Jon and Daniel Thralow are two of Minnesota’s most unsuspecting tech tycoons.
Daniel Thralow (pronounced Trollow) started selling sunglasses online in the mid- nineties, a time when the Internet was nascent at best. “I remember it was 1992, and I was reading a story about retailing over the world wide web. I was instantly sold on the promise that online marketing and distribution was so measurable and efficient,” he reflects.
Soon after, he would close his vintage clothing store in Minneapolis and retreat to Duluth where he “put every penny into online marketing and sales.” It was a bold move that grew revenues from a few hundred thousand to a few million in three years.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Jon Thralow was graduating from St. Cloud State University with an engineering degree. Without hesitation, he joined Daniel in what had become a diverse holding company for niche domains, brands, and e-commerce systems called Peepers, Inc.
“It seemed so much more exciting than traditional engineering…and it so was,” Jon says, describing how he relocated to Duluth to start as an intern.
“It was around 1997 and Jon came in at a crucial time,” Daniel says, noting that they became one of a few e-commerce companies nationwide to make the Inc. 500 list in 1999. As Peepers.com continued to expand both in revenue and name, it was sold to east coast investors who ran the company for a few years up to the bust in ’01, when the Thralow brothers negotiated a deal to repurchase the flailing company in 2001.
From 2001 to 2007, Daniel, Jon and crew rebuilt Peepers as Thralow, Inc. to tens of millions of annual revenue — only to sell again to Netshops (now Hayneedle) in 2007 for an undisclosed amount.
“We’ve since become investors,” Daniel admits, pointing to their portfolio outline found on Tycoons.com. “All our portfolio companies do business in Minnesota one way or the other…but we invest wherever the opportunity is,” says the Duluth – Florida snowbird.
In contrast, Jon currently lives, works and plays between Duluth and what he described as a very rural part of northwestern Wisconsin nearby Duluth.
Their first (and largest) investment to date (2008) was with big data venture Mozenda (UT), followed shortly thereafter by e-tailer for racy products, Racy.com (Minnesota). Crowd sourced video creation platform PRVideo (Florida) and Mozenda subsidiary PricingTrends.com have been their latest.
Of the Thralow portfolio, Lake Effect Construction (WI) is quite the deviation, a decision “based purely on supporting a passionate entrepreneur who needed funds to get off the ground,” Jon says. “Passion is critical. SaaS is exciting for us,” Jon says, “…and e-commerce is our wheelhouse,” Daniel notes.
“We can and will invest $25k – $2m quickly, while greater amounts are accessible,” Daniel says. “We don’t always agree on the merit of a deal, but if one of us leads, the other will likely follow,” Jon jokes.
“Great ideas are common. Passion and ability to execute are what differentiates. We’re not the type to really go out and find opportunities…bring yours to us if you’d like to talk,” Daniel says directly.