is what I imagine most people’s response to that question is. I wouldn’t think anyone outside of my immediate family would waste a minute thinking about it, and yet here you are reading my about page! So I will do my best not to disappoint.
I am an entrepreneur, photographer, and writer who enjoys exploring new hobbies and sharing what I have learned. That is what this site is about. I generally find most people want the content of this site to help THEM learn how to do something new, and I certainly try to oblige, but if you happen to want to know how I acquired my skills then read on!
I have broken my history down in to sections by topic so you can just jump to what is most interesting to you.
After dropping out of college and a series of jobs including temp, house painter, lifeguard and cook; I found programming as a hobby, and quickly a career. The first few years were about becoming competent and mastering my craft. It became apparent to me that I did not want to spend 1/3 of my life doing things for other people, I wanted to learn more about business and customers and what made the whole system tick.
After leaving my development job at Sears I started my first “company” (which was really more of a tech project). It was a platform for online gamers to plan activities, create profiles, and initiate voice chat. In typical first time tech founder fashion I spent 8 months of the 12 months I gave myself building the first version. By the time I got it out in the real world for feedback it was really too late to solve all the problems and monetize it.
Chicago Climate Exchange
After Simergence I needed a paying job. With few connections in Chicago I went to a recruiter and requested to be placed at a startup. I wanted to learn where I had gone wrong. Fortunately that startup was CCX, where I met a bunch of great people including my current co-founder Kellee James.
After CCX was sold I had three people approach me about building the tech platform for an exchange. I figured that sounded like a business opportunity! I applied to what is now Techstars Chicago and was accepted. Kellee joined me as I needed a co-founder and her project was on hold. Ultimately a startup serving startups with uncertain revenue wasn’t the best idea after all.
I was ready for something different. I wanted to do something without venture capital, boards and control issues. I always tried to make my hobbies a bigger part of my life, so with Jack Eisenberg, whom I had met at Techstars, we started a company for hobby starter kits. It was probably the most fun I have had at a startup, but physical product with low margins is hard.
And this brings us to today. Jack and I wound down Hobstr and I sold Exchangery to Kellee for equity in Mercaris, the company she was in the midst of founding. It was a kindred spirit to CCX, but with Organic and non-GMO ag products rather than environmental ones. It was the perfect marriage of a solid business plan with a market that needed it. Four years in and we are still chugging along.
Has a creative passion dogged you your whole life? Maybe you discovered a specific art form that you excelled at early, maybe you have always just found ways to be creative in various mediums?
I have been drawing and taking art classes since I was a little kid, but I never really thought too much about whether or not that made me an ‘artist’. Artists were famous people like Picaso or Michelangelo. I’m not even sure when I first heard the term ‘fine art’. There were no galleries in the suburbs of Scranton where I grew up. My exposure to art was from the collection of books my mom had stuffed away in a closet. They were like an encyclopedia set of sorts, probably a hundred books, each on a different artist. I could spend hours leafing through them. And even though I continued to get better at drawing, I knew I would never be that good. I was good for a teenager in a small town, but I did not have the talent of a professional artist. Being an artist was not for me, I needed to find something practical to spend my time on. At least that was the story I constructed in my mind.
As an adult I have put a lot of thought in to applying for art school at SAIC.
As an adult I found my way to photography, not as an artist, but as someone who needed to take product photos for an online business. I needed to get better technically, and was honestly somewhat annoyed that it was giving me so much trouble. It just seemed like it should be easy. Perhaps this stretched back to my younger years when I was somehow exposed to the idea that photography wasn’t an art. It was a technical skill. Point a camera, adjust some settings, and it does the work of recording reality. There is no special sauce. Any two people in the same place at the same time would take the same photo. So, I read the technical manuals and how tos. I took more pictures. I wasn’t getting better. I started to doubt the stories I had told myself about photography.
The books and articles I started to devour painted a different picture, to mix metaphors. Photography was technical, but it was also creative, and it was also a mental skill. Like drawing, the first few thousand attempts would be crude. The pencil just wouldn’t do what you saw in your mind. Well neither would the camera. I wanted to take more pictures, nature photographs appealed to me, but I lived in a city. I found my way to street photography. As I read more about individual artists, their careers, books and gallery representation, I started to feel a growing sense of wonder, of attachment. This was something I was interested in for myself; a fascination, a passion, an obsession in a way drawing had never been. Perhaps there was an art form for me after all.
While doing all of this reading on photography, I was noticing a current of discussion around whether photography was even an art at all? It was that same line of logic I heard as a child, but had learned certainly wasn’t true. It can be hard to square one’s own experience with the collective wisdom of the crowd. Was photography art?
I wasn’t sure where photography fit in to the art world, and I wasn’t sure where I fit in to photography, so I began to want some clarification, and external validation I suppose. I took a workshop on pursuing art as a career, to try to finally understand how the process of entering the art world works. I never intended to replace my day job, but what if I could get a gallery show? What was that process like, what did it mean?
Since then I have read book after book on the art world itself, culminating in trying to understand contemporary art. I would say I have come to a point of appreciation, but in some ways I am more confused than ever. Is photography art? Can it be ‘fine art’? Is there still a place for ‘fine art’ in the world of contemporary art? I don’t have any answers, but I keep honing my craft while I try to figure things out. I think I am making progress, perhaps my work is almost fine art.
And despite the lingering questions, and nagging doubts, I have found myself unable to stop. I keep wondering is it art?
Another life long practice, of course, we all write all the time. I wrote D&D campaigns as a young teenager, and did world building for a MUD in my late teens. As an adult my creative writing gave way to business emails and texting. But as I put together my photography portfolio on a web page I had to begin to describe them. Of course there was writing artist statements, but as I talk about in my article on photography even my photographs have become fiction.
I have begun merging my writing and my photography in a way aligned with my old storytelling and world building beginnings. Fiction, be it static or interactive, online or off, it is another creative outlet I enjoy. I have really been doing my research to understand all the ways we tell stories to each other. Though I am still a beginner, I have collected some advice to pass along to new fiction writers, but I still have much to learn myself. In the context of this article though, I suppose it is natural to also wonder if writing itself is a form of art.