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Connor Turner makes things look great on the Internet (including this blog)

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

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Meghan Chayka is a model economist

Today, we’re catching up with Meghan Chayka. She does the unusual combination of working in a startup while also modeling on a regular basis. I asked her some questions on what it is like to juggle the two.

Megchayka

Sarah: What is your startup and what do you do there?

Meghan: My startup is Stathletes Inc. which seeks to quantify player performance in continuous flow sports.  I have a background in economics so I help with some quantitative measures.  As well, I take on a lot of the detailed projects, from legal issues to investor presentations.

Sarah: You’ve won a couple of business competitions. Can you tell us about how that helps what you are working on (aside from the cash infusion, of course)?

Meghan: The business competitions help in refining our pitch and presentation.  We had to do anything from a 30 minute interrupted presentation to a 1 minute pitch filmed while literally riding an elevator. I think it’s great practice talking to investors, professors and MBA students that have no idea about your business. It gives you a perfect forum to sell your idea in a short period of time.

The network from these international gatherings is also a huge benefit.  I’ve sat beside authors of staple entrepreneurship textbooks to ones that taught founders of Groupon.  You really never know what angel or VC you bump into.  There are always interesting conversations, and I try to learn a little bit from everyone I meet.

Sarah: Have you always want to work in a startup?

Meghan: I haven’t really set out to work in a startup. I won an award for a business plan exactly a decade ago and really haven’t looked back.  I competed in a few other business plan competitions in my undergrad and then started this company.  I have had a couple corporate/ public sector jobs in economics and finance but that type of work never fulfilled me.  So, I feel much more comfortable in startup environments.

Sarah: Currently, you divide your focus between startup life and modeling. What’s the biggest challenge of splitting your time?

Meghan: The biggest challenge is dealing with the different mindsets in each sector.  There is very little overlap between fashion and entrepreneurship.  The expectations are so opposite, one physical and the other cerebral, that it is a challenge going from one to another. 

Sarah: The follow up question to that is obviously what do you love most about doing the two?

Meghan: I love the creative aspects of fashion.  It’s always inspiring to see artists at work, whether they are designers, makeup artists or photographers.  Startups are more about the challenge of stretch goals and meeting milestones.  It’s really fulfilling to see a product add value to the intended consumer.  I love the never ending workload and busy time line, even if it gets a tiny bit crazy.

Sarah: What advice would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Meghan: I think you have to do what you love and always strive to create more.  It’s great to get a decent education but then focus on challenging yourself in your field.  I think another important piece of advice is to not compare yourself to other people in the corporate world.  Sometimes it takes longer to succeed as an entrepreneur and that’s okay. 

Thanks for answering all of my questions, Meghan! If you’d like to keep up to date on what Meghan is up to, you can follow her on Twitter.

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Lyn Graft is a storyteller

I met Lyn at Ford‘s three day Forward with Ford event. Shout to them for sponsoring me to go and meet some amazing people while checking out the latest of what Ford has to offer. Lyn was a great networker, always had his camera going and got along with everyone. I wanted to catch up with him on I know smart people as he’s got an interesting job and a great way of describing it. 

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Sarah:Lyn, can you tell us about what you do for a living?

Lyn:I film entrepreneurs as a Director and/or Producer. Meaning I create and produce content that centers around profiling entrepreneurs to share their stories of how they came up with the ideas for their companies, built them into businesses and the lessons they have learned along the way. The content can be in the form of TV shows (e.g CNBC’s American Made), online videos (Microsoft Small Business Web Site, Dell Women Entrepreneur Network) and/or web channels (e.g. Sweet Leaf TV, On the Road with iV). 

Sarah: When we met at Forward with Ford, I loved how you described yourself as being a storyteller. What did you mean by that?

Lyn:Entrepreneurship and starting a company is an extremely challenging process and often times is a very personal journey. The beauty of that from a producers perspective is that makes for great story in that you have someone that is trying to accomplish something great, yet they are confronted with many obstacles along the way and must overcome them in order to be successful. This, at its core is storytelling, and as a director and producer filming entrepreneurs, I’m constantly looking for ways to tell their stories on camera in a compelling and entertaining manner. One of my favorite entrepreneurs that I have filmed is the founder of Starbucks as he shares a powerful story about his parents-in-law coming to visit during the holidays in the very early stages of the company and how is father-in-law asked Howard to take a walk with him. At the time, Howard was not bringing in a salary and Howard’s wife was pregnant and providing income for the family so the father-in-law suggested that Howard quit this crazy entrepreneurial thing, get a job and properly provide for his family. Howard goes on to share how this was one of many moments on a entrepreneur’s journey that he calls the ‘gray area of perseverance’ that is all about our desire and to will to get through the tough times and believe in something strongly enough to make it happen no matter what the odds. I found that one of things I have been called to do is be an entrepreneurial storyteller and bring stories like this to life so others can learn from and be inspired by them.

Note: you can read more of this story and watch a clip of Howard sharing this story from a TV show I produced here:

http://www.lyngraft.com/producers/the-gray-area-of-perseverance/

Sarah: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Lyn: A. Causing goose bumps and inspiring entrepreneurs – Many times over the years I have been told either by the people that have watched my content or even by the people that I have filmed that it was truly an inspiring piece or that this is just what they needed to hear based on where they were at in their life or that it was the best profile ever done on them. It’s simply one of those things that feeds the soul because it feels like I am giving back to the world putting smiles on peoples faces, causing eyes to well up with tears and giving people hope during difficult times.

B. Being Inspired – A side benefit from filming entrepreneurs is that you are constantly in front of people that have creating amazing companies and overcome incredible obstacles – I thought this might get a little monotonous filming entrepreneur after entrepreneur for years, but quite the opposite happens because you are continuously filled with infectious energy and optimism from some of the most driven people on the planet.

Sarah: Who is the most interesting person you’ve interviewed/worked with?

Lyn: Interviewed = Billy Joe ‘Red’ McCombs – Founder of Clear Channel and a Forbes 400 Billionaire. Red is Texas born and bred and talks with a deep TX accent at a very slow pace, but is smart as a whip and has hundreds of successful businesses under his belt. When I first met Red, we brought him some cookies from his favorite bakery near his office, but he passed on them and told us he had what one would call an ‘addictive personality’ and could not stop at just one. He then went on to share how he was an alcoholic and how it almost ruined his marriage, business and came very close to kill him. He then went on to talk everything from why he had to sell the Minnesota Vikings, to why they had to get rid of Howard Stern at Clear Channel to being the number one used car dealer in the world to his how his prized Championship winning Longhorn bull called ‘Superbowl’ was sowing up to 200 calves per year. This was even before the interview started. And Red is simply someone you want to call Grandpa and hug every time you see him and cherish every moment you get to spend with him. 

Worked With on a Crew Set = Joel Dobzewitz – Started out as PA for me on Microsoft shoots and now works as a producer manager on the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ TV show. This cat was a one-man-production machine that was willing to do anything and be anything to make a shoot happen. I’ve worked with a number of people like that over the years, but few brought the energy, enthusiasm and quirky sense of humor that Joel did. He use to always carry a finger puppet with him just in case we needed an emergency laugh and always seemed to have the funniest commentary to bring levity during a challenging shoot or simply when it was time to wrap a shoot.  

Sarah: If you had an intern that did everything perfectly, what would you never want to have to deal with again?
Lyn:
Business – Billing. Invoicing. Check Writing. Basically paperwork. This is one of the areas I see very little value add to the process. I enjoy coming up with budgets and crafting strategies as it pertains to the financial aspects of producing and filming, but I do not enjoy in any form the paper trail (physical or electronic) that comes with it. Production – wrapping a shoot (As long as I still get to do the wrap production crew photo).

Sarah: What’s the best way for someone to follow in your footsteps? School or practical experience?

Lyn: Combination of both – First get 6-12 months of formal or information education about production (either through school or research). Then go work for someone in the production field for 6-12 months doing whatever – just make sure and be a sponge and try to get exposure to all elements of the process. It’s important to surround yourself with people in the business of production and find ways to immerse yourself in the business either by researching it and/or by working with production companies (or ad agencies). I started my career as an electrical engineer and then got my MBA when I started down the road of entrepreneurship for 7 years before I got into producing so I started cold-turkey and learned by trial and error. This dramatically extended my learning curve because I not only had to learn the craft – the art and the science of it, but I also had to manage the business side of the equation as any startup owner would. I learned some valuable lessons in this process, but I would have greatly benefited by working part-time in production or getting educated about it before I opened my own production company.

Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions Lyn! Lyn Graft is a Director, Producer, Storyteller and Founder LG Pictures. He has produced 450 videos including CNBC’s first primetime TV series “American Made”, 35 videos for the Microsoft, 14 videos for Dell Corporation, 25 videos for SXSW Interactive, 60 videos for Sweet Leaf Tea and 30 videos for RISE Global. Filmed 300 entrepreneurs including founders of Whole Foods, Paul Mitchell, Playboy, Baby Einstein, Clear Channel, Craigslist, BET Television, The Knot and Tom’s Shoes. He’s founded 8 companies and spent time as a ski instructor! He’s also best friend of Fitty G (who appears with him in his photo)

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Luca talks social networking, music and football (the English kind)

Um, so Luca has the coolest sounding job around. He does digital strategy for Chelsea Football Club. He answered a whole bunch of my questions on working in Uni and how it helps prep you for the real world. Thanks for being a good sport, Luca!

