Michael Bruno
Founder 1stDibs
Owner/ Developer Valley Rock Inn and
Creator of Happy Time app

A note from Michael Bruno.

I am honored to be thought of as a visionary by the Museum of Arts and Design, NYC’s only museum dedicated to skilled making. For me, the skill of creating—and following—a clear vision has led to the experiences of my lifetime, and I am sharing this story so you can learn about how I found my path.

I started my life in the beautiful little village of Larchmont, NY, on the Long Island Sound. My family owned a multi-generational restaurant. My mom was a nurse; my dad studied accounting and joined the family business after he got married. My parents had six kids—the first five of us were born in the six years right after they married and the sixth nearly 10 years later. We lived in a charming Tudor-style home and belonged to Orienta Beach Club. We were not rich by today’s standards, but we didn’t lack for love or compassion.

Early on, we learned to swim so our parents could play tennis and have cocktails at the club and not worry about us drowning. Swimming became my happy place. I loved going to practice so I could swim laps back and forth like a pendulum. It was meditative and gave me lots of time to daydream. One of the things I dreamed about was living in a beautiful brick home that looks just like the one I live in today. I also dreamed of competing in the Olympics for 50-meter breaststroke. On my way to qualify, I won a gold medal in the Junior Olympics and set a new state record. That dream ended when President Carter pulled the U.S. out of competing in the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. I’m not sure if I was more devastated or relieved, but knew for sure that I was not going to hang around practicing for another four years.

My father was one of 11 kids; my mom felt a bit suffocated and thought we should move west to where her family was from. My mom’s mom was a Bidwell. The Bidwells arrived in America in the mid-1600s and made their way to California when it was still Mexico. General Bidwell married into a noble Mexican family and was given land grants. One of the land grants became a farm with an educational program to work with indigenous people. That farm was donated by the Bidwells to the state of California and is now Chico State University, one of the leading agriculture schools in the USA.

On our way west, we stopped in Colorado for a few years. It was the early 1970s. My parents bought a house in a community where everyone had horses. It was located at the edge of town where you could ride forever out into the plains. My mom immediately turned our two-acre plot into a little farm that reminded her of her childhood with chickens, a vegetable garden, rabbits, horses and lambs.

Making sure we knew how to ride seemed like a priority. Mom hired a neighbor kid, Patrick Picardi, who had a horse but no training. His program consisted of putting us on his Quarter Horse, Azule, bareback with no reins. He told us to squeeze our legs and hold onto Azule’s mane. Then he whipped Azule on the rear so he would tear off into the plains. My oldest sister fell off and returned on foot with a bloody, scratched-up face, but she loved it and couldn’t wait to get back on. When it was my turn, I held on for dear life as Azule ran like the wind out into the plains. I have loved riding fearlessly ever since. My parents bought Azule from the Picardis and he was part of our family for many years.

Our mom also wanted us to learn to live a more rustic life. She was nostalgic for her childhood, when her family spent summers living off the land on their ranch at Goose Lake up near where California meets Oregon. She enrolled us in 4-H. My younger brother, older sister and I chose to raise lambs to be shown at the state fair at the end of the summer. We went to a dusty ranch out on the plains to adopt our lambs and each got to pick our own. The rancher told us that the real talent in showing a prized animal was in picking the best of the litter.

We were all nervous as we made our selection. I named my lamb Wolley. On the way home from swim practice one afternoon, my mom stopped the car on the dirt road that led to our house and told me that Wolley had been attacked by the neighbor’s German Shepherd. He was in the garage with my dad and the vet, who was sewing Wolley’s leg back together.

As summer rolled along and it was almost time for the state fair, Wolley’s leg had healed but the fur on it never grew back. The day before the fair, my siblings and I washed and flocked our little lambs on the lawn to get them ready to be shown. The morning of the fair, we went to get them from the barn, and they were filthy. They had rolled around in their pen overnight and looked worse than before we washed them, probably because we didn’t know any better and put them away wet.

