Aaron Harper is the co-founder and CMO of JimmyCase, the brand that provides inspired iPhone wallet cases, favoured by celebrities like Tom Hanks. Also a long term client of Blend, Aaron talks to Blend CEO, Adam Pearce about his leadership story.
What did you do before you founded your company?
I actually worked in entertainment for a number of years after college. I started working in a movie studio casting and development. I then transitioned into marketing and business development, for a startup company that was actually the first company to put movie and TV show auditions online securely, and it was a really secure YouTube for casting directors and directors and producers, that company did really, really well and actually ended up selling a few years ago.
I feel like my experiences in entertainment definitely helped shape the direction that I ultimately ended up taking. I think being able to tell a story succinctly is kind of crucial to any endeavour.
Did you always think you'd be a business leader?
I still don't consider myself a business leader. I think there's so much to learn - and there are so many smart people to learn from. Maybe someday I'll get to business leader status. But for now, I'm pretty content. Growing our company and taking cues from from the people who I most admire in the space.
What is the biggest thing that you've learned about being a leader in your business?
I would say slow growth is good growth. For us, it's, it's really been so true. I've been at other companies in the past that took money and grew really quickly and ultimately did not survive. For us here at Jimmy case, keeping things tight, growing organically has been really, really important. We started with a Kickstarter and then we just kind of bootstrapped as we grew. Even though our growth agenda case hasn't necessarily skyrocketed in terms of orders of magnitude, it's been constant. That kind of slow, but constant growth has allowed us to run the business that we the way we want to do it, which is what we set out to do in the very beginning.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you've been given?
That would come from Dan Smith, who I work with here at Jimmy case. The advice was that ‘The key to long term success, is short term success followed by short term success.’ That's always stuck with me. When I’m thinking about a problem, I think in terms of ‘how's this going to go down the road?’
What is the best business decision you've ever made?
I would say to better myself, and bet on the people around me. I think if you surround yourself with people you love and trust, and you're all working to a common goal, the success is sweeter. But even though sort of day to day struggles and problems are made that much more liveable, and solvable.
What's been the worst?
Not knowing my worth, or not speaking up for myself at times. Notably, this was when I was younger, and in positions where it felt like maybe my voice wasn't as important or necessary in the room. When I was still doing the work and helping bring about growth, I didn't speak up or stand up for what I wanted or needed at the time. I think Jack Nicholson says in the movie, The Departed, ‘No one's gonna give it to you. You have to take it.’ I think in a lot of ways that's really true.
Can you learn to be an entrepreneur?
Yes. 100% Absolutely. I think you can learn to be an entrepreneur, I think you can start from zero and sort of learn to be almost anything. You know, maybe not an NBA player, maybe not a footballer, but an entrepreneur? Absolutely. There are so many amazing resources and so many amazing people and things that you can tap into that if you want it, it's definitely the for the taking. The knowledge and the experience that other people have and are willing to share - it's out there. Go get it.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
This is fun, but I have a boring answer! I think I'd be doing this no matter what. If I started over, I'd be devoting myself to finding another product or another space that I felt connected to, that I felt there was a problem.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Honestly, I have no idea. I think I kind of like it that way. The mystery is good, right? At least it is for me. This may be another cop out answer. I admit, you know, I think wherever I am in 10 years, it'll hopefully involve an idea or a product or an asset that I'm intensely passionate about. Or I might just be living in a cabin in Montana! That's also a strong possibility.
What is the main thing you learned about yourself in 2020?
I think that the dream of working almost entirely remotely, without losing any productivity is absolutely within reach. I definitely learned that last year. We did pretty well last year. All told, here at Jimmy case, we were able to grow, and more importantly, stay healthy, and spend time with our families. We were able to give back to the community and to some organisations that needed some PPE funds. We were really, really happy and grateful that we were in a position that we could do something to help a little bit. I really think that kind of the idea of having a physical space that we go to every day has been proven, at least in our case, to be not necessary - and we can thank 2020 for that.
How do you relax?
I don't! Kidding! I wake up in the morning and I try to do an hour of exercise. It doesn't even really matter what I do, whether it's weight training, or cardio or yoga or whatever. I think just moving does it for me. It really sets up my entire day. If I don't do it, there's this very specific lag I feel that just carries over to everything else. So waking up and going a little crazy physically is what helps me relax. I also have to read before bed, even if I'm just like completely exhausted. I'm like ‘I got two pages on me before class up’.
