Beyond The Cloud

 

Beyond The Cloud

How UVU helped the creator of Space Monkey change the face of data storage

By Layton Shumway
UVU Magazine, Fall 2013 

"I gotta ask ... 
what's this Space Monkey thing?"

That was the question UVU student and entrepreneur Clint Gordon-Carroll found himself answering over and over at a venture capital conference in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2011. The night before, Gordon-Carroll had told his co-worker and business partner, Alen Peacock, that the registration for the conference required a company name, and they didn't have one yet.

"Just call it First Space Monkey," Peacock said. "We can change it later."

"That sounds ridiculous," Carroll said. "I'll shorten it to Space Monkey, but that's it. We need to come up with something else."

Fate had other ideas. "They printed off my badge, and the name of the company was bigger than anything else on that badge," Gordon-Carroll says. "I kept trying to flip the badge over to hide it, but it didn't work."

After a few minutes, he stopped trying. Businesspeople, investors and venture capitalists at the conference couldn't help asking about "this Space Monkey thing." That gave Gordon-Carroll opportunities to pitch his idea: a new solution in digital data storage that went beyond the traditional idea of "cloud" computing.

"When I got home, I called Alen and told him two things," Gordon-Carroll says. "One: The name has stuck. And two: Our pitch is awful."

Laying a 
Foundation

Years before he started the company that would bear that strange name, Gordon-Carroll began laying the groundwork for a career of innovation. Technology was in Gordon-Carroll's blood; after an internship at Microsoft in 1997 and a two-year church mission in Salt Lake City, he returned to Microsoft for a full-time job. Gordon-Carroll then followed his father's footsteps to UVU.

"My father attended this school when it was still Utah Technical College," Gordon-Carroll says. "He took classes in computer programming, even worked night jobs to make extra money. The education he got here led to him getting a job at Novell, when they only had 20 or so employees."

Like his father, the knowledge Gordon-Carroll gained from his UVU classes allowed him to find employment at Novell and work his way through school.

"I learned so much that the company kept moving me around in different positions," Gordon-Carroll says. "It was a great way to gain experience."

For all his background in technology, though, Gordon-Carroll had other interests. He began his UVU career studying not computers, but political science. He even took a two-year sabbatical from college to work as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but found it difficult to make progress without a law degree.

Leaving Washington, Gordon-Carroll returned to UVU to reevaluate his options. He credits many of his professors, including Peter Robinson of the Woodbury School of Business and Rick Griffin, director of the Center for Constitutional Studies at UVU, with guiding him through his choices.

"My professors took a tremendous amount of time to help me with my options, to make sure I wasn't going in blind," Gordon-Carroll says. "I was given all the resources to make the right decisions."

Between his professors and his own eclectic interests, Gordon-Carroll began crafting a unique curriculum for himself, mixing his political science classes with computers and technology, design and even human resources.

Meanwhile, he found employment at a range of high-tech companies in Utah, including a data storage service provider. After spending a few years with each company, he and his co-worker Alen Peacock noticed a flaw in the data-storage marketplace: companies who offered unlimited storage space were raising prices to keep up with their increasing costs. Peacock, who previously worked at MIT's Lincoln Labs, figured a cheaper technological solution might be the answer.

"It started to cost too much to store data," Gordon-Carroll says. "And we looked at it and thought we could do some innovative things to work around that."

The problem with storing data in the cloud, Gordon-Carroll explains, is that data centers — centralized locations where hundreds of server computers sit stacked on top of each other — cost a great deal of money. They have to be kept cool and secure and require a lot of energy.

However, Gordon-Carroll and Peacock realized, if each storage device they sold could act as a miniature data center and share its computing power with other devices on the same network, those costs could come down significantly.

"We wanted each one of our devices to not only store your own data locally, but to collect the encrypted tiny little pieces onto it," Gordon-Carroll says. "We wanted to make a cheaper, more reliable data center, but without the data center."

Finding 
a Linchpin

Their idea was sound; their name was catchy. But, as Gordon-Carroll and Peacock quickly found out after that first conference in Palo Alto, their skill at pitching the idea was lacking. And before they could proceed with their venture, they'd need funding from investors — and the two didn't know any.

Fortunately, their presence in Palo Alto caught the attention of venture capitalist and tech blogger Jason Calacanis, who wanted to meet with Gordon-Carroll and Peacock. Trouble was, he was in Las Vegas the night he contacted them before heading to Europe for several weeks. If they wanted Calacanis' feedback, they'd have to meet him that night.

"Alen's daughter was having major surgery, so he couldn't go," Gordon-Carroll says. "So I jumped in the car and drove down to Vegas to meet with Jason."

