Kurt has tried different permutations and combinations of bootstrapping, several of them successfully. Listen to his perspective on each of those.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Kurt Long: I was raised in Clearwater, Florida. I grew up in Florida at a very special time where we enjoyed being outside and in the waters. As I grew up, I watched the Apollo missions and other NASA-based missions take off from the Kennedy Space Center, which is on the other coast but you could still see the launches. From a very early age, those made an impression on me that I wanted to participate in innovation and exploration. That’s something that has stayed with me through my whole career. As I went through high school and college, I held on to the dream and even wrote letters to Kennedy Space Center to ask about the Space Center and how it worked.
Luckily enough as I graduated from the University of Florida, my wife’s father played basketball at Eastern Kentucky University with an engineer at Kennedy Space Center. I got an interview there and I was hired as a real-time space shuttle engineer. I worked there for about seven years. I developed different algorithms for signal and telemetry processing. You might say, “What does that have to do with entrepreneurship?” I would learn later that the space center has a lot to do with entrepreneurship in that you dream big things, you work together as a team, you believe in something bigger than yourself, and you learn to manage risk. We did that really, really well when we sent missions to the Sun with Ulysses and to Jupiter with Galileo.
Sramana Mitra: What year does this bring is up to?
Kurt Long: I’m now in the early to mid-90s. At that time as much as I loved the space center, there was a realization that that program would not go on forever, which it proved not to be. The program later came to an end. I was too young to have stayed there. I went to IBM. At that time, IBM was thought to be the greatest company to work for in the world. I worked on a commercial software application called Data Trade, which was sold throughout the Asia banking market. Again, I got to work with phenomenal people. We did a good job. I got my first taste of commercial software. But I am being forthright in saying it wasn’t the right culture for me. As much as I respect IBM and the people I’ve worked with, it wasn’t the right place for me.
From there, I set out with formal training and visibility into commercial software. I got a Master’s in Theoretical Computer Science somewhere along the way. I was better educated through school and was better educated through the workplace. I began starting my own companies. That was when the Internet hit in the mid-90s. I got super interested in the Internet.