Jason Wolfe is an entrepreneur through and through. After growing up in the Milton Hershey School, an orphanage founded by Milton Hershey, Jason found himself living out of his car.
He taught himself how to code by using books at the local library and CompUSA's 'Building the Perfect Web'. This led to building the first coupon website and launching his first internet business. From 1995 to 2000, Jason built the business, raising $500k in VC from Jupiter Media and garnering >$1 million in annual sales and 20 million page views per month.
MyCoupons.com sold for roughly $23 million in 2000, shortly before the DotCom bubble burst.
Jason rolled over his proceeds into successive wins with his companies Direct Response Technologies (acquired by Digital River for $22 million), Jambo Media (for $15 million) and Giftcards.com (by Blackhawk Network for $120 million).
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Jason’s Challenge; Give more. Be Kind. Pull someone else up.
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If you liked this interview, check out episode 263 with Audrey Russo where we discuss what the Pittsburgh Tech Council does, how Audrey progressed through her career, and some recommended reading.
Also, check out Going Deep Summit 2.0 speaker Gisele Fetterman.
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Full Jason Wolfe Interview Transript
Watson: Jason, welcome to Going Deep with Aaron Watson. I'm excited to be speaking with you.
Jason Wolfe: Great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Watson: I want to start, uh, back in 1995, and I hope that this does not peeve or make you feel old, but I was four years old in 1995. And so I don't just frankly have much context for what was entailed in starting a website at that point in time. These days, Squarespace, Weebly, you know, front end developers that you can hire on fiber for whatever limited amount of money and get a website up and running. You launched a website in 1995. Can you just paint a picture for us of what the landscape was, what you had to know, and what you had to do to even get the thing onto the internet?
Jason Wolfe: 1995. So, just to paint the picture where I was at the time, I just came out of having a bunch of surgeries- neck surgery and spinal surgery. I was living out of my car. I was talking about creating this website and trying to work on it, and the people around me thought I was crazy. The internet wasn't commercialized at the time.
There was not even Yahoo, it was just starting. So, I'm creating a website. When I would talk to people, they were used to what was called CompuServe or America online, which was not really the internet. That was like a closed environment that was sent to you on a CD that you installed into your computer and you dialed into, I dunno, it was way before your time, but that's kind of how people experienced the internet, but it wasn't really the internet. Creating websites was where the internet was going, where the future of commercialized internet was going to be.
I looked around and I didn't see anybody doing a coupon related-to website. Again, I was recovering from a bunch of spinal surgery living out of my car and I went to Comp USA. I don't think they're around anymore. And I bought a book and I taught myself how to write code. And it was called ‘Learn Pearl in 21 days.’
Then I did another book, ‘Creating the Perfect Web,’ which was an HTML book. I read them and I practiced, and I figured things out. I went to places like back then called ‘Math Scripts’, which was a free script website where you can download scripts and use them for different functions.
I took the Math Scripts. I took what I learned from ‘Creating the Perfect Web’ and ‘Learning Pearl in 21 Days’. Then I started to learn how to configure a server, and I put a website up, and it was like 1995, 1996. There was that. If you ever did a search at the time for coupons, we'd be the only one to find, but there was no Google.
Watson: Not to oversimplify, but it was basically a place where a majority 99% of businesses didn't have any sort of digital web fluency. That wasn't even really like a term per se, but they could list their coupons online as opposed to just putting them into an entertainment book.
Jason Wolfe: First of all, domain names were free, so then, it cost nothing. So it was kinda like, you could have gotten any name you thought of, you could have gotten at the time because nobody really knew about what the future was going to be.
There was a company called Network Solutions that eventually controlled the domain registration. They were the only ones that controlled it. So, I went online. I was typing in names. and bought a few, but as they started to charge for them, for me, again, living out of my car, I didn't have much money. So I think it was like 30 bucks and I created the site and built it. Then I started saying, I think that people, instead of getting coupons in the grocery or, in the circulation or through entertainment books, we'll get them digitally.
I ended up going around the internet, and I hired my first employee, $50 a month. She would go around finding coupons and discounts on different websites that were just popping up. Rubbermaid for example, I always remember this one, Rubbermaid had a website. They had a link for a free Rubbermaid container if you brought this principle or a coupon into the store. So, we listed it on our website and thousands and thousands of thousands of people got this, but they didn't mean for everybody to get it, you know? Because people at the time didn't realize that once you put up on the internet, anybody can get it.
So, the coupon site we created was a directory of a place to find coupons and discounts. So, I ended up hiring, her name was Barbara Sherman. She went out finding them, I'm writing code, creating the website. Then I hired another person to go out and look for them.
