It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times…

Tarik Kurspahic
Mar 15 · 8 min read

The famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities is applicable to many of our daily lives, struggles and fights. It is certainly applicable to the issues surrounding privacy in the tech world.

Yesterday, the world lost one of its most passionate fighters for online privacy and control of personal data and I lost a long-time business partner and friend. Actually, Shane Green was more like a brother than any of those other things and I wanted to write a few words to remember him, say my goodbyes and tell the world what he was like.

Shane Green speaking at Intel privacy event
Shane Green speaking at Intel privacy event
Shane Green (center) speaking at an Intel event on privacy

I met Shane in 1999 through a mutual friend, Edin Saračević. I had just finished college with a CS degree and Edin and Shane were trying to start a mapping company and needed someone to help them figure out how to get the maps online.

I couldn’t believe how passionate two people could be about maps and wanting to create something better than anything that existed in that space at the time. I was naturally drawn to both of them, accepted the job of CTO with virtually no real experience and figured that what we don’t know, we will figure out together.

So began our business partnership which would develop into a life-long friendship through the inescapable ups and downs of running a technology company.

The Map Network team c. 2000
The Map Network team c. 2000
The Map Network team in the early days

The next 6 years would be some of the most fun and at the same time, most challenging. I cannot count the number of times we didn’t think we would make it, or the number of times we made some breakthrough that would make us feel like we are on top of the world. To get through it took unrelenting strength, passion, vision, focus and will-power to stay the course. Shane had those in spades and was always willing to share.

Six years after our journey began, The Map Network was the official city map of something like the world’s top 200 destinations and many high-profile events that came through those cities. We were able to count the likes of The NBA All-star Game, The NFL Super Bowl, The Smithsonian and many others as our clients.

We had created the best tools for others to create location-based content and tell a story using maps. We took the world, or some small part of it, and made it a better place than the one we found. This was a principle that was pervasive in all our lives.

The Map Network leadership team
The Map Network leadership team
Shane, Tarik, Doug and Edin

During this time the leadership team behind The Map Network (Shane, Edin, Doug and myself) went from being bachelors to getting married, having our first kids and many other life-altering experiences. We were about to have one more unique experience.

Towards the end of 2006 we went through our first acquisition together as we sold our company to Navteq — the global leader in digital maps. This was going to give us the platform to scale up our efforts massively. It was an unforgettable experience that only some get to go through and we seized the moment.

Little did we know we would get to experience that again just a year and half later as Nokia bought Navteq completing our journey from creating a ~120 person company, to being acquired into a ~3,500 person company, and finally into a 100K+ person company.

This was a very unique opportunity to see how one vision operates at massively different scales. It required us to adapt, change our way of thinking and working in order to get things done and together we were up for the task. Throughout the next few years we travelled the world, learned a lot as a team and as individuals.

Tarik, Edin and Shane in Berlin
Tarik, Edin and Shane in Berlin
Tarik, Edin and Shane in Berlin, Germany

Times were changing rapidly as they tend to do in tech and unsurprisingly, Shane was already looking at and thinking about where that might be in 5 to 10 years. Personal data was going to be the next big battlefield and Shane was already seeing it unfold.

With the world of online maps and location content well in-hand, in the summer of 2009, the gang got back together again — this time to tackle personal data, online privacy and some semblance of user control.

The founding team of Personal, Inc — Tarik, Jennifer, Shane, Edin & Doug
The founding team of Personal, Inc — Tarik, Jennifer, Shane, Edin & Doug
The founding team of Personal, Inc — Tarik, Jennifer, Shane, Edin & Doug

We created the world’s first platform for individuals to control their personal data and be able to share it with anyone they choose. We took a unique approach to privacy by building a platform that cryptographically locked us out of user data, while allowing individuals to be able to share it — something that is very hard to do.

We were the first organization to be recognized as a Privacy by Design Ambassador by The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario. Pretty soon we were sharing everything we learned at conferences like SXSW, DC Tech Week, Mashery’s Business of APIs conference, PII and others. We were trying to get others to take the leap.

Shane and Tarik speaking at SXSW Interactive 2012
Shane and Tarik speaking at SXSW Interactive 2012
Shane and Tarik speaking about personal data and privacy at SXSW Interactive 2012

One of the hardest things to overcome in building a platform like ours is that it is more expensive and time consuming to build it that way. As such, we were very lucky to have the investors and support that we did. It helped us stay in the fight through many tough times and pivots.

