I am a 31-year-old web developer and entrepreneur from Grand Rapids, MI. In September, 2010, I married Kelly (Bryan) Andersen. We spent our honeymoon traveling around the Mediterranean. Traveling has been a passion of mine since my first trip outside the country (Canada excepted) to Ireland in 2007. I have been to Canada, Mexico (see photo at left), Peru, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey.
I have been interested in technology since I got my first computer in 6th grade, a 486SX 33MHz Packard Bell with Windows 3.11 and a 210MB hard drive. I discovered QBasic one day while I was browsing through executables on the hard drive, and this discovery launched my fascination with programming. Also interested in business, one of my early BASIC programs was a book store credit card and inventory management application that kept track of a customer’s balance by their credit card number and subtracted from this balance when books were purchased (using their UPC code). The book shelf in my parents’ home became our imaginary book store. By the seventh grade, I had moved on to learning C++.
Over the years, as friends heard that I was “into computers,” I began doing computer troubleshooting and repair work on the side. For anyone who has been in this position, you know this usually means removing viruses, deleting spyware, de-fragmenting the hard drive, and maybe installing some RAM or a new motherboard on occasion. Some of my regular clients included Miles Schmidt’s CPA practice, Tom Vereecke’s CPA practice, Alliance Construction, Architectural Concepts, AEA Group Benefits, as well as numerous home computers. While these jobs were often mundane and predictable, the connections were worthwhile.
As a Junior in high school, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the Meijer Corporate Offices. My uncle was a Systems Analyst there, so he was able to get me a job doing small projects for the pharmacy IT department after school and on Saturday mornings. Since we only had a 33.6Kbps modem at home at this point, the high-speed T-carrier line at the Meijer office really spoiled me. I would work part-time in various teams throughout Meijer’s IT department over the next 8 years, learning MS Access programming, Visual Basic 6, classic ASP, VB.NET and ASP.NET, SharePoint, Actuate, MS SQL Server, IBM DB2, among other technologies.
In 2003, I was still working part-time as a web developer at Meijer, finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems (with a Business Administration Minor) at Aquinas College, and working part-time as a web development intern in IT at Spectrum Health. It was this same year that I first met Roy Shaw. After going to see a speaker with some friends, I joined everyone as we were all invited to Roy’s house to hang out and play games afterwards. Roy was a paramedic at the time and was also in the process of closing down his local CPR training business. In the coming months, Roy would approach Paul Martin and myself to pitch his idea to create a way that we could train and test-out people in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) over the Internet. This was the beginning of my first company, ProCPR.
After graduating in three years from Aquinas and already seeing a good deal of success with ProCPR (thanks largely to Google AdWords), I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Grand Valley State University. This degree would take two years, giving me a bachelor’s and master’s degree five years after graduating from high school. Around the same time that I was starting at GVSU, I began a cell phone company with two friends, Dominic Ford and Mike Schneider. The company had a number of names and assumed names — ePython, MVP Wireless, Choice One Wireless, ABC Wireless, Local And Free. Over the next 3 or 4 years, we sold equipment and plans for Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Alltel, and Dish Network. We operated kiosks at Roger’s Plaza and Rivertown Mall, and although we had trouble making money while paying employees and buying inventory, I learned a lot about the retail industry — mostly that I never wanted anything to do with it again!
Still working at Meijer in 2007, I decided it was finally time to focus my energies on ProCPR and leave my job at Meijer. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like such a difficult decision, but Meijer was my comfort zone. I had built many friendships working there for 8 years and it was tough to leave all that behind. This was also the year that we decided to rent an office for ProCPR and hire our first batch of employees — a customer support person and a compliance person. At least I still had somewhere to go to spend my work days.
Unable to resist the lure of starting a new company, I launched a new website in 2008 with my brother, Ryan. MathVids is a free math help video website aimed at students and teachers. The goal of the site, and how it differs from other video sharing sites, is that all the content is moderated by a math teacher before it goes online. Most topics are taught by a variety of different teachers, allowing the student to pick the teacher who explains the lesson in a way they can understand. Since the service is completely free, we have relied on ad revenue to pay the hosting costs and other business expenses, while focusing on building up the traffic to a level that becomes attractive to advertisers.
I joined another project in 2011 as a co-founder and the CTO. This website, Bulko.com, is a group buying website, focusing initially on natural and organic food products. My other co-founder is Sarah Cleveland, an accountant I met at my CPA’s office when I was still doing computer troubleshooting/repair work in high school. Sarah runs a buying club in Newaygo, MI, which is where the need came from for Bulko as a tool for buying club coordinators and their members.
So, that brings us to the current. ProCPR, now called ProTrainings, has 12 people working for the company in the US, along with three people in the UK. We made it on the 2010 Inc 5000 list at #1,912. MathVids is still growing, with around 40,000 unique visits/month. Despite some setbacks, Bulko will hopefully launch out of beta some time early next year.