Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
I started out as a software engineer for a small medical services company and ended up architecting a complete overhaul of the entire software system. My career migrated from software development to product management and marketing, and I decided to get an MBA at Berkeley to compliment my EE/CS education and development experience. I've run product management and marketing at several startups.
I'm married and father of three kids - 14-year-old boy, 11-year-old boy, and 8-year-old girl.
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
One of my most memorable Duke experiences was when I was the chief engineer at Cable 13, Duke's student-run local television station (editor's note: Now known as Duke Student Broadcasting). I ran the technical operations behind the scenes of our productions, including broadcasting basketball games through the Cable 13 production van and airing our hit sports show with Seth Davis, who is now an NCAA basketball analyst on CBS.
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
When I was a senior in high school and was accepted into Duke, my plan was to major in philosophy. After taking a gap year between high school and Duke, I found that my interest in philosophy waned and my true love for technology blossomed. When I returned to the US from my year sailing in Australia during the America's Cup, I transitioned into Duke's engineering school and began my double major in electrical engineering and computer science.
Tell us about your idea.
The pace of technology advances has led to a common problem for consumers. As each new technology comes along and achieves widespread adoption - email, smartphones, social networking, cloud storage, text messaging - consumers end up with interesting and relevant content spread across so many different locations. And rampant sharing has exacerbated the problem. Personal and shared content is now spread all over the place and consumers are forced to cope with multiple accounts and services to manage it all.
Our idea was to build a personal, virtual fence around all of a user's content to provide clarity to content spread across devices, email, social, and cloud with the convenience to manage and organize it all.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
We first started out to bridge the technical divide between generation by helping families share their online photos with grandparents. We ended up building a service that allowed multiple family members to connect multiple different online photos services in a way that let grandparents view these photos on their TV without requiring them to manage accounts at all of the different services like Dropbox, Facebook, Flickr, and others.
After we had built our prototype, we realized that we are actually solving a much bigger problem associated with content sprawl. We had provide a way to not only access all of the personal and shared content but had a web service that allowed content to be transferred between services. Our original technology of providing solutions for non-technical family members is not a patent-pending solution for transferring content between different accounts on different services.
How did you meet your team members?
My co-founder, Andy Waddell, and I have worked at three previous companies together. He had developed a prototype of the system to showcase what was possible and we discussed turning this into a business.
After we founded the company, we reached out to several other people who we've worked with in the past to join us, including other developers and marketers.
Our chief product officer, David Simkin, was introduced to us by one of our advisors and was originally hired as a consultant to help us build a better overall user experience. His UX experience helped us reform the company so much so that we all agreed that he should be a full-time member of the company.
Our Russian development team was introduced to us by some fellow entrepreneurs who had had great success with them in the past.
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
The Duke Start-Up Challenge helped us focus our attentions on answering the most pertinent investor-focused questions and establishing a timetable for completing the tasks of building out thorough and thoughtful responses that tie into our company's differentiation and market opportunity.
The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges. Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?
More than anything, the judges have provided feedback about what they'd like to see us answer next. For the most part, the judges understand the problem that we are solving and the overall market demand and market size. What they are most interested in seeing from us now is real data, which is obviously the next step for our startup. We are planning to provide answers soon since our startup is nearing a public launch, at which point we'll be able to point to real numbers instead of simply stories about what we're doing.
Did you connect with any judges for advice, and if so, who were they and was it helpful?
Several judges are either entrepreneurs or VCs and I've been able to connect with them through the Start-up Challenge. Not only has there been helpful feedback but also some potential business opportunities that have been spawned out of connections made through this process.
What advice do you have for Duke alumni / faculty / staff entrepreneurs that are thinking of starting a company?
I'd love to say something generic like "Go for it!" but starting a company is a serious commitment that entrepreneurs need to measure against their tolerance for risk. It's just not something that should be entered into lightly. Entrepreneurs need to invest major time and energy into building a company, so my guidance is this: make sure you're incredibly passionate about your idea. If you have the passion, this will help you work your way towards realizing your vision and sharing your dream with others who want to help get you there.
Anything else you’d like to say?
We recently teamed with some additional developers to expand the concept of a user's personal AnyCloud to include their devices as well. So, in addition to connecting content stored in email, cloud, and social accounts, users will be able to securely connect their mobile, desktop, and local storage devices to their personal AnyCloud as if they were cloud accounts like Dropbox. This will give users a comprehensive and clear view into their entire world of content spread across devices, email, cloud, and mobile with the convenience to manage content across them all.
Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge
And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook
Not able to attend in person? Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel.