Connor Turner helped me redesign I know smart people. I think it looks great, so what better person to interview first? You won’t be disappointed, he answered all of my questions really well and shared more about what it is like to move for love (I can relate!). Hope you enjoy the post and if you love Connor’s design for the blog, why don’t you leave him a comment below?
What is Armadillo Studios?
Armadillo Studios is a Web Design/Social Media/iOS app/Web Data company that I started about five years ago. It’s a small Calgary-based outfit that has been working with some great clients, building sites for best selling authors, the Canadian government, local start-ups and of course a variety of businesses across North America. The company is also involved in theCalgary tech community. The tech community inCalgary is great and has been a vehicle for me to try out different side projects, such as the yycApps project and also the new AlbertaTweets project.
How did you decide on the name?
It’s a combination of a two random items. First, as a kid I hand an unhealthy obsession with Armadillos and the Ankylosaurus (the armadillo’s prehistoric cousin). Whenever we had to do reports on animals or dinosaurs in elementary or junior high school, I’d always do my report on either one of those two animals. I guess it’s fair to say that my love of the armadillo is something that hasn’t gone away.
And then, when I was about 25 and toying with idea of take the plunge into the web design world, I decided to see what it was all about by heading to SXSW inAustin. I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I went down there anyway and was immediately inspired. And of course, Central/West Texas is notorious for its armadillo population. So as a odd but fitting dual homage to my childhood obsession and also the city that inspired this career shift, I decided to name the company Armadillo Studios.
Ironically, it took me 31 years and a trip to theWashingtonDCzoo to see my first real life armadillo. I giggled like a school girl when I finally saw one – my wife and niece mocked me for days after that. My wife won’t let me have an Armadillo as a pet; she says it has something to do with their shifty eyes.
Um…yeah and it would be weird. When you strike out on your own, how much work is it to get a steady flow of clients?
To steal a line from Spinal Tap, if on a difficulty scale from 1-10, with ten being the highest it’s probably an eleven or closer to twelve.
I think there’s a misconception of what it’s like to strike out on your own. Many people imagine it as this wonderful and glorious world of sweatpants, sleeping in and afternoons riding your bike around town. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how much of a constant hustle is to be on your own. In particular, how much effort it takes to maintain and build lasting relationships with clients. When you’re working for someone else there is normally a bit of a buffer zone which gives you room for error. Even if you’re the main sales representative, you’ve still got a support staff to do the dirty work (such as accounting and producing the product) and all you really need to do is maintain your group of client relationships. When you’re out working on your own, it all rests on your shoulders – keeping up with communications, accounting, marketing and relationship building all falls on your plate.
So to be successful at building a steady flow of clients you really have to learn how to be persistent and how to sell yourself in a manner that matches your personality traits. The biggest marketing tool out there for someone starting out on their own is word of mouth and the only way to get that is to get the boots on the ground and meet people.
Who do you admire in your industry and why do you admire them?
There are a handful of people in the industry that I really admire. I tend to gravitate to the bolder people in the field for inspiration. Jason Fried and Gary Vaynerchuk are two guys that have really influenced me over the years. I’ve always appreciated Fried’s challenges to the paradigms of our standard work patterns and the work/life balance. And, Vaynerchuk was a guy that I openly mocked for many years, but when I finally started paying attention, I was in pure awe of his vibrancy and tenacity. I love that even though Gary comes off as an almost larger than life figure, he is still able to connect with people on a more grounded level. I also really admire the work that Leslie Bradshaw and Jesse Thomas are doing at JESS3. I love that they’ve taken the traditional web design agency and transformed it into a new hybrid creative outfit with a focus on data visualization and story telling. I really admire that sort of outside the box thinking.
All that being said, my biggest influences are Julien Smith and Chris Brogan. I’ve had the privilege to see them both speak a few times, and it’s their absolute brutal honesty and bravado when it comes to building personal relations that I admire. As opposed to many of the so called Social Media networkers out there, Brogan and Smith really hit the nail on building real relationships with people and creating lasting networks. And really, how can you not admire someone who can get a point across while dropping an f-bomb in an elegant manner.
