Who is Curt Stevens?


Curt Stevens


About Me:
I’ve been writing software most of my life, one of those self taught computer kids back from a time before most kids knew what computers looked like or what they were even used for. I helped teach Intro Comp Sci in the labs at Berkeley as an undergrad but for reasons far too wacky to get into here I decided get an Economics degree instead. [As an aside, for anyone out there thinking of attending Berkeley, I highly recommend it. I loved my time at Cal.] I came to my senses, decided to get a masters in CS and along the way I discovered the research area of Human Computer Interaction. I realized that this was a critical field of study essentially focused on the question of how to make computing systems more useful and usable for human users. OMG, what a concept (remember, this was the mid 80’s people)! I was immediately hooked and instead of cranking though a quick masters decided to get my PhD. This was a magic period of time. Working with brilliant people, doing Internet search research before the days of web browsers, writing code on Symbolics Lisp Machines (ah… just saying it makes me smile). Besides the Internet stuff I was also doing research in things like expert systems with mixed-initiative dialog interfaces, hypertext forms-based UIs, intelligent advice-giving systems, and more mundane things like paying the bills by being a Unix system admin. I also got a chance to work in the Human Interface Lab of a very cool place called MCC in Austin, Texas. This was my first taste of an industrial research environment and opened my eyes to the level of accomplishment a positive atmosphere can yield. I also got the chance to work at the research lab of a phone company, and while some truly excellent work got done there, I can honestly say the phone company taught me what bureaucracy and its associated brain damage can be all about.

That’s when I graduated and began my adventures in software startups. You’ll see that I’ve been in lots of differnt positions in startups of different shapes and sizes. While none of these companies is a Google level success, all of them are still around in their original form or via acquisition.

I am passionate about startups. I love the energy and the cutting edge problems that are the engine at the heart of the startup machine. Having come from the research world, startups are the closest thing I’ve found to the environment of pure discovery in a lab but with the added bonuses of  getting the software in user’s hands and the potential of a business driven payoff (as unlikely as that may prove to be in the real world).

There have been many lessons to learn and pass on to anyone wishing to listen. The startups I’ve learned my lessons from are:

1) True garage startup doing custom networking and Unix installation, setup and configurations. 8-10 employees with an inexperienced owner.

2) Autonomous company within a company tasked with developing a disruptive technology to fundamentally change a slowly dying industry. 7 employees with one software engineer (me) and a visionary leader.

[Between this and the next startup I took a “break” to work at Apple Computer where I helped conceive, productize and develop a patent around the Sherlock search engine and Mac help system technologies.]

3)  VC backed startup providing security solutions for mission-critical industrial operations. 6 engineers, 2 IT, plus a CEO, CTO, Director of Eng. and VP Eng.

4) Privately funded and VC backed financial services firm. Grew from 5 engineers (all PhDs) to a very large organization (during the Internet bubble years).

5) Several year old VC funded, pre-ipo startup in the hosted application infrastructure market. Fluctuated between 10-30 US abased employees during my tenure there as well as a larger subsidiary in India.

6) Self-funded (by me and my co-founder as well as minimal angel investment) startup in stealth mode. 2 full time maniacs as well as 3 additional part-time engineers and 4 other part time contributors in other roles.

7) A gaming startup that grew from about 70 people when I joined to over 300 people in less than a year.

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