“10 Minutes With…” is a blog series where I get to promote old friends, friends of friends, new people I have met and those who are doing cool and interesting things in Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota and the Midwest. The title of the series originates from me being
well known notorious for asking, “Hey, do you have 10 minutes for a quick call?” It’s never 10 minutes. It’s never a short call.
This edition is with Neal Tovsen… he is a long time coder, advisor, entrepreneur and volunteer. We briefly bumped into each other at Minnedemo during Twin Cities Startup Week but didn’t get a chance to get fully caught up. I start with some background (for you) questions and then to what I was wondering about with what he is doing now, learning more about “Fractional CTO” and where he has been hanging out.
What were your early days in technology like? Were you playing games, writing code?
I’ve always been fascinated by technology. My mother was a software engineer, and she taught me how to program in BASIC on an Apple III when I was about seven years old. But though I played games on computers and consoles, I really wasn’t particularly interested in computers through high school.
I went to Hamline University for physics and engineering, and I’d been using the early tools on the Internet for various things. But when the first Web browsers came out, I was hooked. I worked with the school to develop a new major around how people use technology, weaving elements of traditional computer science with things like mass/interpersonal communications, information technology, and other relevant majors. And the rest is history.
Tell me about your career so far… where have you been and what have you worked on?
The first dozen years or so of my career were in “enterprise” software engineering. I built software for companies like 3M, GE Power, Siemens, and other large corporations, both as an employee and as a consultant. My experience spans many industries, but much of what I did revolved round either industrial machine data networks (i.e. power grids, trucking fleets, etc) or how companies buy things (payments, procurement, supply chain, expense management, etc).
In 2009, I decided I wanted to try building my own product/company, and started what became TelemetryWeb, a cloud platform for industrial machine data and the Internet of Things. We had customers and revenue, but after three years we made the tough decision to shut it down. Even though we failed, it was an amazing experience. The tech start-up community taught me a ton about how products/businesses are created, changed the way I look at the world at a fundamental level, and connected me to a network of amazing people that I love to work with.
Almost immediately after we shut down TelemetryWeb, I co-founded Apruve, a payment platform for B2B e-commerce. I stepped away from the company in 2015 to focus on my family, but this was another amazing experience. I’m very grateful that my friends still work there and the company continues to grow.
My favorite part about being a tech nerd is that my skills are applicable to almost any company in almost any industry. So while I’ve developed deep subject matter expertise in some key industries, I’ve had the opportunity to gain experience across dozens of industries.