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Who We Are: Trail Blazer

The name Trail Blazer is linked with the image of moving forward. The full history, over more than 17 years, is one of our clients success and satisfaction. From the early 2000’s to today Trail Blazer earned a reputation of trust due to its attention and loyalty to customers. The part that makes that possible is our people. Over the years we have had some incredible people working for Trail Blazer. Today we will share the stories of some of the current crew.

Mark came to Trail Blazer in 2006 just after working on a congressional campaign. On that campaign Mark was responsible for all matters relating to FEC compliance as well as all accounting, database, and IT needs. Mark has been helping Trail Blazer customers with their accounting and FEC questions since coming on board. As an Excel guru he has been able to enhance customers' use of Trail Blazer in coordination with Excel.

Mark has volunteered at many organizations over the years. Often centering around his accounting and database skills. Sometimes that involves other things like the waterski club he was part of for many years, he says driving the boat was fun.

Mark oversees the world-class support department at Trail Blazer and works tirelessly to assist customers with their use of Trail Blazer products and reporting needs.

Frankly, Mark is the heart of this place. His jokes and sense of humor keep all of us on our toes.

The youngest member, currently, of the team is Joel. Joel is from a small town in northeastern MN called Grand Marais and currently calls the Twin Cities his home. Grand Marais is nestled just south of the Canadian border and rests along the shores of Lake Superior. Even though he loves technology, and business in general, he enjoys his time most when it’s spent offline in the outdoors. This typically involves the sport of disc golf, camping (winter!), hiking, traveling, etc.  He has always enjoyed creating things, and has different side ventures that he invests his time in outside of his day job; including a cool disc golf application.

Joel worked at a nonprofit named Wilderness Canoe Base which brings inner-city kids out on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Like many nonprofit organizations, it’s purpose is driven from the deep passion and vision of its founders, employees, and volunteers have for bettering the world. Joel said “I haven’t had the pleasure to work with a political campaign outside of Trail Blazer clients, but I have a lot of interest in politics, democracy, and find it to be one of the most important freedoms we have in our country.”

Joel has worked at Trail Blazer for over 7 years. He enjoys working for a small company where you can wear many hats, constantly learn new technical skills, and serve customers with a product that he believes in. Joel loves the way that technology evolves over time, and how it helps people to save time and money which can then be focused on the important jobs they’re doing.

Our next crew member, Kevin, started with Trail Blazer in 2013 after nearly fifteen years working for the Department of Corrections in both South Dakota and then in Minnesota. Through a majority of his career in corrections he served as a staff instructor, and now brings his teaching skills to our users for most of our educational opportunities. In Kevin’s time with Trail Blazer he has gone from working the support desk (which he still helps with) to directing our intro and advanced training classes. He is responsible for establishing new customer databases and preparing their data. He helped construct our new company website, and is beginning to assume many of our server management maintenance responsibilities.

Kevin has also worked on a number of campaigns over the years. Most of his work was in the ground game preparing canvassing lists, and participating in the door knocks themselves. Of course he also lent his feet to a number of get out the vote efforts as well for those same campaigns. This provides him some insights in how to optimize time and resources in preparing those efforts. He has been doing it long enough to remember plotting those lists using physical maps, but has done it recently enough to have software do most of that work as well.

Jim Gibson is the CEO and founder of the company. Starting in January of 2018 is taking a reduced role. Jim’s experience in software design and development goes back to the dawn of time the personal computer age. His interest in politics lead him to run for office in 2000 as a 3rd party candidate. From that experience he wanted a better way to collect and use the information that comes at campaigns from so many sources and be able to use them in a consistent and efficient manner. After about 18 months of research he found Trail Blazer. It was a product that had been sold for about 10 years and had a small client base. Purchasing that asset and then committing to improving its technology we have today’s Trail Blazer that can file FEC reports, send thank you letters, emails, and much more all from the same system.

Brothers Patrick and Brian Hanf are the last two we will mention. Both were with the company from the beginning stages back in 2002.

Patrick Hanf has worked at Trail Blazer for over 16 years. Patrick has been an innovative leader in the software industry since 1994. He has a background loaded with internet and graphic design projects. His portfolio started when he founded and designed an online music business shortly after attending the University of Minnesota and NHCC. He’s also been presented with the Minnesota Council for Quality Service Award in recognition of select people who provide exceptional Customer Service from the State of Minnesota.

As the Senior Software Engineer with Trail Blazer, his focus is centered around modernizing the consumer experience by taking complex technical ideas and distilling them into user-friendly applications. He uses an in-depth understanding of how to capitalize on political campaigns and nonprofits use of Trail Blazer software to mold and shape Trail Blazer’s user interface. Whether that be by mobile phone, web, or within our flagship desktop applications; Patrick’s motto is “work smarter not harder.”

Patrick is excited to help build better tools that benefit startups to established enterprise organizations. He is committed to designing and implement products and services that achieve and demonstrate higher value to stakeholders, measurable results, and improve user experience. He is always ready to continue to shine with award-winning performances.

Born and raised in suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, when he is not coding software, Patrick can be found on the golf course, fishing at the family summer cabin or spending time with his wife and family.  

Brian came in June of 2002 as a Developer and left in May 2012 as the Executive Director and then came back November 2018 as President.

After running for City Council in the same year Jim ran for US Senate, 2000,  they met at the election night party because they shared a political party affiliation. Brian lost the election to a 20 year incumbent. In the Spring of 2002 Brian had was finishing a program from the University of Minnesota on network administration and programming. Brian contacted Jim about suggestions on how best to use this updated skill set. Jim told him about Trail Blazer and the project he was getting off the ground. The rest is the beginning of history. In 2004 Brian again ran for office, this time State House against a 32 year incumbent. Using Trail Blazer extensively during that campaign he was not only an employee but also a user of the system. Lesson learned, incumbents win a large amount of elections and campaigning is hard work and you have to do all of it, you can’t skip steps.

Besides the two times Brian has been on the ballot he has been involved in many organizations over the years. He has been a board member for various for-profit and nonprofit organizations; including PTA president at his kids elementary school. One of the neatest things Brian has been involved with was receiving a grant for new playground equipment; that then had to find 100+ volunteers to build the playground. Brian used Trail Blazer for the playground project as well to recruit and track volunteers, also by using school boundaries to knock on doors letting people know about the event.

Brian says - “No matter what you are trying to do, do what you can to use your time and other resources wisely.”  

When not working Brian love’s to hang out with family, coach soccer, watch soccer, watch Netflix and volunteer for various children's organizations (usually soccer related).

We have many others that have lead to the long term success of the company, our distribution team has been especially important. There are many people in our life that are constantly pushing the company to do the new and exciting things. We want them all to know how grateful we are for them and to make it known how much they influence us and our accomplishments.

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