My Printeer Back Story (Part 1)
In the next few days we will be launching our first product, Printeer. For me personally, this is such a huge milestone, as it is something I’ve been working toward in one way or another for almost three years. I am extremely excited for what comes next. However, I also think part of understanding a person, a product, or a company is understanding its past, so for the benefit of those who don’t know me well, here is the story of how I got to where I am today.
Three years ago I was in a very different place wearing a very different hat. Literally. I was an officer in the US Navy, operating nuclear reactors onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, based out of Norfolk, Virginia. My five years of military service ended in late 2011, and I spent the following six months enjoying my independence with long trips to South America, India, Australia, and China. It was also during this time that I decided definitively on what I’d been pondering for a long time: that I wanted to start a tech company in the field of 3D printing.
After returning home, I had a very tough decision to make: go to business school at MIT, where I’d recently been admitted, or jump straight into starting a company with the mantra, “There’s no better way to learn something than by doing it.” I decided on business school, but it turns out I really split the two options, because after completing just the first year of my two-year MBA program, I took a leave of absence and moved to Santa Barbara to work on Mission St. full time.
Those were the early days, when Mission St. was just an idea – a passion, a drive, a plan – but nothing concrete. What made it a reality was building a team, and that started with my co-founder Gabe. Gabe Rosenhouse and I have known each other for a long time; we met on the first day of 6th grade. We were best friends in middle school in Portland, Oregon, and we were science project partners for two years when we measured the speed of sound in various conditions. Gabe and I drifted when we I transferred high schools, and then drifted even more during our college years. However, I always thought of Gabe as one of the smartest people I knew (and still do), and I also knew that he had a passion for problem solving and computer programming – both of which would be at the core of Mission St.’s future.
We actually reconnected at Gabe’s parents’ Hanukah party right after I left the Navy, and then I visited him before business school in Chicago in the summer of 2012. He was a PhD candidate doing neuroscience research, but he was also very intrigued by 3D printing and my desire to make the technology more capable and accessible. However, I still didn’t really have a viable product idea, and I was just starting business school, so for the next six months, we were just old friend who bounced business and technology ideas around on the phone from time to time.
That all changed in early 2013. Starting my second semester of business school, my focus shifted and honed, and so did my need for someone like Gabe to be on the team for real.
In early 2013, the Mission St. business plan coalesced around the need for a more accessible 3D printer for those who aren’t well-funded institutions or dedicated tinkerers. K-12 education became the focus, because 3D printing has something to add to everyone’s lives, and it all begins with exposure and education. Our product would be an integration of 3D printing software and hardware components in a way that would be radically more accessible and inviting to kids, parents, and teachers.
Around this time, I also started talking about running an internship over the summer to build a product prototype with the help of some undergraduate engineers. To pull this off, though, I needed an experienced programmer to lead the software team, and after several phone calls, emails, and a trip to Chicago, Gabe agreed to join me in California for the summer. Around the same time I also met Tom Mackin, a mechanical engineering professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, who loved the idea and wanted to be involved, specifically in helping me connect with other bright, motivated engineers. Together, Gabe, Tom and I recruited seven interns, and on June 17th, 2013, we began working full time in an aqua-blue house on West Mission Street in Santa Barbara, California.