Consumer Application Thought Leaders – Interview with Kris Tufto, former CEO of Jasc Software, Developer of Paint Shop Pro
Kris Tufto was the CEO of Minnesota-based, Jasc Software during their growth phase from from 1998 to 2005, a period that saw Jasc grow from what was rumored to be $5 million in revenue to over $30 million in revenue before their eventual sale to Corel in 2004. Jasc Software was most widely known for their Paint Shop Pro graphic editing program. Kris is presently working on his second ramp up at Minnesota-based Marketing Bridge, a SaaS-based channel automation software.
Interview December 10, 2009
Rob Weber: What Minnesota tech entrepreneurs do you most respect/idealize?
Kris Tufto: Seymour Cray (Cray Research), Bill & Richard Lawson (Lawson Software), and Joel Ronning (Digital River).
Kris Tufto: By the way, did you know that Jasc’s founder, Bob Voit was from St. Cloud? You didn’t know that so many great tech companies had their roots in St. Cloud, Minnesota, like W3i, did you?
Rob Weber: Digital River is truly one of the great Minnesota start-up success stories. I understand that Joel Ronning was on your Board of Directors while at Jasc. For those of us who do not know Joel as well as you do, can you tell us what you see as his greatest strength as a tech entrepreneur?
Kris Tufto: Joel’s greatest strength was his understanding of the power of distribution and how to build an aggressive culture.
Rob Weber: What were the core things you needed to do to grow Jasc Software during your tenure?
Kris Tufto: From an internal perspective, develop a Product Management function, better organize our sales process, and reorganize various employees to different roles. From an external perspective, I had to formalize software distribution channels, change industry trends as it relates to the product cycle, and implement a global release strategy.
Rob Weber: You mentioned software distribution a couple times now. What were your core software distribution strategies at Jasc?
Kris Tufto: We broke them down into four channels, and those were direct, retail, VARS, and International. With our direct channel, we relied on Digital River as our commerce platform. Many consumers expected to purchase Paint Shop Pro direct because it was shareware. In my last years at Jasc, we utilized paid search marketing as well as affiliate marketing, but during my tenure they did not provide substantial growth opportunities. In retail, we relied on big box partners like Best Buy, CompUSA, and Walmart. Best Buy was our top partner. With VARS, we mostly focused on North America, with partners like Software Spectrum and Tiger Direct. International was a compilation of direct, retail and VARS, depending on the country.
Rob Weber: Fast forward four years to today, if you were still running a consumer software company like Jasc Software, what would you expect to change in terms of software distribution?
Kris Tufto: Retail would be only a fraction of what we were seeing back then. We would rely much heavier on direct marketing, like paid search and affiliate marketing. I would also use W3i’s distribution channel.
Rob Weber: In the consumer application world, there is a lot of buzz around social apps and mobile apps. What do you think about using these new platforms in a consumer application business today?
Kris Tufto: At Jasc, we were very Windows centric. We would look to new platforms like Google Operating System. The problem in using alternative operating systems is the development resources they require. When you have a very big legacy code base, it is a tough decision to port to a new Operating System.
Rob Weber: What were the unique challenges you faced in growing Jasc in Minnesota?
Kris Tufto: The Midwestern culture is not a high tech culture. It is not fast moving, it is more engineering oriented and methodical– where you take the time to get everything right. In high tech, you need to create a culture where you expect to get only 80% right. At Jasc, I threw out “Minnesota nice”.
Rob Weber: How did you compete while at Jasc with your Paint Shop Pro application while facing a David versus Goliath competitor in Adobe and their Photoshop application?
Kris Tufto: We looked at Adobe Photoshop as the sun. In order to beat them we always focused on edge markets and motored around them.
Rob Weber: Kris, I think the world’s consumers and designers who use photo and graphic editing software owe you and your team at Jasc a big thank you. Why? You guys came around and lowered the price point significantly in the product category of photo/graphic editing applications. Jasc was in many ways as good as Photoshop, and in some ways better at a much lower price point. Before Jasc, there was no substitute $100 product, there was only Photoshop at over $400.
Kris Tufto: You are right, Rob. Adobe didn’t think Jasc was a real threat until they released Adobe Photoshop Elements as a competitive response in 2001 to 2002 timeframe. This validated our model, and caused us to work even harder.