Throughout the week, we’re posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.
Sonny Tosco sounds like a typical Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. He grew up in the Bay Area, has an engineering degree from a good school, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit. However, his network and story differ from other Silicon Valley rising stars: he is a West Point graduate who was deployed on three tours of duty before launching his business.
Sonny graduated from West Point in 2006, where he studied systems engineering. After graduating, he was deployed on three tours of duty as an Army Captain: Bahrain in 2008, United Arab Emirates in 2009, and then finally back to Bahrain during the Arab Spring in 2011 as an Army chief of operations, overseeing nearly 200 troops.
All the while, Sonny dreamed of starting his own business upon returning from duty. Initially, he contemplated pursuing an MBA, thinking it would be the best way to learn the business skills he required. However, by the end of his second tour, he recognized the degree may not be worth the time commitment. “When I was in service, I always had an entrepreneurial drive, and I didn’t want to be sidelined for two years. I wanted to be in it already,” says Sonny. Instead, he started reading all of the publicly available materials from Stanford’s MBA program.
Upon returning to civilian life, Sonny took a sales job at a publishing company. He was unsatisfied with his work and still eager to build his own venture, but realized that despite being in the Bay Area, just miles from Silicon Valley, he lacked a network of like-minded and tech-focused entrepreneurs.
In an effort to build these relationships, Sonny started attending networking events, up to four a week, including the Lean Startup Conference and TechCrunch’s Disrupt. These experiences provided him with opportunities for finding mentorship, building a strong and supportive network of likeminded individuals, and learning negotiating skills.
At one tech event, Sonny met his future chief technology officer, a highly experienced mobile developer with extensive startup experience. Finding a technical leader was key, because Sonny lacked the financial resources to pursue the coding education required to build an app on his own. Most programs covered by GI benefits would take years to complete.
The two of them began to develop the idea for what would later become Limelight Mobile, a social app that allows users to request real time images from others anywhere in the world. The idea was inspired by Sonny’s experience in the army; he’d enter conflict areas with incomplete and sometimes inaccurate reports of ground activity. Yet he knew that information was available through the power and connectivity of mobile phones. The company officially launched in April 2014, and in just over a year, Sonny has hired five full-time employees.