Sramana Mitra: You decided to work hard in grad school?
Brandon Levey: Yes. I finished my grad school with an exchange program. The University of Michigan, University of Friedberg in Germany, and University of Tokyo had an exchange. We were the first batch to actually do the physical exchange. I went to Germany for four months to do research there. I did a lot of research both in MEMS and circuits.
Sramana Mitra: What year does that bring us up to?
Brandon Levey: That brings us up to 2006.
Sramana Mitra: What happens next?
Brandon Levey: I received a job offer to work at Sandia while I was in Turkey for a conference in January of 2006. When I got back from Germany, I was home for about six weeks and then I moved to California. I started working in a systems research group at Sandia. The group focused on a number of different things. I primarily focused a lot on domestic security. It was extremely intellectually stimulating work. It was what I considered as one of my favorite intersection of technology, operations, and the law. It’s one of the most fun times that I’ve ever had from a technology standpoint. Also, I started at Sandia in June of 2006. In July, I was down in Los Angeles. I was talking to a group of friends. We were like, “We should start a website.” I bought my first website and got a cheeky Jewish T-shirt website a month after starting at Sandia.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you stay at Sandia?
Brandon Levey: I stayed through August of 2010.
Sramana Mitra: Then what happens after Sandia?
Brandon Levey: There was a lot of stuff that happened while at Sandia. It just happened to be that the screen printer I was working with was a green screen printer. I learned a lot about sustainability and fashion. I got very interested in it. I started a very small sustainable clothing business. It was sustainable because we sourced all of our cloth domestically. I went out to Central Valley in California a few times to visit the organic cotton growers. A lot of people don’t know that California is a huge cotton-growing state.
On Christmas Eve of 2007, I was flying to Miami to meet my new siblings from my dad’s most recent marriage. I met a guy and his wife on an airplane. He was the co-founder and president of a very high-end web development company. They no longer exist. They were acquired by Google. They’re most famous for designing the Facebook logo. He and I chatted. We lived about five or six blocks from each other. We decided to meet when we both got home from our trip. We started this small mobile accessories business, which was called Widget Factory. We started making this product called the iBand which was a stand for the iPhone and iPod touch. This was right after the iPhone came out, so there were very few accessories in the market at that time. That business was small, but we sold over 100,000 units worldwide to about 60 different countries. We had a little bit of outside sales in Malaysia and Switzerland.
It was while running those businesses that I got enlightened. The “Aha!” moment happened at a trade show for my clothing line. It was in Las Vegas. I wrote my own software to manage my inventory and invoicing prior to the show. The guy next to me took a $10,000 order on carbon paper and put it in a manila folder. That was the end of his system, which I just couldn’t believe. I brought my manager to the next show that I went to. He manned the booth and I talked to 300 different people. Pen, paper, and Excel was very common. That was when the initial idea was born.
That was exacerbated by the Widget Factory work where we’ll get a 500-unit order from somewhere and they’d say, “Do you have these ones in stock?” We’d literally go and check the closet. The spreadsheets were never up to date. That really put the spotlight on the bigger issue.
We go back to 2010 then. I was still at Sandia. I was flying a lot to DC for work at that time. There was a girl that I knew through my sister named Michelle. Michelle had done a number of designs for me. I called her because she just got laid off. A majority of the revenue of the advertising firm that she worked for came in from General Motors or Cadillac. That was right when the big three stopped advertising. Their firm went under.
I started pitching her the idea about Stitch. She had never been to California. When I went through my email, it turns out I bought her a one-way ticket to California. We decided that we were going to do Stitch. It was in March or April of 2010. I left Sandia and started coding full-time in September. While that was going on, Michelle was full-time in grad school.