Michael Smyers, 1983-2023: Gifted engineer and startup founder sparked Coinme and Zipwhip

Michael Smyers was a talented software engineer and serial startup founder.

Michael Smyers, a software engineer and startup entrepreneur who played a formative role in Seattle tech companies Zipwhip and Coinme, died April 30, seven months after learning he had colon cancer. He was 39 years old.

Smyers discovered his love of coding in the third grade and started his first company, Course Scheduler, as a student at Kansas State University.

The core operating system that he began developing for Zipwhip in 2008 was still in use when Twilio acquired the landline texting company for $850 million in 2021.

“He was brilliant,” said John Lauer, the Zipwhip co-founder and former CEO. “His software engineering skills were absolutely stupendous. … He was truly a one-of-a-kind developer, and brilliant at a young age.”

Michael Smyers and his son, Niko.

Smyers was an early adopter of cryptocurrency who remained faithful in its future despite its recent struggles. His experience mining Bitcoin in his basement inspired him to start Coinme, which created the first licensed Bitcoin ATM machine in the country, going on to handle millions of dollars in monthly transactions.

“He wanted to bring value to the world,” said Kathleen Lemaster, his partner. She met Smyers in 2018 when she was on a date with his roommate, who set them up after seeing them interact and realizing that they clicked.

Smyers also applied that larger philosophy to his role as a father after the birth of their son, Niko, in 2020.

“Michael was an incredibly supportive and nurturing father who encouraged compassion and curiosity,” reads his obituary. “He wanted his son to live with morals above all else — and to discover and pursue his Personal Legend.”

That was a reference to the The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho, one of Smyers’ favorite books, which presents the concept of Personal Legend as a unique destiny or individual fate that people are meant to discover and follow.

Smyers’ own Personal Legend, Lemaster said, was “entrepreneurship that changed the world,” enabled by technology.

Lemaster has created a memorial and fundraising page for the Colon Cancer Society in Smyers’ honor to raise awareness for early screening and diagnosis of the disease. Read more about his life here.

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