One of the interesting things about the tech world is how it attracts entrepreneurial people from wildly diverse backgrounds, often with interesting backstories. We spent an afternoon at the DUMBO Startup Lab to meet some of this hemisphere’s finest.
Nitai Bran and Roberto Cordon hail from the tropical capital of Guatemala City.
They met as computer science students at university and became friends, but soon after went their separate ways.
Bran got the entrepreneurial itch after he dropped out of college and became an apprentice to an arbitrage hustler who dealt in Star Wars toys, which were wildly popular in Guatemala around 2005. Every weekend he and the man would fly to Miami and rent an Econoline van with the seats taken out and hit every Toys ‘R’ Us from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, emptying the shelves of Star Wars toys and filling up the van. Then they’d fly back to Guatemala City and sell them for four times their cost, typically within a day or two.
Eventually, Bran got a job at a more conventional company. He rose quickly, and in just a few years became its chief operating officer. He took it upon himself to digitize the company’s finances, but his boss, who was advancing in age, had trouble following the digital data. Bran wrote a rudimentary program to create tables and graphs that were easy for his boss to read.
Cordon had moved to the United States and taken a job as an engineer in Orange County, Calif. One day in January of 2012, Bran showed up unannounced at his door and over the course of the next few days explained his idea for creating an easy-to-use business intelligence app for executives. The duo now work long days together in DUMBO and share an apartment in the Financial District. The app is called CogBI. Bran’s old boss was their first investor.
Brooke McIntyre started her project, Inked Voices, in October of last year after arriving in Brooklyn.
Originally from Richmond, Va., McIntyre worked for the last seven years in Durham, N.C., for a business-to-business supply chain services company. On the side she wrote poetry, and after the birth of her son Nolan, children’s stories. Writing is harder in practice than in theory, and she found herself taking online classes to improve at it.
“We had a critique group over email,” with the other members of the class, she said. “I liked the camaraderie and the honesty but it was a completely manual process and there wasn’t a shared place.”
So she made one. Inked Voices is a platform that lets writers run cloud-based critique groups.
She spends a lot of her free time with Nolan, and her younger daughter, Brynn. She said she and her husband, a doctor in Manhattan, are looking for a home with a backyard in Downtown Brooklyn.
Thad Allender is the founder of Graph Paper Press, a WordPress theme developer.
A photographer who’s worked for daily newspapers in Kansas as well as for USA Today, Allender wanted a custom theme for his online portfolio about six years ago. Non-plussed by the ones available on WordPress, he made a custom one for himself.
“I thought, ‘I’ll just create one and release it for free on my own photo website,'” he said. “And I got a massive traffic spike.”
He decided to make custom themes for his friends’ sites and eventually non-profits and businesses as well. His themes continued to grow in popularity, and over time he hired four people to help him run the company.
Eventually he was faced with a choice. USA Today was considering a dream opportunity for him: to go shoot the war in Iraq. Allender chose not to go and instead began growing his business full-time. Today, Graph Paper Press themes are used by more than 350,000 WordPress sites.