Tuesdays with T4A: Jon Kaplan (11/12/13)

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Jon Kaplan
Founder and CEO | The Melt
Jon is the CEO of the Melt, a chain of fast casual restaurants based in San Francisco. Jon founded the Melt in 2011. Prior to this, he founded Pure Digital Technologies, creator of personal video player Flip Video, that was subsequently purchased by Cisco. In 2008, Jon was named one of the 25 Most Influential People on the Web by Businessweek.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for POPSUGAR Inc. Jon lives in San Francisco with his wife Marci, with whom he established the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund at Carnegie Mellon University, which provides early-stage financing and support to recent Carnegie Mellon alumni.

Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I grew up in NY (on Long Island) and I remember playing stickball in the street and swimming with friends on hot summer days. I remember the bay, going fishing and crabbing, and walking to school. It was very suburban.
What was your first job?
Work was part of my childhood. I had a paper route, cut lawns, shoveled snow, deejayed, worked as a welder (yes, a welder), was busboy at a Chinese restaurant, and even ran a small printing business. I’ve always been an entrepreneur.
What is your first political memory?
My dad was a teacher and a Republican. He always believed that we should make a difference in our communities and give back through the public sector. I can still see the pictures on the den wall of him shaking hands with local assemblymen and state politicians.
Some would say the transition from personal electronic device entrepreneur (you created the Flip Video Camera) to fast casual restaurateur is a big one. What led you to make the change? What new things did you have to learn?

I love marketing and I love consumer business. I’ve always tried to find opportunities that could be extremely successful for my partners and investors, but as importantly, help the world. In this case, The Melt is looking to offer 100% all-natural food for our families and create jobs for Americans. Fast casual is a great business. The Melt and the Flip are similar – make a great product and people will come.

You and your wife Marci Glazer established the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund at Carnegie Mellon University, which provides early-stage financing and support to recent Carnegie Mellon alumni. Why is it so important to support recent college graduates in entrepreneurship?
Most students that graduate from a great university are saddled with debt. In addition, many have lots of job offers and the appeal to work instead of create is difficult to ignore. Yet, our young graduates are the most likely to create the next multi-billion dollar game changing business. Marci and I wanted to give kids a chance to dream. With OFEF, they can, and they do. We’ve helped fund many companies and create thousands of jobs. It’s been exciting.
Who are your role models and why?
My family – of course. But, also crazy folks like Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, President Obama, Scott Cook, and Richard Branson.  In the early days, why would anyone believe in them? And, they’re good people.

As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our Government and Democracy?
Vote. Give back. Participate.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington, DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a Country. Why do you think that is? I know it's a tough question, but what do you think can be done to close that gap?

Our government was designed to be this way. It’s OK and it’s natural. It keeps us from creating monarchs and it makes our leaders truly lead. For hundreds of years, this craziness has been happening. I’m a fan of leadership.