Scott Lipsky has a long history in Seattle as an entrepreneur and investor who has led a number of startups and successful companies. It’s been five years since he launched his last company, and now he’s back with a fresh idea that he thinks will radically alter the way people communicate using digital messaging.
Townhouse Tech is the name of Lipsky’s new company, and he’s headquartered with a team of five in a townhouse that he owns a block off the West Seattle Junction.
“The name was literally just pulled out of the air the first day when I needed to create an account on Google,” Lipsky told GeekWire this week. “I just typed in Townhouse Tech and since that day the name just stuck. Everyone I mention the name to thought it was pretty cool and then I started hiring people and they’re like, ‘What’s wrong with Townhouse Tech?'”
So Lipsky did a search to see if the domain name was available and it was and he took it as a sign that he should stick with his first instinct. Furthermore, he thinks it’s a fun spin on a startup tradition.
“It’s a new take on the garage company or the garage startup,” Lipsky said. “Next-generation garage startup is what Townhouse Tech is and that’s really why people loved it.”
Lipsky knows that garage mentality all too well. He joined one of the world’s most famous companies to have started in that fashion when Jeff Bezos hired Lipsky as vice president of business expansion at Amazon in 1996. Lipsky played a leading role in the online retailer’s early growth.
From there, Lipsky went on to co-found Avenue A / Razorfish (aQuantive) and served as chief technology officer of the leading digital marketing technology and services company — which sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6 billion.
In 2003 he founded GalleryPlayer and in 2011 he launched PhotoRocket.
So what’s the big idea that has Lipsky excited about Townhouse Tech? He’s not ready to reveal all just yet, but he did share the overarching goal of the ambitious startup.
“We’re developing mobile apps and a cloud service that’s pretty much going to revolutionize the messaging, communication and collaboration experience for consumers and businesses,” Lipsky said. “It’s a really powerful cloud platform that will provide some really cool features for users as they’re composing messages and emails and other content. It’s something that everyone’s mother and brother is going to use at home and something that everyone’s coworker is going to use at work. And we’re going to make this platform available not only to our own users of our app, but it’s also going to be available to business partners to enable their users of their apps and their services to have the same great benefit.”
It sounds cool, but clearly anyone who has touched a computer or a phone knows there are already a host of different ways with which we can communicate with one another. Lipsky said it’s not about being the must-have new messaging app — it’s about features his service will provide.
“We’re not trying to compete with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp,” Lipsky said, to name a couple. “What we’re trying to do is create some features that people will use while they’re text messaging. So we’re not trying to come out with an app to compete with every other app in the world.”
Lipsky said the goal is for his features to be available wherever people are typing any type of content on a computer — or thumbing content on mobile phones. He said he wants to help make content more useful and more informative and enhance the communication that people have with one another.
Right now he’s bootstrapping the project himself with a plan to launch the platform and the apps sometime in the summer of 2017. Lipsky said handling the funding frees him up to focus his time on building the technology and the business rather than raising money from angel investors.
“After we launch in the summer and after we prove that the technology and the business plan and the business model work as we predict, we will be going out for a venture round at that time,” Lipsky said, adding that he has had a few local investors express interest at this early stage and that they could possibly come aboard during the development phase.
The product and service won’t carry the Townhouse Tech name. It will have an “entirely different and very cool name and brand” to be revealed closer to launch, Lipsky said.
Right now, the five-person company is Lipsky, two engineers, and two startup vets who are handling the business side.
He said he’s currently hiring backend engineers to develop the cloud service as well as a director of technology. He figures the company will grow to nine or 10 employees to get to launch and will then grow from there as the business grows — and outgrows the townhouse.
On the company website, an add for software engineers says, “You will play an essential role in our Backend-as-a-Service engineering practice, implementing a world-class cloud service that will be providing content/context services to tens of millions of simultaneous users.”
Lipsky said a lot has changed in five years in Seattle in regard to attracting people to tech jobs like those he’s advertising.
“The city has changed so much when it comes to the growth and the recruiting,” Lipsky said. “Luckily, there are still plenty of people out there who want to work at startups and want to be at a small company and want to take much more ownership and be more relevant and have a bigger impact. I found four great ones so far.”
Lipsky’s former boss Bezos and the wave of hiring his giant company is doing plays a part in what Lipsky has to contend with — but not because they’re going after the same worker necessarily.
“Trying to get our job descriptions and get the fact that we’re hiring above the noise of 8,000 jobs at Amazon has been quite interesting,” Lipsky said. “That being said, if you’re looking for a job at Amazon, you’re probably not looking for a job at a startup. At least there’s still a community of people who want to work with entrepreneurs or who are entrepreneurial, and there are still engineers who really prefer to be in a smaller group and have a much more direct, bigger impact.”
When asked whether Townhouse Tech has a ping pong table like any other startup in town, Lipsky laughed.
“No, but there is a hot tub on the roof.”