Shortly after I mentioned my unopened Cricut Explore (click HERE for that post), I found a new message in my in-box.
"Jin - Greetings. My name is Ashish Arora and I am the CEO of Cricut."
I haven’t touched any of my Cricut machines since I started using my Silhouette; first with the SD in March 2011, and then the Cameo later that same year. I'm still using my Cameo today. I barely even mention the brand on my blog anymore so I couldn't fathom why the Cricut Chief would want to talk to me. I am aware that the company is commonly perceived as sue-happy so I couldn't help but feel suspicious. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the mail.
I scrutinized the message twice and looked for some kind of reprimand. All I found was a friendly hello. Ashish had read that I have a Cricut Explore and wanted to know what I thought of it. What?! Since when did Cricut care about what their customers think? Certainly not when I was using their cutters!
My Explore is still in the box so I really didn’t have anything to share with him. I did, however, wanted to find out if what I have been hearing about the company is true- have they really stopped their sue-happy ways? Are they finally listening to their customers? This was my opportunity to ask the Man-in-Charge.
I expected to get some canned corporate statement but instead, he was surprisingly forthcoming and genuine. I was taken aback when he did the unexpected- he apologized.
I was once a huge Cricut fan, just like many of you who follow my blog. We cheered every time there is a new product launch and we excitedly waited for HSN to open their phones lines so we can be the first to place our orders. We run to the craft stores when we think there is a new cartridge release. One year, some of us even skipped Thanksgiving dinner so we could stand in line to grab a new colored version of the Cricut Expression from Walmart. When the machines do not work as promised, we were quick to forgive. We tell ourselves that it had to be "user error" even when we knew that it wasn't our fault. Perhaps it is because we loved the brand so much that it hurt so deeply when they took one of us to court and stopped us from pursuing our creative freedom. They took away our ability to use SVGs with their machines so that we are trapped with their cartridges. It has been almost 4 years since the PC-MTC lawsuit and our bitterness still lingers.
I never thought that the day would come when I would see an apology from Cricut. While they cannot undo what has been done, it meant a lot to know that their Chief acknowledged that they were wrong. Those of us who had loved Cricut so much then had felt so betrayed.
We deserve this apology.
This is why I decided to share with you my conversation with Ashish. You will find below the unedited version of his response to my questions. In case anyone is wondering, I have Ashish's permission to do this.
I was not compensated for writing this article. I did not receive any free machines or accessories. I am not affiliated with Cricut.
What can you tell me about yourself?
Ashish: I LOVE products, consumers and teams :) I have built hardware products, software products, mobile apps, cloud connected experiences and more – in other words, I have been around for a while :) I worked at Logitech for 10 years and launched computer peripherals, Gaming, Universal Remote Controls and a variety of products in their Digital Home business unit. I have been doing products, software and data for approx 20 years. While I have a CEO title, I am passionate about building great products and experiences, user interfaces and teams. I believe that the best products become invisible – they are hypnotic. They help users get to their end goals – however, if the user ever happens to glance at the product, they should be just "breathtaking". I was not a crafter but I have always loved creating. When I was initially introduced to the product and the company, I was overwhelmed with the level of passion and joy that Cricut had provided in the world of crafting. I was also saddened by the fact that we had lost some hearts – I fell in love with the prospects of the category and for reigniting an amazing brand. My teams and I have been hard at work since Feb 2012.
You have been referring to your company as the “New Cricut” and that it is a “new company”. Considering that Cricut has a fractured history with crafters, please clarify how you are “new”.
Ashish: Brands and Products are just a reflection of the team and their values – they just happen to manifest themselves 18-24 months after these values are formed. The "new" Cricut starts with the team and the values - the products come later. I joined in Feb 2012. My first goal was to rebuild the team, the brand and the values. We first rebuilt the executive team from the ground up. I realized quickly that we had an amazing team (broader organization) at Cricut – we just needed to get out of their way and create an environment and focus that allowed our teams to do what they had joined Cricut for in the first place. We did have to beef up some areas like R&D and Innovation, Quality and a few others. And then we collectively as a team defined our "values". This is really important as values is what defines brands and allows our teams to deliver great products.
