How a RadioShack Computer and AOL Viruses Led to the Creation of GroupMe

Illustration for article titled How a RadioShack Computer and AOL Viruses Led to the Creation of GroupMe

I got exposed to computers in elementary school, where I learned to type and play games like Oregon Trail. I quickly fell in love with technology and unsuccessfully asked my mom for a home computer. I begged and begged and begged, and finally my mom broke down and got me a 25 MHz Tandy computer from RadioShack when I was in sixth grade or so. It was truly amazing for me.


In the beginning, I started on AOL-I believe version 2.0 or so to start. And if you remember AOL from back then, you know that there were just endless things you could do on the web. I'd always go over my minutes so I'd download all these programs to get free minutes, unfortunately many of those ended up being malware. And naturally over time, that meant my computer would end up getting virus after virus.

My mom would take the computer to RadioShack every time I'd break it, and would have to pay $200 to get it fixed. After maybe the third time she said, "No more. I'm not taking it back again. If you break it again, you're done." I broke it again in short order.

That's when I had to figure things out myself. I saved up money to buy my own Windows install discs, and learned how to format the hard drive and reinstall the OS. This led to me to learn how to upgrade hardware like the RAM and video cards myself (man I'll never forget getting the Voodoo2 video card and playing Quake for the first time with hardware acceleration). Soon I was building my own computers and managing the LAN at a job at a business in town.

Other than some calculator programs and a little HTML I didn't get deep into programming until college, where I learned C/Java and PHP. Web programming was my favorite, having the ability to create database-backed web applications was such a liberating experience. I remember building a site called, which was a fantasy sports style game for my favorite television shows like Arrested Development and 24.

I became very driven by my passions, live music being the biggest one. I began developing web solutions for my favorite bands. I built a website for my favorite band The Disco Biscuits to help them make the setlists for their live shows. It would tell them what songs they played recently or last time in that city and it gave them a drag and drop interface for picking songs. Another example was when my friend Dan Berkowitz was running the VIP program for The Dead, he showed me how they were still having their friends and family fax in requests for tickets and they were managing everything by hand. I created an online ticketing system to improve the process, which they used for their tour in 2009 along with big music festivals like Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza.

GroupMe came from that same passion. My co-founder Jared Hecht and I wanted to be able coordinate with our friends at concerts (a Disco Biscuits concert at Red Rocks in Colorado to be exact). Using the app at the concert only a week after we built the prototype at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon was so awesome because it worked and made our experience so much better. It's been remarkable to see what it's grown into.


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What Was It is a series of short interviews co-hosted on Gizmodo and io9 that asks the luminaries of science and technology what inspired them.



Kyle Wagner

Has that mentality come through at GroupMe now that it's a big, functioning company? Any particular anecdotes?