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Jeremie Miller: Tech entrepreneur sprouts from Iowa farm roots

Singly founder Jeremie Miller speaks at Thinc Iowa 2012, the first tech conference he said he’s spoken at in his home state.

Jeremie Miller can trace the roots of his startup, Singly, back to a conversation in an Iowa farm field in 2010. He stood in that field — on the farm in Dubuque County where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed — talking with one of his eventual Singly co-founders about the untapped potential in social application data.

If ever there were a snapshot that summed up Miller, it was that Rockwellian tableau.

In his talk today at Thinc Iowa, Miller told the crowd at The Temple for Performing Arts that his life has been one “caught between deep technology and small town, rural Iowa.”

“It sort of it feels like I’m living two lives sometimes,” said Miller, who regularly commutes between his home in Cascade, Iowa — an eastern Iowa town of about 2,000 where he grew up and has raised his own family — and Singly headquarters in San Francisco.

But if Miller and his team at Singly have their way, the technology they’re building now will make the world more closely resemble the tight-knit community in Cascade.

Farm life

Growing up on a farm left an indelible impact on Miller as a technologist and an entrepreneur.

For one, Miller said, he was always intrigued by the technology that surrounded him as a kid. “One of the things I was drawn to very early on was how machines worked and how the technology worked and taking things apart, breaking things sometimes — much to my dad’s frustration,” he said. 

Miller also drew entrepreneurial lessons and inspiration from his father’s work as a farmer. “I can look back at what my dad struggled with on the farm and realize that he was an entrepreneur,” Miller said, “that the farmers here in Iowa, they have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Family first

When his first child was on the way, Miller found himself at a crossroads: “I had to make a choice between a career in technology, getting out in the world, and raising a child and starting a family,” he said.

Miller made family his priority, which affected his career in the short term and continues to shape it today. For one, the family-first approach influenced his decision to remain in Cascade, where many of his 70 first cousins reside.

That emphasis on family also contributes to the company culture at Singly. “I as a founder am always putting my family first,” Miller said. “I’m always putting those values first. And that has become sort of part of our life at Singly.”

Facilitating communication

Miller’s work to enable open communication on the internet predates Singly. In the late 1990s, Miller created Jabber, an open technology for instant messaging, in response to his dissatisfaction with proprietary instant messaging technology.

“It wasn’t like the rest of the internet,” Miller said of his problem with the instant messaging technology of the day. “It didn’t have those values that I was actually raised with about being open and transparent and communicating with everybody.”

Seeing that creation take off and gain widespread is a source of pride for Miller — and, by all indications, for several other Iowa natives in the audience today.

“I’m very proud that this is an Iowa-originating technology … ” Miller said of Jabber.

“It’s changed the lives of so many people around the world,” he continued, “and it’s let them communicate.”

Creating a “fabric”

Miller has carried on his mission of helping people connect and communicate in his work with Singly, which helps developers integrate people’s contacts, photos, locations, fitness data and more into the apps they build.

“Every new app is making a person more able to share and connect and communicate their life with somebody else in real time as well as historically to bring all that stuff together,” Miller said. “That is the most important piece of what I feel like we’re building and we’re doing at Singly, is we want to help apps do this. We want to create this fabric between everything.”

Miller said he envisions Singly helping people connect online the same way people connect in a town like Cascade.

“This is exactly what technology is enabling us to do today across a much larger, much wider audience,” he said. “We’re not from the same small town, but we can actually start to have that same small-town experience through all of these apps.”

Miller, presenting for the first time at an Iowa tech conference, closed his talk with one final thought on his home state: “I believe that Iowa’s most valuable future export to the world is its entrepreneurial community values.”

 

Credits: Photos by Anna Jones and Phillip Harder.


Thinc Iowa is a premiere event produced by Silicon Prairie News. For live video of Thinc Iowa 2012, tune in at spne.ws/live from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11. For more on Thinc Iowa, check out the conference on Twitter and Facebook