We started to create a community of people who contributed to the content. It was like a directory of coupons that our people went out and found and brought back to list on our site. Because of that, we got tons and tons of traffic. I ended up getting to the point where we made, I think, in 1995, about $4,000 total. 96 was maybe about 32,000, and then 180,000 the next year, a million dollars in revenue the next year. And then I raised a half million dollars in venture capital in late 99.
Watson: And even in the nineties, venture capital VC wasn't as established there wasn't the Y Combinator startup school that says, well, this is, you know, what a seed round. This is what a series A and that was much more opaque to people or is that not necessarily true?
Jason Wolfe: I don't know about that. I know that I sent an email to Alan Meckler who owns Meckler Media, who owned internet.com at the time, Jupiter Media. And they had two or three funds, and I sent them an email within two days. We had a deal because we are a fast growing top known by then four years later, coupon site.
Watson: Real results, real visitors, real revenue.
Jason Wolfe: That’s a great question, Aaron. Here I am in Pittsburgh trying to create the first coupon site and I'm again, getting money and interest from people outside of this area and what I should have, you know, if I would have been out in California, We would have celebrated, oh my goodness look at this person created this coupon site. It was one of the reasons why it benefited me long term. It didn't at the time, but looking back, I'm glad I stayed here. If I would have had that idea and have been building it out West, I would have been able to raise money a lot faster because there was tons of money being thrown out at any idea.
I was in Pittsburgh, and I thought I had to prove that I needed revenue. So I was trying to build a profitable business, which was not what anybody else was doing. So we were profitable, and we raised money based off of our revenue. So, that's why it only took two days because I would imagine internet.com was like, wait, this company is actually a top coupon site, and they're making money, which in 99, not a lot of people were making money.
Watson: That's a very interesting time back in kind of the lore of the unit. Once again,
I wasn't necessarily there to experience it, but I've read about it, books like ‘The New New Thing’ by Michael Lewis. It gave kind of an insight into what that time was. You sold the company in 2000 and there's a kind of narrative that gets shared, whether it's about a company like free markets here in Pittsburgh, or just the numerous internet startups at the time that completely kind of failed and then proved to be viable models, just a decade or two later.
Companies getting out at the right time versus not getting out at the right time, trying to set up for another raise versus, not being able to find the funds for their next round. Can you talk a little bit about how you navigated that point in time and decided to get out versus the decision to stick with it? How was it influenced by your investors?
Jason Wolfe: Yeah, so I was in my late twenties at the time, and I never did a deal before. Of course, I grew up in Milton Hershey School, which is a school for kids from broken homes, sort of like an orphanage. I don't know if you knew that about me. So I had no real family or mentors to talk to about any of that stuff.
I was kind of learning to wing it on my own. The deal that I did when I sold my coupons was a five year deal. It was made up of stock in the new company cash. Management fees and like one other component, I totally forget what it was, but we did the deal right before the market crashed. It was good timing for us. It was a frenzy at the time. People were looking to just buy anything that was doing well.
We were doing well, and there was a public company that wanted to get in the coupon space, and they owned the circulars. It was called Molasses. They do the newspaper circulars. They owned a domain called save.com. We were the biggest coupon site, so they acquired us and we tried to merge into them. Within a very short period of time, he market starts going down, and all these public companies that went public are not doing well, you know, the.com bubble bursts. They stop making their payments to me. Right before the bubble burst where Save was going to sell this company to another large company at the time, a public company, and they thought it wasn't enough because at the time everybody was greedy. They thought, wow, we can't sell this asset for a hundred million. It's worth, you know, 300 million. And just a few months later, they're not worth anything. They're basically bankrupt, you know? We live through all that. We came out of that. I scaled down, I went from 45 employees down to probably 10, and I started to focus on a tracking technology called direct response and built a company around that.
Watson: Was that now within a different company? You have the Wolf LLC, which incubates companies where there was the gift card. Was this a different company where they tied together? How do you differentiate that?
Jason Wolfe: The Wolf company that owns all the businesses today essentially is owned by me. The companies that have been owned over the years have been my companies. Jason Wolfe owned my coupons. Jason Wolfe also owned Direct Response and Jumbo Media, which we own a part of, not a hundred percent. Wolfe owned gift cards, our common Omni Card, and we've been self-funded all ever since we got out of the My Coupons deal.
Watson: So, and just to maybe put a little more color on that, the proceeds from that obviously some of that went to investors, but your cut, you rolled into the next thing and invested in it.