Luca-massaro

Sarah: Luca, you have a degree in Music Technology, how did you end up working for a Football Club?

Luca: I wish I knew. I guess the answer is opportunity. While at University I ran an events management business putting on student club nights and gigs for unsigned bands. To market these events and to organise them with the 20+ staff I had I used Facebook (this is 2007 by the way). I learned the power of social media for my business. It was here that I developed the ability to influence with messages, simply because my business depending on it.

Fast forward to 2009 having graduated and relocated to London I was just another graduate. My business didn’t account for much in text on my CV and I knew that getting into the music industry wasn’t gonna be easy. I had been using Twitter at this point for a while, primarily for ego boosting but also for seeding blog content and networking with like-minded people. 

Twitter not only allowed me to network with relevant music industry people, but it allowed me to gain insight into other industries that I was interested in and the personnel that worked in those industries. Having been an advocate for social media and all things digital and having built my own blog and assisted others to use the web to build their own brands, it was only a matter of time until I landed a real opportunity in the digital sphere.

It was in the Summer of 2010 that a friend of mine @Mazi who at the time was working for SKY, tweeted there was a vacancy at Chelsea Football Club. I got in touch with Mazi and the rest is pretty much history.

I recently wrote a post as Twitter turned five years old documenting this whole journey and my appreciation for it.

Sarah: While you were in Uni, you were also working full time. How do you think that helped you find work after graduating?

Luca: When I graduated I didn’t feel like fresh bait. Even at Uni I didn’t feel like a student. I believe University is primarily about finding yourself, but it is also about building networks for the future (it’s not about gaining a degree).

Having experienced management, finance, marketing, leadership, team building and all the fundamentals that matter in business whilst at University, when I graduated I was ready to take on the world… so to speak. Although it did not mean I could walk into a job, it meant I was a few steps ahead of anyone else who’s sole selling point was a qualification printed on corrugated paper.

Sarah: I imagine a number of people think you have a dream job. Is it as great as it sounds? How do you spend most of your time at work?

Luca: For Chelsea fans, they believe I have a dream job. Others, may be envious, but working for a football club is no different to working for any other large corporation… except we have Sky Sports and Chelsea TV on all day. :)

My role has developed recently from Digital Marketing Analyst to Digital Strategy and Product Development. My time is divided up by product development, strategy, analytics, search engine marketing and consultation to other areas of the business.

Sarah: What’s the best advice you can give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Luca: Personal branding. In today’s new media age, personal branding is everything. I believe the future is not in companies, but in people. More and more individuals everyday are becoming successful. Some are extremely lucky, others have built the fundamental roots and have planned for success. Eventually we are going to see a world where everyone has a website, a social presence and a brand that can be monetized. 

We are all built up of individual traits, DNA that makes us different. Therefore we all have different abilities. The key is to harness the strengths and be able to admit your weaknesses, because transparency and authenticity is everything.

Gary Vaynerchuk took this concept and wrote a book named ‘Crush it!’. He turned his strengths, his weaknesses and his passion into a monetized business and shared his journey for us all to see. 

If you are seeking employment in digital or in a company that you expect to research into your background when you apply for a positiony, don’t let their ‘Google’ search come up with the spell check because they found nothing about you. Even worse don’t let the only thing they do find be Facebook.

  • Invest in a website, whether it be your money or your time learning how.
  • Create a blog giving your real voice on a topic that gets you excited.
  • Be creative with your web CV and ditch the lame Word document as your first point of contact.
  • Allow the world to see a dynamic personality that represents who you are and what you are capable of.
  • Utilise Twitter to locate the businesses and the people who matter in the industry you want to be a part of.
  • Build relationships that allow others to recommend you and someone will notice you
  • Act confident in your ability and be positive even when it feels like you aren’t moving forward.

By following the advice above I guarantee anyone can achieve whatever goal they have their sights set on.

Sarah: Do you keep regular hours, or are you working around the clock?

Luca: My job is contracted 9am – 5pm but it always varies depending on the workload. I believe it is important to relax as much as possible and exercise frequently. We all spend our whole days working out our minds but don’t pay the same amount of attention to our bodies, hence why most people look run down, tired and moody. Everything is about maintaining a healthy balance.

Sarah: You also blog regularly and help others figure out how to use social media. How much of your time does that take up?

Luca: I maintain my personal brand by blogging rich content as much as possible and by assisting others in their journey to achieve. Usually I post twice a week, which includes one ‘Industry Spotlight’ and one topic post.

