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.
Mitch Coopet and Brian Bispala (together with Matthew Dornquast) co-founded Code42 in 2001 after they had met two years prior through industry. Code42 has grown up to hundreds of employees and $135M+ in VC funding, though all three of the company’s original founders have since departed.
Coopet and Bispala have teamed up again on Aftercode, a venture backed startup focused on AI enhanced sales calls with their product Rambl. This repeat duo is also among our guests of honor at the upcoming Founders Respect and Recognition event on April 5th.
When and where you both born?
Bispala: I was born in Sydney, Australia in 1973 and moved to Hibbing, Minnesota around age 3 where my Dad is from.
Coopet: I was born 1973 in South Korea, adopted at the age of three and came to Minnesota. I grew up in Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove.
Do you have any siblings?
Bispala: I have a brother who is a partner with Ernst & Young and my sister is in a financial analyst with General Mills.
Coopet: I have a younger brother, who is not adopted.
What was money like growing up?
Bispala: We were comfortable middle class.
Coopet: Money was tight growing up and I’d say we were lower middle class.
Was entrepreneurship in your family?
Bispala: Not necessarily…my father managed a manufacturing plant for most of his career and my mother was a dietitian…but my grandfather on my mother’s side did have a small electronics repair shop. And my grandfather on my father’s side started a sheet metal & hvac business.
Coopet: My father was a car salesman and my mother did daycare while going to school for teaching…like Brian, my grandfather on my dads side was in business for himself – he owned a dealership called Northstar Dodge in the 80’s.
Do either of you recall any aspects of your grandfather’s respective pursuits?
Bispala: One thing I do remember is that they were basically always working…and they were never complaining about it. I went to their shop a few times and saw all the equipment…I do think that my exposure to that, in part, subconsciously led me to become curious about doing my own thing later on…between that and the kind of encouragement I always received from my parents growing up, I think the seeds were planted early.
Coopet: I always perceived him as being successful, however reflecting on what my dad taught me about money, it was always very short term focused. I had to unlearn that. I now focus on the long game, relationships and doing right by people.
What were some of your first jobs?
Bispala: paper routes starting in sixth thru high school, in addition to school and sports. As summer jobs, I did janitorial and manufacturing work while in high school and college.
Coopet: I’ve been working my whole life. My first job was at age 13 as a dishwasher at a local family restaurant in Maple Grove. I knew wanted to become financially independent as soon as possible. Around age 16, when I could legally do more, I worked at Mr. Movies, and once I could drive I started delivering pizzas.
I also developed a knack for buying and selling cars in high school…probably got that from my father and grandfather, based on their professions and knowledge. I would put new stereos and rims on these things and sometimes double my investment on the flip…it taught me a lot about margins and market demand now that I look back. For me, that simple reinforcement that I could make money on my own instincts and actions helped me have confidence to start a business.
How did you learn to program?
Bispala: Self taught in high school and then additional college coursework.
Coopet: I’ve been teaching myself to program since I was nine…one of the best things my parents did for me when I was a kid was buying an Apple IIe
What kind of student were you?
Bispala: I took my studies pretty serious, I was ranked #1 in my class in high school based on GPA.
Coopet: I was in the top percentile and all the honors classes until I got to college.
Did you play any sports growing up?
Bispala: cross country, swimming, track, tennis, basketball…I was basically average at everything.
Coopet: swimming, gymnastics, weight training. Skateboarding and snowboarding were great hobbies. I was pretty active growing up, there were no dull moments.
Where did you two go to college?
Bispala: I started at UMD and finished at the U of M, graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Coopet: University of Minnesota, I dropped out as a senior age 21 as I was paying my way and couldn’t afford tuition. I never graduated and don’t regret the decision to get right to work in tech.
How did you finance college?
Bispala: I received a lot of scholarship funding, my parents paid some, and I worked through the mechanical engineering department in a co-op job for the last two years of my education.
Coopet: I was doing websites and freelance development.
What did you do following college?
Bispala: I became a consultant with Accenture out of college, known then as Andersen Consulting. I thought that going to a large company with a lot of training and travel would be the best thing I could do at that time…I participated in a lot of large enterprise software concerns. After several years though, I realized I wanted something different, and the fact that small, highly skilled teams can actually get more done in terms of development and delivery. That’s when I joined WebHelp…it was the dotcom boom, they had just been funded, and were taking off.
Coopet: Well, once I dropped out my senior year I jumped head-first into the corporate world and started making more money than I ever imagined I could working at Imation Internet Studios, which was founded by Scott Litman and Dan Mallin. I worked there for a couple of years before moving to WebHelp only because I wanted to do more hardcore programming, and less web work. That was the first time I met Matthew Dornquast and I’ll never forget him stumping me on a question during the interview…I was looking at a number of companies and I can honestly say that he was the reason I joined.
Can you take us back to the time and place that you two had met?
Bispala: In 1999 we met through WebHelp, which was a forerunner product to what we know as live chat now. Matthew Dornquast actually hired both of us there, he was the chief architect and Mitch and myself were some of the core developers at the time. So we worked there together, started hanging out, and also started moonlighting our own consulting projects…which would ultimately lead us to Code42.