When Los Altos resident Pete Michell arrived in Silicon Valley from Germany, he embarked on a 25-year career in tech. Two years ago, he switched career paths – to carpentry. More specifically, handcrafted fences.
Mitchell is the man behind Los Altos Fence, a business he began shortly after leaving Google Inc. in 2019.
He’s worked a variety of jobs in the tech industry, from consumer data to artificial intelligence. At Google, he specialized in hotlines and alerts for serious problems.
“Not everybody can really do that – you have to have a certain life experience,” Mitchell said. “Working in social impact moved me away from a pure business focus of my career, and I needed to know what was next.”
After being told before a holiday break that he would get to continue working in the social impact department, Mitchell said he returned to find himself placed in an entirely new position – working away from the community impact side of the business he had grown to love. With a “take it or leave it” offer, Mitchell chose to leave the company.
He grappled with various other employment choices, including skydiving (which he pursued for a few months before realizing it wasn’t the most viable long-term career), finally deciding on exploring a passion for handiwork he’d had his entire life.
“Burning jet fuel is cool, but it’s not really sustainable,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘I’ve always been into furniture. I’m a mechanic. I do everything myself around the house.’ There was no business in it at that point – I just wanted to help my neighbors.”
Mitchell added that he was eager to help those in his community, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, with housework and repairs. After building a fence for a neighbor, he realized he had a knack for handcrafted fencing that his neighbors felt was unmatched in the local community.
“I figured I needed to put it out there, write a business plan, come up with marketing and branding and all that,” he said. “I wanted to live and work like a real German carpenter, so these are the clothes that I wear, based on an 800-year-old European tradition of carpentry.”
Los Altos Fence is a family business. Pete’s wife, Alex, assists with administration while his sons Frederick and Fileas help out on jobs.
“It’s been in my family for 300
years,” Pete said of the carpentry tradition. “In Germany ... houses will be thousands of years old. That means there’s a certain tradition with boards, stones, roofing, down to the different colors they will wear on the job ... super-fine differences, and yet they’re all brothers and sisters. I simply would like to continue this tradition.”
Mitchell said he takes pride in the sophistication of his work, and the passing down of a centuries-old tradition of German carpentry. From indoor Greek-style barn doors to cedar wood fences with handles (not drawstrings), Mitchell said he enjoys all types of jobs, even relishing picky customers.
“Everything is from scratch, so when they want what they want, I’ll ensure they get it,” he said. “I enjoy doing it, and providing superior service with quality products.”