Det Ansinn is always looking for the next big thing.
In 2012, it was Google Glass. (He was at the Google I/O conference, where Bloomberg interviewed him about the new wearable technology.) Brick Simple’s now on the forefront of Glass development, making Glass applications for cars, healthcare and art.
“It’s fun to develop and create something, to figure out, ‘What’s the next thing? What’s the next opportunity?'” he said in a phone interview earlier this month.
Ansinn’s more-than-a-decade-old company is an anchor of the Philadelphia region’s broad tech scene, one that goes beyond city limits. He relocated Brick Simple from Dublin to Doylestown’s Main Street in 2011. Ansinn, 48, has a walking commute.
His staff of more than 30 are a mix of city and suburb dwellers (the Doylestown stop of SEPTA’s Regional Rail is close to Brick Simple HQ). He speaks highly of the “urban quality” of Doylestown, calling it an “asset.”
“Work is not just about the money,” he said. “It’s about all these other things that you have that build that quailty of life.”
We spoke to Ansinn about how he misspent his youth, Philly’s city/suburb divide and “the worst hobby ever.”
How’d you get your start in technology?
I first started coding in 1977, when I was six years old. This was before the home computer was a thing. My father was a business person and he would go into the office and take me along with him and I got to know and understand machines. We got one at home later in ’77 and I was writing code very early on. It was something that really appealed to me. A lot of my misspent youth was spent in a basement behind a keyboard writing applications and games.
One thing I like so much about writing software is that you can do so much behind a keyboard. My early professional work was at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster. It’s completely gone now. It was an R&D facility and I wrote software in support of that.
I went to Drexel and I worked 30 hours a week to pay my way through school. It became clear that my competency was software even though I got a degree in electrical engineering.
Tell us the Brick Simple creation story.
BrickSimple was something I started in 2002. It was a rough year to do a tech startup. I looked at it as a unique opportunity to build something new. Whenever you have an economic downturn it creates opportunity.
2002 was brutal for startups. 40 percent of people in IT left IT after the bubble burst. With that much bloodletting, it was time for people to step up, innovate. We were able to bring employees on board at a lower cost.
We built a platform — the BrickSimple Foundation Suite — that accelerated web app development. That was huge because everything was going offshore at the time. The platform made U.S. workers more efficient and cost effective. We were profitable mid-year 2002.
That was the engine for the company’s growth. We did a venture-backed exit in 2008 (Delaware-based, venture-backed Nayatek bought the BrickSimple Foundation Suite). That was well-timed for us because the iPhone had landed, which made a lot of things possible, and I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the boat. We were one of the first companies to have access to the iPhone SDK.
How did that happen?
In the early days of iPhone, they were pushing web apps. Apple had reached out to us directly because one of our apps (1337pwn) was one of the most popular web apps on the platform. (1337pwn Friends List was an app that allowed XBOX Live gamers to see what other gamers were playing online. It was the first of its kind and now it’s built into Microsoft and Sony’s offerings. In 2011, Galaxy4Gamers acquired 1337pwn.) That’s why iPhone seeded us access.
We were part of that mobile app development revolution.
We have a glorious belt of tech companies that are beyond the city line.
Tell us about a recent Brick Simple project that stood out to you.
David Datuna’s Viewpoint of Billions stands out because so many people got to touch it. The exhibit at the Smithsonian drew 23,000 people.
He asked his curators for someone who could create a [Google] Glass experience for his art. The premise is large sculptural works of art. As you stand in front of the piece, we give you a different audio and video that complements the piece [through Google Glass]. It’s also interactive. We developed software that could capture and record the user’s experience and post that on social media. It was unveiled at Art Basel in Miami and then moved to Lincoln Center and the Smithsonian.
You don’t often have opportunity to work with someone of his caliber.
It was a fun challenge of “How do we create something new?” With Viewpoint of Billions, you saw an increased level of engagement with the art. Technology was furthering this level of engagement.
What do you make of the city/suburb divide in the Philly region?
When I think about our region, it’s like people don’t realize that Mountain View is an hour away from San Francisco. We have a glorious belt of tech companies that are beyond the city line.
It's like people don't realize that Mountain View is an hour away from San Francisco.
I wish I could say [the city and the suburbs were] more integrated. We do our part in being involved in events in the city. There’s an inferiority complex that city centers have. Sometimes it can be so myopic. It’s not just a matter of where a city’s political and jurisdictional borders are.
We’re all part of this Philadelphia-area tech community. Like when someone is out in Silicon Valley and they’re driving an hour and a half to see another tech company. If you just count the tech companies within the city borders, Philadelphia seems OK. But when you look elsewhere, it’s very exciting.
You’re Council President in Doylestown. How’d you get into that?
I once described it as the worst hobby ever. Back in 2005, as Brick Simple was getting its footing, I looked at my own community and wanted to get more involved, so I ran for town council and have been serving as president since 2008.
You can champion your community. We’re one of the leaders when it comes to suburban governments using social media. We post our council agendas online. [Editor’s note: They just posted their preliminary 2015 budget, too.]
Local government moves so much more quickly than state or federal that it’s rewarding. You can see something happening, you can see it through. You can make those changes.
Is there a tech scene in Doylestown?
There’s actually a scene within the city center now. We’re sharing a building with SparkDSG, a UI/UX firm. There’s also Mind Your Design, a design firm; MKJ Creative, a web dev firm; Sitecats, a web design and SEO firm and Immersion IT, a web design firm, all within the same block.
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