My professional career stemmed from a teenage father and son hobby of designing and building model rockets within a local rocketry club in San Diego, California. A challenging and often unforgiving sport of engineering, designing and fabricating, with hardly any margin for error. It was 1999, the year where digital media and websites were just emerging, and every month I took to the desert for a weekend of camping at our sanctioned launch site a mile away from the Mexico and United States border.
These rockets were much more than your average craft hobby store kit. The parts were either sourced from the industrial supply such as concrete form tubes that we would reinforce with fiberglass or carbon fiber, where the remainder of other components were made in our garage workshop from scratch. Some of our rockets averaged a weight of 300lbs with heights of 6ft, and diameters of 3ft. They took months to build and with costs well into the four figures per flight, were no cheap thrill.
If everything worked accordingly, the rocket would gently return to earth under successful parachute deployment and remain airworthy for future flights. However, on some occasions, a motor would implode or a parachute fails to deploy and the rocket would often be a total loss. Despite the enormous amount of time and money members devoted to their creations, very little media was captured during launch, arguably one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking moments of the sport.
I’ve always considered memories being one of life’s most precious assets and the creation of them weather bad or good is a rite of passage towards growing and the very essence of living. Why not help create some new ones? At age 14in the Southern California desert, that’s exactly what I did and it garnished me my first business license and real-world experience of being my own boss with a new start-up. I set out to be a digital media powerhouse within the growing rocketry community providing digital photos and videos from the launches.
My father helped with the purchase of my first professional digital camera, and not too shortly after I was able to put my profits back into the business. I invested in several cameras for multiple angles including an industry-first onboard action camera mounted to the airframe of the rocket and a blast camera mounted in a ballistic housing I designed below the rocket to capture that initial blast of flame from the solid fuel rocket engines. I sold DVDs, photo calendars, and even designed a line of rocketry themed merchandise. My father was a career software engineer and I was a young budding apprentice into the world of computer programming. It wasn’t long until we took software and made a hardware that would become the onboard brains for the rockets.
Through coding and motherboard design, my father and I started manufacturing and selling one of the first onboard flight computers that equipped rockets with metrics such as acceleration, altitude, GPS for tracking and g-force. We also baked a “dual deployment” feature into our onboard rocketry computer that allowed the rocket to safely deploy a drogue shoot and then primary shoot at set altitudes. This was a big advancement versus the traditional deployment method which relied on a parachute ejection charge being ignited when the slow-burning cylinder of propellant that acted asa fuse burned completely. It also helped mitigate the risk for our rockets to drift over the state line into the nearby Mexican mountain range where retrieval isn’t an easy option.
Eventually, I took the rocketry business online by registering my first domain name and renting server space where I could host the captured content for sparking conversation and showcasing it to the worldwide web. Freshman year of high school in 2000, I enrolled in a web design class where I learned the basics of reading and writing code. This sparked interest for me to purchase a handful of additional single worded dot-com domains in the age later referred to as the dot-com boom. My rocketry website turned into the first national web resource where visitors could register an account and upload their own media or chat in the forums with other hobbyists in the sport. It should be worth mentioning that Facebook nor YouTube existed at the time.
Over the next three years, the website grew its user base as I combined both the news of sport and hobby rocketry and the space updates fromNASA’s own rocket launches. In 2002, a few members of my club moved to El Segundo, California to work at a then small start-up called Space ExplorationTechnologies, now known formally as SpaceX. By my Junior year in high school, I had amassed over 100,000 registered members and sold the property to the online service provider, Yahoo. I garnished the attention of local businesses for my media production, online community creation and what is now referred to as online marketing. My senior year I launched a media communications business with the proceeds from my previous venture.
Its purpose was to help bring analog companies into the digital realm of the internet by means of producing digital content such as commercial video advertisements, web design, and photography. I applied the same principles just as I did with my rocketry venture where I invested a healthy majority of the profit back into the business and budgeted for growth.I was producing national commercials for television and radio, creating corporate websites for both the entertainment and healthcare industries and growing so rapidly I had to hire additional staff to ease my demanding workload.
Shortly after graduating high school my media communications company was acquired and I left San Diego to live in Los Angeles. At an early age, I was fortunate to take some time away from work and explore my new surroundings in the city of angels. One evening through mutual friends I met the founders of Napster, the highly controversial and disruptive pioneering peer-to-peer file sharing Internet service that emphasized sharing digital audio files. Through the night, we discussed our backgrounds and humble upbringings that led to our individual success.
It was fascinating getting to know the rockstar individuals who appeared on the covers of magazines and in the media headlines for disrupting the long uninterrupted music industry and founding the highly acclaimed social network, Facebook. That same night I was invited to move in with them and live in San Francisco where they would go on to become my mentors and showcase their latest tech projects in Silicon Valley. It was a once in a lifetime invite, one that spurred me to fly up the following weekend with my laptop, the clothes on my back and a briefcase stuffed with the essentials.
It was in 2011 and I was now living in San Francisco being introduced into the early workings of start-ups such as Uber, Spotify, Square, and Facebook. It was a breath of fresh air being around likeminded techies and a substantial change from the life in the respective cities of San Diego andLos Angeles. I forged meaningful, lasting relationships and garnished a plethora of self-improvement in business, problem-solving using first principles, and innovation. Years later these backyard known start-ups grew to a national level of success and I was fortunate to be part of their early history.
In 2014 I founded an unmanned aerial vehicle company where I developed drones for media production, surveying, and law enforcement. In the company’s second year it became apparent that demand for developing autonomous software took precedence over the overwhelming flood of hardware in the market.In 2017 the company was acquired by an entity in the United Arab Emirates for application toward autonomous human transporting air vehicles.