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Front & Center: Spokane native Craig Tadlock, founder and CEO of GoToTags, sees a big upside for tech company after relocating it to his hometown

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 30, 2020

As founder and CEO of GoToTags, Craig Tadlock is forging a connection between the digital and physical worlds.

The Spokane-based company, which creates software and data tags that can be scanned and digitally linked to smartphones and other devices, has steadily grown since relocating from Seattle in 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic further accelerated the company’s growth in key product lines, driven by sales of radio-frequency identification tags used to verify product authenticity, some of which include hand-sanitizing and commercial-grade disinfection stations, as well as tags used by security companies nationwide, Tadlock said.

The company also added face masks to its product line in April to help combat a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment. It was able to provide more than 500,000 masks to first responders and medical professionals.

The pandemic is changing how people use digital devices to interact. Restaurants and retailers are adopting new technology, allowing customers to view menus or pay via smartphones using QR codes.

“The next one or two years are going to be the real explosion in our space, where people are taking things in the physical world, putting a tag on them and linking them to some digital identity or experience,” Tadlock said. “I think COVID-19 is going to drive all that. We’re pretty bullish on the future. A big part of that is going to be hiring and bringing people to Spokane.”

A world of computers, programming

Tadlock, a Spokane native, graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2001. As a college student, he stumbled into what he describes as the “dot-com madness.”

In 1999, Tadlock was hired as a senior developer for HomeGrocer, an online grocery ordering and delivery service, similar to Instacart.

“I started that job at HomeGrocer the day after I turned 21,” he said. “I was the youngest person in the company, and it was this whole world of computers, programming and an initial public offering.”

HomeGrocer filed for an IPO in March 2000, just before the dot-com bubble burst. The company was subsequently acquired by Webvan, a former California-based online grocery company.

HomeGrocer was a pioneer in its market, despite its failure during the dot-com bubble burst, said Tadlock , adding the company provided him with a glimpse into the entrepreneurial environment.

“It definitely helped solidify this entrepreneurial thing because when I started at that company, I was the 17th employee. And 18 months later, we were going public on the NASDAQ, and that’s really the moment where I was like ‘Wow, it’s possible to take an idea – and if you are smart, savvy enough and willing to put in the effort – you can make something big happen,” he said. “That company failed, but we were just 20 years too early. It definitely locked in the notion that I would never go back and work a 9-to-5 day job.”

Since then, Tadlock has been a senior developer for Microsoft and worked with 13 to 14 startups of various sizes. After moving to Los Angeles, he held software architect roles with Geodelic Systems Inc. and PixelFish Inc., before becoming chief technology officer for Payoff.com in 2009.

In 2008, Tadlock had also started his own company, Adventure Areas, a social network for adventure seekers. Although Adventure Areas shuttered a year later, Tadlock gained valuable insight into how to build a company.

“You learn more from failure than you do success half the time. With failure, hopefully you tend to do a little bit more introspection to say why it failed … I thought (Adventure Areas) was a great idea, but that was the moment where I realized I had very little sales, marketing, finance and operations skills,” he said. “It taught me I might need to brush up on some of those things, but, more importantly, to bring on experts in those things.”

Coming to Spokane

In 2011, Tadlock launched GoToTags, a provider of software, tags and hardware for RFID, QR and NFC technologies. The company, then based in Seattle, was founded on the idea that the online and physical worlds would be connected via mobile devices and wireless sensors.

Tadlock chose to relocate the company to Spokane after it became difficult to recruit people and expensive to operate in Seattle.

Tadlock reached out to Tom Simpson, CEO of Ignite Northwest, president of the Spokane Angel Alliance and managing member of Kick-Start angel investment funds, to obtain an understanding of the local startup ecosystem and talent pool before relocating the company to Spokane.

“I think Spokane is a great place for GoToTags. It’s one of the most successful things that we’ve done,” Tadlock said. “It was a pretty big transition. Only one of our staff moved over from Seattle. We had to replace pretty much most of the team. But, we were able to recruit great people, and we’re able to continue to recruit people.”

How things work

Tadlock has always been curious about how and why things work.

He said knowing how things work demonstrates a general understanding of physics, chemistry, electrical and mechanical engineering, and translates well to a career in computer science.

“I’m big into social and evolutionary psychology because that’s the study of how and why do humans do what they do,” he said. “So that’s kind of my passion and what I kind of geek out on and really enjoy.”

In his spare time, Tadlock also enjoys hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing.

Seizing the opportunity

GoToTags, which has 11 employees, is examining how it can leverage its products to meet demand it anticipates for digital, contactless technology that will be accelerated by COVID-19.

The company is in discussions with several Fortune 100 companies about some fairly large projects, Tadlock said.

“I think we are in the exact right spot that we need to be, at least in terms of the direction that we are headed,” Tadlock said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. I think we are going to be very busy for the next one to two years.

“That’s going to mean hiring people. We are looking at how and if we need to add additional money via investment. The opportunity in front of us is pretty significant.”

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