none

Alma mater/degree: University of Florida/master of science in entrepreneurship in applied technologies

What community group or organization are you most involved with? Maxx and Me

What's the weirdest job you've ever had? Starfish salesman

What's your top tip for being productive? Focus on a task and stick with it. On more complex projects, break it up into smaller projects, tackling the harder ones first. It's all downhill once they are done. I keep a small list with me at all times that I cross off as I complete a task to show me progress.

If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? Grow and sell olives

What's your favorite off-hours activity? Sailing and road biking

What's your favorite board game, game show or video game? Cards Against Humanity

What’s your go-to delivery service (DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, Bite Squad, etc.)? Uber Eats

What do you use most — Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meetings? Google Hangouts

What’s the best binge-worthy show you have enjoyed during the pandemic? A little late to the game but "Schitt's Creek"

What’s the longest virtual meeting you’ve been on since mid-March? Seven and a half hours

How many times had you used video for a work meeting prior to the pandemic? Once per week

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic? I've learned how to manage my time better to take on multiple other tasks. During the pandemic, we were forced to take up the jobs of those who couldn't be present but also couldn't do their jobs from home. Sometimes with no notice. I stepped in, along with other staff, to fill in when needed. We created a system where everyone had to get paid, but everyone stepped up to help one another get through. We worked as a stronger team, knowing we had a goal to keep producing. As COVID-19 concerns grew, more people bought CBD, so we had to produce to new levels, with fewer staff. 

What do you miss most about the world pre-pandemic? I miss the freedom of going outside, traveling and enjoying life without the concern of being affected by COVID-19 or potentially affecting others.

What have you been spending more time doing during the pandemic? I have spent more time reflecting on myself and biking. During the pandemic, I still have been going to work, and there are limited placed I could go, primarily home and back. I used the early mornings and late nights to bike around South Tampa for exercise but also to freely get out.

Do you prefer working from home or working from an office? I prefer the office.

How have you kept up camaraderie with colleagues during the pandemic? Most of my staff still came to work, but we just social distanced. While doing it, we would create little games or have social distancing happy hours. For those who had to work from home due to family issues, we would deliver a themed food to them and have a company lunch with them.

What’s the first thing you’ll do after the pandemic? The first thing is to travel outside the U.S. I have been forced to go to a few meetings out of state I could drive to but by the end of the year will have taken two plane trips out west. These don't come without some concern, and it's not the same experience while in other cities due to uncertainty with their procedures. I want to go to Italy for a week as soon as we can freely travel again.

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