My name is Pelle Braendgaard, I was born in 1970 in North Carolina, but grew up in Denmark. CV’s can be really boring at least to write, so I thought I would write an mini autobiography instead. It may not be less boring for you, but it was at least more fun writing.
I have always been interested in technology, business and the arts. I read like crazy when I was a kid. Loved comic books and my projects. I remember writing intricate plans for a tunnel from my back yard to the bahamas as an 8 year old and bringing a diagram of an eternity machine that surely would work to my science teacher when I was 10.
I grew up part Danish and part American. Never 100% of either one. I could never relate to neither baseball nor soccer. Never much liked pickled herring and couldn’t quite understand the fuss about lobsters either.
Growing up on the island of Bornholm I was one of the original hard core b-boys electric boogying in the town square and otherwise being cool. (Can anyone say Ali-G ?). Bigup to the South Central Rønne posse!
Beside my many projects I grew up with politics. My Dad was a social democrat. From a young boy I was out hanging posters up for elections and took an active part in the youth division until my business projects and travels turned me into an ardent libertarian. I spent 6 years very active in politics and had all manners of political posts on a national level in Denmark.
The slippery slope
My first “company” Mango Labs, was “founded” when I was 16 and in the US as a high school student for a year. It was not really a company but really a vehicle to fraudulently request free data sheets and manuals for micro processors from people like Texas Instruments and Motorola.
When I was 17 and back in Denmark my best friend Per and I started I.S.L.E. Systems I/S, which stood for Integrated Sound and Light Environment. We grew to 6 partners on the basic idea of developing a parallel multimedia computer based on the fantastic Transputer chip and these great new Field Programmable Gate Arrays from Xilinx.
During this time I read lots of books on marketing and strategy by people like Michael Porter, which got me very interested in entrepreneurship as a concept. The Danish entrepreneurs association saw it fit to send me to every damn young entrepreneurship conference they could find in Europe for a couple of years as they said we were the only young startup they knew about.
Many of my ideas about bootstrapping come from this period. I remember pitching to the only two VC funds (both semi public) that were in Denmark at the time. I’m amazed they gave us the time, but in the end we were just naive teenagers to them (in hindsight we were) and we learnt the religion of bootstrapping.
We had a 4 step product development program to finance us. We sold and created some pretty neat stuff to sell to pro musicians and reached prototype stage on some even neater stuff, we started seeing more opportunity in producing music for ourselves, so we dissolved I.S.L.E. Systems I/S and Per and I both quit Gymnasium (High school) to found our new music venture Groovy Grooves.
MTV here we come
We were going to write original tunes and take the world by storm , while bootstrapping ourselves up writing jingles and the like. Several cool people got involved including a fantastic singer. I managed to get ourselves a contract with Graeme Park’s Submission Records.
During all of this I was living at home, so bootstrapping is maybe stretching it a bit. In the summer of 1989 I moved into my own apartment and had to start actually paying bills. Groovy Grooves was a full-time job, which wasn’t paying any bills, so I decided to leave the business and start working. After a split Groovy Grooves members separately became the two fairly successful Euro Pop groups Cut’n’Move and Nice Device. Of course besides hanging out on stage and stuff I was not involved there any longer.
Paying the bills
After a short burst of reality working at Jacobs BBQ, I started pursuing my other passions working freelance as a graphic designer, programmer and seller for a large Amiga reseller in Denmark. I have pretty much been working freelance (with a few short “perm” positions since).
It was a lot of fun. I was doing database backed catalog publishing systems, POS Multimedia systems for trade shows and lots of other cool stuff, that all came in handy when the internet took off.
The Great Escape act 1
I immigrated to Denmark as a two year old and grew up in a multinational Danglish speaking household. This caused that I have never quite felt at home in any one place. I decided I had had enough of Denmark when I was 20 years old and moved to Cardiff, Wales on a whim without much savings. I picked Cardiff as London was way to expensive and I knew quite a few people in Cardiff from various crazy European Young Entrepreneurs schemes I had been involved with. I tried selling myself to various local companies for doing multimedia work, but in reality made most of my (very minor) earnings in the beginning from clients back in Denmark.
Eventually I got involved with a professional video services company who rented and serviced equipment to Wales fledgling tv and video industry. I freelanced with them doing training courses, installations, programming and odd jobs like lugging heavy as sh*t flight cases up 5 flights of stairs. As luck would have it I had signed up to study Computer Systems at Cardiff University. My course started the same month as this company went bust. I got my first insight into the results of creative bookkeeping by management, which gave me my first real insight into the importance of being a business not faking it.