When Tony Robbins spoke of the six human needs and the sixth one being ‘contribution beyond ourselves’ I wanted to utilise what strengths I had to help others achieve. I help anyone I can who seeks advice with personal branding, digital marketing or business development.

I have consulted to an array of clients and companies (there is a list on my About page) and am always locating for new opportunities. 

Sarah: What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

Luca: You know, I really have no idea. You have this goal when growing up that you and all your mates say, it goes something like this. “By the time I turn 30, I wanna be a millionaire.” Im pretty sure every young lad has said that. Back then, success may have involved money, nowadays, not so much.

Since University my philosophy has been to help others achieve and that philosophy has only grown stronger. I believe that humans were made to contribute something and we don’t do enough of it. 

As I mentioned above in reference to Tony Robbins, self-fulfilment comes from many different human needs and emotions. I like to think in five years time I may be in a position where I have utilised my skills, my strengths, my opportunities and my network to contribute in a way that means others can benefit on a large scale. 

To help the sheep you have to learn to howl like a wolf, which means you have to grow up, learn to lead and teach from experience. As Jay-Z said “and I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them.’

The future is in people, in individuals who realise they can leverage themselves but also how much they can achieve by leveraging each other. 

I expect the game to change very soon and hopefully for the better, with it being less about how ‘me and you’ develop individually our brands, our products and our personalities and more about how ‘us’ and ‘we’ develop together.

If you’d like to learn more about Luca, you can follow him on Twitter or check out his blog

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Conrad Whelan likes coffee, code and ridin’ in style

Today on I know smart people, Conrad Whelan. He’s a fellow Calgarian working at Uber, the app that gets people from A to B. The first time I hung out with Conrad, we made plans for coffee at 730. I assumed this meant am, he assumed it meant pm. Hilarity ensued.

Smiley_no_beard

Sarah: What do you do?

Conrad: I write dispatch and ops software for a startup in San Francisco called Uber.  I’ve been at Uber for a year or so, coincident with my moving to San Francisco.  My current days consist of implementing new systems for an upgraded architecture for our product to enable us to quickly roll out new cities.  I wear a lot of hats, writing code in a number of languages and administering a number of systems to keep Uber up and running.

Sarah: How did you end up there?

Conrad: I ended up where I currently am primarily because I wanted to change of scene from Calgary. I was working at an engineering focused scientific computing startup called Acceleware. The work was related very closely to the topic of my masters thesis (Electromagnetic simulation for cell phone antenna design), and we were on the forefront of writing scientific codes that made use of GPUs to speed up simulations. It was a great job, but after 4 years and a yearning to see someplace else in the world, I decided it was time to move on.  

A good friend of mine had built the Uber prototype and when I told him that I had resolved to move (rented out my condo and so on), he asked if I would be interested in helping to launch Uber (then called UberCab).  I said yes, and within three weeks was working in a tiny shared space inside an office with one other member of the team and we got to work on making the project go.  It was a bit of a change for me, as far as the technology stack was concerned, but we had a good year in 2010.  I had actually intended on staying at Uber for the short term, in order to look for another job in the bay area, but I realized that the product was too cool for me to not stay on for a while longer.

Sarah: Is this what you thought you would be doing when you were in school?

Conrad: I actually think I’m pretty close to where I thought I’d be when I was in school.  Engineering just seems to suit me, and through grad school, Acceleware, and now Uber, I think I’ve been able to work on some pretty amazing products with some really amazing people.

Sarah: What is your favorite part of what you do?

Conrad: The best thing about an engineering job is the feeling you get when you’re being really productive and making things happen.  Especially in the tech startup game, there’s a level of creativity that many people might not think about. A bunch of people with ideas building something out of nothing.  I actually enjoy the odd bit of crunch time because of the focus it can bring (though too much crunch time is not so much fun). 

My favourite task, maybe weirdly enough, is writing solid software testing code. It may sound lame, but it’s something that I never really learned at school, but now love to do it on a daily basis.  I have seen the two opposite ends of the spectrum where software testing can be considered essential. Scientific simulations often take hours or days to run, and if there are parts of the code that aren’t correct, that could be like wasting those days completely.  On the other hand, automated dispatch software is used to negotiate a complex transaction between two people in different locations who have never met each other before.  If something doesn’t work, it’s an immediate waste of time for these people and a missed opportunity for us.  Smart software testing just makes a person confident that their product is working as intended (and in turn, lets me enjoy my time off a bit more)

Sarah: What is the most tedious, boring or annoying part of what you do?

