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Featured on Aug 03, 2011

Brett Martin

"It's been real, except for the times that were fake. - Jeff Lawrence"


I spent my first two years crying on a farm. Shortly thereafter, I began playing with Legos. My career peaked with a 1st place finish in the Salisbury, MD Lego contest. As a kid, I walked the boardwalk of Ocean City, MD, not talking to girls. At the age of six, I achieved financing independence by paying my younger sister to sell sea shells at a 5000% markup. I was greedy with the revenue split and still regret it.

In high school, I waited tables, horribly. I am lucky to have learned early that life is too short to spend the majority of it doing something you don't like. The next five summers, I taught people how to surf, and every one of my pupils caught a wave by the end of their first lesson.

I won the educational lottery and moved to Dartmouth College, a school that I had never heard of. I became a proficient snowboarder but learned little about economics. I spent a winter in Siena, Italy not learning Italian with my friends. The next winter, I moved to LA for an unpaid banking internship but opted to sell D&G rags to B-list celebrities when I realized I needed to pay my rent. That summer, I passed on a Wall Street internship to surf my way through Central America.

After college, I still ended up on Wall Street. A lot of people talk shit about Wall Street, myself included, but one thing I really like about it is that if do your job, they let you be. I wore sandals until I quit to go sailing 6,000 miles from Maine to Dominica on a 30’ ketch, aboard which I had numerous near death experiences. Upon returning to NYC for the summer, I founded a now defunct non-profit, launched Vice’s, and started a band called Kittens Ablaze (named at 4am when the audio engineer asked us what to label the tape). We played our first show and the next day I moved to Italy on a Fulbright fellowship. This time I learned some Italian.

Upon returning from my government-funded Italian of early stage entrepreneurial resource allocation, I (not surprisingly) spent 6 months in life analysis paralysis. So, I moved to Austin with a buddy, taught ourselves to code, built a killer product that we never launched and ran out of money. Lesson learned.

I returned to NYC to help build AppFund (now K2 labs), a mobile incubator. I pitched them Sonar to no avail so we launched a few companies together. Nine months later they decided to give me the rock. I'm still learning how to dribble.

  • Title: CEO & Co-Founder, Sonar
  • Age: 28
  • Location: Flatiron District
  • Contact: @brett1211, Sonar

What are your personal pros and cons of NYC?

Shooting a quick text and finding myself, 30 minutes later, eating Indian food with my best friends in the world on Curry Hill.  Finishing work at 10pm on a summer night and jumping right into the 24 hour pickup game on the West Side Highway and Canal.  Stacking up ten back-to-back meetings in a row within a three block radius.  The tingling feeling I get every time I see the NYC skyline poke above the horizon on a return flight.  Being thoroughly impressed by the people with whom I work.

I love that everyone here is here for one reason: to be the best at whatever they do.  It's invigorating.  

Cons: The smells. Winter sludge. Rats.  I wish I made it to the beach more often and that my family lived here.

It sounds like you’ve learned a lot of hard life lessons from experience. Besides cheating your sister in seashell sales, what do you most regret doing/not doing?

I have few regrets but they are all related to things I didn't do.  Not heading south with my friends to help rebuild after Katrina.  Failing to launch my first startup.  Never learning to scuba dive while I was sailing.  Letting an opportunity to start a tour guide business in Barcelona with some buddies from college fizzle.  Passing on a 24 hour trip to the Alhambra with one of the prettiest girls I've ever met…because I was too worried about what I was going to do with my life.

How did you come up with the idea for Sonar?  What sorts of connections have you made so far on Sonar that have been particularly valuable to you?

Sonar was born in my hometown of Ocean City, MD (OCMD).

OCMD has a mere 8,000 full-time residents.  I graduated with 36 other kids (largest graduating class ever) from the same school I had attended since kindergarten.  Basically, I grew up a villager in rural Maryland.

At least, that is, for nine months of the year.  The other three months of every year I lived in the second largest city in Maryland.  You see, Ocean City, MD, is the largest beach resort in the mid-Atlantic, home to half a million tourists on a given summer day.  During the summer I was a townie, working at Malibu's surf shop, teaching surfing lessons, and making fast friends that would be inevitably be replaced on Monday.

The combination of small town community and hyper-socialization makes it easy to find the common ground.  In Ocean City, I learned how to important it is to connect and now that’s what I want to help other people do.  That's what Sonar is all about: genuine, in real life connections.

This is my favorite thing:

In your interview on Startup American Partnership, you explain that you went through military handgun training to battle your fear of guns, demonstrating your courage to face your fears head-on. Do you have any fears you haven’t conquered yet?

I actually think that it was Trevor, my interviewer, who went through the handgun training.  It does remind me of a time my dad and I were shooting a revolver out on the farm I grew up on.  I was about six at the time and even though we were very close to the wooden target I couldn't seem to put a dent in it.  Of course, after 20 rounds and closer inspection, we realized that I was in fact hitting the board, but the bullets we ricocheting off into the abandoned garage on the other side of the farm.  Point being, there's a reason to be afraid of guns.  They are dangerous.

I banked after college because I was afraid of finance.  I went sailing because I was afraid of boats and clumsy with my hands.  I started a company because there is nothing I am more afraid of. Entrepreneurship is far from checked off the list but I suppose that moving to a monastery to gain better control of my mind is next on the list.  Adios.