Big risks and roundabout route lead Christopher Kingsley to 42
42, which once made its home in the living room of co-founder Chris Kingsley (far right), now occupies a space in downtown Lincoln.
Christopher Kingsley remembers it well – the “aha” moment he experienced while sitting across the table from entrepreneurs pitching for funds.
Kingsley is the co-founder and CEO of 42, the Lincoln-based digital agency and software lab formerly known as Roundscapes that in March announced its new identity and the completion of a $1.5 million round of funding from Lincoln firms Nelnet and Nebraska Global.
But Kingsley's journey to entrepreneurship started long before that. When he was 12, he had his own lawn mowing business. After high school in Lincoln, he took off for Philadelphia to attend the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. After two years of management and finance classes, he decided to leave school for a year and work at Club Med’s Cancun Village. He lived in a casita, threw foam parties on the beach and worked as a DJ from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Back to Wharton …
Eventually, Kingsley (left) headed back to Wharton and gave banking another shot. During his junior year there, he worked as an intern at Morgan Stanley. It was then, as he sat across from entrepreneurs trying to raise funds, that he experienced his “aha” moment.
"I’d be on the partner side, taking notes just sitting there," Kingsley said. "All I’d hear is these entrepreneurs on the other side of the table saying, ‘I’m poor, I have no time, energy, money, but my life is incredible. I get up every day and I’m changing the world.’ This core entrepreneurship spirit of ‘I might fail, this could ruin me, but I’m so on fire with the future.’ And it started wearing me down a little bit, I was like, 'I’m on the wrong side of this table.' "
Kingsley ended up writing a business plan his senior year. “I've always been a pretty decent photographer," Kingsley said. "And I discovered this spherical photography method while I was in school, and I thought, 'OK, how do I link all these interior spaces all together so it makes the world like a video game?' It was very disheartening when I realized that I’m not a developer and that I can’t do this myself. I can take all the photos that I want but it doesn’t matter until you have somebody else that can build this with you. I think that’s a core thing that all entrepreneurs have to deal with at some point; you just can’t do it yourself. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your project is; it could be made much more substantial by the talents of someone other than you.”
… and back to Nebraska
The project proved difficult in Philadelphia, and Kingsley left Wharton and came back to Lincoln to find a developer to build a smaller scale prototype. He eventually found developer Zachary Abresch (left). “We just got along immediately and we spent all of our time, all of our free time, building the site over the summer of 2006," Kingsley said. "And at that time I was waiting tables to pay for computers and cameras and stuff, and he was working at Pfizer during the day to pay for his life.”
The two eventually quit their day jobs to work full-time on their new company. Along with some of Kingsley’s high school friends, they started working from Kingsley’s home. “It was a very unsure period," Kingsley said. "You know, we just didn't know what was going to happen, and we felt like we were doing something very cool.”
Kingsley said that working from home was a bit of a challenge. "There’s this moment I distinctly remember walking out into my living room in my robe and having five people sitting at desks," he said. "You go from having a couple of people on a couch, swapping a laptop around, to now every day when I wake up I’m surrounded by a bunch of other dudes in my living room who all have keys to my house, who are in my kitchen eating my food, using my bathroom. Just imagine some nerdy frat of dudes being nerdy all day long.”
By early 2007, the team had grown to six people and moved into an office. It was a welcome change. “It’s really this incredible thing from walking out and being like, ‘Don’t talk to me until I get coffee' to coming to an office and having a little bit of distance between your life and everything,” Kingsley said.
Reinvention, Roundscapes and 42
After a year of work on their virtual tour portal, Google’s Street View came out, and Kingsley's team had to reinvent itself. “Are we going to keep trying to do the same thing we've been doing and try to combat the largest force in the world, or do we adapt and try to elevate again?" Kingsley recalled thinking. "That's when we got involved with Landscapes Unlimited, and we took the technologies that we had built out to make the core of Roundus and we ended up offering this to a bunch of private companies for the first time.”
Roundus partnered with Bill Kubly and Landscapes Unlimited and became Roundscapes. The company found national success and won numerous awards while working in the golf, private aviation and real estate industries.
For the last two years, Roundscapes has been doing a lot of work for other advertising agencies and producing internal software projects. But Roundscapes decided it needed to make big changes again, so the search for funding began. “Part of the reason that we went to try to raise funds and find new partners in this last year," Kingsley said, "was the understanding that if we didn't have the right amount of time and resources to fully build that platform as robustly as it needs to be built, then it's just going to turn into one of those ideas that kind of gets half built, we leverage it for a few clients and then it doesn't really change the world, it just changes a few user experiences."
By March of this year, that search was complete. The company relaunched as 42 with the $1.5 million in funding from Nebraska Global and Nelnet.
Watch the video below to hear Kingsley talk about the funding experience and how everything worked out with Nebraska Global and Nelnet, and stay tuned in the coming days for the second part of the 42 story.
Credits: Photos courtesy of 42. Video by Kate Ellingson.