Let me focus on a couple of these. One of our values is "We strive for excellence. We love what we do". Our products will reflect that excellence that we strive for as an organization. Our second value is "We build amazing products that delight our consumers". When I joined, I sat in customer service and listened to phone calls. I have an innate passion for consumers and that sent a clear message to the organization and I was immediately joined by my entire team in that passion. One of the biggest areas we are transforming is our customer care. We are inspired by Zappos and our care team will truly take care of folks that call us. The single biggest goal we have in the entire company is a question we ask and measure ourselves on "Will you recommend us to your friends and family?". When we are scoring well on that, we know we have gained our consumer's trust. Our score on that question for the Cricut Explore after surveying thousands of people is approximately the same as the iPAD. While we have a long ways to go, we feel that we are making progress and are doing something right.
Lastly, we are very research and insights driven. In creating Cricut Explore and Design Space, we went into hundreds of people's homes, observed them and understood their deepest needs and what they look for in products and things they interact with. We used those learnings to zero in on the "essence" of what we do and "why" we do it. This may sound fluffy but it is really what brings my team and I together and gives deep meaning to what we do. It is about enabling "her" (our consumer) to empower her, to celebrate the creative person in her and to help her feel this sense of "I made it" both in terms of a physical creation but also have a feeling of self accomplishment. I often tell my team "Go for the heart" that is the business we are in, we just happen to make cutting machines. And that is what the "new" Cricut is all about.
I have tried Cricut Design Space, the software for the Cricut Explore cutting machine. While simplicity is great on your web client, there are a lot of limitations. What are your short, medium, and long-term plans for better software support for your cutting machines?
Ashish: Cricut Explore and Design Space had 3 design goals. To provide our consumers with "functional tools" that empower her. To design products that were just "beautiful" in design and to make the experience "enjoyable" - it is after all a hobby.
Most of us have worked on cutting edge software and have created cloud connected products. We are passionate about simplicity and ease of use. In fact, we are maniacal about simplicity. However, we are not afraid of providing functionality that is needed to create great designs. We just want to manage and present those tools that were incredibly powerful in a simple manner. The "Print then Cut" functionality is a good example of that. Our web functionality is really meant to enable access from anywhere. We philosophically believe that people should be able to design from anywhere and if "she" has a moment of inspiration, it should never slip away. So she should be able to access Cricut Design Space from the hotel lobby or from her home computer or her laptop, her office or her friend's macintosh.
Even with a web client, we have a lot of native code that runs on the user's computer. Over time, we plan to evolve the architecture in a way that gives you the best of both worlds. I.e. The seamless access from any computer using the web and also a level of performance that will allow users to do complex designs. You will see significant improvements in performance in the next release and next several releases.
I do however want to say that we are not competing with Adobe Illustrator and don't want to build an Adobe Illustrator.
Lastly, we have allocated a significantly higher percentage of our resources in hardware, software, quality and program management. Our engineering team has more than quadrupled in the last 2 years. When we were building Design Space, we have architected it as a platform that allows us to build upon. We could have released Design Space a year ago but took our time to make sure it was a scalable platform. We have done several releases since we launched in January and have consistently under promised and over delivered. Our goal is to keep doing this in the medium and long term.
How can individuals contribute ideas that may help improve your software? There is a huge community of enthusiasts who constantly push the envelope in their crafting but feel that your Legal Team has stifled innovation. These enthusiasts deserve great software and need an outlet that is non-threatening; do you have plans to provide this?
Ashish: We have been doing extensive surveys since we launched. In fact, every Explore owner does a survey as part of a 30 day journey – we have received tens of thousands of responses. Our product management team goes through this feedback (a lot of this is on the software side) in a methodical manner as we are planning future releases. Our product management, software, IT teams and hardware teams are active members of some of the largest Cricut centric FB groups where we are getting this feedback.