Jason Wolfe: Yep. I was not able to fund enough of it. So what I did was that I found out that the state of North Dakota was the only state that owned its own bank. And it was in 2002-3ish when everything was crashing and we went up to North Dakota and I met with the governor and their economic development people. We agreed to put an office in North Dakota in exchange for about a million dollars and a piece of property to put an office in Beulah, North Dakota, which is about an hour from Bismark, population of 3000 people. Wonderful people up there. They did us a great favor because they enabled direct response to grow. Now, all of a sudden, we have some money. We have a partner, we have a call center, we've put a call center up there. So that was the exchange. We put a call center in North Dakota. We kept our technology here in Pittsburgh, and we built what became a Direct Response Technologies, which was an affiliate tracking technology. You leave this website, go to this website. We track you leaving this site to site A, to site B and then site B gets paid a commission from site A. For the purchase onsite B.
So, we built a platform that we had and we were marketing and selling. I was able to build that up to 2006. I sold that to Digital River.
Watson: That was another profitable sale, and that was one of the first things that put my antenna up. As I was leading into this conversation, you sold in 2000. Then the market crashed. So in 2006, things started to unwind in 2007. The financial crisis was 2008. How much, as you look back, and I understand this is difficult to do, but as you look back, to some degree there has to be a luck component, but I don't buy the premise of like a hundred percent luck. There has to be some sort of intuitive sense that says there's a lot of buyers right now. This seems like the right time to make this type of decision that this general, you know, you're a serial entrepreneur, you've started multiple companies. You have a sense, you have an intuition on where things are going. Was there a sense in both of these sales that the timing was right or as you make that type of decision and you're putting all these variables in, how much did that play a role of, let's get this while the market's up and not have to ride this through some sort of calamity in the near future?
Jason Wolfe: That's a great question. First of all, I think, um, you know, luck is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. So being lucky, I'm not sure it would describe what I was doing, which was basically rolling my sleeves up and being intimately involved in everything that I was creating. I don't think I was lucky, but one of the talents I think I have is that I'm able to kind of look down the road and get a sense of where are we?
I don't get married to my businesses. Some people get so married to it. They'll ride that ship right into the water and to drown. They don't want to get off it. You know what I mean? For me, I haven't been like that. I've been attached to the business. The business is not me. So I've been attached to the business, working, rolling sleeves up. 90% perspiration, a great team of people around me. And then my job is typically a visionary, typically looking at where are we going? Then seeing where it's going and then trying to maneuver that ship in order for us not to sink, to get beyond the icebergs, but I would recommend to whoever's listening, you know, don't get married to your businesses. I think a lot of people do, and they ride it right down.
Watson: In terms of the connection between these different businesses that you've started, the affiliate tracking, the direct response, the giftcards.com and then the subsequent companies afterwards or across the whole spectrum, can you talk a little bit about how the skill set or the learnings of one translated into the next, translated into the next, and how maybe as you were, you know, winding down the sale or the earnout associated with an acquisition, what your process was for preparing for the next move?
Jason Wolfe: That's a great question. Let me take, for example, Direct Response Technologies. We owned giftcards.com again under the Wolfe Company. So we didn't sell the whole company. We just sold the business units that we were creating. We sold the tracking technology. We didn't sell the gift card business. During the time as I'm selling direct response, I have a few people in a backroom working on the gift card business, and as I sell Direct Response, I got the next one coming up. That's how I've been able to do it. I did the same after Direct Response, I did it with giftcards.com. I did it with Jumbo Media. We haven't talked about, I own part of that.
One of my clients was using our tracking technology. I really, really liked the guy who was running that business. I thought he had everything that it took to be successful in business, and I invested half a million in his company and I gave him five or six of my main tech people. We kept the offices in Foster Plaza and were able to grow that and sell it for 15 million.
Watson: What did that business do?
Jason Wolfe: That was video ad tech tracking technology. So where we are doing affiliate tracking from site A to site B, this was video ads. You know the annoying video ads that you see, that tracking technology was Jumbo Media. Which was bought eventually by Undertone, a public company.
While we were doing these businesses' direct response, we have people that are segmented out that are focusing on the next generation thing that we're focused on after we sell the company. We did that with Jumbo. We did that with giftcards.com, and right now I've got four businesses or so, four or five companies, that we're doing the same thing we did at giftcards.com.
As I sold giftcards.com, I moved 25 people into a new building. We went through the sale. Those 25 people were working on our site Gift Card Granny, and some of the other things that we're focused on. As we transitioned the ownership to the new owners, Blackhawk, those folks that were working on that core business, I went back and joined them and that was growing it.
