In this episode of the Dealmakers’ Podcast, we dive into the inspiring journey of a true visionary, Dan Shapiro. Raised by parents deeply rooted in academia, Dan’s upbringing was steeped in the worlds of communications and computer science.
In this blog post, we’ll uncover how Dan’s unique background and passion for technology led him through a remarkable career, from Microsoft to creating groundbreaking board games and, ultimately, revolutionizing the world of lasers with Glowforge.
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From Academia to Tech Startups
Dan’s parents, both professors specializing in speech communications and computer science, laid the foundation for his journey. Their pioneering research in computer-mediated communications set the stage for Dan’s eventual foray into the tech world. His early exposure to this dynamic field sparked a lifelong fascination with technology.
Harvey Mudd and Microsoft
After relocating to Portland at the age of 12, Dan discovered his love for science and engineering. For a time, he worked at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in the holography lab, using lasers to make amazing designs for the guests at the museum and science center.
Ultimately, Dan enrolled in and earned an engineering degree at Harvey Mudd. This was an interesting education since they don’t let students specialize in electrical or mechanical, so he ended up doing a little of both.
Although initially hesitant about interviewing at Microsoft, a friend’s recommendation led him to a pivotal role as a program manager on the Windows team. This five-year stint at Microsoft saw him contribute to monumental projects like Windows 98, XP, and Windows 2000.
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Venturing into Startups and Working at Google
Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit beckoned him to the startup realm, where he took the helm of product management for a groundbreaking Linux-based cell phone venture, Wildseed. When the company sold, he left to run a games team at RealNetworks, but he was bitten by the startup bug and founded his own company, Ontela. Ontela connected early mobile devices to sync to the cloud.
Dan says that they basically invented the category, patented some of the earliest pieces in there, and created this notion. The idea caught on so well that Dan was able to raise $40M and enter into partnerships with the major carriers. In two busy years, Dan merged Ontela with Photobucket, founded a comparison shopping company called Sparkbuy, and sold Sparkbuy to Google.
Robot Turtles and the Birth of Glowforge
Dan’s venture into board games brought about Robot Turtles, an early STEM-oriented success that garnered significant attention. Its objective was to teach kids the basics of programming principles. He enjoyed his stint as an amateur board game designer, though the intent was to develop games to keep his kids entertained.
However, it was a serendipitous reconnection with Mark Goslin, a former colleague, that ignited their shared passion for creation – and excitement around groundbreaking desktop laser technology.
Glowforge: Empowering Creators Worldwide
With Glowforge, Dan’s vision is clear: democratize creation. By placing the power of high-quality laser cutting and engraving in the hands of everyday creators, Glowforge is redefining how we bring our ideas to life.
The launch of the Aura model further underscores this commitment, making creativity accessible to even more individuals. Dan successfully started a 30-day crowdfunding campaign, which turned out to be the biggest with the largest number of merchandise ever sold–an astounding $27M worth of lasers in one month.
Dan raised $100M for Glowforge, working with some fantastic investors who have had great success with hardware.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Dan Shapiro was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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A Message from Dan Shapiro
Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Dan leaves us with a powerful message: perseverance is key. Success may not manifest immediately, but it’s the relentless pursuit of one’s vision that ultimately leads to breakthroughs.
From academia to corporate giants and startups, Dan Shapiro’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion, innovation, and a deep-rooted belief in the potential of technology. With Glowforge, he’s not just revolutionizing laser technology; he’s enabling a new era of creativity and innovation for us all.
Dan also authored Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook. In this book he walks founders from founding or building a startup to funding through exit. A great book for any entrepreneur in the startup journey.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Upbringing in a family of professors, specializing in computer science and communication laid the foundation for his interest in tech startups
- Education at Harvey Mudd encouraged a broad understanding of engineering disciplines, preventing specialization and fostering a versatile skill set
- Unexpected journey into Microsoft led to five impactful years where he contributed to major projects like Windows 98 and XP, gaining invaluable insights into a growing tech giant.
- Shift to startups post-Microsoft led to the creation of a Linux-based cell phone company, highlighting the early innovation and adaptability required in the tech industry.
- The profound shift in mindset between big corporations and startups, particularly in resource allocation and focus, as discussed in his book
- A disciplined approach to M&A negotiations underscores the importance of establishing clear terms, valuing the company, and prioritizing the well-being of his team.
- Venture with Glowforge reflects a lifelong mission to empower everyone with the ability to create, leveraging technology for accessible, customizable manufacturing.