Student News

Bryan Gula: Startup CTO, 'Grease' Danny Zuko and Informatics student

With his quaffed, jet-black hair, bright eyes, and beaming smile, Bryan Gula looks like he was born to shout ‘greased lightnin!’ And starting July 9, he will. Starring as slick, cool-guy heartthrob Danny Zuko, Gula, a rising senior in UW’s Information School, is using his theater skills in more ways than one.

Originally from Gig Harbor, WA, Gula started at UW in 2012. After hopping into intro computer science courses and entering the University’s emerging musical theater program, Gula sought an additional major for his tech/developer mind.

“I have a business persona but I’m a developer at heart. Informatics ended up being the perfect blend for me,” Gula said.

His freshman year, in true Mark Zuckerberg form, Gula and Sam Tanner, a friend he met in the dorms, developed an idea for an app. Looking to create a platform where users can sell gift cards for cash or trade for gift cards they want more, CardSwapper came to be.

Now, after working on the idea for three years, Tanner and Gula, CEO and CTO respectively, and their team, stationed in an office in University Village, are shooting for national launch in September.  The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator, which helps student-led startups get off the ground, recently awarded CardSwapper a $25,000 grant to help with the process.

Gula says his theater background has been vital to CardSwapper’s success, particularly when pitching the idea to local investors, or to panels of judges with 40-50 individuals watching.

“Theatrics is everything,” he said. “Having an exuberant personality helps. Being able to carry the weight of that room comes from the background that theater provides.”

But for the past few months, Gula took a couple steps back from CardSwapper. Last September, after local performances in Spring Awakening Oklahoma, and The Music Man, he was called in to audition for a minor role in 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Grease.

“I’ve been dreaming of being on a show at the 5th since I was eight years old,” Gula said.

But, to his surprise, Gula was called back to audition for Danny. Two auditions later, and two days before his 21st birthday, he was offered the role.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I never thought I would be doing this sort of work at this age or even at all. It just kind of fell into place. I’m very humbled and absolutely grateful.”

Talk about rising star — Gula’s face is now plastered on the side of city buses.

“That was pretty bizarre when it first started occurring,” he said with a laugh. “Probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”

With rehearsals eight hours a day, Gula’s been swamped in theater, putting CardSwapper briefly to the side. The show will run July 9-August 2, with a total of eight shows a week. But once it’s over, Gula says it’s back to the startup. As CardSwapper heads into its beta launch period and their next round of funding, things are getting critical.

“It’s been so long trying to get this going,” he said. “ So right now it’s about being the CTO of this company.”

With his future bright in both the tech and theater industries, the possibilities seem endless for Gula. Perhaps his name will soon be attached to the next breakout app, most likely in addition to future starring roles. It appears informatics and theater is one winning combo.