Kurt is a leading expert in disruptive technology and uncovering authentic demand. He is a hardworking and high energy individual fueled by his passion to help people accelerate their growth. Kurt’s recognized track record as a successful serial (and parallel) entrepreneur, angel investor, and strategic advisor allows him to help spectacular companies reach their next stage of growth.
He is the lead inventor of disruptive technologies in 4 industries, including being recognized by leading publications such as TechCrunch for three foundational patents covering Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps, check-in/location services (e.g. Foursquare, Facebook, etc.), and location-based advertising. In addition, Kurt co-founded Sideqik – one of the first influencer marketing platforms. When he isn’t working his normal 75 hour work weeks, you can find him with his wife in Roswell, Georgia or out on a trail off-roading.
Family of Grinders with Unrealistic Expectations
Sitting was never an option for Kurt. Growing up with a father that slept only a few hours each night and who worked for Bell Labs (the Apple/Amazon/Tesla of their day that had their hand in the most important inventions of the 20th century), Kurt was regularly woken up at 3am to work on a project or go on a “field trip”. While his father brought technology into the house and fed Kurt’s curiosity, his mom set the pace for work. She grew up picking cotton in northern Alabama to pay for her school clothes before becoming an orthopedic nurse, so when there was work to be done, Kurt learned “you don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done”. Each new accomplishment simply became the new “norm” and became the new expected level of effort.
Early Hacker and Hustler
It was all over when Kurt’s father brought home an Apple IIgs when he was 11. They had recently moved to Guntersville, Alabama, and Kurt had been spending every minute he could on Redstone Arsenal (38,300 acres Army installation housing NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command, the Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense, and a number of DOD contractors) with his father. With the Apple IIgs at home, he began coding his first computer games and quickly moved onto hacking every system he could find access to.
He soon discovered business, which kept him distracted from too much trouble. At 13, Kurt realized he could hire his friends to do the landscaping he had contracted with neighbors for, so much like coding, it became an exercise in risk/reward and scaling that he extended to several other businesses he started during high school. In college, Kurt founded Clear Vision to 1) sell websites and hosting to insurance offices, lawyers, and financial planners and 2) consolidate some coding projects he ran as side-hustles. A few clients became dozens, which soon became hundreds, generating thousands of dollars of free-cash-flow every month.
Screw the Money
Kurt finished college, with a Master of Financial Engineering degree, as well as being the founder of a fast-growing e-commerce company, with several banks/investment houses courting him to bridge the gap between the tech side and executive offices. One phone call changed that. A retained search firm reached out and convinced him to take an interview with former R&D house of Philips Electronics, called Navigation Technologies (then NAVTEQ, now HERE). The company had recently hired Judson Green (former President of Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts, and CFO of The Walt Disney Company) as their new CEO, and their Chief Strategy Officer Salahuddin Khan was looking for a particular type of person to join his team. The offer was significantly less than every other option on the table, but Salahuddin painted a great opportunity to touch technology in automotive, mobile, government, and dozens of other industries.
That single phone call accelerated Kurt’s non-linear career path. Thanks to a handwritten note in his employment contract allowing him to continue working with his holding company, Kurt stayed for 10+ years, through their successful $880M IPO in 2004 and ultimate $8.1B sale to Nokia in 2008. He left as the lead inventor on 13 US and International patents, which have been licensed by companies such as Google, Facebook, and many others, an accredited investor in dozens of startups, successful founder in several outside ventures, and known business leader across multiple industries.
Time to go “all in” on life
From the outside, a former college athlete that was quickly climbing the corporate ladder while working internationally, having started, exited, and invested in a handful of bootstrapped and VC-funded startups, you could say Kurt had made it, but he felt empty inside and says he was “living a life fully devoted to himself”. That began to change with the help of a good friend named Chris, a mentor named Don, and several new friends at Moody Church that met him where he was and walked with him through some tough times.
In 2010, Kurt moved to Atlanta to join the small team at Vitrue (later acquired by Oracle for $300+M). That move was one of the major steps in Kurt’s life to “match my vision with action”. “I really believe we are all called to be stewards of the time, skills, and money we’ve been given. A steward acts in the best interest of another. That’s why my wife and I are so intentional about who we work with and what we work on.” It’s also one of the reasons Kurt is so active in helping develop and scale companies – it combines his passion for technology with the ability to accelerate the growth of individual leaders.
