UCA grad and Fort Smith native Brittany Hodak of ZinePak talks jobs, Shark Tank and entrepreneurial lessons learned

by Todd Jones (tejones1971@gmail.com) 105 views 

Brittany Hodak is a co-founder of ZinePak, a company receiving much attention this year, especially after Hodak and business partner Kim Kaupe appeared on Shark Tank and won a $725,000 investment.

Hodak is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas and grew up in Fort Smith. She and Kaupe have received numerous awards for their entrepreneurial moves, including awards by Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, and Inc. In addition, Hodak received numerous individual awards for entrepreneurship.

In addition to being the co-founder of ZinePak, Brittany is also a co-founder of Arkansas-based charity startup called Per Diems Against Poverty. Recently, Hodak was in Arkansas celebrating homecoming at UCA and she spoke with Talk Business & Politics about her business path.

TB&P: What was your favorite subject in school?
Hodak: My favorite subject at UCA was marketing. I enjoyed my required marketing course, with Dr. Scott Markham, so much that I ended up getting a minor in the subject. I think I took 24 credits of marketing classes in three semesters. After graduation, I went on to get my masters in marketing in New York.

TB&P: What was your first job?
Hodak: My first job was a radio station mascot in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I was paid to dress up in a bee costume. Luckily, I had the good fortune that my name (Brittany Jones) sounded similar to Bridget Jones, the lead character in a popular book/movie series called Bridget Jones’ Diary, so I was quickly promoted to being able to write articles for the station’s website. That helped lay the groundwork for what I’m still doing today: helping artists tell stories to fans.

TB&P: What book had the biggest impact on you?

Brittany Hodak
Brittany Hodak

Hodak: Great question! There are lots of books that have had an impact on me, like “Rework and “The Checklist Manifesto” and “The War of Art.” (Here is an article I wrote about impactful books recently.) However, the most impactful book I’ve read this year is called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Although it’s a book about cleaning one’s house, the main premise – to surround oneself only with things that bring you a job – really resonated with me. I’ve taken the premise beyond the walls of my home, now asking the question, “Does this bring me joy?” before committing to new things. By asking that simple question, I’ve eliminated a lot of things (networking events, casual hang-out with people who weren’t close friends, etc.) from my social calendar and replaced them with things I do enjoy: guitar lessons, more time with close friends, etc. It was a greath behavior-modifying book for me.

TB&P: What was the most important thing you took away from your Shark Tank experience?
Hodak: The greatest lesson I took away from appearing on Shark Tank is that I have many, many people rooting for me. It was amazing to see the love and support from people around me – including so, so many from the Central Arkansas community – all of whom are pulling for me to succeed. Having that support has given me the courage to go through with other things that seem intimidating and scary, like pursuing my love of songwriting and launching another company, Per Diems Against Poverty.

TB&P: What is the next big step for ZinePak?
Hodak: There are so many exciting things happening at ZinePak right now! We’ve started working with several professional sports teams since Shark Tank aired. We’ve also really expanded our work with consumer-packaged goods companies, adding lots of new capabilities and marketing offerings to our arsenal.

TB&P: What is your top three pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs?
Hodak: 1. Don’t wait for “the right time” to start your business! There will never be a “perfect” time, but today is closer to perfect than tomorrow will be! Set a goal of what success means to you in a year. Tell yourself that if you haven’t hit that milestone in a year, you’ll allow yourself to consider getting a 9-to-5 again.

2. Don’t take “no” for an answer from anyone who doesn’t have the authority to tell you “yes.” Go to the decision maker whenever you can. Otherwise, you’re introducing many more people to the conversation than necessary. You only care about one yes: the one from the person who can make things happen for you. Also, know that a “no” today doesn’t mean “no” forever. Don’t be afraid to approach someone who’s told you “no” in the past – circumstances change, and so do decisions.

3. Hold on to your equity for as long as you can. It’s very, very difficult (and potentially expensive!) to get it back. Even when you’re a brand new company, treat each point of equity as if it were very, very valuable – because one day it might be!

TB&P: What are your top five apps or tools to help with productivity?
Hodak: 1. Slack. My team uses this messaging app for all internal communication, so it’s entirely replaced instant messages and emails for our company. It’s fantastic, and it’s free!

2. Basecamp. We use this project management tool to track all of our projects. The calendar and checklist features are really great for collaborating across teams.

3. Boomerang. Boomerang is a great Gmail plug-in that lets you schedule your emails to send at a later time, and returns messages to you that aren’t answered.

4. Edgar. Edgar is a scheduling app for social media that helps your messages work harder by scheduling them to automatically repeat based on rules and parameters you set up. It’s really easy to use and helps every carefully-crafted tweet and Facebook message get seen by more people.

5. Unroll.me. Unroll.me is an awesome tool that “rolls up” all of your email subscriptions into one daily digest. You can also use it to mass-unsubscribe from marketing emails you no longer want to get. It’s great and helps remove tons of emails from your inbox every day.