Talk us through your typical day.
After the morning workout, I usually have breakfast and I go on a walk with my my two year old and our two dogs in our neighbourhood here in Burbank, California. One of the best parts of my day. After that, I come home and I usually get to work. I like to start my day on the offence a little bit, like bigger initiatives that I hope will spur growth for the business. It's probably not till after lunch where I really let myself get bogged down with more administrative things.
We make dinner as a family or hang out, and eat together. Then it's bath and bedtime for my daughter. You know, by the time she's down, my wife and I are pretty fried, my wife's also an entrepreneur. I love to say we never work at night, but the truth is, a lot of the time, we have things that just need to get done. Sometimes we have to put a little bit more work time in before bed, and then usually we watch something short and funny on TV. That's about all the appetite we have these days is short and funny. Then we read for a little bit and it's lights out, you know, then it's 10 o'clock or something. Rinse and repeat the next day.
What kind of car do you drive?
Well, it's gonna be a boring answer. We've always kind of looked at cars like appliances, so we drive a Honda Civic with 110,000 miles on it. Cars aren't really our thing. So much as long as they're safe, and they get us where we want to go. Now, having said that, if there's a Tesla s atom you're thinking about giving me, I will definitely take that!
Where is your favourite location for a vacation?
My wife and I love the east coast of the Big Island in Hawaii, just outside of Puna. It's just quiet and relaxing. You know, there's a rumour that it's where we send a lot of people here who are in the witness protection program, which may or may not be true. I kind of like the idea so I just kind of roll with it. So that's kind of our vibe. We also love Montana - anywhere in Montana Flathead Lake is our happy place. We go up there every summer and it's a place of solitude for us for sure.
What is your favourite meal?
It's Mexican food. No doubt about it. That's another reason why I've ended up in California. Yeah. You’ve got to come out to LA we’ll show you where the good Mexican foods are!
What is your favourite gadget or tech?
A Jimmy Case of course. Right? I gotta go Jimmy case. I love my iPhone, I have an iPhone 12. Now, I love it to be sure. But the minute I got rid of my wallet and started using a wallet case, to carrying my cards on my phone it was a game-changer. Sometimes I'll have to go without a Jimmy case for a little while. Like when I got my new phone, we released our new 12 cases. Demand was really really high and we actually couldn't get our own Jimmy cases on our own phones! I had to just get a different case and go with a wallet for a little while. I have to say when I had my wallet, I forgot my cards and ID every single time I left the house! That's may sound like a cheap plug. Alright, it's a cheap plug. I'm alright with it. Try Jimmy case, if you want your life to get just a little bit easier. Trust me on that!
What scares you the most?
Not being able to take care of or to keep my family safe. I think pretty much everything else can be fixed or repaired except for that. So that's definitely what scares me the most.
If you could eradicate one issue in the world, what would it be?
The world. I think that's a tough one. I know locally here in the United States and specifically in California. I'd want to get rid of poverty. You know, we have so many resources here, it's truly insane. There's just so much money, even now during a recession that we’re all going through. There are still people who have so much money, and so many resources that there's no reason why in 2021 people should be sleeping on sidewalks. Here in Los Angeles, we have a place called Skid Row downtown. There are literally 10s of 1000s of homeless people living in tents in massive areas just covered with tenants. We should be doing so much better than that as a society. It's on us to fix it, and it is a solvable problem. Frustratingly, there are just so many political factors that seem to work against it. It's devastating and it's horrible and it would definitely be the local issue I’d eradicate first.
Which is your favourite city in the world to do business?
Los Angeles, of course! You know, it gets a bad rap sometimes - but the thing I think I love most about LA is the feeling of unlimited possibility here. You can do anything and be anything here. It feels like it's all possible here. A lot of places that I've been to just don't have that sort of liberating feeling. You know, it's a city that has problems for sure. Traffic, fires, you know, an earthquake here and there - but damn, the city has a lot going for it too!
What blogs, podcasts blogs or TV shows do you use to get inspiration for business?
I love what Tim Ferriss does. He really gets to the micro about how people do what they do, and they find success at the highest levels. I also love the work from these two therapists from Los Angeles named Barry Michaels and Phil Stutz, you can maybe have heard of their book, which is called the ‘Tools Highly’, highly recommended. It's not just for creatives, but it's for everybody!
To find out more about JimmyCase, click here.