Conrad:  I guess there are certain kinds of software that I’m not super keen on writing.  I’m a math / physics guy, so writing UI code is not exactly my cup of tea.  Otherwise, configuration.  Always necessary, always slightly a headache.

Sarah: What are you most excited about?

Conrad: I think I’m most excited about my new life in San Francisco.  There are several parts to it. Playing a crucial role in a hot new startup is great.  The buzz and focus on technology companies in the media again is very exciting.  Trying to build a whole new set of friends in a new country is a great thing too. Plus, there are so many things about this place that make me feel right at home. Year round bicycle commuting is a new joy that I am finding every day; seeing so many shows coming through town; effing amazing coffee on every corner.  It’s hard to not be excited to be in Northern California right now.

If you’d like to know more about Conrad, follow him on Twitter. Also, check out Uber! He’d love for you to try it and give some feedback. 

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Alex Hillman loves Philly, co-working and HTML

Alex is the first person I’ve connected with in Philadelphia! He co-founded the co-working space Indy Hall and works in a strategic role on a number of projects. 

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Sarah: Alex, can you tell us a little about what you do for a living?

Alex: I’ve made a weird transition from developer into a pretty cool strategic role. Because I’ve been working in tech for almost 15 years, I tend to work with companies that are utilizing technology as a primary component of their business, but the companies are very different. In the last year I’ve worked with a top-tier advertising agency (helping develop their interactive department and strategy), a multi-million dollar t-shirt company (leading the in-housing of their entire technology stack), a few software product companies and teams, including Wildbit – the makers of popular products like Beanstalk and Postmark.

Exactly what I do for these companies varies a bit, but the consistent element is that I’m focused on helping them grow. Usually, it means assessing the company’s strengths and assets and looking for ways to reassemble them to help the company grow. This means I’m looking for sustainable, exponential growth patterns that don’t require excessive outside resources or intensive spending. The fun part is that because I’ve got a tech and development background, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and write some code if it helps. 

I tend to operate best as a hired gun: though most of the teams I work with now are long-term arrangements, none of them are full time. This lets me get all sorts of dirt under my fingernails, and if I’m doing a particularly good job…I’m making myself obsolete. 

Sarah: In addition to that, you co-founded that co-working space, Indy Hall. How did that come about?

 Alex: When I struck out on my own as a freelance web dev in 2006, I was working from home. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to last long. I didn’t miss going into work, but I did miss having coworkers. I met some folks that were doing the earliest experimentation with coworking in San Francisco, and figured, hey, that sounds pretty rad. I’ll move out there!

When I failed an attempt to move to SF, it was an inflection point. Why was I leaving Philly again? It wasn’t for the job, or the money, or even the weather. It was for likeminded culture and a “place” where I felt I belonged. Well…if I could find that in Philly, I wouldn’t need to leave!

So I started going to every event I could find. User groups. Meetups. Happy hours. You name it. I was looking for anyone in Philly who was doing cool, interesting, creative things because that’s what I wanted to do! What I found wasn’t just people doing cool, interesting, creative things…but I found that they were looking for other people too! So Indy Hall started like more of a club than a coworking space. Over time, we started working together, even if we weren’t working on the same things. Just being in proximity to one another once a week or so was great. 

When we got to enough people, I said, “hey…we could do this every day if this club had a clubhouse!” and we started working together towards opening our first office. Inside of 18 months that office was completely full and we had a waiting list. This drove us to expand into a ~4500 square foot location where we are today, which is home to over 100 members on our active monthly roster and many more friends who visit and drop in when they can.   

Sarah: What do you think is the most important thing about finding a good co-working space?

Alex: It’s ALL about the people. A good coworking community is going to be your tribe. People should be interacting with one another. It should feel warm and fun. You should be able to feel productive, but not constrained. You should feel at home. 

I’ve become convinced that people don’t really want a better place to work…they just want better coworkers. Coworking provides that far better than it provides the amenities you think you need.

Sarah: You must get to interact with plenty of companies in Philadelphia. What’s hot there right now?

Alex: Mobile Games. Holy moly, everybody’s making games. It’s awesome. 

Sarah: As with most cities near larger cities, Philadelphia must get compared to its neighbours often. What sets it apart?

Alex: I feel bad for anyone who feels the need to compare Philly to its neighbors. A few friends decided we should throw a party for people who love Philly, and give them a reason to talk about the things they love about Philly rather than compare it to other cities. We’re doing that party every other month now. You can check out the video from the first party and see for yourself why people love Philly: 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vrB1O6ipXs]

Sarah: Finally, what are you working on next that has you excited?