Many of us who work at Cricut come from an open source thinking. I personally was involved in several businesses including Google TV, Gaming, Logitech Harmony (Home Entertainment), Streaming music and we collaborated with experts and enthusiasts in each of these spaces to help push the envelope. In launching Print then Cut, we worked with a team of enthusiasts and power users (approx 15 of them) over 4 or 5 months. They constantly advise me and my team in coming up with new ideas or areas we need to improve. They have access to me, our product management and quality teams and it has been an incredible partnership. I don't want to speak on their behalf but they will tell you how much we listen to them and keep them involved. However, they also understand that we cannot always agree or prioritize their asks in the immediate term but we do listen super carefully. They have visibility to what is coming next and they are our partners in innovating for our end users. In summary, we love collaborating and harnessing amazing ideas and we know most of those ideas have to come from the enthusiasts and our user groups.
It is great to see SVG support finally coming to Cricut. However, the implementation seems to be poorly thought out. Can you comment as to whether you will fully embrace SVGs and support it as you do the images in your store and from the linked Cricut cartridges, or does SVG support threaten your business model?
Ashish: We really believe in creative freedom and we think that most innovation happens when you truly embrace "open innovation". The name "Explore" was chosen because we wanted to communicate the "freedom to create". You will see more and more of this from us in an unprecedented fashion – I will leave it at that. While we initially required a subscription to upload SVGs at launch, we reacted to user feedback within 24-48 hours and made the upload of SVGs completely free. We do not require even a software upgrade for a user to get this functionality. We spent a fair amount of time to figure out how to make this upload process easy for end users. We realize that we do not yet have the capability to allow SVG files to be imported at their native sizes, this feature is in our backlogs but has been secondary to higher priority features like Print then Cut and other features. This will happen sometime next year. Again, we will add new features and spend more time in designing the user interaction. I realize that we have not implemented folders as well to allow people to manage their files. Again, it has been a matter of priority.
We are innovators and we fully understand that we either cannibalize ourselves or someone else will. We have experienced this first hand in the last couple of years :) We have lot of innovations in the pipeline that will allow us to create other revenue streams so we are not worried about SVG sport threatening our business model. In fact, the more people create, the better we are. And we love people creating whether they use our designs or their own. I will say that we do not endorse or support copyright infringement. Whether it is partners, licensors or smaller independent artists who have provided art (through our cartridges or even on the web), we feel that they should be paid when someone uses their art. We leave it to our users' individual good judgment.
What is your policy on 3rd party software? Some of these programs, like Make-the-Cut and their Pop-Up Studio, allow the crafter to innovate in their designs and creations. How do you plan to embrace this previously rejected community?
Ashish: We strongly believe in collaborating and partnerships. Our Design Space Platform will demonstrate how many of our partners will create revenue streams. I have no historical biases positive or negative towards Make the Cut or Sure Cuts a Lot. We believe in great design and are laser focused on the things that our users will greatly benefit from. We announced a partnership with Autodesk earlier this year which reflects our desire to partner with great brands. In addition, we have tons of smaller partners and content designers who are working with us. We will try and find software partnerships that compliment us in the best way, fit our brand and ultimately provide amazing experiences to our end consumer. With our SVG support, people can use various software and upload those designs in Design Space. We are also building our software in a way that will allow us to publish APIs but all of that takes time to document and support. Again, it is just a matter of focus and priority for us.
Cricut pioneered this industry. Like you, many amazing enthusiasts started with us. The first Cricut was born out of listening to you, our consumers, engaging in conversations and delivering what our users needed. Somewhere along the way, we stopped listening, we lost some hearts and trust. Like human beings, brands make mistakes and I deeply regret that we did – our apologies to many of our end users - we let you down. We fell short on our commitment of "listening" and "excellence".
The "new Cricut" was born from that realization. We went back to our roots and probed for our values. Today, we are defined by our values around excellence, simplicity, partnerships, and conversations. We feel that all of those are matters of the "heart" and we as a company are focused on winning hearts - we just happen to do cutting machines.
We could have started apologizing 2 years ago or even when we launched the Cricut Explore – but we wanted to prove ourselves with the launch of Cricut Explore and Design Space. With the launch of Cricut Explore and Design Space, we are now looking forward. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We are excited about the crafts and DIY industry and believe that the industry will see more innovation in in the next couple of years than in the last 5 –6 years. And everyone will win but most importantly "she" (our creative users) will win.