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Delve Talks: Jonathan Spangler, Ciari Guitars

Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our second season continues to explore how to create a culture that supports innovation through interviews with leaders of startups, educational and banking institutions, and multinational corporations.


Dave Franchino [00:00:00] Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another Delve podcast focused on innovation. This afternoon, I'm really excited to be talking to Jonathan Spangler, who's got a really varied background, currently the principal and founder of Spangler Advisory Services, but more appropriately for this conversation. He's also CEO of a really fascinating startup, Ciari Guitars. Jonathan, I know you've got 20 years of experience that started in the legal world, but a lot of business experience in patent law and medical device industry. So first off, I just wanted to welcome you and thank you for taking time to talk to our listeners today.

Jonathan Spangler [00:00:36] I'm more than happy to be here, David. Thank you. And yeah, this is exciting from our standpoint as well.

Dave Franchino [00:00:41] Great. You know, Jonathan, you've got such a fascinating background. Rather than try to tell it myself, could you please walk our listeners through the history of your career and how you got to where you are right now?

Jonathan Spangler [00:00:56] Sure, I'd be happy to. So basically, I got my undergrad in biomedical engineering with a minor in electrical and was exposed to patent law while at Marquette University in Milwaukee for that undergrad degree. Yeah, I just happened upon patent law as a profession. It really piqued my interest because it has a lot to do with, obviously, innovation and I like -- I love really -- and I still do the notion of innovation and trying to stay on top of, you know, what is new and improving in the world and certainly being a part of it by helping people protect those good ideas. And so, yeah, I practiced patent law first with a couple of law firms in Minneapolis, did litigation, prosecution, and eventually because I wanted to be close to the actual business side of things I went in-house. And so I ended up being chief counsel at a couple of companies, one that was a startup when I when I started NuVasive, a spinal medical device company in San Diego. And, you know, we grew from 30 employees to 2,300 during my tenure there. 

You know, it was a rocket ship. It was super-duper fun. And again, innovation was was one of the reasons that we were able to be so successful. So it was at my time at NuVasive, this spinal medical device company in San Diego, that really exposed me to not only innovation but market-making innovation. And those were two critical parts, epiphanies, if you will, that that helped guide what we've been doing here at Ciari Guitars.

Dave Franchino [00:02:53] So, you know, one of the common denominators was the energy you sort of focused around startups and innovation curves and a lot of areas. But what particularly drew you to startups, both in the early part of your professional career and then now is you've sort of taken the plunge in yourself to run and start your own startup?

Jonathan Spangler [00:03:13] Sure. I think primarily it was being being able to influence and really help guide. And have a genuine impact on getting some technology to the masses or getting it out there. And so I personally found that being part of a team to help demystify and, you know, iterate your way towards addressing all the challenges in order to take that idea and make it a reality and then have people buy it and then it proliferates, like, you know, it's very, very powerful to to know that you were a critical part of something.

Dave Franchino [00:03:57] Sure. That makes a lot of sense. So obviously, you know, a while ago you started a very different direction a couple of years ago. You made a decision to launch your own travel guitar and with a startup called Ciari, can you walk me through the story of that? Where's the motivation and history behind that interesting diversion?

Jonathan Spangler [00:04:19] It's somewhat incongruent with the rest of my career unless you peel back a little bit. One of the really enjoyable aspects of NuVasive was that our CEO had our quarterly meetings in the format of a Tonight Show. And so he was the host. And it was, you know, we'd have all the employees in one room and and they would be the studio audience and then the guests would be maybe a doctor or patient or the V.P. of sales or the CFO or what have you. And it was a playful way for us to be transparent and share the key metrics that we were all driving towards to the company, but do it in a fun and playful way. Well, he knew that I played guitar. For the podcast listeners you can't see, but I have a physical resemblance to Paul Shaffer from David Letterman. And so I jokingly say that he tapped me to be the Paul Shaffer of our company band.

[00:05:28] Now, my day job there at the company had me traveling a ton. You know, global travel for a variety of business development lawsuits, depositions, meeting with inventors, surgeons, you name it. And so what I had to do is basically travel with my guitar in order to practice enough to be, you know, somewhat competent for these quarterly meetings. And so that's where I first experienced the pain points of guitar air travel. And then, you know, I researched the options out there and realized that the options that were out there did not meet my, you know, my satisfaction. And then, frankly, it was under my nose this entire time. I've been telling people forever, if you don't like your options, make what you want and maybe someone will want it, too. And it took my own travels, literally and figuratively, to kind of bring about my own advice to myself and that's what led to it.

Image of Jonathan Spangler of Ciari Guitars
“Don’t let somebody else find out what’s wrong with your product. Make it. Do it. Figure it out.” — Jonathan Spangler

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Delve has merged with Bresslergroup. Learn more →