My Story

A little about how I got here…


My career in building new ventures started with design thinking in Stanford University’s Product Design department working under David Kelley in the early 90’s. My early career in technology innovation at GM/Delphi, HP, ADL and a think tank in Tokyo evolved into a 20-year focus on launching or leading startups that commercialized innovative technologies — two in aviation and a third in market research. Along the way, I learned countless lessons — including the realization that entrepreneurs appreciate and benefit from my help and coaching.

From my years in the trenches, I determined that there are three core disciplines that are particularly helpful for entrepreneurial success: command of self, command of opportunity, and command of organization.  I now focus on building new ventures and democratizing these three key disciplines of entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurs with a decent grounding in these three disciplines will beat the odds of startup success.  It is comparatively straightforward to fill in with the remaining standard subjects of business training (accounting, finance, marketing, etc.) once the entrepreneur solidifies her foundation in these three disciplines.  


My projects

Van Tuyl Ventures & Three Pillar Leadership

For the moment is a holding company of sorts for my various projects.  I focus my services on Command of Opportunity through the Product/Market Expeditions I facilitate.  These expeditions support an entrepreneur’s command of the opportunity (finding effective product/market fit) and business model from which to grow their business.  

Go to Three Pillar Leadership 

At I offer coaching and explore ways in which command of self, opportunity and organization define the culture and success of new ventures. 

Here at, I offer my general musings about my own effort to construct my own figurative cathedral (my life’s purpose) and what I’ve learned along the way.  

I work in English, Spanish and Japanese. I earned my MBA from Columbia Business School.

Product/Market Expeditions can change the stars of any individual or business planning to launch a new product or service.


How the example of AmeriCares shaped my view of achieving meaningful social change.

When I applied to business school in 1998, the application questions prompted me to reflect on my life and define what mattered to me.  Through that process I realized that the prior decade of my father’s career was instructive in a way I had not realized as it was happening.  My father went to work for AmeriCares ten years prior when I was a junior in high school in 1988.  

As a idealistic youth, I had aspired to combat social inequality through my work, but I did not have the stomach for politics nor the patience for “pass the hat” philanthropy.  When prompted by my business school applications to reflect upon my life, I saw in the origin story of AmeriCares an example of how business can serve as an economic engine to power any number of objectives.  AmeriCares was not the engine.  Rather it was AmeriCares’ founder Bob Macauley’s paper company, Virginia Fiber, that served as the economic engine that powered the good works at AmeriCares.  Virginia Fiber contributed significantly to AmeriCares’ operating budget, and with this benefactor to fund its base operations, AmeriCares was able to become one of the preeminent humanitarian relief agencies in the world.  AmeriCares’ prided itself on arriving first to tragic disasters anywhere in the world, providing critical first aid and life support until governments and NGOs fill in behind with longer-term services and reconstruction.

My father, Stephen M. Johnson, seated on the left, served as president of AmeriCares from 1990-1999. Here James Earl Jones speaks prior to an airlift of donated Steinway pianos that AmeriCares delivered to black churches in the south that had been burned by white supremacists. Founder Bob Macauley sits on the right.
The example of AmeriCares, or specifically of Virginia Fiber, highlighted to me that learning to build businesses and then teaching that skill to underserved communities, would allow individuals in those communities to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and achieve economic parity with better-served communities.  With this realization, I focused my career on learning how to launch and run businesses the old-fashioned way, growing them from operating income rather than through venture investment.  It was hard slogging, but those trenches taught me invaluable lessons on running, growing and selling businesses.   After twenty years accumulating experience, I am ready to share what I’ve learned.
AmeriCares often took public figures on humanitarian airlifts. Here George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara deplane after returning from an airlift to Guatemala. My father speaks to the media from the podium on the right. This framed picture hangs in his office today.
The AmeriCares staff had a good laugh taking a group photo above my father as he caught some ZZZ’s on an airlift.
Presenting the Romanian flag to President George H.W. Bush after an airlift that followed the fall of dictator Caeusescu where the communist crest had been cut out of the flag by jubilant Romanians. AmeriCares delivered emergency supplies to support the peoples during a time of rapid transition following Caeusescu’s fall.