Watson: Is that part of the negotiation as these acquisition talks are happening in terms of, you know, it's not uncommon when acquisitions happen that maybe they just want the book of clients or maybe they just want the core piece of technology or some amalgamation of those, and the job security of these people, these team, these people that have dedicated themselves to you and the mission are not necessarily having job security and into the immediate future depending on where the acquirer's perspective is coming from. Is that also a part of, you know, I've found these really high caliber people. I want to keep them in my orbit by having the next thing for them to work on should they be interested versus letting them go by the wayside or not having them feel secure and insightful?
Jason Wolfe: Yeah. That's a perceptive on your part looking at oh, we have people that have been with me for 16, 17 years now.You know, so of course they've been around with me through the multiple sales of the companies that we have. I think that's a very important thing for somebody to build multiple companies like I have, you have to have a core group of people. For some people that help you. You can't do it by yourself.
Really good people that are following you and rowing with you, and then they go to the next one, and that is so true. I've decided to go back, 15-20 years ago, 15 years ago was to give 15% of the company to my employees or fellow seekers. Well, whatever company would sell Wolfe is a holding company for the business units that we ended up building and selling. So I don't sell that company cause that's me. Gotcha. But Direct Response- 15% of the company's sale price went to the employees. I actually, before I sold the company, I put the employees into a limited liability company as members, so that we would guarantee the payout from the buyer for the earnout, because if they didn't pay the earnout, the employees would not be happy.
So I ended up giving the earn-out percentage to the employees to keep that buyer from firing people. By the way, by doing that, I was able to get them capital gains treatment, which is a lot less than ordinary income. So if I gave 15% to the employees as ordinary income on the sale date, they'd have to pay a much higher tax rate than if they became a partner in a limited liability company. If you own that stock for over a year, you get capital gains treatment, which is 20%. So, they got a tax benefit as well.
Waton: So, what I'm hearing then is that you're not married to any of the business units. You're not married to any of the single things you spin up, but you are married to the people that's where the actual marriage is happening.
Jason Wolfe: Yep. So the next company Gift Cards we sold had over a hundred employees, maybe 110 or so, and gave to the employees about $14 million. I don't think the company that bought the company that I sold at Blackhawk, they're in Foster Plaza, by the way, I think they're hiring, which is good. I don't think anybody lost her job.
Watson: That's awesome.
Jason Wolfe: ..for the people that were transferred over to black Blackhawk. In other words, the talent and the technology that we've built here is solid. I think we should get more of that story out. You know, there are companies like Blackhawk that say, you know what? The turnover is low, highly talented, committed to the mission, all these great things about the businesses that we've been fortunate, blessed enough to build that have stayed here. Those folks still work over in Foster Plaza and I think they're happy. I'm happy for them. I see that gift cards has grown even more so than what we thought that they would be. I was told that that site's doing over a billion dollars in value load now per year. Yeah.
Watson: Where did you learn that loyalty or that commitment? Cause it's a spectrum, right? It's not so binary that it's either a boss cracking a whip and squeezing all the juice out of the fruit or the other opposite end of the spectrum of trying to give everything possible thing that they can, and taking, you know, I would say definitely on the upper end of the spectrum to be so conscientious to structure it so that the employees would get capital gains as opposed to income. That, to me, registers on the high end of the spectrum, but it's always, it is always that to some degree, where did you learn or how did you internalize that value so that it would become so crucial? Maybe did you make a mistake early on that you didn't know?
Jason Wolfe: That's a great question. So I don't think you become my age 50 and you're like you learn over time. I've learned over time. When I was in my late twenties, Jason Wolfe, who was running the company, was different from Jason Wolfe today. Of course, I actually had an employee not too long ago, say ‘geez, Jason, you know, the last company I worked at with, you wanted it to be this way. Now, all of a sudden you're saying this way.’ I said, ‘well, I've grown. I want you to grow too.’
I don't look at human resources as a resource, a resource eventually depletes to zero. Right. And you SAP, as much as you can out of that until it's nothing and you let it go. That's not the way it should be.
Let's replenish those folks. Let's educate those folks. Let's let them grow. Become better. And by them becoming better, you become better. Right? Right. I think a lot of times employers don't look at it that way. They look at it as a resource, people that work for them. Where's it come from within me? Probably my growing up in Milton Hershey school, you know, Nolan Hershey for your listeners and maybe you too.
The Hershey Chocolate company was founded by Milton Hershey. And in 1909, his wife and him couldn't have children. So they start an orphanage for boys. And in 1917, she died and instead of remarrying to have more, more having kids, he didn't, he basically. Put his investment into Milton Hershey school. And when he died in 1945, he left, I think it was 60 million, which today would probably be 6 billion to the trust who runs the school.
The benefactor of the trust is the Milton Hershey School. So essentially, he left his fortune to these orphans. When I was 10 years old, I went to that school and I grew up there and I learned about him. I learned about his philanthropic inclinations, and I admired it. I had no mentor really, but he was my mentor, even though he was dead.
