Archaic as the technology seems today, ham radio was Jeff Pulver's first social network.
Pulver, co-founder of Internet-based telephone company Vonage, said he began
experimenting with ham radio at age 9 to combat loneliness. Three and half years later, he gained a novice's license.
"From the time I got my license, I haven't shut up since," Pulver told entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts Tuesday at a gathering of NJ Tech Meetup, held at the Howe Center of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. "It gave me confidence to know there were people in the world who wanted to talk to me."
Pulver said that formative experience with radio empowered him to pursue curiosity throughout life, which would later result in exploring the market for Internet-based telephony while working as a systems administrator at Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald in the 1990s.
Pulver took that experience to help found Vonage, a broadband phone provider formed in Edison in 2001.
"I had this crazy idea to let the world talk for free," Pulver said to an audience of about 200, undoubtedly familiar with modern video-calling services such as Skype and FaceTime. "I did that precisely because no one said you couldn't," he said.
Pulver, now a co-founder of Zula, a startup that develops mobile apps to improve productivity and collaboration among teams, said his pursuits have been less by design and more about stumbling and discovering passions.
An investor in Twitter, Pulver views social media as an extension of the world he discovered when experimenting with radio.
"If you unbound yourself a little from reality and have the courage to believe in yourself, go do it," he said. "Because that license to believe in yourself will take you anywhere."
His message resonated with the audience.
Aaron Price, founder of NJ Tech Meetup, tweeted his favorite line from Pulver's talk: "If you don't know what you're doing, you can do anything."
"To me that's what the startup entrepreneur's mentality is all about," Price said.