Alex: There’s a couple of projects that I have to keep under my hat right now, which is totally not my style…but I can promise they’ll be worth the wait. The next couple of teams I’m working with though have me really pumped. I recently started working with Philly design and development shop P’unk Ave to help take their open source CMS Apostrophe and make it a SAAS hosted product, I’m going to start working with friends of mine Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs on their product http://letsfreckle.com/, and I’ve got a new product that I spun out of my work with that T-Shirt company that should be launching in the next month or so. 

Bottom line is, I’m continually working to achieve my goal of working on great things with great people. Nothing is more gratifying than that.

Alex, thanks for taking the time to answer all of these questions! If you’d like to keep up with everything Alex has going on, check him out on Twitter, or on his blog

Photo by Chris Sembrot

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James Whatley gets to make people happy

I think it’s fair to say that if there is opportunity for beer at a conference, you’ll find James Whatley there. Not that he’s all about the party, but he is all about meeting people, talking to them about what they love and getting into debates over mobile technology. All of this makes him perfect for his position at 1000heads, the word of mouth marketing agency.

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Sarah: What do you do for a j-o-b?

James: I am Marketing Director at the world’s largest, full-service word of mouth marketing agency, 1000heads.

Sarah: How much of your building groups and communities efforts do you
credit for getting you more work?

James: Both personally and professionally? Almost 100%! I’ve been working in the industry now for five years and everything that I’ve achieved would not have been possible without the network that I’ve built around me. 

From a 1000heads perspective, we help manage some of the largest brand-led communities in the world. The positive word of mouth we engender from not only the community members but also from our clients continual appraisal and support massively supports our ongoing new business efforts. 

Sarah: What is the best part of what you do?

James: I get to make people happy. Last year in particular we had some amazing successes with campaigns such as Aussie Angels, Nokia Nav and Tron: Legacy all gifting huge smiles across vastly different community groups & members (while also, conveniently enough smashing our targets from our clients).

Sarah: How do you stay on top of trends and keep coming up with new ideas?

James: That’s two questions! 😉 Staying on top of things, obviously Twitter is of huge benefit however – my most powerful tool for keep track of the latest and greatest pieces of creative is actually Google Reader. I subscribe to around 5-600 blogs and image feeds, I also follow around 150-200 other Google Reader users who share some of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I can’t recommend it enough. In regards to creativity; it can come fromanywhere. But where it will definitely not come from is my desk; getting up on my feet and outside of the office is a start. Some of my best ideas have come on the Tube (london’s underground train system). That’s actually where I do most of my blogging too.

Sarah: How do you manage your time during the week?

James: I live and die by my calendar. If it’s not in there, then I don’t do it. Even to the point of sending myself a meeting request for ‘Do emails’ for an hour each day; it helps. Admittedly it’s not 100% fail proof as often – in this line of work – you have to drop things in emergencies and deal with what’s important. It’s not easy and to be honest, I doubt I’ve cracked it yet – however, if booking myself out for 3hrs at 7pm for ‘go home and do nothing’ keeps me sane, then I’ll keep doing it :)

Sarah: Is there any part of your job that people would be surprised to
learn really isn’t fun?

James: Traveling. It can be the *most* fun, of course it can. However, too much and you start to feel spun out and tired – Llke not enough butter spread over too much bread. Missing loved ones and yearning for your own bed after three days/weeks/months on the road? That’s not fun. 

Sarah: If you were just starting out in the world of marketing now,
what would you do? Education or real world experience?

James: Both. Even if you’re not starting out now, still try for both. Knowing what you don’t know can sometimes be the most useful tool in your day to day working life. Be aware of weaknesses and, where necessary, fix them. 

I’m fairly sure that I will never know *everything* there is to know about Marketing, so I work hard, learn from others and, whenever possible, take formal training too. When an acquaintance remarked that he did not know why I was taking a scholarship [“Why do you need that?”] – I knew for sure that I had to do it. My response – “If ever I get to the point when I feel like there’s nothing left to learn, shoot me dead – for I will be done.”

If you’d like to follow Whatley on his marketing adventures, you can check him out on Twitter, on his blog, or over at the 1000 Heads blog.

 

 

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Grant Hutchinson likes letters and pictures and Newtons

I started following Grant on Twitter a few years ago as he always posts great photos of things in my hometown, Calgary. He’s pretty smart about some other stuff too! He kindly took a few minutes out of his busy SXSW schedule to answer a few questions.

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Sarah: You finished up at Veer two years ago, what’s been keeping you busy?

Grant: Since leaving Veer (two years ago at the end of January), I’ve been in semi-retirement. I say “semi” because I could never be entirely retired, at least in the traditional sense. I’ve been enjoying spending the bulk of my time with my family (my daughters are now in grade 10 and first year university) and finally getting around to ticking a multitude of items off the household to do list.

