REPEAT is a special interview series underwritten by CliftonLarsonAllen where we take a deep dive inside the minds of Minnesota’s rare repeat technology entrepreneurs. Repeat means to start a tech company, exit said company, and return start another one.
David Bagley (left) and George Reese (right) originally formed enStratus Networks in 2008 as a spin-off of marketing software maker Valtira. Changed to Enstratius in 2013, the company specialized in cloud computing infrastructure management. Enstratius raised a series A round of $4.5 million in 2011 and was acquired by Dell for $60-$80m two years later. After some time there, the duo came back with a new venture known as SeekaTV.
When and where were you born?
David: I was born in 1964 on a British army base in Cyprus.
George: I was born in Houston, 1969 and stayed there until I went to college.
Were your parents married and did they work?
David: Yes. My father was in the army for most of my childhood until he became a teacher. My mother was first a teacher and then head mistress in a juniors school.
George: My parents were married right out of high school. My father earned and learned in the oil industry while I was growing up and eventually he became a partner with Ernst and Young. My mother also worked in the oil industry for the most part in various roles. My parents eventually divorced when I was 13.
Did either you have siblings?
David: Yes, two younger brothers.
George: I had one brother and one sister, both younger than me; my brother has since passed away.
What is your earliest memory or experience of business?
David: I actually spent my youth reading books about explorers and adventurers, from around age seven onwards. I remember reading James Clavell’s novel Tai-Pan and what that exposed me to; I think being an entrepreneur is a lot about making it up as you go along, going into new territories without a map. But in reality, my first job was working at an insurance company around age 17 as a filing clerk to earn some money to travel.
George: for me, it was during middle school, I had a little Jolly Rancher selling racket going on. I had to walk a mile or so to school every day and would always make a stop, pick up a bag of candies, and sell them during the day. I went on to start a paper route in early high school days. I still have all the baseball cards I bought and collected back in the day, they might be worth something?
What was the attitude about money like growing up?
David: It was pretty scarce…we went abroad one time, to France, growing up; and I could also count on one hand the number of times we went out to eat. More broadly, my entire education up to college was focused a lot more on growing up to be a professional, and much less on any principles of business ownership or even operations. Which is part of the reason I think I’m a late bloomer in terms of entrepreneurship.
George: We were a very typical middle class family, though money certainly became more of a topic on both sides once my parents had split up.
Did you play any sports?
Bagley: Yes, lots of them – enthusiastically yet poorly.
Reese: Yes, I was fast but small when it came to both baseball and football, so I didn’t pursue that much.
What kind of student were you?
Reese: I bounced around a bit, but earned just under a 4.0 in high school
Bagley: I was studious, you could say.
Did you maintain other jobs during high school?
Reese: I was a busboy at the Hard Rock Cafe back in the 80’s when they were cool. And I also worked at the local movie theater.
Bagley: Just the filing temp position for me in high school.
Why were you working these jobs?
Reese: Because I wanted money! But I also wanted some fun experiences and chose my jobs with some intention.
Bagley: I just wanted to travel and that was the means.
What did you study at what university?
Bagley: Ancient Greek, Latin, and Philosophy at Oxford – I graduated in 1988
Reese: Bates College in Maine – because it was as far away as I could get from Houston but stay in the United States. I studied philosophy there.
How did you finance college?
Bagley: Well, tuition was free in Europe and I also had additional grants to survive.
Reese: My dad was making decent money at the time and funded my college. I did borrow a little bit using student loans, but the bulk of it was covered by him. I had some seasonal summer jobs during my junior/senior year of college working at a record store.
David, when did you first visit the United States?
During college is when I first started coming to America, specifically to North Carolina and New Hampshire, where hired as a camp counselor for almost nothing, but it gave me an opportunity to experience the states for free. I had read a lot about the country and it was an exciting place to visit. After it was over, some friends and I we bought an old truck and drove that across the country to the southern states…which is probably why I ended up here, it was such a great experience.
What did you do following college?
Bagley: Afterwards, I was hired by Arthur Anderson (from 89-97), and in the 90’s I trained in Chicago for a while. In retrospect, I think people underestimate how great things are here – the ease of things, especially business. And it became clear to me that all the exciting companies were here during that time. They taught me about programming, business strategy, etc. – I remember learning Cobol! I went back to the UK and worked there for a while, and then returned to Chicago with Anderson, while also working in Portugal for some time.
Reese: I actually moved to LA and started working in the television industry because there really wasn’t a lot of philosophy jobs in the 90’s. But I ended up leaving there during a perfect storm of things…earthquakes, the LA riots and a recession all happened simultaneously. I was so broke and unhappy, so I just said ‘screw it’ I’m outta here.
Where did you go?
Reese: I actually went back to Maine! I was engaged to a woman I had met while at Bates so I went back to be with her and I worked in a distance learning capacity, which involved some programming requirements and kinda got me started in technology as a career.
Was that your first exposure to the Internet?
Reese: Actually in college I gained some programming experience during the early 90’s, which was the equivalent to someone self-taught Scratch today. And we had a radio shack computer as early as ‘82 in our house. But yeah it was the first time I used any such skills professionally.
David, what was your first exposure to tech?
Bagley: When the IBM PC first came out in around 1981, I was still in high school at the time. I even bought a home kit style computer in the UK, it was a Sinclair with 1k of memory and I taught myself to program on that in BASIC, and even tried to use an assembler language.
When did you officially move to Minnesota and why?
Bagley: I moved to the US in 1997 at age 33 with my then girlfriend and now wife, who is American. The best job offer I got here was to join Retek in Minneapolis at an early time…it was small then.
Reese: I was recruited by a very small consulting firm based here in 1994 called York, using PowerBuilder to talk to an Ingres database. I liked being in technology as an early adopter, a professional technologist…the Internet was really up and coming in the mid 90’s and I was always on some sort of team that was doing new and different things, such as breaking away from PowerBuilder and getting into object-oriented programming like Java – which was really helpful professionally for a long time and opened a lot of doors.