Aaron Fulkerson is the co-founder and CEO of MindTouch, a company that offers a cloud-based self-service help center and knowledge-as-a-service platform. Prior to founding MindTouch he was a member of Microsoft’s Advanced Strategies and Policies division, where he worked on distributed systems research reporting to Microsoft chief strategy officer, Craig Mundie. Aaron has also helped launch several nonprofits and businesses outside the software industry. He has been a contributing writer at CNN, Fortune, GigaOM, ReadWriteWeb, TechWeb, CMSWire, and Forbes Magazine. He has been tapped by the White House to inform national education policy, and he has been invited to the eG8 to discuss international technology policy. He is a sought-after public speaker who has presented at dozens of technology and business conferences. Aaron graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a BS in computer science.
Sramana: Aaron, tell us where you are from and a bit about your background. What are the roots of your entrepreneurial story?
Aaron Fulkerson: I grew up in a small town south of San Jose, California. Back then it was very rural and was still a farming community. At the same time, Silicon Valley was starting to blossom. In the 1980s, as a kid, I would dial into bulletin board services. I also wrote quite a bit of code. I did all of this from the farm I was growing up on.
After high school I went backpacking for around five years before I went to college. I met my wife in northern Minnesota. We went and backpacked through Europe together for several months. She was finishing her undergraduate degree, so when we got back from Europe I decided to enroll in college as well. She thought that I would pursue some sort of social science degree, but I had enjoyed writing code as I grew up so I studied applied mathematics and computer science. I went to Chapel Hill because of the computer science program there.
After graduation I was recruited into Microsoft, where I worked on high performance computing and distributed systems. That is where I met the co-founder of MindTouch, and we decided to start MindTouch as an open source project so we could have the chance to work together.
Sramana: What year did you start MindTouch?
Aaron Fulkerson: We started writing code in late 2005. We shipped the project in late 2006.
Sramana: Were you still at Microsoft during this time?
Aaron Fulkerson: No, this is what we started doing right out of Microsoft. We left Microsoft before starting to work on MindTouch. At Microsoft we had been doing high performance and distributed systems computing performance. I wanted something that would make it easier to collaborate on writing papers. I had some specific ideas on how to approach solving the problem of collaboration around project or service knowledge. My ideas were actually pretty stupid; fortunately, my co-founder Steve had a better idea that was web-based.
We shipping the first iteration of the open source project in late 2006, and by the end of 2007 I figured I needed to go get a job. I figured I would get a job at Google or somewhere else, and Steve told me that he put our packages and RPMs on SourceForge. A week later he told me we were doing 2,000 downloads a day. We shot to the top five open source projects, and that is when I realized we needed to start a business around this.