Sarah: Ah, but not entirely retired, what’s keeping you work-busy then?

Grant: I’ve been offering my interface and design expertise to developers and other creative folks requiring UI and UX reviews for the software and web products. But that’s certainly not a full time role.

Sarah: Part time jobs are where it’s at. What do you do to keep your creative side going?

Grant: In terms of keeping the right side of my brain stimulated, photography has been a daily pursuit for me. I was locked up in a non-competition agreement from my previous employer up until this past November. That prevented me from exploring the sordid world of microstock and the like. I’m beginning to look into some commercial opportunities relating to stock photography, but I’m not anticipating making another career out of it. It’s been nearly 25 years since I graduated from ACA(D) and shot professionally. It’s an intriguing prospect, but I’m more cynical about the industry these days.

Sarah: You also continue to write about Typography, correct?

Grant: Write and design. I currently contribute to Typedia on a regular basis and have been working with very good friends of mine at Ligature, Loop & Stem. I enjoy writing, but it’s exhausting. Words don’t flow out of my head naturally. It takes immense concentration for me to wrestle thoughts and words into a form I’m happy with. I also have trouble stopping the editing and tweaking process. I’ve probably gone over this very paragraph seven times already. One of things I really enjoy is writing and designing type specimens to illustrate the various weights and distinctive features of a family of typefaces. It’s the perfect combination of creative writing, aesthetic finesse, and balanced design.

Sarah: You manage three sites and a mailing list dedicated to the Apple Newton, why so much love for it?

Grant: I suppose some part of me loves the Newton because it was always a misunderstood, oddball product for Apple. Yes, it was an extremely advanced product that showed promise … but still an oddball, and poorly executed from a marketing and consumer point of view. It’s unfortunate that the platform wasn’t allowed to continue under Steve Job’s second watch at Apple, because I believe that it was just starting to gain traction in specific vertical markets such as education and healthcare. The main reason the Newton still holds my attention is the cleanliness and thoughtfulness of the user experience and the invisibility of the data structure. Data and information is just there whenever and wherever you need it. And the interface has a beautiful, minimalist presence about it. I truly appreciate all sorts of obsolete technology, not just the Newton. But the Newton is a very small chunk of computing history that not enough people are aware of.

Sarah: What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on?

Grant: There have been dozens of smaller projects that I’ve had a hand in over the years … many were extremely enjoyable to work on. However, if I had to pick a single project it would be the integration of community and social technologies into the Veer.com site a few years ago. A small group of designers and programmers were split into their own group, outside of the existing creative and development departments. We were charged with deciding on a development platform (Ruby on Rails), designing a workable community model, and then executing the entire project. All while being cognizant of how the new functionality and design had to mesh with Veer’s existing branding, voice, and legacy technologies. The team I worked with was the best and the satisfaction of seeing that project go live was immeasurable.

Sarah: You have two daughters, are they looking to follow in your creative/entrepreneurial footsteps?

Grant: That’s hard to gauge, as they surprise me almost every day. Both of them are certainly creative, artistic, and have a wicked sense of humour. I think those attributes could take them just about anywhere. Personally, I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. I just happen to be able to figure out how to help really good ideas along.

Thanks for sharing Grant! If you’d like to know more about Grant, you can follow him on Twitter, check out his photo stream, or read some of his Typedia articles.

Photo by: Naz Hamid 

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Jasmine Antonick is a people connector

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jasmine Antonick on numerous occasions. She’s a pro at her job, has hilarious stories and is always fun to be around. Jasmine is good at both the creative stuff AND the detail stuff, a combination not too many people have.

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Sarah: Jasmine, can you tell us a little about what you do for DealMaker Media?

Jasmine:  Sure. It’s a bit grey, seeing as I don’t have an official title and my work varies from one day to the next; but I guess I’m everything from an idea talent scout, to a content curator and a people connector.

I work with a team of incredibly smart women in San Francisco to identify up-and-coming startups from around the globe and connect them to the people and companies who can help them shape their ideas and grow their business. This means finding VPs at media companies like MTV and brands like Coca-Cola and helping connect them to real cool startups.  We do this by growing a network of amazing people, and bringing them together at various events and conferences we produce.

Sarah: So about how much of your day is spent either making calls or meeting with people?

Jasmine: I can easily be on back to back calls all day when leading up to one of our bigger events like Under the Radar. This means I’m either interviewing startups to determine if we should invite them to present on our stage at one of our events, preparing keynote speakers and panelists, or getting to know what’s on the minds of people inside some really interesting organizations to see how my team can help them do bigger and better things.

I don’t do very many face-to-face meetings for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I talk to people who live and work all over the place.  In San Francisco I’m blessed, because it’s easy to bump into people you need or want to meet with while out at various tech parties.  But only so much ‘real business’ can be done over cocktails.