It was great being a student. We had Internet in 1992, Cool hardware, fantastic library and lots of spare time. There just happened to be all the smaller annoyances like lectures, course work, exams and the like. I did manage to find time for all of this and in particular focus on this great thing called internet. My master plan was to work up a cool business, move to the Caribbean and get rich.
When I discovered this the new executable /usr/local/bin/mosaic I ran it to see what the hell it was. It changed my life. I was instantly addicted to the web. The only thing was that at that time I looked at it as nothing but a big hypertext database.
I wanted to create databases, to sell stuff and allow people to talk together just like in news groups. By 1993 I had started down the path of creating a internet based multimedia database browser for just this purpose. Mercifully after half a year or so my advisor told me I should read up on this new thing called CGI and a language called Perl. Within a week, I scrapped all my old code and began work on the CGI version of my tourist information database for the British Virgin Islands (you see all part of the master plan).
The first version was hosted on my university’s NCSA httpd web server. This was later migrated to the first beta test version of Apache. On the same server ran the first web based version of IMDB, which was all exciting. Unhappy with the two web forum applications I had discovered at that time, I also wrote CaribTalk, which later became TravelTalk . I created my own perl framework where I created customized sites for each island and partnered with local publishers.
My master plan was succeeding. I received a prize at graduation for the most innovative final year project and I managed to work a partnership deal with the British Virgin Islands tourist magazine Welcome to help fund my move to the Islands and provide me with sales support there.
Off to the Caribbean
So my BVI Tourist guide was sold and became BVI Welcome and about a week after the twin hurricanes of Marilyn and Luis I hit Tortola.
My plan was to be the Caribbean uber web master with CaribWeb . It was great fun. Nice beaches, cheap booze, sunshine and a monopoly. I managed to sign up a whole bunch of different hotels and other businesses. I thought it best to have a free listing, a $5pm listing and a $25pm home page (with free design).
Everyone was of-course also able to use the uncensored CaribTalk board to talk about the good and the bad of various hotels. I remember lecturing them to join in the forums themselves to enter in conversations with their customers. They pretty much learnt the Cluetrain manifesto within a couple of months. I did have several desperate phone calls from hoteliers complaining about stuff people said in the forums.
Tourist areas in the Caribbean can be very expensive places. Tortola is probably one of the most expensive of the lot. It felt like it was constantly an uphill battle. I always loved Jamaica, so I moved shop over there. The costs were lower and it was generally much more interesting for long term living. I ended up not staying too long as the constant emails from recruiters in the US started looking more and more tempting.
Dot Com USA!!!
In 1995 and 1996 everyone was talking about the internet. Fortunately for me, there were not that many people with actual hands on experience at the time. My first .com contract was as the corporate web master for AltaVista, which was then part of Digital (now HP). I learnt an awful lot about dismantling hype, creating really large scale web applications and most important corporate warfare. I discovered for example that you can easily create 100% dynamic database backed cgi based applications in Perl that scaled. Which is why I never really doubted that Rails could scale.
I did several interesting contracts throughout all of this and had many offers to join startups. After my experience with the BS machine at AltaVista, I politely declined most of them, while I carried on working on my own projects in my spare time. If someone whom I respected had come up to me with a good idea or business and wanted me involved, I probably would have taken the jump. However in that time almost everything was silly e-this, i-that type ideas, that never caught my attention.
Toolwise I moved more and more into the Java world. When J2EE hit the fan, I was ready and waiting to put it into practice.
Caribbean strike II
However I made a very serious mistake then, that I hope I now have learnt from. When you are a contractor it is very easy to get blinded by all the money you are making. This is fine for many people, but it’s a kind of dangerous addiction to many contractors with entrepreneurial ambitions. I was making lots of money then. But used almost all my time working for the clients. When you think of how much money you don’t make if you don’t go to work one day, you get obsessed. I was exhausted though and it was hard to get the time to do things right. I find it is sometimes easier and better creating microventures if you are working under a bit of pressure.
I finally did take time out with a good friend of mine to work on CorpFlow, which was an electronic offshore company registration and management system. I had a bunch of cool cypherpunkish ideas with it. I moved to St. Maarten to work on it, while doing remote work for clients in the states at the same time. Unfortunately by the time though we were heading into beta, the whole business of offshore companies changed virtually overnight due to new OECD rules and pressure from the UK government on their dependencies such as Anguilla, whom I worked closely with. We decided that it would best to drop the idea and work on something without government involvement. It was a bit painful dropping 2 years of work, but if circumstances change it is necessary.
