Troy Downing had a very successful career. He was enjoying retirement decades earlier than most people when he got word that terrorists had blown up the World Trade Center. Wanting to truly make a difference in the lives of others he enlisted with the military and served two tours in Afghanistan doing search and rescue missions. Today he’s tired of observing the chaos in Washington and wants to be part of a solution. That’s why he’s announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate.
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with Troy Downing, Troy welcome to today's show.
Troy: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Alan: So Troy you've lived an absolutely remarkable life, you've done a lot of different things throughout your life. So for the listeners, can we get to know Troy. Like maybe where did you grow up and you know school?
Troy: Yeah I kind of somewhat austere beginnings. I was born in the Los Angeles area, but I grew up in the desert in Indio California near the Salton Sea. You know I was well here's the plain truth, I was I was a high school accident, so my parents were never married and my mom she eventually married a man who adopted me and I took his name, Michael downing. He was in and out of our family and had two siblings from him you know with him and my mother. It was an interesting childhood growing up in the desert you know we didn't we didn't have much. My parents eventually divorced and my mom, you know I'm incredibly proud of you know, was able to raise three kids on her own and started out as a checker in a grocery store, and then eventually was working in the deli in a grocery store, but you know very very austere beginning. You know one of the things that I realized early on in my life is, I needed to be somewhere else and something more and I needed to I needed to get out of the desert. When I did get out of the desert when I graduated high school I left, and eventually ended up on the other coast in New York and ran out of dirt I couldn't get any farther away from there. After a brief, a brief career in the arts I went to school out there to New York University in the Courant Institute of mathematical sciences and that started a real different journey in my life. I eventually was hired as a research scientist in the media research lab. I was one of the founding members of the media research lab and at that time in my life and my you know early 20s, I was surrounded by just really smart people trying to do neat things. We were well funded we had you know grants from the Defense Department, from Microsoft, from Apple, from Silicon Graphics, all this money just pouring into this lab and all we had to do were neat things and write papers about it. It was at the time that time in our life it was just it was just an amazing place to be, just very very exciting. And eventually at NYU somebody in the lab and introduced me to this thing that these particle physicists were doing out in Switzerland, that they called a "browser". At the time I was really interested in it, but had no idea the profound effect it was going to have on my life. I started playing with that and trying to build it, in building you know this was the beginnings of what we now you know as the as the Internet, and when I started building ways of expanding that, I eventually was approached by a publisher to write a book about it and I wrote a book that you know did a couple of emergency reprinting and like anybody that writes a book on you know technology I took that book down to the Dean of the information technology department at NYU and said you need to use this as a text book. His response was yes and I need you to teach the course. So that started my teaching career and it's really interesting at this point because I don't have an undergraduate degree yet, I'm still a you know an undergraduate student in the computer science department and all sudden I'm putting together curriculum and hiring teachers for a certificate program and internet technologies. If you kind of fast-forward there I had this this experience, I used to write a lot of sample code little programs to teach you not give the code out so that students could use it and expand or steal it to you know build bigger and better things and one of the things that I did is I built this little troy's magic 8-ball. It was really simple program you ask you questions and they would give you random answers, and actually as an aside one of the interesting things they used to log all the questions and the number one question was one form of "is there a god", which I thought was kind of interesting the number two question I don't know if I can say on uh on this program but was something about you know finding a partner, I'll say to put it loosely, and it was always kind of interesting to watch how those trends would come in it. But anyway I digress a little bit so one day I'm going to teach my class, and I'm served a cease and desist letter from Taiko industries because magic 8-ball is a trademark of Taiko. And I was so excited, I walked into my class with the cease and desist letter and they're all wondering why I'm so excited I'm being sued and I explained to him that you know this to have when I started out in in technology anybody was connected to the Internet was military or education or a few technology companies. To have a toy company doing trademark protection on the internet, this going to change the world that's going to change how we communicate it's going to change how we do business it's going to change everything. I was so excited about it and this light bulb went off and so I resigned after that semester for my research position and my teaching position, and of course my mom yelled at me and I started a one-man technology company called Webb Cal. What I did was internet based groupware, so calendaring and scheduling for four companies and the first company that called me and asked for a site license was a Schlumberger A Well services out in Austin Texas, and they wanted a 55,000 site license I didn't know what I was doing, so I made up a number and they FedEx me a check, and I said okay that was probably not enough.
