For every “household name” in this industry, there are 100 or even 1,000 people whose names you’ve never heard. Despite their relative anonymity to consumers, many of these people have positions that wield great influence in the industry. To truly understand the industry, you need to know these people and what makes them tick.
So, starting today, Scrapbook Update is beginning a periodic series of profile interviews of some of these people, to introduce you to some of them and help you get to know them. I hope that meeting some of them enhances your understanding of how this industry operates and that you learn something helpful to your own business from their stories and insights.
Even though you probably haven’t heard his name until right now, Jason Brinkerhoff has been involved in the scrapbooking industry for a dozen years, as part of a variety of companies that are familiar names to most scrapbookers. You might be surprised to hear that Northridge Publishing and Provo Craft have more in common than just Cricut Magazine. In fact, the current President of Northridge Publishing actually helped develop the Cricut Machine…
Jason Brinkerhoff came into the scrapbook industry from an unlikely source. In the 1990′s he was a partner in an SEO company. He encountered scrapbooking in late 2000 through a neighbor, Randy Benson, who he met when they were both dads on a preschool field trip.
Randy, it turned out, was a partner in a company called PC Crafter that was working on multi-media scrapbooking software. Randy’s partner, Aaron Johnson, came to PC Crafter from another familiar name to scrapbookers at the time – he had been the software developer for DJ Inkers, the industry leader in digital clip art. PC Crafter began creating CD’s of clipart for Provo Craft that were sold under the brand name of Hugware.
The twenty Hugware CD’s weren’t getting the response at retail that was hoped for. So Jason volunteered to lend his SEO expertise to PC Crafter, and a partnership was born. As Jason explains, “I didn’t get into craft because I knew anything about craft. I got into craft because just like Apple Computers, there were passionate customers, and we just needed to get the word out to more of them.” Initially, Jason committed to stay at PC Crafter for three years. Being the stereotypical serial entrepreneur, he’d never done anything longer than three years.
For their next step, PC Crafter shifted from retail CD’s to creating downloadable online clipart connecting directly with their customers. As part of the shift into online clipart, the company also created a membership club and community called the “Hug Club.” This was fairly revolutionary for the time, according to Jason: “We were social before there was social,” he says.
In late 2003, PC Crafter got a phone call that would change the paper crafting world. Robert Workman, president of Provo Craft, called to offer up the idea of partnering to develop what would become the Cricut machine. Jason jumped at the idea, and so together with his partner Aaron, jumped head first into building the team and then the machine. It was then that Jason learned what he feels is an important lesson from Robert. He says Robert was a great salesman and sold Michaels Stores tens of thousands of units of something that didn’t exist, and that wouldn’t exist for almost a year and a half. “Find a buyer and then go build it. Most people would have built it first and then tried to sell it but that’s hard,” was the valuable lesson Jason says Robert taught him.
For the first few years of the Cricut machine’s existence, Jason and pcCrafter both worked on developing the next version of the machine, the cricut.com website, and the design studio software, and they also ran the customer support services for the machine. In 2007, Provo Craft bought PC Crafter, and its operations were integrated into Provo Craft. Jason’s partners accepted offers to continue on with the Cricut program at Provo Craft, but he declined, deciding instead to continue his own entrepreneurial journey elsewhere.
For the next few years Jason pursued a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities, including consulting. He wanted to return to the paper crafting market because he says he loved working with the customers there, but the right opportunity hadn’t presented itself. Then, in 2010, scrapbooking karma struck again in a chance encounter. Just as Northridge Publishing (the publisher of Scrapbook Trends and Cards magazines, among others) was considering partnering with Provo Craft to be the publisher of a new magazine on the Cricut machine, Jason was introduced by chance to Northridge’s founders as “the Cricut guy”. Eventually, one thing lead to another, and Jason signed on as President and part owner of Northridge Publishing.
Jason recognized many of the same key ingredients at Northridge Publishing that he had seen before at pcCrafter and together with his partners, Brian Kunz and Chad Harvie, and a team of employees he describes as “incredible”, has embarked on making some big changes at Northridge. Jason is really excited about the future. He says that Northridge is “a great company with great people, that loves their customer” and that “big things are happening at Northridge.”
What has lead Jason on this path into, out of, and back into the papercrafting industry is his undying entrepreneurial spirit. Like many entrepreneurs, he’s a serial entrepreneur. As he told Scrapbook Update, “I’m a bootstrapper, I’ve started 15 companies with whatever’s in my pocket.” So what is the overarching lesson that he’s learned from starting up 15 companies? It’s simple, he said: “If you don’t know your secret sauce, you’re destined to fail and not even know why.” This is valuable advice – too many companies at both the manufacturing and retail level forget to define themselves by what makes them different and special.