Fallbrook area residents have undoubtedly seen Troy Downing and his family members around town – at local schools or a 4-H event showing animals, but they would never suspect that Downing played a major role in revolutionizing their world.
With his early involvement and innovative input in the company Yahoo!, he helped mold and influence how the world uses the Internet. His later investments extended to the ever-popular Google and Ask Jeeves as well.
One might expect that a family as successful as the Downings would live somewhere more posh – but they chose the same town the rest of us did – Fallbrook.
When asked what he loves about Fallbrook, Downing said, “the seclusion and separateness. It’s nice to have land without the price tag, you don’t get the “Robb Report” crowd or the nouveau riche.”
Downing wasn’t always interested in technology. On admissions day at New York University (NYU), the former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet Company made a radical change from an arts administration program to applied mathematics under the computer science program. He then went on to become a research scientist and instructor at the university. While still at NYU, he created WebCal, Inc., an internet startup company and merged with then nascent Yahoo!, Inc. in the late 1990s. At first, Downing was skeptical of the Internet directory that was the brainchild of two Stanford grad students indexing research papers, but the company was moving towards being the first “Web Portal” and Internet media company bringing on RocketMail, WebCal, online retail, and an Internet search engine. Downing’s team merged with the others to bring innovation, sophistication, and architecture that was part of this transition at Yahoo!. They were instrumental in the company’s explosive growth. Downing also authored eight books, three of them on Java Script RMI (Remote Method Invocation).
“We were changing the world and we knew it, but I was burning out on technology,” said Downing. After working 18 hours a day for years, Downing left Yahoo! in 2001.
As an early innovator, Downing was then in a position to invest. He was able to see the value in several other start-up companies that were destined to change the world. As part of a group of “angels investors” his investments included Google, Ask Jeeves, Priceline.com, Spinner.com, Support.com and 150 others.
For most people, that would be exciting enough, but there is more to Downing than just being a brilliant innovator/investor.
During the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Downing and his taxidermist were on a hunting trip in Alaska. They noticed the absence of the daily commercial airplanes flying overhead, which they knew signaled trouble on a national scale. His taxidermist said, jokingly, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to repopulate the Earth.” When the plane came in to pick them up they heard the news they dreaded. The pilot told him, “They blew up the World Trade Center.”
Downing said his reaction to the terrorist attacks was anger followed by shame “I have been very successful due to the opportunities that I have as an American. I’ve never ‘really’ given back in any significant way. I wanted to be part of the solution to the new problems this Nation was facing.”. Upon returning to California, he went immediately to a recruiting office and asked, “I used to teach at NYU and I have a commercial pilot’s license. What can you do with me?” After scoring 99 percent on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, he was offered a job in intelligence.
“Intelligence sounded too much like what I had been doing for years,” said Downing. “I was burned out from being in a room looking at a computer screen for 18 hours a day.”
“When a chief from a Search and Rescue squadron came in and offered me the opportunity to fly a low-flying aircraft under the radar to pick up banged-up kids out in the desert and get them home, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said. Downing was active for two years and flew 200 sortis in Afghanistan bringing home injured soldiers to their families.
Downing remained in the Air National Guard until November 2009. The military experience led him to two volunteer activities he now enjoys.
One of his volunteer pursuits is flying a Russian fighter jet he purchased nine years ago that helps raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for charity. The other is working with the organization Warriors in Quiet Waters, which takes wounded soldiers on fly fishing trips to Montana.
“We take the guys while they are still dealing with whatever is happening with them,” explained Downing. “They are at a place with their injuries where they can be away, but it’s all still fresh for them.”
“In some cases, especially with amputees, the soldiers receive specially-made fly rods that allow them to reel in slack with one hand and use their teeth to strip it out,” said Downing. “The guides lead them in night time gatherings at a lodge where the guys start to connect and open up within the group.”
Downing has seen men make dramatic turnarounds during these trips. “We want to show them that they can still push the envelope; they can still live. They may be injured, but, they’re not broken, useless, or forgotten”
In addition to Warriors in Quiet Waters, Downing’s philanthropic support extends to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, The Joe Foss Institute, The Big Sky Institute, The Fragile X Foundation, Eagle Mount, The American Cancer Society, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and various other worthy causes.
An avid aviator, golfer, snowboarder, hunter, fisherman, and father of four, Downing enjoys a quiet family life in Fallbrook. One of his greatest passions is the ongoing cultivation of his home vineyard which now boasts 2,000 vines.
In today’s business world, Downing is the Managing Member of AC Self Storage Solutions LLC, a private real estate company that acquires and manages self storage commercial real estate in twelve states.
Downing said he is also considering putting together another technology fund to fund some of the bright, new startups that have the ability to change the world, yet again. Once an innovator, always an innovator it seems.