Alan: Troy I need to take a quick break. I'm visiting here today with Trow Downing. Troy when we come back you get something really special moving into the revolutionizing of the Internet as we know it today, and we'll get into that right after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back missing here today with Troy Downing, and Troy in the first segment we looked at you know what brought you up and through life. Your history through school research assistant and then you left and you started it into the entrepreneurial world right Webb Cal alright fifty-five thousand seat licenses Schlumberger, but you went on from that to do something really special and what was that?
Troy: Right well after that you know it's interesting because I got a bunch of other larger contracts. Schlumberger introduced me to Exxon and then AT&T and then US West and I realized it was bigger than me and so I built out the company and brought some colleagues I'd worked with at NYU and some other friends from the industry and we started out the company for real. We started doing hosted services and and and started to make a footprint you know people started calling us. New York Times called and interviewed me at one point and as things started progressed we started getting the interest of other companies, and the first one was Microsoft called us and they were interested in buying us. Again you know this was my first real foray into a business like that and so I got and we had you know council dealing with them going back and forth on term sheets and then I got a call from another company, a telecom company out of Atlanta, they wanted to buy us and then a company that did synchronization software for Palm Pilots, if you remember that, they wanted to buy us so all this is going back and forth and it was it was exciting but it was scary. You know you have this fear that they're going to figure out how to do it on their own and put you out of business, or you know they're just just the fear of the unknown. So we're going down the path of that and then another company called us that I wasn't really interested in talking to in the first in the first place. It was out of California you know started out with some Stanford grad students and they built this directory that you know I wasn't really that keen on in the begin and they started talking to us, and I flew out to California I was actually I used to run marathons back then I was flying out to fly run the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon. Right after that the next day limping a little bit, I flew up to a Silicon Valley and met with the guys from Yahoo, I met with Jerry Yang and David Philo and Tim kugel and those guys and started talking to them about where they were going with Yahoo and what they wanted to do with it and I loved the team, I loved the ideas, it seemed like a good synergy and so everything else was pushed aside and we ended up shortly after doing a pulling of interest merger with Yahoo back in I was 98. It was a very very exciting time. I mean we were masters a universe back then we were the 800-pound gorilla that was solving all these problems that had never been solved before and really creating a new type of media, and it was a again the same feeling head back at the Media Research Lab surrounded by smart people doing neat things and it was just a very exciting time. I ended up staying in technology doing some technology venture and you know was with Yahoo for for a number of years until I just got out of technology in 2001 I'd kind of gotten what I wanted out of that I had you know been more successful than I ever..
You know in 2001, something happened there after 9/11 what was that?
Troy: Well what happened after 9/11 is you know as I said I'd have it had a life-changing experience in technology and I was up hunting in Alaska and I was moose hunting and I noticed towards the end of the trip that plane stopped flying, and you know no contrails no bush pilots and I knew something had happened I had no idea what until the bush pilot finally came and picked us up and landed on the lake, and this Grumman goose tailed into shore turned the engines off opened his window and stuck his head out the window and just shouted "you know guess!" "what?" "they blew up the World Trade Center". Who? and he used a derogatory term I'm not gonna repeat. I'm just confused I'm like both of them? "Yeah took him both down." and I'm picturing these towers just falling over and taking out lower Manhattan because I haven't seen it on TV and it really had a profound effect on me. You know I talked to you a little bit about might you know somewhat austere beginnings, and now I'm out in Alaska, I'm a pilot, I got my airplane parked a couple hundred miles away and I've been very successful, and my nation was under attack.