I thought someday, I'd like to do that. I'd like to be able to give back. I think because of that, and because I don't really get attached to the material things, it's not hard.
Watson: What's the connection between, you know, making a sum of wealth for yourself having this financial success, and when you turn on the spigot of charitable endeavors, cause when you're kind of in this initial, like we're in the first year of Piper, right? There is not a lot of bandwidth that I have right now to go and volunteer and do charitable giving. Cause we're just trying to get this puppy off the ground, but I have a lot of faith that down the road, we're going to be able to make a positive social impact, in addition to the financial business impact, not just for myself and my cofounder, Hannah, but all the people that interact with our company.
Was there a point at which like the switch flipped and you're like, okay, now I can do that type of type of work? I don't know, just like help me understand how you think about that because you are in a place where you can have that kind of really positive social impact.
Jason Wolfe: So when I was starting and again, living out of my car, my first employee was Barb, and she worked for $50 a month. She was a valuable person to do a lot of the work. Didn't realize that at the time, because it was all remote, and her and I never talked, it was just by email.
Fast forward a couple years later, we raised a bunch of a bunch of money, and we ended up being on the six o'clock news. Here's this young internet entrepreneur meeting somebody that they've never met before. They just sold their company. I flew the employees down to meet Barb for the first time, and it was like maybe 20 of us flew down there. I met her for the first time she was disabled in a wheelchair. She couldn't hardly lift her head up. I didn't know that about her. I didn't know the situation she was in, and that was impactful to me. I decided to give ownership to the employees because without those people, without Barb Sherman, I wouldn't be here.
There's a woman named Donna Glenn who was very important to me at the time. As I was trying to build the company, she made me feel positive about what I was doing and I'd have to take a place to take a shower. I was able to take a shower at her house. She ended up working for me and helping to build the company.
I think, early on, as you're building your company, you're going to see people that are willing to sacrifice, and it's your obligation to give. You know, as the person that's running this, you're given something and you're stewarding something. You have an obligation to give to people because you've gotten talents that maybe other people don't have, and you'll recognize at some point, and that just expands as you get bigger. So, that little piece where Barb was doing something and Donna and Chuck, I expanded to then give a solid 15%, made it part of our company.
Then that expanded to become bigger as I got the next company, and I started to drive around the country and give gift cards to kids during Christmas and an RV with my son, and we saw thousands of children that would never get a gift. I was having the privilege to walk up to them and with my son and say, this is what it's about. You give a gift to a mom who cries because they don't have money to buy for their children for Christmas. I mean, this is motivational stuff.
This is what you're obligated to do as you become successful, and you'll recognize it even early on as you build your company, you know, maybe not today, but very soon because you've been given talents and you are obligated to use that, to help other people.
Watson: Absolutely. I mean, that's one of the core things that I think is a motivator in everything they do. I mean, just personally, my background is in the Boy Scouts where that was, you know, part and parcel of getting through the program as much as it was learning the skill or making the accomplishment. There also was the component of, alright, we're volunteering here today, or we're showing up for this active community service.
There's a deep feeling of that is part of what makes me, that is part of what I'm here to do, but it's a very peculiar situation where there's this feeling of, I just know if I just get a little bit of time, how much I'm going to be able to give. And is that like, Is that a selfish manifestation? Is that a rational, practical manifestation?
Watson: Just to hear some probably justifying in your head, some of the things you're doing, and you're not, you're not taking the time to give right now. You will, it's going to happen. You know, I think it just happens for all of us at different points. All the things that you've learned, and the things that you're telling me, sound to me as though that's going to be a part of what you build with your company, which I think is very, very important. It's very important for talented people to give back for sure.
Watson: Absolutely. So I want to bring us into the present and the work that you're doing now. You talked about developing, they've kind of taken some of the tech for the next project as something else has been wrapped up or acquired. You mentioned Gift Card Granny. We have a couple other companies that you have listed as partially incubating, like forever.com, which is Glenn Meakam’s company.
Jason Wolfe: I'm only an investor.
Watson: As you manage these other different projects. What is the next step? Like? What's the vision now with these companies that otherwise, um, kind of been realized in previous iterations?
Jason Wolfe: Glen Meakam, great guy, built free markets, probably one of the most successful success stories in Pittsburgh. Love the guy actually. I'm an investor into forever. I wish him all the best growing that business, that would be great for our city to have him be able to grow that a technology company here too. For me, the Wolfe company does invest into things like forever.