Our mom jumped into action; she loaded the three lambs into the back of her Volvo wagon and took them to a dog groomer she found in the Yellow Pages. Meanwhile our competitive, sports- minded father was coaching us on how to compete. He said no matter what you do, keep your eye on the judge as if he were a tennis ball.

Mom returned a few hours later with the puffiest and most beautiful lambs you have ever seen. I am still not sure if that was considered cheating. Whether it was the sympathy vote for Wolley’s injured leg, his beautifully groomed coat or following my dad’s advice, Wolley and I won first prize for lambs and Reserve Grand Champion for the Colorado State Fair that year.

I decide to end my time in agriculture on a high note and never showed an animal again. I wasn’t ready for the part where they auctioned off our little lambs to the highest bidder.

I am not sure which of my parents tired of Colorado first, but after just a few years they decided it was time to finish the move to the West Coast. We were all excited. In my mind, I was moving to the beach in San Diego. Instead, we ended up on the Central Coast, about 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in a small rural town with giant scrub oak trees dotting the hillsides. I cried when we pulled into town and my mom said, “We’re here.” I moved to San Diego as soon as I could, for college.

I can’t remember the very first time I realized I was gay, but for some reason a swim meet in Las Vegas when I was probably 12 years old comes to mind. I recall a very handsome coach that made a strong impression on me. I kept my feelings to myself for many years. It wasn’t until I moved to San Diego that I began to feel free.

While attending San Diego State University and working at Nordstrom’s, I came across Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. I read it cover to cover on the beach one summer day in La Jolla. That was the day my journey of creating my life through consciously choosing my thoughts began. Once you understand how it works, there is no going back.

I set a course for my life that day in the early 1980s. I made a short-term goal to get a real estate license by end of summer so that I could make some real money, and a long-term goal of creating a billion-dollar company by the time I was in my 50’s. Back then, turning 50 seemed a lifetime away and a billion-dollar company was very rare. I realized both goals. At the time, I had no idea what the company would be; I just knew I could do it. I maintained an open mind, knowing the opportunity would present itself. That day on the beach 1stdibs.com was created in my mind, even though it was a long time before I even knew what the Internet was. 1stdibs went public on the Nasdaq exchange in 2018 and was briefly worth over a billion dollars.

At some point in the mid 1980s when I was living in Southern California, I heard a news story that the drought was so bad that deer were dying because the reservoirs and creeks had all gone dry. I decided to start a campaign called Think Rain. We’d make T-shirts and bumper stickers—the 1980s version of social media—to create awareness and raise money to help however we could.

I wanted Think Rain to be a brand, so I called the state capitol about a trademark. I found out it would take many months to get a trademark processed by mail, so I decided to drive to Sacramento from La Jolla to see if I could speed it up. My friend Laurie offered to drive. As soon as we hit the road, I took out a pad of paper and scribbled Think Rain on it in thick letters. I held it up to the first car that went by, which happened to be a station wagon full of nuns. They all made the prayer sign, and our Think Rain campaign was launched. As we headed upstate to Sacramento, I flashed the sign to every car we passed. I am not sure if it was hundreds or thousands, but almost everyone had the same reaction as the nuns.

As we pulled into the state capitol the next morning, we went through an underpass and as we came out, I noticed what I thought was a drop of water. Could it be rain, or was it condensation from the metal structure above?

We entered the Secretary of State’s office. There was a big sign that said “March Fong Eu, Secretary of State of California.” We got in line for the trademark form. When we got to the desk, we explained that we had an emergency: we needed our trademark right away to start raising money to help save wild animals. The woman said, “Please give me a minute.” When she returned, she said, “Secretary of State March Fong Eu will see you now.”

She was a very elegant woman wearing slippers; her heels were by the door. She asked to hear about our project. I told her what we were doing, and she said it sounded like a noble project. She called her secretary and told her to bring in her stamp, signing off on our trademark on the spot.

As we got in the car to head back to La Jolla, I was beaming from ear to ear. I began to flash our sign as we headed south, and it began to rain. And it rained and it rained and then it began to snow as fall turned to winter, and by spring the drought was over. We never made a single T-shirt or bumper sticker. You can decide for yourself if it was miraculous or just good timing. I know what I think :-). This story was recently recreated and featured in Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy, a film about the world’s most famous self-help book—the one I read on the beach that summer day when I was 19.