Alan: And Troy I'm going to need you to hold that thought, it was a life changing moment, but I do need to take a break. I'm visiting here today with Troy Downing and we've been talking about his life path and 2001 after 9/11 he did something really really special. We'll get into that right after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back and visiting here today with Troy Downing and we've been visiting about you know your career path and your early early stage at Yahoo and in 2001. you you know left of Technology arena. you're sitting in the the bush remotely in Alaska you get this announcement that World Trade Centers have blown up, and I want to pick it up from there. What were you feeling?
Troy: You know like most Americans, I mean the first thing is, you know I'm not ashamed to admit, I just cried. I mean none of us never really expected to be hurt that deeply on our own shores, and my next emotion really was, was shame. You know I'd been very successful and I felt that I had taken advantage of all the opportunities that I had as an American and really built you know my own version of the American dream. And I'm sitting there in Alaska on a moose hunting trip with my plane parked a few hundred miles away. You know I've been basically retired trying to figure out what's next, and I was ashamed that I had never done anything meaningful, to be part of a solution, to help, to give back for everything I'd taken advantage of. I knew I had to do something but I didn't know what and I had a little time to think about it because the bush pilot got me to Dillingham, which is where my plane was parked and I flew that down to Ketchikan which is on the Canadian border because the borders hadn't opened yet and I couldn't fly over Canada and shortly after they opened the borders I flew down so I had a little bit of time to think about it and I walked into a recruiters office, and said you know I used to teach at NYU I've got a pilot's license what can you do with me and they said go take the ASVAB. I was not in prior military I didn't know what it was at the time, they said it's a vocational aptitude battery. So I went took the ASVAB and came back to the recruiter and he looked at my score and I scored pretty high.
Alan: Oh come on, you're modest.
Troy: My composite was a 99. So the recruiter said well you know you qualify for any job that I offer, it's a little embarrassing to say. I said well that's the point, I want to be part of a solution. What can you use me for where I have something to offer, and he asked if I thought about going into intel and I said I've never thought about going into anything, but you know what would that entail and he described Intel you know following troop movements weapons you know that sort of stuff, and I just come out of a very long career from you know teaching, to startup company, to Yahoo, to technology and I said you know I don't think I'm going to be effective sitting in a dark room staring at a computer. So he said well I want you to talk to Chief Rhodes and he brought this guy in who told me the story says we fly these you know twenty-two thousand pound helicopters in formation 50 feet off the deck in the middle of the night with night-vision goggles on. We'd go out in the desert we find busted up kids and we bring them home. I raise my hand I got sworn in and went off to basic, went to SERE school, went to flight school in Albuquerque. I ended up doing two tours to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom has a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter flight engineer and I got to say that it was one of the best things I've done in my life. You know one of the things I like to joke about is nobody's ever upset when search-and-rescue shows up. But just the, you know first of all it always makes your heart kind of go in your throat a little bit when you do see who's in the back of the helicopter you know when you're out picking somebody up but it makes you feel so good that you got them home, you know that you got them out of there.
Alan: You know it's interesting Troy here you had remarkable...remarkable success on the technology sector. You didn't have to do this, but you know, you put your life on the line to bring others home.
Troy: Well you know I have to disagree on one thing, you say I didn't have to do it, but I had to do it. I had to do something and that was a very personal thing. One of the things that made me kind of realize you know a little bit of selfishness in that, is the first time I got deployed to Afghanistan and I've got my young daughter who is probably 10 or 11 at the time, asking me if I was going to get killed. All sudden it hit me that you know I'd really dragged so many other people into this. I remember having that conversation with my daughter saying you know there's going to be bad guys over there trying to hurt me but I'm pretty tough and I'm pretty smart and I'm pretty ornery and I think I don't think they're going to be successful, but there are going to be people trying to hurt me but my plan is to come back and see you when I'm done but I have to do this. And again, like my mom yelling at me when I left NYU, she yelled at me again and she's saying well you don't have to go do you and I've said no I do have go. Yes I probably could get out of this if I if I really didn't want to deploy but I didn't come here as a vacation or field trip. I did this because I needed to be part of a solution.
