A Marketplace for Business

  • January 8, 2020

Joel Keylor, 25, is barely two years out of Cal State East Bay and four years into running his own business. 

That’s right. This recent graduate was plotting and planning to launch an innovative company while still studying for midterms, navigating college life and finishing his degree.

Keylor’s secret to start-up success?

“People think that starting a business is inherently risky and dangerous, but a lot of times it’s about jumping in the deep end and just starting,” said Keylor, founder of Tresle, an online marketplace for selling and buying private businesses.

But he wasn’t without support. While building out Tresle, Keylor took advantage of mentorship from professors in the College of Business and Economics and from connections he made with accomplished alumni, including Jack Acosta, a retired software and computer network executive and a trustee of the Cal State East Bay Educational Foundation.

Such connections were instrumental in Keylor’s early success, and he already is planning to pay it forward.

In fact, Keylor recently sat down for a live Q&A for the College of Business’ "Dean's Network” series with Dean George Low, to share insights about his path to success.

“Joel is unique to the series as a very young alumnus,” Dean Low said, explaining that previous featured series guests were seasoned CEOs. “Students can relate to him on a very different level because he was a student here just a short time ago. They can see not only that ‘I can be successful in 20 or 30 years, but I can do it while I’m still a student like Joel did.’”

Keylor, who grew up in Canada and lives in Vancouver, arrived on the Cal State East Bay campus as an 18-year-old biology major on a golf scholarship.

He was recruited by other universities, including some Division I opportunities, but he chose Cal State East Bay because he wanted a small campus experience with more opportunities to interact with the faculty and focus on real-world applications.

When he visited the campus and saw its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, he also realized the area had great potential for post-graduate opportunities.

Shortly after starting classes, Keylor switched from biology to business and never looked back.

Business acumen simply came more naturally to him, which he credits in part to his family of entrepreneurs. Keylor’s father and now business partner, Darren Keylor, has more than 30 years of software development, finance, and digital advertising experience, and has almost always worked for himself.

The idea behind Tresle in part came from Joel Keylor talking to his father and other veteran business owners about their experiences selling companies.

“I started doing research and realized that a lot of businesses are really set to change hands in a big way,” Keylor said. “The average retirement age is 53. There are 10,000 Americans turning 65 every single day. And $10 trillion worth of Baby Boomer business assets will be passed down or sold by 2025.” 

He also learned that, for small and medium business owners, selling a company through a broker can be costly (up-front listing fees, retainers, and 10-15% commission rates). To save money, some sellers use online listing sites instead of hiring a broker, but Keylor said they can run into problems like no or little sales support, no privacy, and no vetting of potential buyers.

“These are huge barriers of entry,” Keylor said. “So how do we provide a solution that’s not archaic, and doesn’t have high upfront listing fees?”

While Keylor developed solutions, his Pioneers golf coach Alan Sue introduced him to Acosta, a big team supporter and accomplished business leader. Acosta said he was impressed by more than Keylor’s golf skills – which included helping secure CSUEB’s first-ever berth to a NCAA Division II National Championship for men’s golf. Keylor’s economics knowledge and drive also stood out.

“What I found most inspiring from my point of view was the fact that here was a relatively young man, mature for his age, who wanted to start a business. If I could be of help, I would try to do that,” Acosta said.

Acosta helped Keylor meet potential investors, which led to raising capital and attracting impressive backers to Trestle’s board, including Ray Tierney, former CEO of Bloomberg Tradebook. Tierney ranked first in Institutional Investor’s 2016 Trading Technology 40 and spent 15 years as a trader at Morgan Stanley.

Tresle was incorporated in 2015 and officially launched in 2016-17, the year Keylor graduated from Cal State East Bay. 

Tresle – named for a trestle bridge – aims to bring sellers and potential buyers together in a confidential online marketplace. With Tresle’s subscription-based listing service, only verified buyers get to see the listings. The platform helps both parties start conversations, send relevant documents, negotiate terms, and finalize transactions.

Today, about 1,300 sellers are registered on the platform, along with more than 35,000 potential buyers, Keylor said. Tresle has a growing staff of six (soon to be eight) that includes software developers, marketing analysts, and a customer service team.

Keylor’s advice to the university’s 3,000 College of Business and Economics students who might be interested in following in his footsteps?  

Don’t let fear stop you.

“Starting is better than only thinking about what might go wrong. You want to do your research and go about it in a tactical matter, of course, but a lot of people don’t want to take that leap and can get in their own way,” Keylor said.

“You don’t have to be the first person to think of an idea. Just the first to implement it.”