Instead of writing seriously, I wrote an imaginary interview. BTW:Living in a van… happened in real life; C.com/”light goop” …well it was supposed to be about the future!
FRAMBERG MAGAZINE INTERVIEW (Issue: March, 2018)
Today we interview Tim Tregubov, one of the visionaries behind a small company that might just be changing the way we interact with the world. C.com is responsible for MultiPhen technology and the company is developing promising new applications that will further integrate adaptive intelligent systems with the human system. The company is being heralded as a forerunner of a new type of business model which they are calling engaged activism. We will find out what makes him tick, what C.com is all about and how it originated.
Framberg: So you are one of the founders of C.com?
Tim: Yep. Although it wasn’t like we just had a great brainstorming session and out popped a company. In fact I’d say c.com isn’t a company at all, and it is my hope that it never will be!
It started as just a group of friends pulling allnighters in a computer lab at college. We made a good team and had a blast doing it. Then we all graduated and got “real” jobs. We ended up working cold rainy nights sitting in front of computers in cubicles doing other peoples’ bidding. The good times were just a memory. Many years later, we’d get laid-off from our jobs at the big corporations to be replaced by new dream-filled youth – youth just as ready as we were to give up their dreams, creativity and energy in exchange for job security.
Framberg: So what happened, that’s not the end of the story right?
Tim: Not at all. In fact, that never happened! If it had happened, c.com never would have even been a twinkle in our eyes. I say this as a warning to anybody who has had an idea but wants to put it off in favor of making some money first. Don’t put the golden handcuffs on, rather grab your friends, grab your idea and sprint out onto the playing field. If there is one time in your life when you should do this it is now, not later.
So what really happened was that we kept trying ideas. My ideas were always a bit grandiose and self involved but they were cute. I have always been an excitable person and tend to dive right into an idea. Not being a great swimmer I tend to cannonball. This sets off lots of waves and people get wet. Diving right into this analogy – this would whet their appetite. Sometimes one of the ideas would spin off an idea wave that we could surf. This is not to say all the ideas were mine – I’m going to get beat up back at the office for this.
Framberg: Why do you say that c.com isn’t a company? What is it?
Tim: c.com is really more of a family. If you prefer the word company we insist on the older interpretation of the word – the theater company – the company of companionship. The organizational structure of c.com is less of an ‘inc’ and more of a fellowship. This sort of company is based around the passion of the founders. There are no employees per se, everybody is an owner. There is no boss. We only work on projects we really love. We don’t compromise our projects for investors or clients but work for the love of the thing rather than for the monetizing of it. From the beginning we knew we didn’t want to be VC controlled vaporware. What is our mission? Simple. Create.
Framberg: Just to create? Isn’t the company involved in certain particular areas?
Tim: It isn’t “just”! We create because it is imperative. Your readers have perhaps heard of the existential maxim “existence precedes essence.” We have a duty to create the world as we believe it should be. So it isn’t just lighthearted play. I believe strongly that once we realize that we are completely responsible for the world, and that by each of our actions we define the world, in part, according to our wishes – then it becomes clear that our actions do not simply exist in a void and certainly are not just harmless. Quite the contrary. In fact, every action has meaning and at c.com we strive toward having a socially positive impact on the world. Every project we undertake has a socially positive foundation. Whether it is a new educational toy for improving math skills in preschoolers or a social network to promote micro-philanthropy for schools in Ghana, all our projects at their core try to focus on improving the human condition.
Framberg: That is quite a philosophical underpinning for a company! Is this what you call engaged activism? Those sound like lofty ideals, but how do you manage in practice?
Tim: Yeah, this is definitely a part of engaged activism. When we started we had two main goals. One was to do work which we personally found engaging. In the lab we would pull allnighters not because we had to but because we were in the zone. We were fully “into” our work. We also enjoyed each others’ company. So our primary motivation was “engaging work with cool people.”