Alan: So Troy, where are we at today with this country.
Troy: You know, so much, you know that's a loaded and a long question. I don't know if we have enough program.
Alan: But you moved into, just like at 9/11, now you're on a platform where you're seeking to turn some things around.
Alan: What is it?
Troy: Well I'm tired of the dysfunction. I'm tired of there not being adults in the room. I'm tired of just the friction that we're seeing. I'm tired of career politicians deciding what happens in this country. I'm tired of the central government sticking their tendrils farther and farther into our lives. It wasn't designed to be that way. I want to just beat them back with a stick, and get back to the point where the government is there for basic protection and infrastructure and you're free to live your life. I want to get to a point where they're not trying to tell you what you can or can't do. I want you to be able to make your own decisions and reach for the brass ring and if you catch it bask in the glory of your success. If you don't catch it you fall and you have to lick your own wounds, but nobody is regulating or telling or trying to make you conform to something that doesn't allow that to thrive. And one of the things that the you know is really, you know I've kind of gone off a little on a side note there but one of the things that I'm really frustrated with is we're...I'm tired of the career politician. I'm tired of sending lawyers and career politicians to Washington to stay there for 20 30 40 years. After you've been there that long you're institutionalized, you're not relevant to modern America. You haven't built something you haven't experienced what it's like in a non political life, and I want to get back to the point where you take members of your community you send them to represent you. They do the work of the people and they go home and you send the next generation of ideas and and company builders and service members and people who have lives that are outside of politics and I want to be part of that change.
Alan: Troy, one thing that you and I have in common is Montana, and how does Montana play in this change.
Troy: Last best place. You know I I told you I grew up in California and was not happy where I grew up moved as far away as I could ran out of dirt in New York and when I did my deal with Yahoo that obviously brought me back to California and I needed to find something different. I wanted some place in the mountains, someplace where I could hunt and fish and hike and have my kids run around amongst trees and I heard something about this place in Montana and I'd never been there before and this is winter of 98 and I flew out there and instantly fell in love with it, with the the wildness, the majesty the people, the attitude, everything I just loved it. And so I bought some land and the next year I built a house and so that's what going, 19 years ago now, and they just can't get rid of me now. I mean I love the state. Obviously my work you know kept a connection with California for longer than I wish it did, but you know my heart's always been in Montana. I just don't know to say about it. If you like to be outside, if you like to be free, if you like the this amazing world that God has given us, you should visit Montana.
Alan: And recently you filed to go against the incumbent for for the Senate seat?
Troy: Yes I did, I'm a candidate for US Senate, I'm running in the 2018 midterms against the Democrat incumbent John Tester.
Alan: How do you feel things are going so far?
Troy: You know it's interesting because I've got a lot of friends, I mean I've been involved in politics even though I haven't run for office, and you know I've been I've been warned about certain things you know about Montanans or especially you know the party in Montana not giving me a warm welcome, and my experience has been the opposite. You know I've had a lot of very positive feedback. You know I addressed the officers convention for the Montana GOP in Billings about a month ago and was very well received a lot of people came up to me afterwards and they were inviting me to their to their counties for their, for their meetings and inviting me to their festivals and their fairs and you know it's been...it's actually makes me feel really good. I know the opposition's coming and I know they're about to you know any day they're going to start trying to find what's wrong with Troy Downing but I have to say right now it's been or up to this point, it's been it's been very positive and I feel very good about it. I think one of the things is I think I resonate with Montanans, because I didn't come there to change it I came there to preserve it. I love the state I love the people and I think they see that and I think they also see that I care about my country, that I have served, in Montana being you know one of the largest percentage of veterans in the population there you know I think that that resonate that story resonates with them the most, but one of the things that I want to be really clear on is yes I've done a lot of things in my life, but I want my message to resonate with Montanans and I want them to see that I am trying to preserve what's great about...I'm sorry I know you're not are you from there but you don't live there, but the the greatest state in the Union and that that's my goal.
Alan: Absolutely. Troy we are out of time today. I appreciate you being on today's show.