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Moving Mountains

Portrait of John Baker, Founder & Managing Partner of RedOak Trust

Founder & Managing Director

Key themes

  1. John Baker knows the secret to successful business ventures—a strategic balance between knowledge and execution. Founder and creator of the dynamic Cleanzy Sponge, a self-funded searcher, and sales tactician, John is an unshrinking explorer who treads the unknown informed and prepared.

  2. John makes his successful business practices last by thinking long-term, which not only gives him control over his growth but has also built him a reliable path toward entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA). He effortlessly tackles impostor syndrome by training his body to quell the stress of his mind and uses organization, visualization, and reflection to shake off his analysis paralysis.

  3. As an ambitious polymath, John gives young startup and ETA entrepreneurs invaluable advice. To startup entrepreneurs, he suggests designing viable products and being vigilant of imitators; and to ETA entrepreneurs, he recommends networking extensively and embracing ambiguity.

The Craft of Consumer Product

John Baker has been moving mountains with nothing but his experience, motivation, and planning. Founder and creator of the Cleanzy Sponge and a self-funded searcher with a background in analytics, business development and strategy, and sales—lots of sales—John walks the tightropes of new ventures with a clear mind and stable feet.

Cleanzy Sponge is a hands-free cleaning sponge that is every bit as threatening to inaccessible food and beverage container debris as it looks. The novel product was born out of John’s own troubles with protein powder gunk stuck at the bottom of his bottle and hard-to-reach leftovers in his Tupperware. Coming in three different sizes and colours, the spherical sponges do all the hard work while you shake the container with water and soap.

John looked at customer reviews of existing bottle sponges and noticed a gap in the market he could fill with his product. He consciously designed Cleanzy to be accretive to existing product lines and splash some enjoyment onto the cleaning process.

“I thought, why not bring a marketable product to an arena that is considered unappealing or unsexy, which is the sponge or bottle brush category? A product that’s useful, effective, fun, and marketable?”

John, an astute entrepreneur and strategist from the get-go, quickly learned that while idea generation can be effortless, execution is often riddled with obstacles. The application process for his utility patent on the Cleanzy Sponge, which gave him rights to own its utility, took three years to get approved. As a result, John advises having a provisional patent, a temporary placeholder that protects your product idea. The track to execute John’s innovation was not as emergent as his vision, but the Cleanzy Sponge is ultimately a hit, with an average of 5 stars on Etsy and hundreds of sales already.

Pursuing the Right Path

Millennials like John have spent the last two decades observing the technological landscape transform before them. But John hasn't only been observing—he has taken full advantage of the informational wealth provided by the internet, guided by the vision of autonomous living.

“I began to understand that there was a different lifestyle out there. There was a better life for me and my family. I think I took that on at a young age, and it really motivated me to figure out a way to gain autonomy; to gain financial freedom. And one of the primary ways to do that was through entrepreneurship.”

With a utility patent and a successful single consumer product company under his belt, John could have chosen to build his own startup. But he knew that he wanted to be involved with something having an existing foundation, something that suited him as a person and didn't present the resource challenges of a business built from scratch. So he spent some time drawing out information from several books offering different insights on entrepreneurship through acquisition, including Walker Deibel’s Buy Then Build: How Acquisition Entrepreneurs Outsmart the Startup Game.

Slowly, a new horizon came into view.

“It just seemed to be the perfect mesh between what I was looking for and all of my creativity, layering that on top of existing infrastructure. And it makes so much sense to me.”

A fresh journey can be daunting, especially when embarked upon alone. However, John is equipped with a clear vision, knowledge, and the unwavering determination to transform the future in his mind into reality. He is currently filling in his knowledge gaps through books such as Financial Intelligence, Search Funds & Entrepreneurial Acquisitions, Measure What Matters, and the HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business to continue his self-funded search for a company he can acquire, grow, and sell.

Long-term Thinking in ETA

John stresses the importance of balancing knowledge accumulation with execution when it comes to new endeavours. Equipping oneself with valuable knowledge is essential in navigating the ETA space, but it is equally important to create a plan and take the next steps after diligently learning. Especially if you’re self-funded and journeying independently, John suggests mastering project management software to help you visualize and plan toward complex goals. Regarding strategy, he believes it’s crucial to consider what kind of a business you aim to acquire and the lifestyle that would complement the work involved in that business.

