When we’re young, there are many things that capture our imaginations. Often times, it is only temporary. For Alex Payne, it’s been far from temporary. When his friend’s father brought home an early laptop when he was a kid, it immediately captured his imagination, spurring an interest in technology for years to come.
“It was neat to play games on, but I found everything about it captivating: the boot process, the look and feel of the machine, etc. After that it was a progression of being around increasingly more powerful/flexible computers and trying to see what I could make them do.”
Alex started his career path earlier than most, receiving his first internship at the age of 12. When college came around, Alex studied computer science and political science at UMBC in Maryland. From there, Alex built web tools to help campaigns and non-profits before moving on to start work for a military contractor. As one can expect, this type of environment can contain some very high-pressured work, but also can be an incredible the learning experience.
“If I learned anything, it’s that a motivated attacker will always get what they want. All you can do is be ready for when your defenses are breached and try to respond calmly and effectively. Defensive information security will always be playing catch-up to the offensive side.”
Alex ended up joining the early Twitter team in 2007, after seeing a blog post by its Co-Founder, Evan Williams. He spent many nights working on Twitter’s API, which eventually blossomed into a whole team, which he led. His final months were spent working with their infrastructure team on system projects like people search. Being at Twitter in the early days, Alex certainly saw the company culture grow and change.
“Twitter grew up a lot in the time I was there. It was crazy and fun in the early days, but that chaos came with some costs. In order to grow, they had to mature. That’s just how it goes.”
Alex eventually left Twitter, because he was ready for a change and likes working with early-stage companies. At that point, Twitter was around 150 people strong.
His next venture was Simple, the company reinventing personal banking, where he was the Co-Founder and CTO. He attributes the real credit for Simple to Josh and Shamir, the CEO and CFO respectively, who spent several months working on the business prior to speaking with Alex. I asked Alex if he believes that Simple can create a shift in the way consumers view banking in the US.
“It’s not so much changing the way people view banking as changing the way banks view people. People know what they want from their banks, but the banks are listening to their shareholders, not their customers. I hope Simple resets the standards in the consumer banking market so that more people can put their money in institutions that treat them with respect and give them tools to be financially stable.”
Alex left Simple in July 2012 and spent the next several months wandering around. From Iceland to Berlin, Chicago, and Boston. A friend eventually called him up with an idea and they have been working on this company for the last several months. Alex mentioned that they’ll have more to share on this around June.
Alex was first introduced to Karma by Kate Ray, a friend of his. He was intrigued by the physical design, but the social sharing aspect really appealed to him. I asked him if he was able to experience the sharing features yet.
“Several times! It was great seeing those emails come in. I was in a coffee shop in Boston that’s notorious for being a great place to work, but lacking in Wi-Fi. Within minutes I had three or four people who’d hopped on. I felt guilty about turning my Karma off and leaving!”
He thinks open Wi-Fi is a great idea. On a hotspot level, it’s a “no-brainer.” As long as attention is being paid to security.
Look out for Alex’s new startup as they reveal more in the coming months! Follow Alex on Twitter and stay tuned for more info on his new venture.