I was born in Des Moines, Iowa into a fairly rough Italian neighborhood. Fun fact: I got the name Tony because my parents figured it might help me not get beaten up. We’ll never know if the name would do the trick, because our family relocated to the east coast, eventually settling near Washington DC.
I grew up in the dawn of personal computers and was lucky that my father found his way into technology. We always had a state of the art Apple computer in our house (I remember paying $400 for a 5 megabyte external hard drive). I had my own BBS, tinkered, and played computer games for much of my childhood. I went to Washington College in rural Maryland and picked up a Psychology degree, mostly by accident. As quickly as possible thereafter, I left the east coast to find someplace more interesting to live. I spent 3 months camping around the northern US and ended up in Anchorage, Alaska, where I settled for 12 years, married my amazing wife, and built an amazing business (which is still generating millions in revenue and growing today).
In 2006, I sold my portion of the business to existing partners and took some time off to explore some of the new awesomeness that was happening in the world of front-end web technology. I designed and (with an awesome technical partner) built an experimental resume search app called Jobby which resulted in a flurry of press. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch said “Anyone building a new web company with search features should take a look and consider, cough, copying their interface. It’s really exceptional.” We were flooded with offers to fund our fledgling effort as well as a few to buy it. We ended up selling it to Jobster, a company in Seattle, and moved our lives there.
As a fairly die-hard Alaskan and an enthusiastic voyeur of the startup game, I was certain that I was going to hate Seattle and love my new startup job. Thankfully (in hindsight), the reverse was the case. I met some amazing people at Jobster (many of whom went on to build hugely successful companies), but the company and the product were… Not successful. Watching a company raise $50M+ and sell for less than $1M (long after I left) was a hell of a learning experience. Nothing teaches you that success is a fragile thing like a collection of brilliant people, a big market, and a massive pile of venture capital going up in smoke.
Seattle, on the other hand, was amazing. Despite the Seattle Freeze, my wife and I made a bunch of lifelong friends and found the city, region and, yes, even the weather to be perfect for us.
After my tenure at Jobster, I founded RescueTime, a peculiar time management startup. We did Y Combinator in 2008 and raised a Series A from True Ventures and an awesome collection of angel investors. RescueTime has generated tens of millions in revenue and has served millions of users across the world– it continues to grow to this day. After 4 years, I handed the keys to my co-founders and went looking for new opportunities.
For a few years after RescueTime, I worked on a variety of projects. I did a bit of consulting (product design and growth) and built a few projects with friends that resulted in some pretty outstanding outcomes. The notable projects during this period were Cubeduel and Touchbase Calendar.
- Cubeduel was a designed-to-be-viral game built on the LinkedIn Platform that asked the question “Which of these people would you rather work with again?”. It was often described it as “Hot or Not for the Workplace”. It blew up– there was rapid viral growth, tons of press coverage, and then a mess of copycat efforts from startups and incumbents in the jobs space. We ended up selling the project to investors.
- Touchbase was my first foray into mobile design. It was a communication-centric calendaring app with mobile use-cases in mind, allowing you to send canned texts/emails to meeting participants with a single touch. It was featured in the New & Notable section by Apple and was in the top 5 grossing apps of its category for some time. Eventually, quick communication features began to show up in Google Calendar, and we retired the app a year later.
In 2013, my wife and I decided to take a year off for international travel (we blogged about it here). With our often-hectic careers, we just hadn’t had the chance to explore big chunks of the world. Neither of us had taken a “gap year” when we were young, so we figured we should seize the opportunity. It was (obviously) pretty amazing. We both lost weight (walking 5-10 miles per days helped!), meditated daily, and just enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. The trip came to an abrupt end in Thailand when we learned that my father had been diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney cancer. Without a second thought, we packed up and headed to Austin to help with the surgery recovery and to get a chance to spend time with him if This Was It. He made a full recovery and has been cancer free since (yay!).
When I returned to Seattle, I promptly founded Glowforge, easily the most ambitious thing I’ve ever undertaken. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a desktop laser cutter/engraver (we dubbed it a “3D Laser Printer” because the alternative was a mouthful). The idea of the device was to load the hardware with lots of sensors/cameras, and make the device as brainless as possible, with most of the software (and the user experience) in the cloud. As a complete hardware newbie, I stuck to the software portion of the company. This was the heyday of Kickstarter… and given that we really had no idea just what kind of appetite there was for a product like this, we decided to do a crowdfunding campaign. Kickstarter was the easy choice– my co-founder had done a successful campaign there before and knew a few of the tricks. But Kickstarter didn’t allow us to flex the marketing and design muscles we knew we could if we built our own crowdfunding software from scratch. If you want to read about some of the clever stuff we designed, check out this interview with me on the Y Combinator blog.
I’d like to say we knew it was a massive opportunity when we started– but we didn’t. Before the campaign, we agreed that $2M would confirm that it was worth pursuing and that $5M would be a high-five success. As it turned out, we raised $27.9M in 30 days and went on to rack up a total of $70M in sales since. The project had a bunch of delays (we had to change gears from “we’ll build/assemble what we sell in a scrappy way” to “we have to mass produce these things in a way that can scale”, which was not a small undertaking). Unlike a lot of hardware crowdfunding efforts, we managed not to flame out. Despite the lofty expectations that so often accompany crowdfunding campaigns, the reception when we began delivering units in 2017 was almost universal– they loved it (meet some happy owners on Twitter or in our community forum).
In late 2017, I stepped away from day-to-day operation at Glowforge. I’m still an advisor and friend to the company.
As of the writing of this page, I’m back to “dabble” mode and looking for the next thing. While I’m not in a tremendous hurry, I find I’m happiest when I’m “all in” on a project/company. I’m open to discussing advising, consulting, full-time employment, or co-founding a new thing. Want to chat? Drop me a note.
Fun and random facts about me:
- I recently did a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
- I once played airsoft with 40 other people in an abandoned apartment building that was destroyed by a tsunami, in a town that could only be reached by train.
- We have 3 chickens, ~50,000 bees, one dog, and gardens galore (15 minutes from downtown Seattle)
- I was a blogger-on-the-trail for the Iditarod Sled Dog race.
- I’ve competitively shot pistols and shotguns (I am vehemently pro-gun-control).
- I grew up racing sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay.
- I’ve remodeled my house down to the studs (with a little help from contractors and my lovely wife).
- I was the lead singer in a ska band.
- I’ve been buried alive in a snow cave.
- I like reading (sci-fi and biz books), geeky board games, traveling, cooking, making complex tiki cocktails, playing casual sports (ultimate, touch football, volleyball), playing with dogs, and woodworking/carpentry.