Founder’s Series: Finding your way by channeling childhood inspirations

Intro to the Founder Series:
Last year I took my son Ethan to a crowded Maggie Daley park in Chicago and I couldn’t find him for 30 minutes. Parents out there know temporarily losing a child for 2 minutes is heart-stopping, so after 30 minutes I experienced the worst panic of my life. He was fine, but I never wanted to live through that again. To me, starting Jio wasn’t about “finding a gap in the market” or some buzzword reason. It’s about my family and my kids. So I left my corporate job and began my first startup. Everyone says as a CEO of a startup, you need to keep a balance in your life and reflect often. So I’ll write about what I’ve learned and how it’s going, never forgetting that my son inspired this whole thing.

Luckily I’m not some schlub who still uses a Razr phone, watches Laser Discs or calls it “The Facebook.” I’m a technologist, and have been from an early age. My passion for tech has been the springboard for starting my own company.  

Reading the Tea Leaves

My first interactions with technology started at a very early age, around 7.

My father Jack, worked as a field engineer for IBM through the 70’s and 80’s. Most of the time he’d work from home and would be on call to go fix computer systems in downtown Chicago.  

One day the old man comes home with one of the first 2-way pagers ever built. They had an endearing nickname for this sucker: they called it the “Brick” (clearly marketing geniuses). Looking at the picture, you’ll see why.

The Motorola KDT-840, aka "the brick". Photo Credit:

The Motorola KDT-840, aka "the brick". Photo Credit:

Up until this beast showed up in the early 80’s, the only way my dad got a service alert was when a dispatcher called our house. The only hitch with this system was that my dad refused to ever answer the phone. He’d be in his “sound room” listening to Yes or King Crimson with the volume jacked up to 11.

Usually it would be up to my brother and me to take his calls.  We’d stretch the kitchen phone attached to a 30 foot cord all the way down the hall—5 feet past its maximum length to hand it to him.

I digress, but the point is when this Brick came into our home, it was really novel. It started chirping and coming alive like R2D2 on a bender. It was truly magic. Some stranger could send my dad a wireless message without calling our home phone. Amazing!

Fast forward a few years: For a sixth grade class project, I did my best Philip K. Dick impression and imagined what technology would look like in the future. Miraculously, my mom saved a concept sketch and turns out, I was pretty spot on. My futuristic phone had a hinge (flip phone - years before the first hinge design), retractable antenna, video chat, and a front facing camera for selfies. It was 1991.

Ignoring what you were told - venture off on your own

My sketch from 1991 that miraculously my mother saved. Interesting the AT&T logo hasn't changed much in over 20 years.

Considering my father’s obsession with all things tech, it’s  not surprising that I developed a similar passion, expressing interest in computer science and architecture. But here’s the kicker: For some reason, my parents told me it would be too difficult to be successful in such a competitive field. They straight up discouraged me from going down that path. They wanted something safer, a career where I could be a big fish in a smaller pond.

Good thing teenagers don’t do what their parents say. While I enrolled in school to study business, I taught myself how to code. During that time, and years before YouTube existed, I built a web streaming service for videos that could be uploaded with my own backend servers.  I also developed a content management / newsletter service, or in other words, a blog. 

Pay it forward - Inspiring STEM

The ‘Brick’ is important to me; it kickstarted a curiosity and passion for technology that eventually led to me starting my own tech company (more on that in future posts). I want my kids to be fascinated and inspired by technology in the same way. Hell, we do science projects together. Recently, I helped them design a space balloon (the ultimate space vehicle) for their science fair [embedded video], and I promise I didn’t do all the work.

I’m a proud nerd dad. And what’s more, I want my kids to experiment and know it’s okay to fail, to not always take the safe route, to make cool stuff.

I’m a proud nerd dad. And what’s more, I want my kids to experiment and know it’s okay to fail, to not always take the safe route, to make cool stuff.

So that’s where I’m going to start, too. In launching this tech company, I want to approach the big, meaty problems with the same spark of excitement and curiosity I felt when I held “the Brick” or wrote the code for my first website. I want to move Jio forward by thinking about problems in ways that no one else has before, but when it comes down to it, I’m starting this new adventure by doing the same thing I’ve been focused on since Day One: “making cool stuff.”