This is the fifth installment in my interview series with Small Knitting Businesses across the country. My aim is to share what these businesses experience during the current economic climate, the sacrifices made, the joys and the tears that accompany the life of the small business owner. I hope that the series of interviews I’ve conducted helps to humanize what Business Owners and Entrepreneurs go through on a day to day basis.
I met Julia, Armen, and their infant son Jonas for the first time in July of 2012 in the uber-hip Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, California. I liked them both immediately, an engineer and mathematician by training, analytical, numbers oriented, hard working, and an obvious love of knitting. They are a truly amazing family, working together as a team to create apps that are practical, efficient, with a clean aesthetic that perform above expectations.
I was won over too by their adorable little son Jonas, from the moment I saw his wide toothless smile I knew I liked these hardworking engineers, making their own success as web entrepreneurs in our modern world.
If there is any one thing I admire it is a person or company that lifts themselves up by their own bootstraps. What better way to guarantee job security than to create your own job in an area that you enjoy? Julia and Armen do just that and I was so happy to embark on a journey with them to pool our efforts to spread the word about JKnit so other knitters can see firsthand what a powerful tool it is.
When you use JKnit and knit Fickle Knitter patterns you are buying products from real people, not faceless corporations. We’re trying to feed our families off the bounty of hard work and sacrifice by putting forth the best products we can and giving the best of ourselves on a daily basis.
I hope you’ll join us for our first Mystery KAL beginning January 5th, we are so excited to share a special Mystery Shawl and introduce you to all the functionality of JKnit. I love this app and use it personally, incorporating it into my knitting routine which frees up my laptop and saving paper and time. The best part about JKnit is you can download the free versions or the paid apps for iPhone and iPad, and we’ll teach you how to use it during the KAL. I hope you’ll join us.
Now without further ado, on to the interview!
How did you get started with Jakro Soft?
It all started in the fall of 2009. My husband Armen and I had been designing commercial software for the tech industry, but business was changing and we were looking for something new and more independent. We also wanted to be more closely connected to the users of the software that we were creating. And since iPhones and apps were becoming so popular, we quickly settled on that area and launched our company. Actually, neither of us went to school to become a programmer, but we do have technical PhDs (Armen is an engineer and I’m a mathematician) and programming has always been a big part of our work.
How did you get the idea to develop knitting apps?
Right from the start, we focused on ideas we were really passionate about. Since I’ve been an avid knitter since elementary school, one of the areas we looked into was software tools for knitters. Up to that point, I had always used pencil and paper to keep track of my place in the pattern along with all the cables, increases etc. We thought that there should be a better way to do this and we decided to create the perfect tool just for that. The idea was to create an app that would tell the knitter everything that needs to be done in the next row: from stitch pattern and increases/decreases to stitch counts and so on. Basically, the app would be able to do all the tracking and let the knitter relax and only focus on the knitting itself.
There was nothing like this available, so we got to work and the first version of the JKnit app was released in the end of 2009.
We also designed an app for those sometimes annoying “increase evenly” calculations. But I have to admit – being a mathematician, I kind of enjoy those. But in some cases, they can be really tricky to figure out especially if you want to get them perfectly even. That lead us to create our second knitting app, Knit Evenly, a calculator and guide for increasing and decreasing stitches evenly.
How did the apps evolve over time?
JKnit, in particular, has gone through several transformations – you would not recognize the first version now! Over time, and with user input, we added many new features and now have an app that can be used for patterns of any kind. JKnit even got a facelift in the process! And since it was initially released for the iPhone only, we designed a completely new version for the iPad, JKnit HD, in 2011.
To expand on the JKnit concept, we also added some complementary web technology and products. It quickly became apparent that the project setup can be a bit tedious on a portable device. Really, who likes to type on the iPhone? So we created the JKnit Web Portal which allows to do the setup on any computer. It also provides cloud storage for the projects on our servers and can be used to sync between JKnit apps on the iPhone and iPad.
Our last endeavor is a bit different though. JKnit users have been asking for patterns that would download directly into the app for a while. So, last year we launched the pattern store KnitPoint.com that brings a completely new experience to knitters. All patterns in the store are instantly downloadable as PDFs and include a complementary copy pre-formatted specifically for the JKnit app. It’s been so great to collaborate with many great designers like Michelle! The programming that goes into creating all of our software is a rather solitary process and this makes us appreciate the support of the knitting community even more!
What are the plans for the future?
Fickle Knitter fans may already know that we just started our first Fickle Knitter JKAL. It’s so much fun and we hope that there are many more to come! We have truly enjoyed working with Michelle – her positive energy is just infectious and I don’t have to tell you how great her designs are! Together we are planning some more exciting and innovative things for the coming year, but it’s all labeled top secret for now….
What do you love about your work? What are the challenges of running a small business?
I can honestly say that I love programming. Writing thousands of lines of code may sound boring, but it is so exciting to see an idea come to life! It’s actually a very creative process, much like knitting itself. I look forward to it every day – and it’s great to be able to say that. But, as every small business owner will tell you, there is so much to be done and not enough people to do the work! I do most of the software architecture for the apps, and both Armen and I are working on the programming. Armen also does all of our graphics work and most of the business related tasks. But the best part for me is that my work requires me to knit! After all, somebody has to make sure that the apps and everything else is working properly!
Working from home is a big advantage, especially since we are also raising our almost one-year-old son. Having no commute and a flexible work schedule allows us to spend as much time with him as possible and that is truly invaluable! He’s already showing an interest in yarn and iPads – this must be a sign of him joining the family business sometime soon! Of course, as great as it is to be working from home, it also has its challenges. Work is always around us and I can’t remember the last time we have had a weekend to just relax. Questions need to be answered and bugs need to be fixed no matter where we are, so we’ve been known to sit in front of our laptops on a bench in the middle of Tuscany! Especially since both Armen and I are involved full time, it’s essential that our business runs smoothly. It’s our livelihood and is always on our minds. But, in the end, we are both doing what we love to do. And, did I mention that there’s knitting involved? Who wouldn’t like that!