How did you get into the tech industry?
I’ve always been a fan of making things, and perhaps my temperament led me to software instead of say, customizing Harleys. I was making a bunch of weird mobile software on these HP iPaq tablet things because you couldn’t really develop interesting stuff on phones back in 2003. Doing that kind of work led me to fall into a pretty cool crowd of people doing early things in the mobile before there really was the mobile industry that exists today.
Tell us about Burner. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Burner was a feature of an app that my co-founder and I were building. The idea behind the original app was like, throw up a phone number on twitter if you were stuck in traffic and have a chat with one of your followers. Kind of a weird type of ad hoc office hours thing. But we realized that in order to post your phone number to twitter, you had to use a different number because you probably didn’t want to expose your real number to the internet in that way. We built Burner as a solution to that problem, but realized that the main thing our early users were talking about was that feature. So we built out Burner as a quick prototype and have been refining it ever since. We’ve been quiet for a bit, but we’re really excited about our upcoming releases, which reflect some hard work by a number of people that will hopefully get people rethinking what the phone number can be.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented what have attributed to Burner's success?
We’ve been very focused on our customers and the consumer market, so we haven’t spent the majority of our time doing business development. I see a lot of opportunity for us there, and we have explored (and are exploring) a lot of opportunites. But at this point, I think our success has been mostly attributed to focusing on and refining our product.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Well, I think the main thing we’re seeing is that people are starting to become frustrated with the lack of control they have over their digital lives. That can be partly attributed to the NSA data collection fiasco, or confusing privacy settings on Facebook. But I think it’s a general sense or awareness that maybe we’ve collectively given up too much control of this stuff, and want some way to reign it in a bit. I think what we’re doing is giving people the ability to more effectively and transparently manage their communications. Our real goal is to take this thing - the phone number - and update it to reflect the problems that people are really having today, and privacy is certainly wrapped up in that. I think we’re also seeing this trend of unbundling - where people are taking their private photos for example, and taking them off of Facebook and into some system that they perceive to be more private or less permanent.
How can people maintain more privacy in this digital area?
I think we need more services that educate us about our data. At this point for most people, going off the grid isn’t really an option, and it’s probably safe to say if your data is just hanging out there it’s not totally safe. I think we need a more pragmatic approach, and I think it falls to developers to make sure people don’t just skim their terms of service and have the tools available to them to remove data just as easily as they can add it. This is something we’re thinking a lot about.
One of my favorite bike racers is this guy Jens Voigt who is best known for just putting his body through crazy pain to support the leader of his team. His catchphrase is “Shut up, legs,” which I like to think can be extrapolated to just about anything.
Your greatest success as founder of Burner/AdHoc Labs? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
I guess the big success for me is getting the opportunity to build something that a lot of people use every day. Maybe that’s not a success but I think it’s really cool. When we launched the app initially we were bootstrapping and had no money. We were just hoping that like, more than 100 people downloaded it on the first day. Our goals are a lot bigger than that now, but it’s satisfying to deal with a different set of problems.
I think I would categorize the biggest difficulty as just dealing with the constant barrage of smaller difficulties that make you just want to say fuck this, I’m going home and going to bed. The big difficulties are easier to deal with because they are less existential, or maybe have more clear solutions. I’m not sure I’ve overcome anything yet, but I find that getting outside and trying to clear my head of stuff every day helps. Petting dogs.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Cliché, but don’t do it unless you really are excited about the product / service. There are far more lucrative and less taxing ways to earn a living… Also, don’t move to San Francisco - build your company on your own terms.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Unfortunately books for me at this point are purely aspirational. There’s a quote somewhere I heard from Warren Zevon, which is that (heavy paraphrasing) buying books is really just trying to buy the time to read them.
Most frequented websites on your browser?
Deadspin, Pitchfork, The Verge.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Anything my dad makes, and probably a pint of this local beer called Populist.
Role model - business and personal?
Business: Yvon Chouinard / Dolly Parton
Personal: Rotates depending on what the last sports movie I watched was. So Roy Hobbs.
The Dodgers lost in the 1st round of the playoffs this year, so I’ll most likely spend too much time and energy rooting against all the other teams.
What's next for Burner/AdHoc Labs?
We’ve got some really cool stuff coming up that we’ve been working hard on all summer. Our team is really clicking, and we’re just going to keep our heads down and try get people thinking about what the future of the phone number is.
Burner is the privacy layer for the smartphone era, giving users the power to take control of their communications and personal data.
Enabling users to obtain and manage additional phone numbers for voice and SMS communications, Burner is fast, safe, and private. Burner lets users get as many numbers as they want, use each as a private line on and iPhone or Android phone, and keep numbers indefinitely or "burn" numbers when they no longer need.
Burner is made by Ad Hoc Labs, Inc., a fast-growing startup based in Los Angeles, California. Our team is passionate about the idea that real-time communications should be more socially aware and privacy oriented, and we believe Burner is just the beginning.