Calacanis was enthusiastic about the young team's concept, and he directed Gordon-Carroll to set up a profile on AngelList, a social networking site for venture capitalists and investors, and add him as an adviser to their project. Suddenly, Space Monkey had the attention of dozens of potential investors.

"Jason was the linchpin," Gordon-Carroll says. "All of a sudden, instead of knowing one or two possible investors, we knew 150. He was monumental in getting us those introductions."

Introductions weren't enough, though. Before putting up any money, the investors wanted to see a prototype — proof that Space Monkey could deliver on its potential. After a few months, despite their newfound connections, Gordon-Carroll and Peacock found themselves at a breaking point.

Gordon-Carroll's wife, Ambrie, informed him that their bank balance had run out, and he'd have to go tell his partner that he needed to find other employment, at least part time. Gordon-Carroll steeled himself for the task, but when he arrived at the company's Orem offices, he couldn't go through with it.

"That whole day was miserable," he says. "I could not do it. When I got home, I just wanted to break down and cry."

Ambrie assured him that things would be all right, that they had a few more months to work with.

"Wait — how do we have a few more months?" Gordon-Carroll asked her. "I thought we were broke."

Ambrie held up her left hand.

Her wedding ring was missing. She'd sold it that day.

"Huge sacrifice. She's absolutely amazing," Gordon-Carroll says. "And I didn't ever tell Alen until we got funded. It's a badge of honor for her now."

We Have 
Liftoff

Newly motivated, Gordon-Carroll and Peacock set out to nail down responses from their list of potential investors. But investors remained unwilling to commit, at least, until they saw someone else do it first.

"Investors love to give you maybes," Gordon-Carroll says. "It's, 'Hey, as soon as you have a lead investor, give me a call.' We needed that first domino."

Frustrated with another round of non-committals, Gordon-Carroll approached his father-in-law.

"I told him, 'Look, we just need one investor, and everything will take off." And he just said, 'Great! I'll send you a check!'" Gordon-Carroll says. "We said, 'No, we want to get something
on paper and do this officially.' But two days later, a FedEx envelope showed up with a $50,000 check inside."

Gordon-Carroll updated Space Monkey's AngelList profile with the new funds. The next day, they got a Skype message from venture capitalist and former Yahoo executive Ash Patel. He was in.

"He said, 'I'm so sorry we haven't called you guys back. But we'd like to invest. It's not a big amount, but we'll put in $100,000,'" Gordon-Carroll says. "And we went nuts. Alen was in the bathroom as I started screaming, and he dashed out and asked what was going on. And I yelled, 'We just got a hundred grand!'"

In a matter of days, that hundred grand turned into seven. After demoing their product at the 2012 LAUNCH Festival, a Silicon Valley competition for technology startups, and taking the top prize, the biggest investor of all came on board: Google, who placed $2.5 million into the young company.

Space Monkey had blasted off.

Building the Product

Now that the young company had its funding, it had to deliver. Fortunately, Gordon-Carroll's time at UVU had prepared him well. He is Space Monkey's CEO, but he serves in a multitude of other roles, too — he does all the hiring and human resources work, manages the office space, handles legal issues, works with the media, and more. He points to the wide variety of classes he took at UVU, from political science to computer science to business management and more, as the source of his versatility.

"The programs at Woodbury encourage creativity and innovation, while grounding students in theory and real-world management," Gordon-Carroll says. "This unique approach gives students like me the freedom to create successful careers while still in school. My personal education and career paths have not been typical of most college students, but that's precisely why UVU worked so well for me. I came to UVU because I knew what I wanted. I wanted an education that I could immediately put into practice."

Even the classes that didn't directly apply to business or entrepreneurship have been invaluable, Gordon-Carroll says.

"I can't tell you the number of business decisions I make every single day where I have to be objective and not leap to one side or the other," Gordon-Carroll says. "Dr. Griffin taught me that. I'm able to stop and say, what's the right thing? How do we look at this objectively?"

With that wisdom, Gordon-Carroll has helped Space Monkey grow to more than 15 employees, while establishing production contracts in China and officially launching the company's unique data storage devices in early August 2013. The company also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise even more cash and allow more than 3,000 customers to preorder the product.

"It's fun to see that happening," Gordon-Carroll says. "We're slowly growing. We've built something that's unique and that nobody's built before."

Space Monkey still has plenty to do after its first product launch — the company is working on mobile apps, browser clients, and they've got lots of ideas for using their technology in the future — but Gordon-Carroll isn't through with UVU yet. He's currently enrolled in classes this semester, and he's happy to share his expertise with other UVU students by giving guest lectures in classes and maintaining an open-door policy at his office for any student-entrepreneur. And he says UVU has given him other possibilities, too, including the school's own MBA program.

"Options are open to me because I've matured and learned to think," Gordon-Carroll says. "And UVU has given me that experience I couldn't have gotten anywhere else."