Seattle startup veteran Dan Shapiro vowed after college that he’d never go into the software business, even though his dad was a computer science professor. Instead, Shapiro — who put himself through Harvey Mudd College by building amplifiers, speakers and laser shows that he used to DJ parties — wanted to build tangible things.
As fate would have it, Shapiro landed at Microsoft after college, and he later went on to create two software companies: Ontela (sold to Photobucket) and Sparkbuy (sold to Google).
But the mechanical and electrical engineer’s passion remained building things, something that reawakened for him when he created the hit kid’s board game Robot Turtles last year.
Now, Shapiro has partnered with two Seattle area startup veterans on a new company called Glowforge, an integrated hardware and software upstart whose mission is to “make it easier to make things.”
I first heard about Shapiro’s stealthy startup earlier this month, and at least one outsider whose familiar with the plans says it is pretty cool stuff with an amazing team behind it.
For now, Shapiro isn’t saying much about the concept.
However, the entrepreneur is assembling a powerful team to help him out, which includes co-founders Tony Wright (founder of RescueTime, Jobby and CubeDuel) and Mark Gosselin (founder and former CTO of Cequint). Yes, Wright is back in Seattle after hanging in Silicon Valley where he attempted to build the mobile travel startup Tomo and noted how financing deal terms are far better for startups.
Wright is heading up product, while Gosselin — who Shapiro calls a “quiet legend” in Seattle’s tech ranks — is serving as CTO.
Backers of Glowforge — which raised $500,000 in angel financing in the past two weeks — include Wetpaint founder Ben Elowitz, KISSmetrics founder Hiten Shah, director of open source at Google Chris DiBona and former Swype CEO Mike McSherry. A major VC round is slated for early next year.
Interestingly, I bumped into Wright and Shapiro a few months ago outside of the old Makerhaus maker space in Fremont, and started wondering what the entrepreneurs were up to.
Glowforge appears to be the result.
Shapiro said his love of hardware was rekindled after building the Robot Turtles board game, which has sold more than 100,000 copies to date. He started to advise the Highway1 accelerator with his friend Brady Forrest, traveling to Shenzhen with one of the classes to watch startups manufacture products. He also started working with Navdy, a company manufacturing a heads-up display for cars.
“The whole experience left me with two thoughts,” Shapiro tells GeekWire. “First, that it’s absolutely magical to make real, tangible things, and I deeply miss doing that. Second, that it’s incredibly difficult to make things, and I would love to make that process more accessible to everyone. What if you didn’t need hundreds of hours of experience and training to create beautiful things? What if you could bring designs to life directly from your imagination? I looked at today’s slow, expensive, and plasticky 3D prints. Then I looked at the Replicators from Star Trek. I thought about what might sit between them.”
Shapiro said the company is now in growth mode, hiring electrical engineers and firmware engineers.
“We’re not ready to share exactly what we’re working on quite yet as we’re still doing customer research and making sure we really understand our market opportunity… but stay tuned,” he says.