Starting popexpert

A reflection on furniture assembly.

I was comfortable in my position as Senior Director of Software Development at a company in San Diego called The Active Network. There, I was in charge of development for over 15 products, with 12 teams and 50+ engineers in my organization.

In September 2012, I attended a conference in San Francisco, and I reached out to Ingrid Sanders, a friend and former co-worker who happened to be living in San Francisco. She told me about an idea she and Ken Howery (a Paypal co-founder) had about a marketplace for experts. It would require peer to peer video capabilities. And they wanted a third co-founder/CTO. Would I do it?

Hell yes.

So, I resigned, and a month later started what would be called “popexpert” with Ingrid (Ken would later become our first angel investor and Chairman). We promptly hired Rob Cameron — a developer I’d worked with for many years and respect tremendously.

I happened to take a lot of photos during the early days, and I thought I’d share what the first few months of a startup’s life are like.

First, we had to pick a name. These made the shortlist: Brain Pry, Mind Inspection, Head Probe, Headsweep, Know Seeker, Popexpert. Given the availbility of social media handles around Popexpert, we went with that one (we would later decide it should always be written in lowercase). Our trademark lawyer would go on to say “I get it. The expert pops onto your screen.” We thought “Uh…yeah. Uh…that’s exactly why we chose it.”

I remember my first day on the job in San Francisco very clearly. It was election night, and Ingrid had just signed a lease for an office on Union Street. Our first order of business was to fill it with Ikea furniture. So we borrowed Ken’s Jeep Cherokee and drove to Palo Alto.

Ken’s Jeep Cherokee full of popexpert furniture.

We spent election night streaming news from the NPR app on my phone and assembling Ikea furniture. And on day 2, we had desks!

Ingrid sitting at one of our new desks.

It ended up taking about 1 month to get rid of all our boxes.

Ikea boxes waiting to be tossed.

What startup can be complete without a whiteboard? I highly recommend Idea Paint, which is what I painted one of our walls with.

First coat of Idea Paint at popexpert on Union St.
Me on painting day.

The office had an amazing view on the roof, which we used on occasion to come up with ideas.

View from popexpert’s roof on Union St.

It was accessed through our kitchen window, which was always a precarious entry point.

popexpert kitchen.

We did a lot of dishes back then. And on many occasions food went bad after being neglected in the refrigerator.

Next up, the popexpert logo. We were very, very close to going with this:

What almost became the popexpert logo.

And of course, we needed to build the product. So we taped “epics” to our wall and crossed them off as they were deployed.

All of popexpert’s epics are finished.

We hired Geoff, Josh and Emily. And after raising a seed of $500K, we headed to SXSW 2012. And, we got a bus while we were there.

The popexpert bus at SXSW 2012.
Sleeping quarters on the popexpert bus.

Our friends started wearing our shirts.

popexpert shirt in action.

Even this guy.


These shirts were hot commodities actually. I ran out on several occasions.

Time went on, the product gained traction, and we decided to upgrade our space after having raised a total of $2.2 million. We found a nice spot in Jackson Square.

The new Jackson Square office.

Once again. I found myself assembling furniture.

I’ve since moved on from popexpert to co-found Inkshares. And while I’m enamored of my new vocation, I’ll never forget the startup that rescued me from my corporate bonds. Here’s to beginnings.

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