The Story Behind Starting FossilEra

Author: Matt Heaton

Recently I have done a number of interviews related to FossilEra. The first question that always comes up is what led me to start the company...  

Like many kids I grew up being obsessed with dinosaurs and fossils.  My parents can tell stories about how I would spend all day digging in the sandbox looking for dinosaurs.  I’m sure I checked out every book at the library related to fossils a dozen times, and I dreamt of being a paleontologist when I grew up.

When I was eleven or twelve my dad took me to a local road cut where he had heard fossils could be found.  I found my first fossil myself a small gastropod that still sits on my desk.  This really got me hooked and I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of my family by wanting to stop everywhere fossil related while on family trips.

In high school I shifted my focus away from fossils, towards computers and technology.  My fossil collection sat on a shelf getting dusty while I spent much of my free time writing code (yes, I’ve always been a geek)  Mid-way through college my interest was sparked again when I saw a photo of a spiny Moroccan trilobite on the Internet and thought to myself, “that can’t be real”. 

That photo of a trilobite on the Internet rekindled my love (many would say obsession) of fossils and I became an avid collector of fossil trilobites.  Over the past 15+ years, I’ve spent nearly all of my vacation time out in the middle of no-where breaking rocks in search of my favorite arthropods.  Not only have I had the opportunity build a pretty impressive personal collection, but have been able to donate a lot of material to research and education, including a number of new species of trilobites.


For years I had shied away from doing anything commercial related to fossils.  I was very worried about potentially ruining my hobby and a passion with the stress of running a business.  Instead, I spent the last 15 years help to build several online startups in a number of unrelated industries.  This past summer with a startup I had been working on winding down, I found myself pondering what I really wanted to do with my life.  I came to the realization I had spent the last decade working myself to the bone in the hopes of making enough money what I could “retire” and be able to focus on fossils.  

Yet, I wasn’t any closer to this goal than I had been a decade prior.  In fact I found myself spending less and less time out in the field or working on fossil preparation.  I slowly started to warm up to the idea that maybe I could successfully mix what I was most passionate about with business.

I set about a series of “rules” in my mind I felt would allow me to combine a business and a hobby without “ruining things”.   I’ve really tried to look at it not as simply trying to maximize profit or making money, but how can I spend more time involved with what I love to do.  How can I share my love of fossils with others, and spark other kids interests?  I aspire to be able to work with suppliers to help develop new fossil sites, and bring new fossil discoveries to light.

Of course there is plenty of ups and down, but in 3 months since launching FossilEra I’m very happy with the decision.  I feel like I’m finally doing what I should have been doing for the past 15 years.  I can’t wait for the weather to warm up and to be able to spend more time out in the field than that I’ve been able to previously.