When Tom Simon was a sophomore at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., he made some business cards to bring with him to a music conference. A rep from Republic Records took notice of his go-getting; Simon bagged an internship at the company, and, after graduating, a job in Universal Music Group’s international marketing department. Flash forward 15 years and the onetime college radio station director just sold a tech startup he co-founded and marketed, to Facebook for an undisclosed (and likely hefty) price tag.
Simon’s path from music marketing manager to tech entrepreneur began in 2008 when he decided to leave his job at Universal over burgers and beers at bingo night in Hoboken, N.J. He loaded up a moving van, drove to Raleigh with his fiancé-now-wife, Tera, and soon found a marketing job at Geomagic, a software company known for creating 3D data.
Ultimately, Geomagic was sold to 3D Systems, a 3D printer manufacturer. Simon and a group of former Google engineers went on to found Source3, the content-rights management startup that enables users to share digital content, including art and music, and get paid without their work being pirated. The rest, as they say, is history.
We asked Simon, a fixture at downtown co-working space HQ Raleigh, to share his career path and his plans for what’s next.
How did your experience working in the record industry translate to the tech world?
My heart was always in tech. It was challenging, like anything else, you have to tell a story. I knew digital music was the future and there were initiatives I got involved with on the legal and licensing side. Getting here, being able to talk that language and giving roughshod around how marketing can translate in that capacity, I was able to slowly open doors. I was just willing to learn. I went to a 3D Reverse Engineering and Inspection company and four years before that, I was selling Nelly records in Singapore. But I knew what I needed to do and had to sell it and get people convinced and excited.
What is Source3 and how did it come about?
Source3 started as a 3D content distribution and licensing platform, with the goal of creating a space where people could upload content and push it off to various marketplaces. Our guys had a history in licensing, so we wanted to get brands onboard and get them excited about our adding in the manufacturing component. We continued to build that way until January of 2016. We raised $4.5 million in seed funding, which was great and it helped us tremendously
How did Source 3 catch Facebook’s attention?
We had rebranded ourselves as a content identification or image recognition and rights management platform, for user-generated content. So we moved away from the manufacturing side. That pivot is what got the attention of Facebook down the line. We hired all these data researchers to help us build this component. Part of what we were trying to solve had a social element. Facebook recognized that and, whether it was digital video content or music content or other things, it recognized it had a need to get content creators to share their work and get paid. They came to us to talk about doing a project and we started working with them and things grew from there.
What can you tell us about the sale?
When it became clear this was going to happen, we started focusing on building the right tools and processes and the team components Facebook needed. It was a long process and I was fortunate to have a great team of co-founders that lived through it with me. So there was due diligence, all sorts of stuff you have to go through, show them everything, any app the company ever used…it’s like buying a house, only way more aggressive. People ask, how did you sell the company? It was never I, we sold the company, the 13 people in the building that day. We got to a merger agreement on July 24th, and when 4:30 p.m. came along, we made the announcement since Facebook is publicly traded. After that, it was a race to finish all the other stuff off and get the team over to Facebook.
How do co-working spaces like HQ Raleigh fuel the tech industry here?
Raleigh’s co-working community is unique in in this country but more importantly, it fosters that ability for people to work together and collaborate together and, honestly, to help each other out. When you’re an entrepreneur, you start something and it’s completely anti- what a normal 9-5 business structure is, and it’s hard to talk about that with other people. But you find it within (HQ Raleigh), and you build those relationships and they help you grow.
You have a new endeavor on the horizon. What can you tell us about it?
It’s Raleigh-based with a partner of mine who I admire very much in this area; he’s an entrepreneur I’m really excited to work with. It is a whole departure from tech. It will be more in the pet space. It’s coming pretty soon, I’m excited about it, and it’s going to be fun. Everyone loves pets!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
It’s not just tech, but Raleigh is growing up, whether it’s to start you own company doing vaporware or a company doing pet stuff, this is a great area to do it in. It has a great network and tons of resources at your disposal and I have been in meetings, and had conversations with people where there is more coming, lots more. The founder of LinkedIn said it’s about jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down. This is the greatest place to try to do that. You will always have someone to lift you up if you need some help along the way. I love this town and where we’re headed. It’s my first and last stop in the south.