As luck would have it, while attending IIW a few years ago, we met another visionary full of life who was fighting the same fight and trying to make the world a better place — Julian Ranger of digi.me.

Shane, Julian and Tarik in San Francisco
Shane, Julian and Tarik in San Francisco
Shane, Julian and Tarik in San Francisco, CA

We shared a common vision and mission, became fast friends and merged our companies so we can pool our resources and have a truly global presence. We are still in the fight today thanks in part to Shane’s passion and perseverance.

Digi.me, just like Personal.com, is a platform that solves one, albeit massive, part of the personal data puzzle. It is a platform that codifies the principles that allow an individual to be at the center of their tech universe and control the flow of their personal data in and out of other services and applications.

As such, it works with other applications that build on top of it to create an ecosystem based on new rules that are favorable to individuals as well as businesses who want access to their personal data. A win-win situation demonstrated through many hackathons, partnerships and apps that will be coming online.

KNOW Identity Hackathon in Washington, DC
KNOW Identity Hackathon in Washington, DC
KNOW Identity Conference and Hackathon in Washington, DC

Recognizing this and throwing every last ounce of energy to see this vision succeed, Shane co-founded UBDI with Dana Budzyn and Mark Kilaghbian. UBDI stands for Universal Basic Data Income and is here to help connect individuals with market researchers and get them paid for insights gained from their personal data and opinions.

The UBDI co-founders, Mark, Dana and Shane in London, UK

Sadly, Shane was unable to win the biggest battle of his life, against cancer — a silent, invisible and deadly opponent in an unfair fight. He got taken from us way too early, but not before setting in motion many things that will continue to make this world a better place than the one he found. His countless family, friends and co-workers will see to it.

One of the things that endeared him to me most was how much he cared about others. Shane was not just a presence in DC, Silicon Valley, or US Tech. At The Map Network and Personal.com (now digi.me), with Shane’s help and leadership, we were able to create jobs in the US as well as in Sarajevo Bosnia, where Edin and I are originally from. It allowed us to give back to where we came from while making our new home stronger.

We were able to bring a technology spark that has seen the whole region blossom with amazing companies and a proper tech scene. It started with AtlantBH which counted 3 people when we met them and our very own team at Personal / digi.me.

Our co-founder Edin has taken this to new levels with his innovation center HUB 387 and Academy 387. Sarajevo and Bosnia in general, now boast some of the best development companies and teams in the world like Klika.ba, Ministry of Programming and many others. Check out the Bit Alliance page to see how this industry has flourished.

Yet again, Shane had left the world better than the one he found.

I will miss him terribly in the time to come. I will miss going up and down Sand Hill Rd in Silicon Valley pitching our ideas to VCs. I will miss quick side-trips to sneak a peek at Stonehenge, or learn the rules of Rugby in a pub with our co-workers in the UK. I will miss bumping into him and his family on the ski slopes.

Clockwise from top-left: Skiing at Ski Liberty, near Half Moon Bay, CA, our office in Georgetown, Washington, DC, Stonehenge, UK

I will miss hanging out with him across the globe. Sarajevo, Berlin, London, Washington, DC, San Francisco and many other cities will never be the same without him. I will miss the fun team-building activities we used to do together that have resulted in some of the greatest memories one could have.

Personal team selfie at the top of Mt Bjelašnica, Sarajevo — the home of the 1984 Winter Olympics men’s downhill run.
Personal team selfie at the top of Mt Bjelašnica, Sarajevo — the home of the 1984 Winter Olympics men’s downhill run.
Possibly the greatest selfie ever! The Personal team at the top of Mt Bjelašnica, Sarajevo — the home of the 1984 Winter Olympics men’s downhill run.

I will miss our lively discussions about how to tackle challenges and the best way forward. I will miss his passion and drive. His friendship and memory will forever be a wind in my sails to always try to leave the world a better place than the one I found.

Hanging out at the Six Seven restaurant in Seattle, WA

Rest in peace brother! You will be missed, but never forgotten…

— -

A small update to post the link to his obituary from The Washington Post:

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=robert-green&pid=195758428

Tarik Kurspahic

Written by

EVP Technology @digime | Startups, Tech, Product, Marketing, GrowthHacking, UX & Design

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