Your wife is doing her Masters in Washington DC right now. What is it like to move across the continent, to another country while you have your own business?
It’s been an interesting challenge to say the least, but I’ve taken it in stride. The biggest challenge of leaving your “home court” and taking your talents to another playground is that you lose the face-to-face interaction with your clientele. It really means that you have to go the extra mile to maintain those personal connections and networks. Luckily, I have been able to build a great support group in Calgary who keep the fires going, while I’m away on this self imposed sabbatical.
One of the decisions I made when we moved, was to use this time as a sort of career reboot. I decided that since I had to scale back everything, I was going to spend my time not only improving on my design and coding skill set, but to really define what direction I wanted to take my career and company in. I’ve been balancing out my time by volunteering with different organizations like Junior Achievement, a local Food Advocacy group and also helping to rebuild an academic journal. They’re all fun projects that have really helped to challenge me in different ways than regular client work would.
I also really lucked out, because The District (as they refer to it here) is one of the most interesting and vibrant cities when it comes to our industry. Sure it doesn’t have the “let’s get our hands dirty and build this thing” attitude thatCalgaryhas, but there are some interesting things going on in the community. It also helps that there are a slew of events and conferences every month, so I’ve been able to really expand my knowledge and expose myself to a whole new element of this industry.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received about working on your own instead of in a large corporation?
“Fail in obscurity.”
Which I think is a Jason Fried/37signals philosophy. This basically means, when you start out on your own, you’re going to make a series of mistakes – so make them when you’re small and nobody notices. When you’re working on you’re own you’ll inevitably make mistakes on a daily basis. It’s really unavoidable. But “fail in obscurity” allows you to make those mistakes when you’re small and safe, rather than later on when there’s real money and reputations on the line.
Too many people when they decide to go out on their own, put all their eggs into one basket and end up putting themselves in a position where if they fail there are real personal consequences. We talked about this during a talk we gave at SXSW on starting your own creative agency, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a new business on the side while you pay the bills with your day job. It gives you the wherewithal to screw-up without the extra pressure of relying on your brand new business to put food on the table. Far too many people expect that going out on your own is going to grant you a wealth of instant gratification. That’s unfortunately not true, working on your own involves an incredible amount of sacrifice and commitment. Plus, not every idea is going to be a surefire hit, you could probably ask my much smarter developer friend Boley how many cockamamie ideas I’ve come up with that have fizzled and died. Luckily, because we toyed with these ideas in obscurity, there was no repercussion for their inevitable failure.
What ambitions do you still have?
Call it a symptom of my environment, but I’ve decided to make a personal transition towards the political realm. Being in DC has granted me the opportunity to really see how the political world and web industry are merging together at the moment. Oddly enough,Canadaseams to have missed the boat on this topic. It’s probably a symptom of the more fluid parliamentary system, but from my observations many of the political parties inCanadaaren’t leveraging these emerging tools or really looking into the available data online. I know it’s like comparing Apples andOrangestogether, but the American Political machine is a well oiled entity that’s embraced the importance of web data and trend analysis, while the Canadian Political machines can barely get their candidates to embrace twitter. So I think there’s an opportunity to really bring some of the ideas I’ve been exposed to in DC back toCanada. It’s one of the impetuses for the AlbertaTweets project.
I’ve also become very concerned with the lack of support inCanadafor fostering our industry. As a country we already have so many inherent advantages for entrepreneurs. We have an incredibly educated population and a stable social safety net (i.e. universal health care), so as country there really aren’t any barriers to taking the chance for innovating with either a new product or idea. But where we lack is the sort of positive environment to take these ideas, products or services to the next level. Sure in recent months, we’ve seen a growth in this sort of support, but we need a stronger infrastructure to help retain our smartest firms. I think the Federal and Provincial levels of government can do a much stronger job of fostering this sort of infrastructure. I know Alberta as a province can do a much better job of fostering the web industry and I think that is really the underlying ambition that I have moving forward.
If you want to stay up-to-date on Connor, you can follow him on Twitter.