I started consulting in Deutsche Bank, where I also learnt a lot. The two years there were interesting from a technical and business point and also the longest I have ever worked in the same place.
In 2002 the market dried out in London. This gave me all the kicks I needed to concentrate full-time on my own businesses again. London was really expensive as was the Caribbean, so I decided on Panama where I could live and work for a fraction of the money . Panama is a great and fun place, but has become more expensive now.
NeuClear was my project to take on internet payments and commerce in a big way. It started out immediately after we killed CorpFlow as the open source libertarian cypher punk platform of my dreams.
Where other people had put a lot of focus on payments, I had focused on entities within CorpFlow. So Hayex which I started at FC00 was focused on Electronic entities that I named Networked Economic Units. I later renamed Hayex to NeuDist with the great (at least after one too many gin and tonics) slogan “Bear it all with Neudist!”. NeuDist used electronic bearer shares, which was my excuse.
Not much happened in 2001, but 2002 when I finally left for Panama, brought renewed activity, focus and a new name: NeuClear.
NeuClear changed some of the focus from entities to assets and payments and I managed to create working prototypes. Had lots of meetings with lawyers and other interested parties, where I learnt a lot.
A chance electronic introduction and I met one of the original bay area cypherpunks who was working on various gambling related services. A couple of months after meeting him, he invited me for dinner to talk about the change of plans for his company VERAX. He decided the best market was for gambling related payments and wanted me on board. First I was just a technology partner. I saw VERAX as a way to showcase NeuClear payments.
It was a lot of fun at first, pitching government officials in English and Spanish. Then spending a month creating a new business plan. Anyhow he managed to get some angel investors onboard and we were in business.
The short story about VERAX is that for a variety of reasons it failed. Sandy is a great guy, but we differ on why it happened, so I wont go into details for sake of peace. You can read a bit more about it in this article from die Zeit Pirates of the 21st Century, we are mentioned towards the end.
Needless to say I learnt a lot from this. Much of my experience you can see in my Bootstrapping Anti Patterns series of articles.
Back to Denmark
When I finally quit I was cleaned out financially speaking, so I had to get some regular work to get back in shape. I managed to find something here in Copenhagen and I flew back. I had left Denmark 14 years earlier, so it was very strange to be back. Obviously a lot had changed, but in a somewhat unnerving way a lot hadn’t changed as well.
Theres gold in them there hills
After a couple of years in Denmark we decided it was time to move on we ended up in San Francisco. The Bay area doesn’t exactly have the Danish problems with entrepreneurship which makes life interesting here. Since arriving I’ve been consulting for several startups and also focusing on my own businesses.
I moved to Miami to be closer to Latin America and Europe.
In Miami around 2009 I started PicoMoney as a platform to create a lot of interoperable virtual currencies. I was worried about large centralized virtual currencies after what happend to E-Gold and thought that it would be better to have a realtime market between thousands of small micro currencies instead of a large trading currency.
As part of that I sought to create a simple payment standard based on OAuth rest and slightly inspired by my old triple entry system NeuClear. This became OpenTransact. While the standard as such never took off, there are several services basically still following the standard today.
While I was working on PicoMoney I joined Doximity as the first early tech lead. Doximity is a practical social network for Doctors in the US. This may seem unrelated to my general interest in payments, however due to privacy concerns Crypto is a key part of any medical focused app. I created a fully encrypted Hippa compliant texting platform as part used by doctors to interact about private patient info.
While initially skeptical about Bitcoin back in 2009, by 2012 I eventually saw the writing on the wall and stopped PicoMoney. I converted some of the same technology into creating a live balance sheet for startups called Economico. This listened to Stripe, Bitcoin and several other feeds in realtime to create an instant financial view of the company.
In the end I shut down Economico. Not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because Bitcoin and the developing world became a more attractive opportunity.
Several other people attacked this space afterwards including Baremetrics. I love their success in this.
I joined forces in early 2013 with a few other people on trying to make Bitcoin accessible to normal people in the developing world with Kipochi. See the full story about what happend at Kipochi here
After Kipochi I moved to Nicaragua where I’ve been ever since. See what I’m up to now
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- OpenTransact vs PaySwarm part 2 - yes it's still mostly out of scope
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