The Visualist Blog

Behind the Scenes at Mersive with Mike Tolliver

A lot happens behind the scenes here at Mersive, most of which is done by the 18 people I share these four walls with. They also happen to be some of the most talented – and interesting –   people I know. Starting this month I’ll begin featuring interviews with one of the Mersive team members whom I have the pleasure to build, design and play foosball with. These “interviews” will highlight a few fun, random facts as well as their thoughts on our industry – all designed to give you a little glimmer of the colorful life we have here at Mersive.

Mike Tolliver is employee number three at Mersive (engineer number one) and is our resident graphics guru, who (and this can be rare) also cares deeply about user experience design. If you’re using Solstice, then you’ve seen his fingerprints on the display side aesthetics as well as the UI on the clients.

Without further ado… Everyone, meet Mike Tolliver.

Behind the Scenes at Mersive...with Mike Tolliver

Where are you from?
Originally, Ashland, KY.


What brought you to Denver?
Mersive is what actually brought me to Denver. The mountains and sunshine didn’t hurt, though.


What made you decide to become a software engineer?
Software development was (still is) attractive to me because it provides a great platform for creating things and solving interesting problems with little overhead.


How did you land at Mersive?
Mersive was born out of academic research at the University of Kentucky, and I happened to be a student there when Chris and Steve (cofounders) were doing some really cool things at the Visualization Lab. Once I learned they were using the technology to launch a startup, I hit them up for a job and have been around ever since.


What has been your favorite project to work on here at Mersive and why?
I’d have to say Solstice. Much of our software stays “behind the scenes”, but Solstice is very much front-and-center to the user. It’s been both fun and rewarding to create a product where design/UX reallymatters. Of course you have to get the functionality and performance right, but in my opinion, the winner(s) in this burgeoning industry of wireless display sharing will be the ones who craft a well-designed, intuitive experience that users find pleasant and unintimidating. It’s one of my main goals to make sure Mersive is leading the way on that front.


How have you seen the AV industry change since you joined Mersive?
There’s been a significant blurring of the lines between software and hardware. Software based solutions have disrupted product lines that were previously dominated by dedicated hardware devices. With increasing availability of programmable hardware and decreasing cost, I’d expect this trend to continue.


What’s one thing you think people may not know about Mersive – that they should know?
We actually demoed our first prototype of wireless display sharing software in 2007. We codenamed it “Stingray” and had a small demo running in that year’s InfoComm and then again in a restaurant with close friends and industry leaders at SIGGRAPH 2008. There wasn’t really a market for it yet and our priorities were elsewhere, so it got shelved for a few years, until the US intelligence community came calling and wanted to use it for meetings. We’d also kept the idea kept simmering and began to productize it a few years ago until it eventually became Solstice.


From an industry stand-point, what do you think the AV industry is challenged with overcoming?
Well, I’ll pick up from a previous question about how the industry has changed: I believe the role of software in AV will continue to increase and continue to disrupt. This will present both challenges and opportunities, depending on where you stand. To be clear, there will always be a demand for specialized hardware, but the advantages of software (fluidity, easy updating, higher flexibility, lower development cost, etc.) combined with the increasing availability of programmable hardware will work to reduce that demand. The result will effectively democratize large swaths of AV technology, which, in turn, will disrupt existing markets and create brand new ones (some of which will probably be very exciting). Those capable of moving swiftly, pivoting when necessary, and reading trends are the ones who will say “opportunity” instead of “challenge”.


What blogs or news sites do you read religiously?
I wouldn’t say that I read anything religiously, but here are some that I like:

  • Ken’s Blog – Graphics industry heavyweight posts some interesting stuff.
  • Porch Drinking – For the craft beer nerd in me.
  • Dribble – Design inspiration.
  • Mind Hacks – I don’t know anything about neuroscience, but this blog is pretty fascinating.
  • Wired – And of course, good ol’ Wired.



What motivates or inspires you?
As cliché as it may sound, Colorado’s mountains never cease to inspire.

What do you geek-out about?
Mountain bikes. I’ll geek out over suspension design, tire profiles, riding technique, favorite trails, you name it.

Who is your technology/science hero and why?
Carl Sagan. Reading Dragons of Eden as a teenager introduced a new way of thinking about, well… just about anything. Sagan was a master at turning complex, intimidating science into delicious little information nuggets. His enthusiasm was contagious and influenced an entire generation to explore their sci-curious side. To this day, Dragons is still the only book I’ve ever re-read in its entirety.
What was your first technology gadget that impacted you – one that sparked your interest in the world of tech?

Rather than a single gadget, I’d say it was the Internet. I remember connecting via a 28.8 modem, waiting forever for a static html page to load, and loving it. Those early days were exciting – no one knew exactly what would become of it, but you could tell it was going to be big.

If you could only have ONE gadget, what would it be and why?
Does a bike count as a gadget? I think so. My bike.

Did you have a nickname growing up? Want to share it? (Disclaimer: This may become your new nickname at work.)
A few, but those are staying wrapped up Behind the Scenes at Mersive...with Mike Tolliver

Are you a coffee or tea person? Beer or wine person?
Both coffee and tea, usually coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.

Beer all the way. Denver is such a great place to live for a craft beer nerd like myself. A favorite brewery happens to be next door and is actually visible from my desk at work. Thus, beer-thirty comes a little early on occasion.

If you could see any band (past or present) who would it be?
Zeppelin in their prime. Rock n’ roll just isn’t as Rock n’ Roll as it used to be.

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