Our second tenet was that our work had to be meaningful. We wanted to contribute to society and be able to believe in what we were striving toward. So our secondary motivation was “socially positive projects that we all could believe in.” Most importantly we didn’t want to simply donate some part of our profits to good causes, we actually wanted our projects to be good causes themselves! If you are working with people you like, on a project you believe in, and the work itself is rewarding then you are addicted and fulfilled and happy.
Framberg: What about creature comforts though? What about money?
Tim: When we started we all worked for free. We lived in our parents’ basements or at our friends’ houses. We worked nights and we barely scraped by. We were happy. I believe that the usual things people work toward, money/fame/success/comfort, can all be side effects of impassioned work. If we loved what we did and put that love into our work then this would be recognized and appreciated. This was all secondary to the actual fulfillment of the work itself.
Framberg: Are you happier now that you have achieved some success?
Tim: I wouldn’t say that the success has any bearing on my happiness. I was happy homeless and I am happy now. We have cooler toys in the office though now, and with the added success we can create better more interesting things.
Framberg: Homeless? Would you like to share that story?
Tim: [Laughs] In college one summer I lived in a van. It was my parents’ van and I pimped it out so I wasn’t exactly being homeless. I was however a bit persecuted by the campus police and had to park discreetly at night. Some nights I spent in the Walmart parking lot. I showered at the computer science building, so it was really actually rather comfortable.
Framberg: So tell us more about yourself. When you are not living in a van what do you do in your free time?
Tim: Free time? Mostly I hang out at the studio. That is what we call the office. I also hike a lot and spend time with the family. I have an 8 month old daughter, Anki, we hang out at the studio together all the time. She is a genius in the making I can tell. Her favorite toy right now is this really expensive prototype “light goop”. It glows and changes color depending on the shape it is in. It is not yet practical to mass produce, but she loves being the only one in the world with one.
Framberg: Is that a MultiPhen technology?
Tim: All of our tech is MultiPhen these days.
Framberg: What is MultiPhen exactly?
Tim: We don’t rightly know ourselves. Actually, it is simply a buzzword I came up with to call our technology. We were making things that interacted at multiple levels and exhibits multiple phenomenons? MultiPhen simply sounded cool. People love buzzwords.
Framberg: We suspected that was the case all along. It sounds like you are a bit of a free thinker. Have you always been a rebel? Did that help you get to where you are?
Tim: I wouldn’t say I am a rebel. [Laughs] I have not had a traditional path though. My life used to be controlled by fear. It made me not take the traditional path to college when I should have, instead I tried to start my own web design business after high school and failed. Then I worked as a programmer for a short while and then as a sysadmin at the college where I eventually started taking classes, and even more eventually graduated from. That experience changed me quite a bit, I became braver and started moving through life faster. Went to grad school right after that and started c.com.
I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. It is unfortunate that wisdom cannot be taught but must be learned from experience. I know that my strange background has helped make me who I am and I do not regret it. I only wish that I had gained the wisdom of how to be braver and happier earlier. I still like to do things a bit differently, but now it is a choice and partially an affectation – I am much less subject to the anxieties that plagued me when I was younger. This path of discovery, though, made me open to learning and exploring and playing at points in my life when other people were concentrating on other things. I think I was fairly self-restricted as a teen, more so than is normal, but as the years went by I became more internally free and rediscovered that play and energy of childhood. A lot of what I have achieved has been due to this process of discovery.
Framberg: What is in store in the future for you personally?
Tim: That is a good question. More of the same! In college I took a class that brought up the question of happiness and one thing that we did in the class was identify our main strengths. My top five strengths were creativity, curiosity, love of learning, energy and appreciation of beauty. As long as I am able to express my strengths and believe that I am making a positive contribution to the world, then I am happy. My family, my friends and c.com have enabled me to live the good life so far. I hope I am up for the challenge of raising my daughter and future little c.com’ers. That is my next big life challenge.