Cork was custom-made for product company Zazzle

The chief financial officer of the Californian custom product company Zazzle tells reporter Pádraig Hoare why he made Cork his new home last year.

Zazzle CFO Jason Kang, at Zazzle headquarters at 6 Union Quay, Cork, says Ireland's corporation tax is not as important an incentive as one may think.

It could only be a special city that would compel a man to uproot his family from the rolling valleys and gorgeous sunshine of California, according to Jason Kang.

The chief financial officer of online custom-made products company Zazzle, moved to Rochestown, Cork from California last August, committing for a minimum of two years.

He is an economics graduate of Stanford University, the private institution near Palo Alto that can count 30 living billionaires, 17 astronauts, and 60 Nobel laureates among its alumni, who have founded companies producing almost $3trn annually in revenue.

He was recruited by Zazzle in 2005 and has held several roles, including chief marketing officer and vice president of international, before becoming chief financial officer. The goal of his latest project is to expand Zazzle in Europe out of its base at the former landmark Guinness premises at Union Quay in Cork City.

Founded by Robert Beaver with sons Bobby and Jeff, Zazzle is a billion-dollar company waiting to happen, according to analysts.

Dubbed the Amazon of personalised gifts, Zazzle is a marketplace of custom products created by designers selling their art and makers showcasing their customisable products.

In other words, customers can browse millions of products and put their own unique stamp on what they buy. The possibilities, according to Mr Kang, are endless — customers can personalise anything.

Mr Kang is determined Cork can emulate its parent in California, which has some 500 employees. The Cork arm currently has more than 100, with hiring ongoing.

“I consider myself a steward for Ireland and our international growth,” says Mr Kang. “I’m just trying to replicate what we have created in the US. That ambition really comes from the top down, from Robert and Bobby and Jeff. When they start something, they’re like master chess players thinking many steps ahead.”

He is loathe to comment on the Amazon comparisons or the billion-dollar predictions.

“I hate to quote a number and have that backfire on me, but it’s safe to say that our ambitions are big. In the short-term, we want to get Cork to parity on what we have built in the US,” he said.

“The long-term is that Zazzle can be a platform for any Irish, European, international manufacturer to sell their products. The long-term is when we are connecting a customer in Ireland with a designer in the likes of the Czech Republic with a manufacturer in Ireland.

"You’ll be able to get a sense that the person making the product could be down the street from me, making an Irish product for me, but the design is a cool one from anywhere in the world. There’s millions of products and millions of things you can get. You could potentially have anything custom made for you.”

Corporation tax was a nice incentive but not as important as what one may think, according to Jason Kang. Cork was chosen on merit with the persuasion of the IDA.

“Cork is absolutely integral to our growth and plans in the future,” he says. “That is why I am here. I think our commitment to Cork in purchasing this historic building, really putting down roots, with me and my family moving over here, committing for a minimum of two years to help continue the momentum, is I think a good indicator of how seriously we take Cork.

“Ireland was by no means the lowest corporation tax rate we were offered. Price only gets you so far. Obviously it was nice and it was a helpful benefit but you don’t grow by cutting costs. You grow by having great people doing great things. That’s the philosophy Robert has and it goes through the entire organisation. Cork has those people and that deep bench of talent. It’s a great fit.”

Mr Kang emphasises those powers of persuasion of the IDA. European countries were close but the IDA beat all comers.

“Without the IDA, I’m not sure we would be here,” he says. “The assistance not just in the beginning but also the continuing support. I can’t speak highly enough of the team. Whether it is here in Cork or Dublin, or back home in California, throughout the interactions have been really positive.”

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