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The FORT with Chris Powers

Dec 17, 2020

Michael Girdley ( is a serial entrepreneur and investor based in San Antonio. He is the chairman and co-founder of Dura Software, owner of Codeup, Toro Coffee, Alamo Fireworks, and the tech-venture fund Geekdom. 

On this episode, Chris and Michael discuss Michael's experience moving to San Francisco during the late '90s and what it was like in the 'tech bubble', and then leaving the tech world to take over his father's firework business where technology was almost non-existent. Michael discusses the process of helping found and scale his various companies and implementing executive teams so he can step away from their day to day operations. 

They also dive into the workings of Michael's various companies, the pitch for the future of San Antonio, and much more. Enjoy! 

Follow Chris on Twitter:

Learn more about Chris Powers & Fort Capital:

(02:30) - Michael’s Background and What Led Him to Today

(04:00) - What is cryptography?

(04:35) - How did you get into your passion for computer technology?

(06:11) - When did you move out to the Bay Area?

(06:30) - What was Silicon Valley before the Dotcom bust? What was it like going through that bust?

(08:12) - Did people see the crash coming or did it come out of nowhere?

(09:55) - Was revenue actually growing when the stock price jumped or was it all part of just the bubble?

(11:28) - Were most of these businesses VC-backed before they went public?

(12:02) - What was the culture shift like going from Silicon Valley to running a family firework business?

(13:57) - What was the transition like when taking the business over from your father?

(16:03) - Did you already have an executive team in place or was that a process to implement before you transitioned out?

(16:46) - What was the process like of finding a CEO?

(17:43) - How do you set up a compensation system to incentivize those who aren’t the owners in a family business?

(19:28) - How does the current CEO communicate business strategy with you?

(20:43) - What are you accountable for as a semi-active owner?

(21:41) - Do you have some type of control in terms of a threshold of a certain cost that needs to be approved by you?

(22:36) - Can you sell year-round or do you expect a lumpy cycle around the 4th of July?

(23:29) - Is there a leading indicator that it will be a high selling year?

(24:31) - What do you do for the other 350 days of the year?

(25:19) - What is a 'one-man venture studio’?

(28:14) - Did you have the idea for the kiosk coffee chain? What were the steps to build and scale the business?

(29:52) - How do you find the right people to bring into the business?

(31:11) - What were your roles in getting the business off the ground if you weren’t going to be involved in the day-to-day?

(34:08) - Is this a business that will require funding to scale quickly or do you want to go the self-funded route?

(35:08) - What is Codeup?

(36:24) - How do you define ‘not getting a job’ in terms of Codeup’s policy to refund the student?

(38:23) - What’s the process of education in Codeup?

(39:23) - How long is the process and how much does it cost?

(40:02) - Is it a full-time job or can students work while they’re in the courses?

(40:36) - Is there always going to be a need for code in a world where no-code is a growing movement?

(41:53) - What is Dura Software?

(43:44) - Is this similar to a Berkshire model?

(44:50) - What’s the difference between vertical and horizontal market software?

(46:15) - Are you designing the third phase of your career where you can keep adding businesses or is there a limit?

(47:02) - What does Culture Index mean to you? How has it impacted your career?

(49:14) - Do you require the companies you buy to adopt Culture Index?

(52:05) - What’s your 2-minute pitch for the city of San Antonio?

(53:45) - How has the growth of Austin impacted San Antonio?

(54:59) - Do you have a morning routine?

(55:43) - What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

(56:38) - If you owned a billboard and could put anything on it, what would it be?

(59:24) - How can people get in touch with you?

Follow Michael on Twitter:

Learn more about Michael Girdley here

The FORT with Chris Powers is produced by Straight Up Podcasts