Lessons from a Nomadic Tech CEO

Adi Sircar
6 min readSep 13, 2021


You look like Keanu Reeves.

Who’s that?

I had the immense pleasure of chatting with Alexander Obenauer on a lively Friday afternoon and needless to say, I learned more from this one conversation than any number of textbooks I’ve read, lecture notes I’ve taken, or hours of educational content I have sat through.

Obenauer is a 2012 graduate from Virginia Tech’s world-class Computer Science program. He’s the Founder and CEO of Mindsense, a software company he started during his senior year. He’s also the Assistant Director of Make a Mark, a global humanitarian nonprofit started by his wife, Sarah, whom he met at Virginia Tech! They currently live in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and often explore the country in their RV.

Alex boondocks with his Class A RV around the country.

Alex is passionate about personal computing and the future of the operating system; he publishes insightful Lab Notes on his website. He researches how personal computing can be improved to expand the human capacity to think, create, collaborate, and do.

Alex Obenauer

What’s your background?

I was a senior 10 years ago. I crowdfunded my company with a kickstarter campaign. I sold consumer productivity software (B2C). I spent half my time at the corporate office, and the other half in a modern, remote, and geographically distributed workplace.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship instead of working at a company?

I always knew I wanted to do it. There’s a running joke that entrepreneurs have to start their own companies because they are fully unemployable. I’ve been told I’m too entrepreneurial and at first I thought: Isn’t that a good thing? I think I understand what that means now. My boss would hate me — my boss would hate me. I was a polarizing student.

Looking back, what would you do differently?

Intentional co-founder picking. Make sure they have the same long-term vision. I wish I trusted my gut more early on: Apple reached out 6 months after starting the company. I thought maybe I should do what Apple told us but what Apple wants is in their best interest, not necessarily my best interest.

Who is your role model?

I don’t have one. I admire bits and pieces of a lot of different people, but no one specific. Is that a common thing?

Well I think a popular role model today would be Elon Musk…


What was your dream company?

If I had a dream company it was Apple. We actually had acquisition talks with them and my dad was a little disappointed with the decisions I made but I felt like I could do more outside Apple than inside.

Who are you still friends with from college?

My wife. A couple people a year above me. That’s about it. Why do you ask?

I feel like I haven’t made as many friends as I had hoped to.

I feel the same way. I look at wedding photos and I don’t really talk to any of them anymore. That’s just life.

What clubs were you in at Virginia Tech?

My first year, I did the radio station, rock climbing, and the hybrid electric vehicle team. Later I went deeper into leadership roles in campus ministry, transfer orientation, and Association for Computing Machinery, which I was President of.

If you were reincarnated as any living organism, what would you choose?

I have never been asked that before. A bird.


Wait. A migratory bird.

Ah, I like the distinction. You wouldn’t want to be a penguin.

Exactly! A penguin is the opposite of what I’m going for.

Alex would not want to be a flightless penguin.

You look a lot like Keanu Reeves.

Who is that? Is he an actor or something?

Yeah he was in the matrix.

I was at a Hokies on Wall Street event and Keanu Reeves’ stunt double was there, who is actually an alumnus of Virginia Tech. So there’s your VT trivia for the day.

What did a day in your life look like as a student at VT?

I ate at West End a lot. I was constantly making something. I was constantly reducing the number of classes I was in. I always took classes over the summer. Summers in Blacksburg were beautiful. I always took fewer credits in the fall for football season.

If not Computer Science, what would you study and what would you do?

I have no idea. Maybe architecture, psychology, philosophy, sociology, industrial design. A huge part of me is so jealous of professors. I may be glamorizing it in my head, but there’s something about the energy and optimism among a student population that is just awesome — leading curious minds in pursuit of new knowledge.

When did you start your lab notes/journaling/blogging? Why do you do it?

I write all the time. I write to think. Better writing meant better thinking. I started about a year ago. I started exploring the future of personal computing with the future of the operating system. I wanted to meet and work with people who think about the same things. Slowly the big people in the field are seeing my work and I’m getting to have conversations with them. Another thing: code depreciates but knowledge accretes. When Steve Jobs revitalized Pixar, he found it striking how software written just 5 years prior was completely irrelevant but Toy Story would be enjoyed for generations. I also want to work with the office door open. I often work in an RV and have a proclivity to toil away in silence. By publishing my writing frequently, I get nudged by my audience towards the right direction. It helps me find some signal in the noise.

Code depreciates but knowledge accretes.

What was the motivation for starting Mindsense?

I always wanted to start a company where we made and sold good software. There’s so much unfulfilled potential in software. It amazed me and it still amazes me. I thought a lot of companies were failing to fulfill that potential. I went to a conference in college and a speaker said that your life’s calling is the intersection of the world’s greatest needs and your greatest strengths. Today, there is some vision for the world. You have a set or proclivities, curiosity, and gifts.

The name Mindsense: We were in my apartment in Foxridge. We had a bunch of names on a whiteboard. I wanted to make software that empathetically understands how we think. A lot of software at the time reflected underlying protocols or databases. I wanted to bring the interface much closer to the human.

Your life’s calling is the intersection of the world’s greatest needs and your greatest strengths.

Why don’t you research something more sexy like Blockchain or AI?

You sound like my father. Personal computers are the most important thing we’ve ever built. There are people who don’t have electricity who have smartphones; homeless people have smartphones. They connect you to critical resources and they’re a lot cheaper to get than a home. 49% of the world’s population has a personal computing device and they all run an operating system that hasn’t seen much innovation in decades. Today, the personal computing vendors (hardware, software, services, & infrastructure) to connect the world are pursuing different priorities, like advertisement, instead of personal computing innovation. Who is the purveyor of trustworthy personal computing for your interest — society’s interest? That’s a question I hope to answer with my work.

Alex asked me if I have any ideas or projects I’m currently working on. I shared an idea that appeared spontaneously on a moonlight drive with Melanie after a Flipturn concert in Ashville, NC. As I told my story, Obenauer’s face lit up with excitement and his eyes had a glistening spark. His affirmation and insight gave me so much hope and motivation to think deeper and create something big. To everyone reading, please explore your passions and do something amazing with your infinite potential. Every decision you’ve made in your entire life has led you to this very moment — what are you gonna do next? Check out my website to see what I’m currently working on. Always be curious.