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Influential tech developer talks with UI students

BY MITCH MCANDREW | SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Andy Grignon, technology entrepreneur and founder of Quake Labs, is known by many impressive titles. Yet somehow, “corn boy” remains the one he can’t escape.

The name stems from a videoconference with California technology companies that Grignon gave when he was just a junior at the University of Iowa studying computer science.

“I decided I’d ham it up a little bit, so I took this ear of corn and sort of danced it along the bottom of the screen,” he said.

Thus, “corn boy” was born. 

Coincidentally, Grignon’s impressive career in Silicon Valley also stems from this incident. As a result of the videoconference, in which Grignon showcased his new video conferencing software (it later became iChat), he was offered an internship with Apple.

The internship ultimately led to a job offer the summer before his senior year.

In respect to Grignon’s enrollment at the UI, Apple sent $10,000 worth of equipment to Iowa City so he could complete his degree while working.

“I wallowed through that first semester, and I started to think, ‘Well, this is silly,’” Grignon said.

With that, he quit school and moved to California to work full-time for Apple.

“It was great because I got to be among really smart people,” he said.

After developing several influential programs such as Dashboard and iChat, Grignon became part a special 10-person design team assigned with one task: create the iPhone.

“It was very challenging and very fun,” he said. “We had to sit down and kind of go, ‘OK, how do we solve the kind of problems that we can’t just Google?’ ”

Roughly 150 prototypes later, Grignon and the team were on the eve of the iPhone’s release.

“It was this gut-churning, super-angsty feeling,” Grignon said. “Several of the smartest people in the world said we wouldn’t be able to build the iPhone. Yet, there we were.”

Grignon is reminded of this experience often.

“It’s really cool to see people using it as a part of their everyday lives,” he said.

These days, Grignon works on a new app with his startup Quake Labs in the San Francisco area.

About a decade after the iPhone was first unveiled, Grignon returned to Iowa City to speak with students at the Association of Computing Machinery.

“It was great to have such a successful tech person speak and answer questions,” said Dylan

Thiemann, president of Iowa’s chapter of the association. “He’s just such an influence on the tech world.”

Grignon also met with students at the Bedell Entrepreneurial Center as part of a weekly roundtable discussion held for  Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s startup incubator.

“His immersion in the Silicon Valley start-up ecosystem was very useful, because it’s an aspiring dream of several students here,” said Jeff Nock, entrepreneur in residence at the Bedell Entrepreneurial Center.

Grignon’s journey as a technological and entrepreneurial pioneer has given him valuable insights.

“I worked extremely hard to get where I am today,” he said. “It takes passion, inventiveness, connections, opportunity, and of course a little bit of luck.”

While Grignon serves as a sort of encyclopedia of advice for a wide range of topics, he stresses innovation and forward thinking as key for success.

“Don’t go with the flow,” he said. “When we did iPhone, our little saying was ‘Thou shalt not hire people that do phones.’ We wanted to approach the whole thing differently. In essence, that is the inventive spirit.”


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