Kurt’s always wanted to know how things work and why some great technology is never adopted by the masses. He has a unique ability to see relationships between needs, actions, and seemingly disparate technologies – and how they will converge years from now. “I’ve been blessed with some great opportunities and teams that have let us create some awesome technology in spatial data, autonomous vehicles, video gaming, social media, advertising, and a few others I can’t talk about publicly yet. The key for me has been to always listen to everyone and to learn the different styles of innovation around the world. New ideas, like leadership, can come from anyone at any level – a true leader simply assembles everyone’s ideas and makes sure people feel valued for helping the team succeed.”
Kurt started with Flashpoint at Georgia Tech in 2012. “We created some incredible technology at Navteq but what I learned was that early on, good ideas and bad ideas both look very similar. While working on dozens of new ventures from our skunkworks and acquisitions, all of the ideas looked like good ideas at the start, and the winners didn’t emerge until we spent significant resources on them. What intrigued me about being asked to mentor at Flashpoint at Georgia Tech was the ideas that we could improve the success rate by finding authentic demand before writing any code. I’d estimate that Flashpoint has saved the 70+ companies that have gone through the program at least 18 months. That’s huge for not just investors but also the early stage employees that are digging in early on”. In the past 5 years, Kurt has become known as a leading product visionary and expert on the speed of change in technology. He has traveled coast-to-coast talking to organizations and advising high-growth companies on what he calls “Tsunami Innovation” and how to thrive in the age of disruption.
Push the Limits
“Push the limits is an understatement. He’s been a college athlete in three sports, stuntman, certified alligator handler, and member of both the high-angle and scuba rescue teams with the rescue squad.”, says his wife Valerie. Even when on the fast-paced team at Navteq, Kurt moonlighted for years training with stuntmen/women to work in movies and commercials. He is known for his fight choreography and skills handling alligators.
In one of his talks, Kurt said “I think most of us far underestimate what we can do in the medium-to-long run. Every time I’ve ever gone through a crunch period, I realize that I hadn’t really been working to the level I was capable of. It kind of resets what’s normal. You have to push yourself; you have to run after your destiny, and you have to surround yourself with people that move at a faster pace than you’re used to.”
For years, Kurt got up at 4 am to hit the gym and run. In high school, he started winning almost every race around his small hometown, but his father, Kent, knew he could go faster. Kent found the running coach that trained Olympic runner Steve Spence and prepaid for the first few months of training. That changed Kurt’s pace, not just for track but also for life. Kurt continued his love of running cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track at Vanderbilt and believes that molded him for running companies.
“There is a reason we see so many former college athletes around high-growth companies. The NCAA estimates that only 1.0% of HS participants do so at the Division I level and even less receive scholarships/subsidies to do so. The success rates for early-stage companies raising their first venture capital round is very similar, and for most, it takes a consistent, fast-paced effort over a long time to reach that milestone as well as make it to revenues in the hundreds of millions.” That pace and consistent effort are some of the reasons Kurt frequently chooses to work with leaders that have a history of (healthy) obsession – athletes, musicians, stunt performers, those with crazy hobbies that have taken years (or decades) to master.
Kurt brings a track-record of surgically and strategically helping technology and leadership companies scale services and products – especially in the digital and SaaS arenas. His background includes executive and operational work in SaaS, marketing technology, spatial data, automotive, mobile, and (video) gaming around the world.
Founded Extremely-Sharp (1997). ES was a fast-growing e-commerce leader in edged weaponry, self-defense supplies and martial arts equipment. From their press release in 2007, “What started out 10 years ago on a small budget has grown into a business far exceeding anyone’s expectations.”
Founded ClearVision in 1999. Acquired by a hosting company in 2006. ClearVision began as an informal business venture selling websites and hosting. The business grew to several hundred clients, generating thousands of dollars of free-cash-flow each month.
Founded Technology Suits in 2005. Acquired by AOL in 2008, a few months before the stock market crash in September. Kurt and a small team built an online magazine offering business views and interviews on technology, gaming, mobile games, mobile devices, research, and statistics. The company wrote a curation engine that caught the attention of AOL corporate development executives and led to a small acquisition for the IP and developers.
