As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jedd Gold. Jedd is the CEO and Co-Founder of Artkive, the service that solves the problem for parents of what to do with all the art kids bring home. Jedd previously served as co-founder and President of Tandem Learning, a company that utilized gaming and other immersive technologies to develop training initiatives for corporations and the government. Gold has also served as Executive Vice President of VPI.net — an interactive agency, Managing Director of Marketing for Variety Magazine, and VP of Marketing and Interactive for DIC Entertainment — a kids entertainment company. Jedd received a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and an MBA from UCLA & Anderson School of Business.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Artkive started as a solution to a problem we were facing at home. I had a 3 and 6 year old at the time and art was EVERYWHERE. My wife wanted to get rid of the clutter and suggested making photo books. I went looking for an app to do this and when I couldn’t find anything, decided to create it. Fast forward a number of years and we realized that while there were hundreds of thousands of people using the app, many who had created accounts never uploaded any images. They are busy parents who clearly had the desire to solve the “kid art problem” but never got around to it. We launched the Artkive Box as a solution for parents who wanted everything done for them. With our box service, we send you a box to fill with your kids’ art or other memorabilia and send back to us. We professionally photograph and edit every piece, lay it out in a book proof for review and then print and ship a stunning, keepsake hardcover book. We also turn kids art into beautiful, custom-framed mosaic prints for displaying on a wall.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lessons did you learn from that?
Building scalable and user-friendly technology is always a challenge. We built the first version of Artkive for very little money and got it into the App Store. I remember feeling so accomplished. But I quickly realized that all we’d done was get to the starting line. All the hard work and cost would be ahead of us as tens and then hundreds of thousands of people started using the app. I learned quickly that how I THOUGHT people would use the app didn’t matter at all. What the user data TOLD us was the only important thing. We had outsourced our tech and that was a huge challenge as well. Every little edit/update took forever and cost more than I wanted to spend. It became very clear the importance of having an in-house tech team that can respond and build quickly to meet user demands.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Stubbornness. We refused to fail. There were a lot of times when we questioned what we were doing working on this business that couldn’t seem to make money. Even some of our investors questioned why we hadn’t shut it down and moved on. But we knew we were solving a problem and that there had to be a way to monetize in a meaningful way.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) It’s going to take longer than you think. I’d heard this a million times before and even with what I thought were “realistic expectations” going in, it still took a lot longer to find our success than I’d have ever expected. Which leads me to #2…
2) Don’t start something if you don’t have the runway to make it succeed. We didn’t (have the runway needed), and so we had to make a lot of sacrifices I didn’t anticipate having to make in order to keep the business open.
3) Build a network of other experienced entrepreneurs you can share information with. Hopefully you can find people whose experiences and wisdom can make what you’re doing a little easier and avoid potholes you may not have even known to look for.
4) Unapologetically trust your gut…unless you’re someone who always seems to make the wrong choice. No one knows your business better than you so steer the ship in a way that feels right to you.
5) Nothing is beyond the expected role of the CEO. There won’t always be someone immediately available to plunge the toilet so always be ready to roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Finding balance is so important. I’ll admit that I haven’t been great about that. After a 5 month run working 100–120+ hours a week my doctor looked at me and said “I don’t mean to scare you, but you’re the guy who walks into work one day and has a heart attack. You need to change this pattern.” I now make a conscious effort to unplug, which for me means trying to exercise with some frequency, periodic acupuncture, actually taking lunch breaks, and meditating to quiet my brain even if just for 5–10 minutes every day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This is an easy one. No question it’s my cousin Jeff who is now my partner in Artkive. He was a
seasoned entrepreneur who started out as an investor/advisor to the business and then jumped in with both feet very early on. He’s one of the smartest guys I know and perhaps the single best operator I’ve ever seen. We’re 7 years in and I don’t think a day passes where I’m not learning something from him. When Artkive took off and we in many ways became a logistics company overnight, Jeff was pivotal in scaling the operational side of the business to keep up with demand.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I think we are just at the start of what Artkive can become. While we launched the business to help people commemorate their children’s creativity, we are seeing people send in letters, cards, awards, ticket stubs, and all sorts of other memorabilia. We are in the memory business and that can mean anything serving many other demographics aside from just parents. Personally, I’d love for Artkive to succeed in a way that gives me the flexibility to spend more time with my
family, travel more to expose my kids to other cultures, and some day perhaps start another business. I’d also like to be able to invest in other entrepreneurs — both financially and by sharing the knowledge gained from my own experiences so as to increase the chance of them recognizing their dreams.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope that my legacy will be measured by the future success of the people who currently work at Artkive. I’m so beyond proud of our team. There are many talented people at Artkive with big dreams. If we can support their efforts, give them the space to be creative, and provide them opportunities to thrive, I will have done my job. I also hope someday someone would say “there’s a guy who demonstrated the importance of not giving up.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I am not a person of great influence, but if I could figure out how to spread kindness in people’s lives, that would be a win.
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