Jon has founded two important CAD companies and sold both for significant exit prices. Read on for his awesome entrepreneurial journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Jon Hirschtick: I was born in Chicago. I lived there until I went to college. I went to Chicago public school as a kid. My first business was working with my father selling stamps to collectors on weekends. This was a side hustle. I also started programming computers in 1975. I was building electronic circuits before that as a hobby.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go for college?
Jon Hirschtick: I came to MIT.
Sramana Mitra: I’m always thrilled to meet another MIT alum. What years were you at MIT?
Jon Hirschtick: I came in ‘79. I got a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I was on the research staff and stayed until 1987. I was the Lab Manager for the computer and design lab.
Sramana Mitra: You did CS?
Jon Hirschtick: No, mechanical engineering. I thought I wanted to study computer science, but my uncle helped me figure out that I liked programming computers to get them to do things. He showed me the course catalog and showed the stuff on compiler building. He said, “You should look over here.” He flipped over to mechanical engineering. I thought that was really cool. I switched over.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after you left MIT?
Jon Hirschtick: I’d like to tell a bit about what happened at MIT that shaped what happened next. In the spring of 1981, I wanted to get an internship. I went to the internship office. He asked about my background. I had this skill of programming computers. He said, “You should check out this company that does computer design called Computer Vision.”
In 1981, I had my first internship. On my first day on the job, it was so boring that I said, “I picked the wrong thing.” I’ve worked continuously in the CAD business since that day. It’s 39 years now.
Sramana Mitra: I did quite a bit of work in electronic design automation.
Jon Hirschtick: The other thing that happened to me while I was at MIT is, I was on the MIT Blackjack team. It was written up in a couple of books, a movie, and some TV shows. That taught me a lot about entrepreneurship. That was bootstrapped. I learned so many lessons.
I also wanted to mention that in Chicago I was a professional magician growing up. I did a couple of hundred magic shows for money. All those experiences were quite important. In 1987, I left to start my own company.
Sramana Mitra: What did that do?
Jon Hirschtick: The company made a CAD-related software product that ran on Windows. It was part of the CAD system. I envisioned doing an electronic sketch book based on some research that other people had done at the MIT CAD lab. It was like making an electronic sketch pad for the engineer. We raised venture money right away.
Sramana Mitra: In Boston?
Jon Hirschtick: In Boston. I took a class in entrepreneurship. The professor said, “Network, network, network.” I called a whole bunch of people most of whom did nothing to help me. Then one guy, Joel Ore, said, “I might be able to to help you. Are you going to be on the AAAI conference in Philadelphia?”
Sramana Mitra: I know him.
Jon Hirschtick: Yes. So I said I’d meet him there. We hopped in a car and drove to Philadelphia. He gave me a name and that name led to raising money from Harvard Management Company.
This is right before Black Monday, the original crisis. I just founded a company and the stock market collapsed. It was very dramatic.
Later on in that startup, I ended up raising the next round from Kleiner Perkins. This is 1989. We raised from John Doerr. I met Frank Caufield. I didn’t meet Kleiner Perkins. They had a round conference room and there was Regis McKenna. It was so cool.