This kind of long-term thinking was essential in John’s previous work, which was fully commission-based, and in which sales cycles lasted between 4 months to 5 years. He remembers that maximum effort had to be utilized to remain afloat.

“It was a sink-or-swim environment that forced you to think long-term, and so I had to do everything in my power to increase the odds of success. Some of the ways I did that were through reading about organization and different strategies from various successful people. I think one of the books that was really influential for me was Ray Dalio's Principles.”

John fearlessly assumed control over his destiny and didn't relinquish the direct responsibility for his success, following a strategically crafted path toward prosperity. Undoubtedly, learning and observation were at the core of this process.

Navigating the Mental Mazes

With its inherent self-doubt and fickleness, entrepreneurship is riddled with feelings of impostor syndrome and analysis paralysis. As a self-funded acquisition entrepreneur, John is all too familiar with the unease of feeling unqualified. He finds solace in exploring different ways to quell his discomfort. Morning exercise or any physical exertion straight out of bed has proved to be the most useful so far. Not only are there physical benefits to exercising, but after a gruelling workout, the bar of comfort for the rest of the day is set low for the body and, therefore, also the mind.

“The physical struggle is actually a mental training ground. And when you can do that in the morning, it can prepare you for the day. It sets the stage for you.”

John also brings up the value of networking with peers and mentors. Peers, or those on a similar path, can offer empathy when the road is steep, and mentors are invaluable for knowing how to continue forward. It’s essential to have a plan ready when consulting with experienced mentors to respect their time and invest them in your goals. Ever resourceful, John also recommends using the internet as a tool. Inspiring creators on platforms like YouTube share advice on niche topics moulded from their own experiences.

John has methodically strengthened his decision-making muscles on the way to choosing a business out of a seemingly infinite number of choices. Three tools have helped him address the anxiety that comes with this. First, organizing has been useful for John. He keeps in mind that certain to-do lists are more dynamic and can be tackled using project management software. Visualization is another key component that has helped John map out his information in a way that gives him a bird's eye view, and he suggests arranging information in a way that works for you. Third, John notes the importance of paying attention to the bottom line. Thinking deeply about your objective and the key tasks that will help accomplish it are just as important as execution. And taking the time to do this thoughtful work in a good headspace can do wonders.

Advice for Young Startup and ETA Entrepreneurs

A student at heart, John generously passes on his learnings to young startup and acquisition entrepreneurs, advising them to have a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP) in place and to consider whether a product idea is innovative and disruptive enough to motivate purchases. He also recommends ensuring that existing businesses, with their already established consumer base, cannot imitate a product idea.

“I think it's human nature to feel, ‘Oh, people would love this. This is awesome.’ But it becomes a different story when they’re using their hard-earned money to buy your product or idea.”

John advises ETA entrepreneurs to fill in their knowledge gaps and gain a firm understanding of the search fund process. His extensive experience in outbound sales has hardened him towards the rejection of cold-calling, but he knows how difficult it can be to get used to.

“Surround yourself with people that have that experience or are currently experiencing that with you because it can really help lift you up, and you'll eventually realize that responses like ‘No’ and ‘Why are you calling?’ are not as big of a deal as they may feel in your body.”

He encourages new searchers to actively network and utilize the openness of the search fund space. Ultimately, he expresses the vitality of embracing ambiguity, of knowing you may have to take some steps without complete knowledge of what lies before you—since just as every individual is unique, so is their path to success.


John Baker's implacable pursuit of knowledge and strategic execution has propelled him to become the Founder and creator of Cleanzy Sponge, start his self-funded search journey in the ETA space, and excel at his professional duties. From perseverance to patents, John’s dedication to learning is an admirable example of how organization, motivation, and a long-term mindset can help you shape your vision for the future. His experience in entrepreneurship paints a vivid picture of the power of determination, continuous learning, and strategic thinking in achieving entrepreneurial success and leaving a lasting impact on consumer convenience.


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