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The Self-Made Man: Jonathan Kaplan

One thing TSB has noticed about self-starters in the tech industry is that they tend to stay there. And why wouldn’t they? If I was one of those guys who became a multi-millionaire in my late 20s, I’d nail my feet to the floor of the industry that brought me there.

Clearly, Jonathan Kaplan isn’t me. He made serious bank inventing the Flip Video and running Pure Digital, which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2009 for a not-too-shabby $590 million. Even when he was running Pure Digital, Kaplan had plans to open a chain of restaurants specializing in, of all things, grilled cheese sandwiches.

He’s not the only one to have this idea; Heidi Gibson and Nathan Pollak, who both worked for Oracle at one time, run American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, and someone on America’s Next Great Restaurant pitched a grilled-cheese chain called Meltworks. And of course, there’s Boris the Sprinkler’s classic song on the subject.

In any case, now that Pure Digital is gone, Kaplan steered his work ethic towards getting his restaurant chain, called The Melt, up and running. Kaplan’s first concern was consistency, so he used his tech industry contacts to have a special panini grill built for his chain. The grill toasts bread and cheese with minimal effort from the staff, and Kaplan tested it for six delicious months before he was satisfied with what it was producing.

Armed with a fleet of idiot-proof grills, Kaplan’s next move was putting tech to work for the customers. To that end, The Melt features a mobile-ordering system in which customers order using the company’s location-based mobile app, The Melt grills their order, and the customers pay when they arrive and forgo standing in line.

The Melt is still a new and growing venture, but it is becoming profitable, and Kaplan is nothing if not bullish. His next step is to put at least nine restaurants on wheels, with a five-year goal of 100 buses selling the same product as his normal restaurants.

So I guess Jonathan Kaplan hasn’t totally divorced himself from the tech industry, but he’s doing something even better – taking what he learned from tech and applying to new ventures that could benefit from that kind of innovation. That’s something that every aspiring entrepreneur in TSB’s readership should keep in mind; “learn and adapt” is the mantra by which many people have found success.

I’ll leave you with this fun little interview with a guy named Alex, who manages one of The Melt’s San Francisco stores and talks about the ground-level experience of working there.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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