Michael Girdley is unemployed.
The 44-year-old investor and entrepreneur might not have a “day job,” but he sits on more boards than you can count on one hand, many of which are at the center of San Antonio’s downtown tech scene: Codeup, Dura Software, RealCo, and Alamo Angels among them.
His numerous interests qualify Girdley as one of the architects of downtown’s burgeoning tech district, along with Rackspace co-founder Graham Weston, Geekdom Media CEO Lorenzo Gomez, and Geekdom co-founder Nick Longo.
And he’s not done building.
Though he’s not on anyone’s payroll, Girdley is devoting his time to managing the Geekdom Fund, a venture capital fund that is closing in on a pot of $50 million to invest in tech startups throughout North America, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Many of the venture capital firm’s investments have fueled the growth of San Antonio startups, including Easy Expunctions, FunnelAI, and Merge VR.
The $50 million fund, Geekdom Fund’s third since launching in 2014, would more than double that of the previous two pools of money the firm raised. Bound by SEC regulations, Girdley said he could not speak about the fund as the firm continues to raise funds.
Early-stage San Antonio ventures are likely to benefit from the influx of new capital.
Far from the tech desert Girdley returned to in 2004 after working in San Francisco, San Antonio’s tech sector is making strides, he said, even if recent data and reports sometimes belie his bullish outlook on the future of tech in his city.
“People don’t realize what’s going on in all these buildings and the impact that it’s having,” he said.
When Girdley and his family left the West Coast tech scene for Girdley’s native San Antonio, P.F. Chang’s was one of the city’s finest culinary offerings, he said with a laugh, recalling a conversation with a colleague at the time.
Besides Rackspace, San Antonio had little going for it in the tech world, but Girdley – who had risen to upper management at a Bay Area tech firm – had gotten bored and perhaps weary of the increasingly corporate nature of Big Tech in Silicon Valley. He wanted the chance to be his own boss and blaze his own trail.
So the Girdleys made the decision to plant their flag firmly in San Antonio, where Girdley was set to help his retiring father operate the family business, Alamo Fireworks.
“I came back and got involved [in my family business] going from the most tech world to the least tech world possible – selling fireworks on the side of the road,” he said.
Heading Alamo Fireworks, with more than 170 locations throughout Texas and New Mexico, Girdley further developed a business acumen he says was already in his DNA – dating back to the time he bought an internet domain in college and started a web programming consultancy that won him a book deal. In 1996, at the age of 20, Girdley co-wrote Web Programming with Java. He suspects the publisher who offered him the gig never realized how old he was.
In his 30s, and after years of building the fireworks business, Girdley set out on a different mission. He wanted to help turn San Antonio into a tech city.
He spent hours alongside fellow entrepreneurs developing business plans for the next great American tech startup. That’s where he met his eventual business partner.
Jason Straughan had no idea who Girdley was at the time. When Girdley pitched Straughan on an idea for an app that, similar to Doodle, helped users find the optimal time to schedule meetings, Straughan was honest in his critique.
“One of the reasons we hit it off was I gave him some critical feedback of his pitch,” Straughan said. Because Girdley was a revered figure in the local tech sector, “he didn’t get a lot of that.”
It wasn’t long before Girdley and Straughan got an office together at Geekdom and began work on a new business venture. In 2013, Codeup was born. Years later, the coding bootcamp’s highway billboards advertise alumni who have gone from “cosmetologist to software engineer.” That was the impetus when Codeup started – to develop technical talent for a city largely devoid of it.
For every FunnelAI and Plus One Robotics springing to life in San Antonio with a capital haul and hiring surge, there’s a report pointing to the city’s relatively small pool of technical talent and its meager flow of venture capital in comparison to other metropolitan areas in Texas, especially Austin.
Straughan, who now serves as Codeup’s CEO alongside board Chair Girdley, said Codeup has helped grow San Antonio’s tech sector by re-training workers for in-demand tech jobs and keeping talent in the city, and Girdley played a major part in ensuring its success while other computer programming training programs have failed.
But Codeup is just one of many organizations Girdley has an active voice in.
Girdley co-founded Dura Software in 2017. The tech firm holding company acquires smaller software outfits and relocates them to San Antonio. So far its portfolio includes only administration software platform Moki Mobility, which relocated its headquarters from Salt Lake City.
Another Girdley project, RealCo, is a long-term accelerator for early-stage tech startups that has helped such companies as FunnelAI, which trawls social media for sales leads, expand in San Antonio.
And Alamo Angels, an angel investor network in San Antonio that Girdley helped create, is a growing presence in funding San Antonio-area ventures.
Chris Turner, who helped Girdley and Straughan found Codeup, said Girdley has his hand in so much of what’s propelling the tech district forward that it’s hard to imagine San Antonio’s tech scene without him.
“Everybody in the tech district benefits from Michael and people like him,” Straughan said. “We are very fortunate in San Antonio to have a lot of people who have been successful in business who have chosen to stay here and invest in the future of San Antonio. I, for one, appreciate that they didn’t all take off to Aspen and not look back.”
“[Girdley] is trying to create a city we all want to live in.”
The self-styled cheerleader for the San Antonio tech scene said he doesn’t see any realistic way he and local tech leaders can fail in their quest to build a bona fide tech sector in the city.
“The only question,” Girdley said, “is, how fast will it grow?”