Serial entrepreneur Tony Bagdon

  • Technical Project Manager, Industry Dive (Washington, D.C.)
  • M. Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2014
  • B.S.B.A., Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, East Carolina University, 2012
One major takeaway from the TE program is the importance - and the universality - of the entrepreneurial process. Products vary, but the process applies.
-Tony Bagdon

What do an online necktie exchange, a privacy-protection technology company, a non-profit community of entrepreneurs, a software development firm, a hyper-conversion company, and a digital medial firm have in common? All are Maryland area startups that Tony Bagdon founded or in which he has held a leadership role.

How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I guess it's in my blood. I just always seemed destined to start my own company. As an undergrad at East Carolina University, I made the most of the opportunity to learn all I could about entrepreneurship and business management. I started my very first business, KnotFriends, an online necktie exchange, before receiving my bachelor's degree.

You had already launched a startup before you even enrolled in the Lehigh's Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master's program. Why did you opt to get this degree?

KnotFriends never really took off. I learned a lot from that experience, and I realized that having additional education would help strengthen my position as an entrepreneur and give me an edge. A close friend told me about Lehigh's TE program. After hearing the details, I decided this would make sense for me as a next move.

What skills did you develop in TE?

TE provided a lot of learning in a fast-paced year. I was able to sharpen the raw skills I had going in and acquire a whole lot of new ones. I exited the program having learned a great deal - a lot of specifics - about customer discovery, prototyping, iterating, risk management, the pre-venture process, and opportunity assessment. Everything we learned was very practical and relevant.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

The TE program allowed me to grasp the entire entrepreneurship process. By the end of the 12 months, I had a much more professional, comprehensive view of the big picture. My thinking evolved significantly in terms of understanding of business models and the most intelligent way to go about product development.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

I usually have several irons in the fire at any given time, and prior to completing my TE degree, I'd been affiliated with a company called ByteLion, a software development firm based in Baltimore. During the time that I was at ByteLion's COO, the firm was commissioned to build an app for another new Baltimore startup named OpiaTalk.

In March 2015, about 10 months after graduation, I officially joined the ranks of OpiaTalk as Head of Product. OpiaTalk was a hyper-conversion company founded in 2013 to help convert online browsers to purchasers. While OpiaTalk's clients once included such giants as Microsoft, Skype, and Rosetta Stone, it ran into funding issues and eventually closed its doors in 2016.

One of OpiaTalk's board members had started a company named BulbHead, and in October of 2015, I affiliated with them while still maintaining my ties to OpiaTalk. I worked at both companies for several months, but eventually moved full time to BulbHead as Product Manager. BulbHead is an ecommerce consumer products platform based in the greater New York City area.

I left BulbHead about a year later to pursue an opportunity too good to pass that allowed me to take on many new challenges and, at the same time, return to my geographic roots.

So what are you doing now?

I now serve as Technical Project Management for a digital media startup called Industry Dive. We're based in Washington, D.C. and produce mobile friendly, quick-consumption publications for 12 different industries such as biopharma, marketing, construction, and education. Launched in 2012, Industry Dive has an amazing environment! We've been named one of the best places to work in D.C., and the whole operation is energizing but, at the same time, comfortable...not to mention dog friendly. Privately held, there's a staff of about 65.

Although most of my career moves have grown out of networking connections, I secured this one the traditional way after seeing an announcement about the position opening. The Chief Technology Officer considered me to be a good fit, and I started here in October of 2016. It's been a great move for me.

Talk more about that. What are your responsibilities with Industry Dive?

As Technical Project Manager, I'm the liaison between the technical team and all product stakeholders. You might say that I turn "technical talk" into "business speak" - and vice versa. I was brought in to put systems in place, create more structure, and manage the work for product and mobile development. My responsibilities fall in the realm of resource allocation, work flow, implementation, and delivery of product.

At BulbHead, I was deciding the "what." At Industry Dive, I'm deciding the "how."

How are you applying the new skills and new mindset that you developed in TE?

For me, both come into play every day. And I mean every day. There's not a day that goes by that my work responsibilities don't prompt me to think back to a TE lesson or technique or process. What I learned in TE prepared me for the front lines of product development and delivery. The way I think and the way I do things are second nature to me now because of all that I learned in the TE program.

Here's the thing: anyone can be an entrepreneur. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, however, you have to have the drive, knowledge, perspective, and credibility. The TE program gave me all of that. And the credibility angle should never be underestimated!

You've already demonstrated remarkable entrepreneurial agility. Tell us about your other experiences in this arena.

Well, like I said, my very first venture was KnotFriends, followed shortly thereafter by others such as Commercial Countermeasures, a privacy-protection technology company; and Launch Annapolis, a non-profit community of entrepreneurs. I have a lot of diverse interests! The entrepreneurial world accommodates this and, in fact, is so interconnected that I've been able to try my hand at all kinds of businesses.

Are you still in touch with other students from your cohort?

Yes. I'm still in communication with a number of others from my cohort. They're doing such cool stuff! Getting to know fellow entrepreneurs - and having a shared interest in maintaining the connections - is an important benefit of TE.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

The TE program gave me tools that I use every day. It also provided me with versatility, confidence, and a better sense of myself. I believe that innovation occurs where creativity and technology intersect; it's that point of collision where I'm most comfortable.

One thing is certain: there will be more innovations coming down the pike. Opportunities are everywhere. The key is to be guided by the past, informed by the present, and focused on the future. TE taught me that.