Today, I am living in the lower Hudson Valley in the Village of Tuxedo Park in New York. I love it because it is mostly historic homes and is surrounded by 70,000 acres of forever-wild parkland. I live there most of the year and spend summers on an island in Maine.

I spent a few years after leaving 1stdibs creating Valley Rock Inn. It’s a little inn and restaurant located in the village of Sloatsburg, which you pass through to get to Tuxedo Park. Sloatsburg has a train station and easy access to two state parks. It’s where Seven Lakes Drive starts and winds for about 16 miles through the forest and ends at the Hudson River.

In Sloatsburg, we took 17 rundown buildings in the center of the village and made a village-within-the-village. We were awarded New York State’s Pillar of New York for historic preservation to revitalize a community. People who knew the area before the renovation could never have imagined that we could build an inn, market, gallery and two restaurants that would attract thousands of people every month. In 2024, The Ranch Malibu, the famous health and wellness hiking resort, will open its East Coast outpost in Sloatsburg. I always said that for hikers, Sloatsburg is to NY what Malibu is to L.A. The universe can be very literal.

Looking back, I now realize I have always been a person who has faith and compassion. Faith in myself but also faith in my connection to the universe. I was raised Catholic and went to church every Sunday. It was our mom’s rule for living at home. Going to church never really made me feel anything that I remember.

I began to feel spiritual in my 20’s after meeting an older woman that shared A Course in Miracles with me on bus in Mexico. This led me to take a trip to Egypt, where Marianne Williamson, also on her first trip to Egypt, was the meditation guide for our group. We meditated all over Egypt, starting in the King’s Chamber in Giza, from midnight till sunrise, then at many of the great temples along the Nile. On that trip, it became clear to me that there was something out there at work in the universe I wanted to discover.

I have spent many years since trying to understand what feeling spiritual means to me. I have come to understand that for me, it means being in a state of faith and compassion as much of my time as possible and knowing our conscious spirit is eternal:

Faith because I know the universe always returns what I put out in my thoughts and feelings. It’s how it was designed.
Compassion because I know we are all connected. When you are kind to others, you are being kind to yourself. It’s a brilliant design.
Eternal because if our thoughts become our experience, then I am choosing eternity.

Science is now showing us in head-spinning ways that the universe is designed to deliver the experience of living our dominant thoughts. With the awarding of the 2013 and 2022 Nobel Prize for Physics to some of the greatest scientists of all time, you don’t have to have faith alone anymore. Science has proven that we are all connected; everything we create and our experience is a perception that we are generating with our dominant thoughts and feelings.

If our thoughts propel our life experience, then why not get really good at choosing and generating our dominant thoughts?

I’ve become good at harnessing my dominant thoughts over the years. But I’ve also learned that it’s very easy for our thoughts to veer off-course, so I’ve created an app I call Happy Time. I like to think of it as a GPS for your thoughts. It helps you choose and generate your dominant thoughts by keeping them top-of-mind.

I have found firsthand that through awareness of what I am thinking, I can dramatically speed up the creation process.

When people are making progress in creating the life they dream of, they feel good. Feeling good always leads to feeling happy. In this new chapter in my life, it’s my mission to spread happiness around the world. Research has shown that happiness is contagious by three degrees.

The Happy Time app is genuinely free; there are no ads or servers scanning your data. It’s your personal media, your private space. I hope you’ll give it a try when it launches this fall and join me on my mission to spread happiness. Should you decide to contribute to help us with our mission, we will gladly accept.

If everyone on earth is busy creating the life of their dreams with a mindset of faith and compassion, what kind of world would we be living in? Wouldn’t it be fun to find out? Create the life you dream of, be happy and spread it around.

Warm regards,
Michael Bruno

To be notified when Happy Time becomes available in the App Store or to learn more about Happy Time, feel free to contact me at michael@happytimegps.com