Hi. I’m Toni Schneider. I live in San Francisco and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a happy dad of three grown kids, a perpetual optimist, and per my friend Om, someone who loves life and living. I started my career as a software engineer, which led to being an entrepreneur and eventually an investor at True Ventures. This (pre-COVID) interview and podcast capture some of my thoughts about startup investing.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with outstanding teams in areas like carbon capture, online marketplaces, web publishing, webmail, digital music, audio chip design, virtual reality, and digital signal processing.
Highlights of my career include operating one of the top 10 web sites in the world; helping start one of the leading venture capital firms in Silicon Valley; running an exciting startup that got acquired by Yahoo!; being voted Silicon Valley’s best startup CEO; starting the Yahoo! Developer Network; helping invent 3D audio software for NASA; and giving Bill Gates a Virtual Reality demo a few months into my first job.
Partner / 2005 – now
True is a leading venture capital firm focused on supporting technology entrepreneurs at the beginning stages of creating companies. True’s portfolio includes many super talented founders and successful startups like Peloton, Automattic, HashiCorp, Handshake, Fitbit, Duo, and Ring.
CEO / 2006 – 2014
Automattic is one of the pioneers of remote work and runs WordPress.com and a network of online publishing services that together reach an audience of close to a billion people.
VP Yahoo! Developer Network / 2004 – 2006
I joined Yahoo! through their acquisition of Oddpost. I helped integrate Oddpost’s technology into Yahoo! which later led to the launch of a new version of Yahoo! Mail which Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal called “a major breakthrough”, “radically easier to use” and “far superior to Gmail”. I also formed the team that built the first version of the Yahoo! Developer Network which allows third party software developers to use Yahoo! as a platform for creating Yahoo!-powered applications.
Oddpost (acquired by Yahoo!)
CEO / 2002 – 2004
Oddpost blazed the trail for modern web applications by creating an award winning webmail service that offered a desktop level app experience inside a web browser – a feat that would later be termed Ajax software development and become a standard way of making web apps across the internet. Yahoo! acquired Oddpost to bring its technology to over 200 million Yahoo! Mail users.
- Launched the company at DEMO 2003, getting coverage in over 150 newspapers worldwide.
- Raised VC funding from Venture Strategy Partners and Draper Associates and grew company to profitability (after the dotcom crash).
- Helped build a product that ushered in a new generation of faster and more usable web-based email services.
- Negotiated Oddpost’s sale to Yahoo! (which landed us on the cover of Business 2.0).
CEO & Co-Founder / 2000 – 2002
Uplister was a popular community-based music discovery and recommendation system. It allowed music fans to upload and annotate their favorite playlists and share them with other fans. A community of music lovers emerged, writing about their lives and the personal soundtracks that accompanied them.
- Raised VC funding from August Capital and brought together a team of engineers from Silicon Valley and marketers from record labels.
- Launched online playlist sharing and digital music subscription service and attracted over 500,000 users based on grass roots marketing.
- Signed up over 50 celebrity contributors, including well known writers and musicians like Nick Hornby, Radiohead, Joey Ramone, Ice-T, Nelly Furtado, Tricky, and Paul Oakenfold.
- Negotiated industry first distribution agreements for digital music subscriptions with 10 leading independent record labels (including TVT Records, Matador Records, and Beggars Banquet).
Aureal Semiconductor (acquired by Creative Labs)
VP Technology / 1996 – 1998 / VP Marketing / 1998 – 2000
Aureal’s audio chips significantly raised the bar for sound quality on PCs. Using 3D audio technology acquired from Crystal River, Aureal challenged the dominant, but aging Soundblaster standard with a new interactive surround sound standard called A3D. Aureal’s A3D chips and sound cards became the audio solution of choice in millions of PCs. Aureal was acquired by Creative Labs in early 2000.
- Joined Aureal’s executive team through their acquisition of Crystal River Engineering.
- Created the A3D API and got leading game developers to adopt it in over 100 video games, including a string of #1 hits: Jedi Knight from Lucas Arts, Quake III from id Software/Activision, Unreal from Epic Games and Half-Life from Valve. Worked with Microsoft who used A3D as the blueprint for DirectSound3D in Windows.
- Helped define Vortex, a line of advanced PCI audio chips and soundcards that brought HiFi-quality A3D sound to PCs. Implemented national and international Vortex product launches and supported sales growth to $12 million per quarter. Vortex based soundcards like the Diamond Monster Sound won dozens of editor’s choice awards.
- Closed multi-million dollar A3D licensing deals with ATI, Cirrus Logic, Rockwell, and S3, and helped close Vortex chip sales with Compaq, Dell, HP, Micron, NEC, and Sony.
- Represented Aureal as the primary spokesperson to technology analysts and media, as a speaker at gaming and technology conferences, and as a lead witness in a patent defense trial.
Crystal River Engineering (acquired by Aureal Semiconductor)
Software Engineer / 1993 -1996
Crystal River Engineering (CRE) was one of the pioneers of Virtual Reality and the inventor of 3D sound, a new type of audio technology that allowed users inside virtual environments to hear sounds the same way we hear them in real life. It could process sounds in real-time to make them appear above, behind or anywhere around a person, zooming past them, being muffled by walls and echoing around corners. The result was so life-like that it enabled blind people to navigate virtual environments using only their ears. CRE was acquired by Aureal to bring this technology from the world of million-dollar NASA simulators to PCs and video games.
- Joined CRE founder Scott Foster to help advance the development of the NASA-commissioned Convolvotron, the world’s first real-time binaural audio rendering system. The Convolvotron’s massively parallel DSP engine was capable of digitally modeling sounds as they travel through walls, the atmosphere, and the outer ear structure via HRTFs.
- Wrote 3D audio API and real-time geometry engine to allow 3D simulation developers to easily manipulate and render sounds in 3D worlds.
- Wrote drivers to integrate 3D audio into over a hundred high-end virtual reality and visual simulation systems, including NASA and Air Force training simulators, Disneyland VR rides and digital art installations at the New York MoMA.
I went to Santa Barbara City College and Stanford University. My initial idea was to move to California for a year to learn English. When I got to Santa Barbara and set foot on the beautiful SBCC campus overlooking the ocean, I had a feeling I might stay a while. I ended up studying at SBCC for two years, then transferred to Stanford and got a BS degree in Computer Science. I almost finished a Masters, but the siren song of Silicon Valley startups was too tempting and I dropped out to join Crystal River Engineering (and never looked back).
I grew up in Switzerland on beautiful Lake Zurich. After high school I spent a year working as a DJ at Radio Zuerisee and doing my mandatory military service, then I set off for California.
PS: Just for fun, here’s my old about page from 10+ years ago.