We have another company we own, part of it's called Go Wonder they're out in California. We own part of a company called central, which is a gateway for debit transactions with card linked offers a fairly complicated topic, but a gateway we're building. Then the companies that we have over in Greentree where our building is, we have Gift Card Granny and Perfect Gift, which Gift Card Granny, when I sold giftcards.com to Blackhawk. It wasn't part of the acquisition. What gift card granny did was it was a metal website for the secondary market people that are buying and selling unwanted gift cards. Okay. So the unwanted gift card component is almost like a coupon. It's not a gift. It's something that people are buying to save money.
So when I sold Gift Cards and Omni Card to Blackhawk, the sale was, by the way, we went out to bid on it. So I presented to 60 plus private equity and strategic partners. So it wasn't like they came, approached me to buy the company. I actually went out and marketed. It hired an investment banker. We conducted a process. It took us over a year to do.
Watson: Was that the first time you'd done that?
Jason Wolfe: Yeah, first time I've done that. The other companies I've sold, I basically sold myself right this time. It was totally different. I hired Morgan Lewis, Marley Myers, one of the best lawyers in the city, actually, probably one of the best in the entire country. She's awesome. I hired an investment banker out in California, FT partners, which is run by Steve MacLaughlin, which is a great FinTech investment banker who represented us. We went out to the market and we presented to 60 different P and strategic buyers and sold it. Well, long story short is that inside the presentation, when we were presenting to sell, we weren't selling gift card granny, because it didn't make any sense.
If you're gonna buy giftcards.com and our corporate division which was called Omni Card. They serve a function of gifting and have reward programs for corporate clients. They have nothing to do with discounting and coupons and stuff, so it didn't fit together. So, when I went to go sell Blackhawk, I kind of was thinking about buying the granny piece because you know, it kind of would make sense to them because they own a company called Carpool, but we were able to successfully not sell it to them.
We ended up focusing on that. We've grown it now. We have about 13 or 14 million visitors a year, and they're all looking for discount gift cards. Instead of servicing the secondary market, being a metal website, our non-compete is up on the six, actually this, this month. So our not competed is just about up.
We added a shopping cart to our website, and now we're gonna start selling directly to customers again. Instead of selling gift cards at full face value, we're going to sell them at discounts.
Watson: That was one of the questions that I also had for this present point in time, which to me, my antenna, it goes up like, how is this possible? Is something's off here? That this is just a discounted gift cards. It almost seems too good to be true. What I'm, as I'm just gonna think about a little bit more and picking up a little bit of context clues from what you're saying is this is a gift card that someone has, they're not going to use, and they just want broader liquidity of, you know, 80 cents on the dollar, whatever it may be for that gift card. They're willing to just get rid of it right now, but to someone else that has a much higher proportional value, right. They're happy to go and take that.
Jason Wolfe: Yeah. So Gift Card Granny was a meta website that directed customers that came to our website to the place to get the best deal. If you're selling a card, you're selling a home Depot card. You want to get as much as you can for that a hundred dollars. We may direct you over to Carpool, which will give you $90. So we get paid a commission. We are like a meta website, or if you are looking to buy a home Depot card and it's listed for $95 instead of a hundred dollars at home Depot's website or wherever you can buy it by one of our partners, maybe Carpool, click on it, go buy it. We get paid a commission.
We are a meta website. We had no shopping cart. Now, since the noncompete is over, we've built a shopping cart, and we're going to start selling ourselves again. So basically, we are competing against the company that we just sold.
Watson: In the interim, as the noncompete was going away, what you're building is effectively both like, you know, domain authority and just eyeballs will come to that website, but also brand equity in the sense that like, I trust this website to do this for me. I trust this website. I'll come back because they delivered the goods for me last time.
Jason Wolfe: Right. Granny being a meta site, directing people to the place to get the best discount, I'd say half of our traffic knows us for that. The other half that come to our website, don't know what we do. They just know that we offer a discount. So we are in the process of changing from being the meta site, directing people to then just servicing people directly, and we hope to work with Blackhawk. We still do work with Blackhawk. Actually, they're a partner of ours, which is kind of weird. We're going to be doing corporate cards again. We're going to be selling face value cards at a discount. My bet would be that somebody will come to Gift Card Granny to buy a Home Depot card for $95. Instead of going into Gift Cards and paying a hundred.
There you go. So that's what we're doing with a Perfect Gift and Granny. One of the other companies I really want to talk about, and I think it's really cool because this is where I've been spending a lot of my personal time.
Watson: It's a great signal for someone like you to be spending a lot of your personal time.
Jason Wolfe: I think this one's going to be bigger than any company that I've ever built. We are in the gift card space for a long time, and we see a product as broken. How is it broken? Aaron, if I bought you a hundred dollar Home Depot gift card, you know, the chances are that there is a 10% chance you may never use it. You may have lost it.
