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TechBrew AM: A Q&A with John Bertrand of Kreg Tool


On the second Friday of every month the Technology Association of Iowa hosts a morning networking event in Des Moines with coffee and an interview with a local tech executive.

This month–John Bertrand, Vice President of Information Technology for Kreg Tool–took turns answering questions on his career path, information technology at Kreg Tool, the impact technology is having on the company and if he were out-of-town, would he rather stay at a friend’s house or a hotel.

Kreg Tool is based in Huxley.

The Technology Association of Iowa hosts TechBrews each month throughout the entire state of Iowa.

Brian Waller, President of the Technology Association of Iowa, conducts the interview and gives each executive who sits down with him a vinyl record of their choice. Bertrand selected, “Under the table and dreaming” by Dave Matthews in 1994.

The interview is edited for consciousness: 

This is how we start every time, hometown and high school?

JB: Elgin (Illinois) which is a suburb of Chicago. My high school was Larkin High School home of the Royals.

What is Kreg Tool? And could you tell us a little bit about its history…

JB: Kreg Tool is probably the best-kept secret in Iowa, by far. It’s a DIY woodworking tool manufacturer. We’re employee-owned based in Huxley, Iowa. We are about 27-28 years old.

It’s a very small company from the standpoint of a manufacturer however we compete on a very large-scale. We sell through 67 different countries across the world. Our biggest customers are Lowe’s, Home Depot and Amazon. When you think about the DeWalt’s of the world who are selling through these channels, small little Kreg Tool is doing the same thing and quite honestly, beating them when it comes to retail sales.

Now we don’t sell the exact same stuff they do, so we kind of compete on a different scale but our growth year over year has been very impressive. It actually gets noticed a lot by Lowe’s and Home Depot where they continue to give us more space in their stores. It’s a really exciting time.

What is the function of innovation and IT at Kreg Tool?

JB: IT at Kreg Tool, we’re a pretty small team.

We have ten folks on our team, anything from network administration to developers, to systems analysts and business analysts. Our systems that we use, we do not do custom development, we use a lot of third party purchase applications. So we do a lot of integrations, whether it’s integrating with a sales force or integrating with our warehouse management system, we do a lot of that type of work.

From an innovation standpoint, we have to change from a company perspective and not be just a tool company anymore and be a solutions-based company. We are starting to look at different technologies to do that.

Any examples you can give us?

JB: You see something on Pinterest that you really like and would like to build it. But you don’t know how. So think about a world where you can actually design that product or thing you see on Pinterest, change the dimensions and color of it, then take out your phone and look at it in a room you are in. So you can really see what that piece looks like in your room.

Then actually build out a plan for you and a step by step plan of how to build something. Nobody does that today, they give you the tool and tell you to go figure it out. That’s a lot of things we are looking at right now, whether it be augmented reality, virtual reality, in order to help you through that process.

Be a solutions company, not just a tool company.

What is stressful about your role that keeps you up at night?

JB: Scaling. We continue to grow, we double the size of the business every five years and that’s our plan. We continue to do that so a lot of what I worry about is can we continue to scale and keep up with the business.

The good news is we have been and have done a lot of projects in order to enable that. But at the end of the day when you are growing that fast, are we doing enough and doing the right things in order to support the business and make sure the systems are up and also being sure that we are being efficient about it.


Star Wars or Star Trek?

JB: Caddyshack

What is your favorite curse word?

JB: Shit

Favorite caffeinated beverage?

JB: Coffee, black, hot and strong.

Crash at a friend house or stay in a hotel?

JB: Crash at a friends house

What is your favorite word?

JB: Legit

Least favorite word?

JB: Innovation…I just think it gets overused anymore.

Comedy club or dance club?

JB: Comedy club for sure, I can’t dance.

What sound or noise do you love?

JB: I love rain

What profession other than your own would you like to try someday

JB: Pilot



TechBrew AM: A Q&A with John Bertrand of Kreg Tool | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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