Gift Cards Are an Untapped Opportunity for Local Businesses [Entrepreneur Magazine]

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Have you ever seen one of those gift card displays in your local chain drugstore or grocery? Notice who they’re for? Other national brands! It’s one of many examples that show how the “cards” have been stacked, both online and offline, against true local merchants in favor of national retailers.

Local businesses have spent years trying to even the odds through various digital promotions like Groupon and LivingSocial. But those services over-extended themselves, forcing cutbacks on their local outreach efforts. Consumers, meanwhile, grew wary of being forced to make purchasing decisions over short time periods...

Jason Wolfe Named Finalist for Entrepreneur of 2014 [Entrepreneur Magazine]

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This week, I was excited to learn that I was selected as a finalists for for Entrepreneur Magazine’s Entrepreneur of 2014 award. Each year, five different entrepreneurs, who have created their own original start-ups, become finalists in the contest. Once finalists are announced, everyone has the chance to vote online for the future winner of the prestigious award.

I am humbled by the nomination and want to thank all the people around me. I couldn't do it without all of the great employees and friends at GifCards.com. As I reiterated with the team, this is not a badge for me to wear, but rather a badge for our company and the blessing we have been given. Anyway, win or not, it is great that WE made it here.

If you have a moment I'd love your support by submitting a vote by visiting Entrepreneur Magazine’s voting page before September 19, 2014. Thank you!

Orphaned and Homeless, How This Self-Taught Techie Founded a Multi-Million Dollar Empire [Entrepreneur Magazine]

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Had a great time chatting with Geoff Weiss, of Entrepreneur Magazine, about my personal entrepreneurial journey, how I came to build GiftCards.com, and my thoughts on the future of the $100 Billion gift card industry. Link to the full article below!

Bloomberg TV: The Story Behind GiftCards.com

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I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Pimm Fox on Bloomberg Television's "Taking Stock" to discuss Father's Day, the gift card industry, and the story behind GiftCards.com. I had a great time and appreciated the opportunity to discuss the growth of the online gift card segment and the unique offerings that GiftCards.com provides. You can watch the full interview (03:55) on Bloomberg's online network:

Milton Hershey School Graduation 2014

I was recently humbled and incredibly honored to be named the Milton Hershey School's 2014 Alumnus of the Year. As many know, Mr. Hershey and the school he built played a pivotal role in my early years and the impact of his contributions helped shape me into the individual I am today. The Milton Hersey School invited me to say a few words to the graduating class of 2014. My comments can be found in the video at the 40:00 minute mark. Check out the full ceremony videos and highlights using the link below and join me in congratulating the Milton Hershey School graduating class of 2014!

Green Tree Tech Firm Planning Campaign for Gift Cards

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By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A local tech company with a lock on the online gift card market is planning to go nationwide this year in a push to reach millions of offline gift-givers.

Giftcards.com, a Green Tree manufacturer that prints and sells store brand gift cards and custom-made Visa and MasterCard gift cards, is gearing up for a major fundraising and marketing campaign that could increase its workforce and shake up competitors in drugstores and supermarkets, said founder and CEO Jason Wolfe.

With only 15 percent of gift cards sold in 2012 coming from sources that weren’t bricks-and-mortar stores, Mr. Wolfe said he’s aware the company is facing an uphill battle to reach consumers who think gift cards don’t qualify as gifts.

“Studies show people identify gift cards as a little impersonal. But once you put a picture on a gift card, it becomes more. It will stay in that person’s wallet forever, it raises the value of that gift beyond any money you put up because it becomes a memento, something you keep,” he said.

Giftcards.com was founded in 1999 as DirectCertificate.com shortly after Mr. Wolfe’s first venture, MyCoupons.com, sold to Livonia, Mich.-based Valassis.

In the years immediately after that sale, his attentions were divided between DirectCertificate.com and Direct Response Technologies, an affiliate tracking and ad serving company launched in 2002. By 2006, Mr. Wolfe had sold both of those companies for $21 million to Minnetonka, Minn.-based Digital River, an e-commerce payments and marketing service provider.

After taking a few years off, Mr. Wolfe decided he wanted back into the world of online commerce and bought DirectCertificate back from Digital River in 2007 for an undisclosed amount.