Watson: I have a little sleeve of like old gift cards that I've gotten at some point through. It's like, well, I haven't made my way out to, or maybe like the company just folded, but I haven't been to seven Springs in two years or whatever it may be.
Jason Wolfe: Or somebody may steal it from you and lose it and like a cushion. Then you're like, okay, first of all, I don't even know who bought that for me. Secondly, I just lost it. Then who gets the money Home Depot? Right? I would say, if I bought you a toaster, you would probably plug that toaster and use it. You get a hundred percent use of the toaster. The gift card space, you only get 90% of the gift and that's across the board. Isn't that broken? Yeah. On top of that, behind the scenes.
I have never talked about this publicly, but I am going to now, because we're about to launch this business is that these gift cards are being used for things that are not that great. So you can use a gift card because it is not traceable for child trafficking, prostitution. They take these as forms of payment, and then they liquidate them on the secondary market. So remember, I was telling you about the exchanges that buy and sell cards. They make them onto these exchanges. It's very bad. We wanted to change this. We saw a broken market. We saw a lot of the negative stuff around the gift card space.
We created a thing called Gift Yeah that we're launching. We just got done with our MVP, the minimum viable product.
Watson: I saw the little celebration that you were able to run it before the end of 2018.
Jason Wolfe: So we're utilizing your current payment mechanism and your wallet, your visa, or your MasterCard, and you're going to get a text from me that says, Aaron, you got a hundred dollar gift gift card for Home Depot. You can be like, Hey, cool. That's cool. Click on it. You register your card just like you would with Venmo, and then when you swipe your Visa or MasterCard at home, Depot will recognize the transaction and we will credit your card with the gift. So, you never lose it.
Watson: It's almost like a perpetual wallet of sorts.
Jason Wolfe: It's inside your current visa, MasterCard, which you don't have to carry plastics anymore. You have to worry about your gift card. Where's my gift card? And by the way, if you don't use it within six months, me as a buyer, gets my money back.
Jason Wolfe: So we've solved a lot of the problems and we've created a millennial product because the gift card has not changed in 20 something years. 25 years. So why do you want to use your grandfather's gift card? I mean, look home Netflix replaced Blockbuster. We're continuing to invent new things.
Why has nobody changed the gift card? I'll tell you why, because there's a lot of money to be made of people not using it,s o we're going to change that.
Watson: So we have mobile first?
Jason Wolfe: Absolutely. So you will see this coming out here in the next couple of weeks, and we're very excited about it. We've been working on it. The patents we filed date back to 2010. We tried to launch in 2013. If you go research, you'll see, I put a million into it. We couldn't integrate because of the technology at time wasn't there, but with Venmo, we're utilizing the same platform that Venmo uses, so we can actually conduct the business and it actually works.
Watson: Wow. So I've got one more question and then we'll do our standard wrap-up here. When did you realize you could sell? Cause you just turned something on here for the last one that you were storytelling before, and you just switched a little bit into the pitch, the sale. I felt it.
I saw it. Everyone in the room's ears kind of perked up. When did you realize you could do that?
Jason Wolfe: Probably when I was selling my first or second company. I fashioned myself. I was an outdoorsy guy, I was an active guy, a bartender. I was social, but I never viewed myself as a salesperson.
Even when I started writing code, I thought, you know what, I'm gonna sit inside here and I'm gonna create this thing and everybody's going to come to my website. It wasn't until I went out and met with the folks in North Dakota. Then I actually started to meet people and network, that I realized the real value is not in sitting back and coating. it's creating relationships with people.
If you create relationships with people, more things will happen, more opportunities happen. Just having a chance to talk to you, I'm creating a relationship- who knows what will happen? Maybe I'll see you again. I think when I finally realized that, is when I realized that I can sell, because I really didn't sell something. I'm just explaining something. A lot of times if you're building it too, and you're explaining it and it makes sense and you're not crazy, I don't think I'm crazy. The person on the other end would say, hey, that makes sense. So it's not really a sale to me, it's more of networking and having people understand what I'm doing.
If they get it, it's a sales thing and it sells themselves.
Watson: That's something I've learned in a very deep way. I would say in the last year, I'm sure there's much more to learn, but the concept of the relationship is really the foundation of trust.
What you're stacking on top of once you have trust and maybe some attention from someone, then you can stack on the explanation. But if you don't have that, you're pitching a tent in the middle of a hurricane. It's just going to get blown away.
