THE ENTREPRENEURS: John Jackovin
Life isn’t always fair.
John Jackovin (BBA 1996) learned that the hard way. It resulted in losing a company and putting employees out of a job. But it hasn’t stopped him from chasing his passions.
Jackovin and business partner Tom Love founded Ontuet Inc., which made a product information and synchronization tool, in 1999. Nearly 10 years later, the company had to shut down when a nonprofit partner threatened to sue.
Long story short, as Jackovin tells it, is that the nonprofit provided infrastructure for Ontuet’s technology. The nonprofit at one point decided it could provide the technology without Ontuet. Ontuet decided, in turn, that it could produce the infrastructure.
The nonprofit sued for a breach of contract, and within two weeks, court costs forced Jackovin to make the decision to shutter the company.
Jackovin, who had stakes in two other companies to help keep him afloat financially, had to do what he calls one of the most difficult things in his life when he had to call his employees in and say: “Hey, I failed. You have to bear the brunt of this.”
What did he learn from losing his company?
“Life is not fair, and the good guy doesn’t always win in the end, and that you have to be resilient,” said Jackovin, who after closing that company in 2009, launched a new startup in 2011. “I don’t know how many people say, when I tell them this story, ‘How did you wake up? How did you get out of bed? How did you continue?’ And I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, because it was.
“But there were really two options. You can sit there and you can feel sorry for yourself. ... Or you can say, ‘All right, it happened. There is nothing I can do about it. What do I do next?’”
What he did next, when he got back on his feet, was launch Bawte, a smartphone application that allows consumers to register purchased products online. Jackovin has secured a handful of retailers as clients for the product and expects some bigger names to come on board this year.
Jackovin came up with the idea for Bawte while setting up a Yamaha keyboard for his daughter. He pulled out the product registration card, thought, “I’m not going to do this,” and realized there had to be a better way.
Allowing consumers to quickly register a product online gives companies a better idea of who their customers are, enabling a manufacturer to reach out directly to a loyal consumer—a step often lost when a customer buys a product from a retail store.
“What it’s really doing is creating a relationship between the brands that make the products and the people who use them,” Jackovin said. “And that doesn’t really exist today because if you sell typically through retail, you don’t have that touch point.”
So far, Bawte has some smaller companies on board that have fully implemented the product and a small handful of larger brands committed to using it.
The company has also started to focus on new features this year to better help consumers “own the products they own,” which they expect to roll out soon.
An entrepreneur by nature, Jackovin is driven not by being his own boss, but by finding ideas he’s passionate about and pushing for them. Entrepreneurship is a means to an end.
So when the opportunity for Bawte came up, he wasn’t nervous. It helped that he and Love already had a couple of companies up and running on cruise control. It also helped that he believed strongly in the idea.
“I would never start a company because I kind of think something is a good idea. I was really confident in the concept of Bawte,” Jackovin said. “So I thought, ‘This is something I will kick myself if I don’t do, at least to give it a shot.’”
What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is to be able to get our brand partners to move. I equate it to pushing an elephant. You can push as hard as you want, but the elephant is probably going to move when it wants to.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
If I had money to live, I would probably like to spend more time training for Crossfit. Competing in some Crossfit challenges or games, not that I would ever get to any of those points, but I think it would be interesting to see how far one could push themselves. If not, I think my answer would be, I would come up with some other idea. I tend to think of ideas when I don’t have a business to focus on.
What is your advice to other entrepreneurs?
My motto, which I tend to live life by, is: You never know unless you try. But I will temper that with: Be smart. Don’t let your own enthusiasm cloud reality. Sometimes the hardest thing is to tell yourself that while you may be enthusiastic about an idea and have all these great plans, don’t do something that’s foolish.