With plans to reposition DirectCertificate from a third-party distributor into a manufacturer, Mr. Wolfe said, he invested between $5 million and $7 million into purchasing the former Carpenter Sun Building in Green Tree and converting it into a high-security, on-demand payment card printing facility.

Seven years later under a new name, he said Giftcards.com has grown to 100 employees, reached $110 million in revenue and has been profitable for the last four years. What started as a source for plastic gift cards from major retailers now provides local and national brands, virtual e-gift cards, group gift cards and custom corporate cards for businesses of all sizes.

The site also has exploded to feature gift cards from thousands of companies, from major retailers such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to small businesses from 140 U.S. cities, including more than 5,000 Pittsburgh businesses.

Chief marketing officer Carlos Tribino, a former vice president of marketing for New York media conglomerate Viacom who joined Giftcards.com in 2012, said one factor that has helped the company gain retail customers and take hold of 25 percent of the total online gift card market is a campaign that takes advantage of a name that shoots to the top of search engines for anyone seeking gift cards online. In a market where only 11 percent of purchases were made online using websites that sell gift cards for several stores in 2012, according to a white paper by Atlanta-based payment processing company First Data, every advantage counts.

Another is targeted marketing through pay-per-click advertising arrangements with Google AdWords, Bing and Yahoo as well as affiliate programs, email campaigns and online videos and some commercials.

The company’s next step, said Mr. Tribino and Mr. Wolfe, is to use those victories to sell investors on a two-year expansion plan.

Mr. Wolfe said he is not sure exactly how much the company needs to raise, but the goal is to gain enough funding to expand the building, to double the staff, add to a patent portfolio that already has 12 issued and 45 filed, and to go after targeted acquisitions. The cash also would help expand a video ad campaign that sells the company in movie advertisements and television commercials.

The company is seeking funding from all over the nation, but Mr. Wolfe made it clear that he’s more interested in bringing investors and talent to Pittsburgh than he is in taking Giftcards.com elsewhere. And with a team that includes a former chief technology officer of New York-based tech giant AOL and a chief operating officer from Phoenix-based Skymall, Mr. Wolfe said steering what he needs into the region might not be as much of a challenge as some anticipate.

“I feel like we have something special here,” he said.

Milton Hershey School® Names Jason Wolfe 2014 Alumnus of the Year

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Full Press Release Milton Hershey School® has named Jason Wolfe ’87, of Sewickley, Pa., as the 2014 Alumnus of the Year. This year marks the 61st year the school has bestowed this honor. Wolfe will be formally honored on June 15 during the school’s Commencement Ceremony. Recipients of the award have demonstrated humanitarianism and exemplary service to others, achieved distinguished service in their careers, and exhibited high standards of achievements both personally and professionally. The Alumnus of the Year serves as a role model for MHS students and an example of achievement to which they can aspire.

An entrepreneur, Wolfe holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, Pa., and is the founder, president and CEO of GiftCards.com and Wolfe LLC. Having suffered a severe accident and recovering from spinal fusion, Wolfe taught himself computer programming and used his new skill to create the first online coupon site in 1995 when the commercial Internet was in its infancy.

Since then, Wolfe has continued to build, sell and re-build companies. He was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2011 for the Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia region and selected as one of the top five entrepreneurs in the prepaid industry. He has been a judge for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year program for the past three years. In addition, his company has won the 100 Fastest Growing Companies Award in Pittsburgh seven times, the Governor’s ImPAct Award in 2013, and was named a finalist for the Business Ethics Award in 2014. “I am also very thrilled to have been issued eight patents, so far,” Wolfe said.

Beyond developing his company, Wolfe is an usher at Orchard Hill Church and a participant in a men’s Bible study group. He also has volunteered with three mission trips to Haiti, and has helped the Light of Life homeless shelter and delivered the Sunday service message there several times. He enjoys wakeboarding, skiing with his son, playing tennis, and staying physically active. Wolfe is also a member of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) which connects successful young chief executives in a global network “of approximately 20,000 business leaders in more than 120 countries around a shared mission: Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™,” according to the YPO website.

Wolfe and his nine-year-old son Morris reside in Sewickley.