Jason Wolfe: There's a great, that's a good point. When we sold our company to Blackhawk, a great guy ran the company. He used to run a company, Bill Tauscher, um, CEO of Blackhawk. His company wanted to license some patents. We had some patents that he had back in 2010 ish, somewhere in there. They wanted to license these patents and we ended up doing a deal. So Blackhawk became a licensee of some IP that we created, which was great.
When he came out and met with me, we sat down and had lunch. He knew who I was. We communicated, we did a deal very easily. It wasn't complex with all the lawyers running around and trying to do all this stuff, and it was very smooth. So, fast forward, five years later, when it was time to sell. He knew who I was and he trusted me, I think, and so when we did the sale, it wasn't a big, big problem issue. He treated our employees great, because I trusted him of somebody who I could sell to, and it made a huge difference. It's the networking as a trust.
Also I wanted to mention too, to listeners that are listening is also to identify your strengths. Some people don't have the ability to, to network and look at somebody and communicate like we are today. Some people's personalities aren't like that. If you're not, that's okay. Find somebody that is and partner up with them. Like I did the disc analysis. Do you know what that is?
Watson: Yep. That's one of Hannah's favorite things.
Jason Wolfe: So I'm a high I and D okay. I have people that I work with that are C’s and they are great. I need them. But they need me, you know? So, I think if you understand your strength, if you're an influencer or if you're not an influencer, and if you can identify that you're not, that's okay.
You could compensate for somehow yourself or find somebody to partner with to make up the difference for the things you can't do. Sitting down and writing specs is something, I would rather shoot myself. There are people that I work with that like to do that kind of thing. They're not an I and I’m an I.
Watson: I can relate to that hard right now. Jason, this has been absolutely fantastic. I prepped you on the final two questions and I jumped in there with the strengths finder. Anything else that you're hoping to share today that I didn't give you a chance to?
Jason Wolfe: I don't think so. I think, you know, we covered a lot. And you asked some really good questions.
Watson: Thank you.
Jason Wolfe: You did, and I could sense that you're not just servicing, you know, the surface questions, you're actually thinking in depth. I think that's a really, really talented thing that you have. I appreciate you asking me beyond this show with you.
Watson: I really, really appreciate you taking the time to do so because I also recognize that you don't have to. You value it as you explained, but you don't have to do it. So, I'm deeply thankful for that, and all the insights and wisdom that you shared with us today. Folks that want to learn more, they want to, you know, see the launch of Gift Yeah and all the other stuff as it comes out in the intervening years, what digital coordinates can we provide for them who to follow along?
Jason Wolfe: The company again is wolfe.com. We are hiring actually, um, and the sites are Gift Card Granny and Gift Ya, and those are our main focuses. If anybody wants to connect with me, it's my email is easy: firstname.lastname@example.org. There's a feedback form on the site.
I think it would be, um, a good thing to mention, thanks for the Pittsburgh technology council for the work that they do in the city of Pittsburgh for allowing us to utilize the facilities that they have.
I think, you know, the more that we can have wins in the city of Pittsburgh, the better offer technology ecosystem will be. Of course we are technology. I'm in the technology business, and I'm very interested in that. Um, Audrey Russo does a great job and her team at the tech council. I can't speak enough about them, and anybody listening to technology needs to get plugged in to the Pittsburgh Technology Council so we can grow our technology ecosystem,. I think is very important.
Watson: In addition to leaving links in the show notes for this episode to your site and all the things that you mentioned, I'm also going to link to the interview that we did with Audrey about the Pittsburgh Tech Council, for people that are looking to learn more and get more context on that. All that can be found goingdeepwithaaron.com/podcast show notes for this and every episode of the show or in the podcast app.
You are probably listening to this right now, but as we do at the end of each conversation, Jason, I want to give you the mic one final time to issue an actionable personal challenge for the audience.
Jason Wolfe: A personal challenge. okay. Well, we talked about giving and giving back and I think probably a lot of your guests have spoken about that giving back and how important it is.
Even if it's as simple as saying, something nice or kind of somebody, that's giving. I think the more that we can give to other people, the more love we can give to other people, the better off our world's going to be. So I would just challenge somebody to, you know, go up to a stranger and say how are you doing? Shake their hand. It's not a big deal.
Then to look for somebody that they can pull upward. One of the questions we ask people to find out if they're a giver or taker ,is to give an example of somebody that they've helped. Sometimes takers will say to somebody that they've helped. If you hear somebody and listen, and if somebody talks about somebody that they helped up, they're a giver- big difference.
So be a giver, and help somebody pull somebody up.
Watson: Give more. I love it. That's a beautiful note to wrap up on. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Jason Wolfe: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
Watson: We just went deep with Jason Wolfe. Hope everyone out there has a fantastic day.