Carl and his co-founders have bootstrapped Precision Lender to over $10M from North Carolina. It’s a superb story, including how the company has formulated an AI agent Andi.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Carl Ryden: I was born in North Carolina. I grew up in eastern North Carolina in a little town called Goldsboro. Folks don’t know where that is. It’s about halfway between Raleigh and the coast. For folks who did know, I would later confess that I’m not really from Goldsboro. I’m from an area of a county that’s closest to Goldsboro deep in the rural part of North Carolina.
I started working with computers when I was about 10 years old. I grew up in a single-parent household. Early in my life, we were not well off. I was a free-lunch kid at school. I had a knack and a gift for science and math. I was lucky enough to be admitted to a school here in North Carolina called the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which is a public residential high school. I went there. I met some amazing set of people and the smartest folks I’ve ever been around in my life. It was a whole new world for me.
That changed the trajectory of my life. I ended up going to NC State for undergrad in Electrical Engineering. While I was there, I got a part-time job. I needed to pay the rent. I applied to Jiffy Lube, K-Mart, and IBM. Jiffy Lube never called back. K-Mart said they’d pay me minimum wage, which at that time was $4.25 an hour. I had to wear a K-Mart tie and go through two days of training. I accepted it.
The next day, IBM called me and said, “We’d like you to work on our programming for our manufacturing line. We’ll pay you $11 an hour.” It was a job I would work at nights and weekends. I got pulled over to a group at IBM. There was a guy there who had gone to the senior management at IBM and told them to make a notebook computer, which didn’t exist at that time. They told him, “We just spent a billion dollars to build this suitcase luggable thing.”
He ignored them and started putting folks in the corner of the warehouse to build it. Because I was an hourly employee, I could be snuck through the budget without much notice. We built the first notebook computer IBM ever created, which was called the PS Note and later turned into the Thinkpad brand. That guy who was my third-line manager was Tim Cook, who’s now the CEO of Apple.