Joined NAVTEQ in 2000. $880 million IPO in 2004, and 2008 $8.1 billion sale to Nokia. Kurt was on the front lines at NAVTEQ where they defined the spatial and location-based industries and led to the core data driving the autonomous vehicle wave. During his tenure leading competitive strategy and business affairs at Navteq, annual revenue grew from $80 million to more than $1.4 billion. In addition, he also led the global skunkworks teams resulting in:
- Changes to how video games are built: Kurt and some coworkers originally started a small informal effort to enter the gaming industry. Thanks to CEO Judson Green giving Kurt the flexibility to run with the effort “as long as he kept up his day job and kept it secret”. Their team invented a large amount of technology that has changed how many companies build video games, both for AAA titles and rapid prototyping. One industry exec claimed using the game factory they created with Navteq data would “save us 40% – 50% on total development expenses”. During Kurt’s tenure, he oversaw the business relationships of the new effort into Microsoft Gaming (among others) resulting in the complete change to how the company built Flight Simulator X and all versions since. Click here for some of the technical data on the new game environments if interested. Some of the related patents include US7967678 (Computer game development factory) and US7828655 (Application programming interface for geographic data in computer games).
- A fundamental shift in how companies collect spatial data: NAVTEQ (now HERE) previously spent hundreds of millions of USD on field teams and remote data to create their core asset (spatial data with 250+ attributes per road segment and millimeter level accuracy) around the world. When Google entered the space, they spent an estimated $300M in 18 months to collect only a portion of the road network in the US and Canada. Kurt and team saw a new way to collect the data encouraging end-users with game mechanics and non-monetary incentives to collect a large portion of the data. Since then, the technology they invented and patented has been used by companies like Waze, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Facebook (in check-ins), Instagram, Twitter, and others, where it is quickly becoming the backbone for the data driving much of the autonomous vehicle industry. Some of the related patents include US7628704 and US8070608.
- Targeting advertising based on a user’s location. This seems so fundamental today but Kurt and his friends Chris and Matt were stuck on an idea they were working on. There was not a system to easily correlate a user’s location to demographic information on them. To solve that need, his team created the infrastructure to tie the location information with information on a user. Their work has been called “fundamental to location targeting and location-based advertising” throughout the industry and has unlocked a new level of personalization for advertising and overall experiences related to a user’s location. See patents: US7092964 and EP1376058B1.
- Changes to how scenes for movies and television are created: After digging in with some heavyweights in the gaming industry, Kurt and team circled back on their technology to apply it to how CGI (and other) software creates environments for movies and television. You’ve seen the industry adopt their ideas and use spatial data from GIS and navigation as the basis for accelerating how the studios build environments. See patent US7921136.
- Pioneer in mobile gaming and location-based games: Kurt’s been credited as the “father of location-based games”. His previous gaming work combined with his deep relationships in wireless allowed him to see where the industry was heading. His work with early-stage gaming companies to expand LBG led him to be asked to be the Chairperson & Co-Founder of International Game Developers Association (IGDA)’s Mobile Game Dev SIG. Kurt’s team laid the foundation that others continued to the launch of Pokeman Go, and they created a new category in the gaming industry.
Joined Vitrue in February 2011. Acquired by Oracle in June 2012. Kurt joined the small team at Vitrue that had worked with Facebook to create the APIs (with Buddy Media) that literally created social media management, led to the creation of Facebook Pages, and created a new form of communication for brands around the world. The Vitrue SRM collectively managed more than one billion social relationships in over 100 countries. Kurt came in to lead emerging products and was promoted after seven months, the launch of a new product, and the successful acquisition of GamesThatGive. He later owned all outside non-sales relationships, including the company’s work with Adobe, Salesforce.com, Mircosoft, and Oracle.
Founded Sideqik, one of the first influencer marketing platforms. Kurt and Jeremy Haile joined the new Flashpoint at Georgia Tech cohort and worked for the next two years to create a company (originally called Buzztastic). The two bootstrapped the company for almost two years. Kurt assembled the initial team and oversaw the first three years of operations, including raising $1M capital raise from Bee Partners, Rincon Venture Partners, and a group of prominent angel investors.
Board/advisor roles and consulting: From his early days leading high-angle rescue in Alabama with the rescue squad to ultra-competitive environments he’s worked in, Kurt’s been described as a “born operator”, “someone that triages well”, and “he thrives leading in environments where things just HAVE to get done”. Kurt’s been blessed to work with dozens of high-growth startups to help shape their team and raise capital, consulted on innovation with enterprises, and has been an active speaker on disruptive technology and leadership. He’s also been asked to mentor and advisor thousands of leaders, from startup founders to corporate leaders to the President of the United States.
Sabbatical and the next wave: Kurt’s not one to typically “rest”, so after leaving Sideqik he took almost 16 months to focus on intentionally resting, helping a few portfolio companies, and spending time with his wife Valerie. He also worked with a small team to raise a round of capital in the IoT and logistics space and was named an inventor on another patent application around the companies solutions.
Looking for a professional bio for Kurt? Please check LinkedIn or MAM’s website.