Craig Palmer’s career in the startup world shows that boldness and a Wisconsin engineering education can prepare a person for some pretty big leaps. Since earning his UW-Madison bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1982, the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, native has embarked on several ventures that don’t have much in common beyond a connection to the tech industry and a thirst for new challenges and risks.
“One common theme for me is I would get bored doing the same thing, and I always like new challenges,” Palmer says.
After graduation, Palmer went to work for Hewlett-Packard, serving as part of a technical marketing team that introduced the first UNIX workstations to the market. In 1989, he moved to Silicon Valley for a marketing job with a young but fast-growing startup Cadence, which developed electronic design automation software for chips and circuit boards.
As Cadence grew, went public and acquired other companies, Palmer decided he wanted more firsthand experience launching his own startup companies and handling initial public offerings. So in 1994, he joined another new company, the business-to-business software outfit Aspect Development, as vice president of marketing.
The company grew its annual revenue from $5 million to $100 million in just five years, and in 2000 was acquired by i2 for $9.3 billion. At the time, the i2-Aspect Development deal was the biggest merger in the history of the software industry.
In 2000, Palmer became president and CEO of the online auction company eWanted, and quickly grew it into a leading online marketplace for entertainment memorabilia. He then went on to a nine-year run as the CEO of Gracenote, the company behind the now-ubiquitous metadata that helps consumer computers recognize the titles, artists and other details of music on CDs. The company’s growth led to another successful sale for Palmer, who negotiated a $260 million deal with Sony in 2008.
Since 2011, Palmer has worked as the CEO of Wikia, which hosts hundreds of thousands of wiki-based communities spanning all manner of subjects and interests. He lives in the San Francisco area.