Sarah: How much work goes into each event that you put on?

Jasmine: Our team works on events for 4-6 months. We are addicted to “meaning.” This means that we research and constantly re-define the content, the presenters and even who should be in the audience. I know it’s cheesy, but our company is called Dealmaker Media. Putting people together in a room and sparking opportunities amongst them is what we do best. But it means we need to be OCD about creating those moments and knowing our network.

Sarah: What would you say is the most important thing you do?

Jasmine: Helping startups connect to people who can help them make their idea a reality. When I hear that a company got acquired or funded and I helped make that connection – it’s an awesome feeling.

Sarah: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Jasmine:  A few things. First, our team operates in a “douche bag free environment.” We won’t work with people when their egos overshadow the end goal. Second, make sure everything you say and do has meaning and purpose. Third: always be open to new opportunities and ideas.

Sarah: You recently spent over a month in India without checking in with any technology. How important do you think it is to unplug every once and while?

Jasmine: The best people I’ve met (and who are the ones I measure myself against) are the ones who are painfully authentic. I say painful because I know I need to work on it and it pains me to see how easy it seems for them.  They know who they are, they’re transparent about their faults, they care about the human factor… Unplugging from the bombardment of media we subject ourselves to via our laptops, mobiles and tablets today is unhealthy.  Getting away from technology and diving into real, physical communities of humans was refreshing. It made me so grateful for what I have and it made me even more passionate about what I want to do with my life.

Sarah: So you’re back from vacation, you’re ready to go, what’s next for Jasmine Antonick?

Jasmine: It might sound altruistic, but although I’ve always loved connecting people and ideas; I think I’m going to start narrowing my focus on ideas that can change the world for the better. India reminded me how most of the world lives. I think I need to start hunting for more technology that positively impacts communities at need, more so than the next big app for finding the best restaurant in the Mission District in San Francisco…. 😉

Thanks for the interview Jasmine! If you’d like to keep up-to-date on what’s she doing, you can check out Under the Radar or follow her on Twitter.

Jenka Gurfinkel is a Social Creature

I stumbled across Jenka’s blog after she wrote, How the Internet Killed the Rock Star (…not the way you think). I was impressed by Jenka’s ability to communicate complex ideas clearly. Whether it’s digital strategy, transmedia experiences or music and video promotion, Jenka understands how people think and why they do things. As you can imagine, this is a pretty good trait for a strategist.  

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Sarah: This isn’t what you currently do, but I really want to know how you became a circus manager!
Jenka: Like the preview for “Water For Elephants” says: “I don’t know if I picked that circus, but something told me that circus picked me.” The circus I worked for is more akin to Cirque du Soleil than Ringling Bros. The only animals being abused there are humans. How did I end up there? Long, long ago, I used to work in fashion PR, and used to stage manage fashion shows. An old friend of mine had become a fashion designer, and in 2005, she asked me to stage manage a runway show she was doing at a Valentine’s-themed party where the circus was performing. That night, the director of the circus asked me if I’d want to be their production manager. And I said yes.

Sarah: Really, being in the circus is only one of the cool jobs you’ve had. Can you tell us about some others?
Jenka: Well, I just outed myself as having worked in fashion PR, too. Although, that really wasn’t so cool at all. Before people were using the term “social media,” what I do was being called “culture marketing.” Which sounds cool. I used to be the marketing director for a big music festival. I’ve worked with a lot of musicians. But the coolest job I had was probably in high school when I used to get paid to be a photographer at Artists For Humanity. That was cool.

Sarah: With your current job, you still manage to find the time to write insightful blog posts over on social-creature.com. Are your posts mostly inspired by the work you do, or do they come from all over?
Jenka: They generally come from a deep fascination with culture and identity. Between the culture of my Russian-Jewish family and the culture of urban, east coast America, I spent my youth in two very contrasting environments. In college, I minored in bioanthropology, which is the study of evolution of human behavior — same as physical traits evolve, behavioral traits are the results of evolutionary forces, as well. To me, it all ties into the same thing: exploring the human operating system. Why humans do what they do. Now, it’s actually gotten to a point where people will send me their ideas for posts they think I ought to write. I got that Malcolm Gladwell article about social media from last year sent to me by like four different people telling me I should write about it. I wish I had the time to get to it all!

Sarah: You’ve also just launched a fiction project called MirrorLAnd. How long have you been working on that?
Jenka: I started writing MirrorLAnd at the end of 2005 — same year as I joined the circus. For a long time, it was kind of a half-written idea about this 21st version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but set in LA, and in the underground circus culture. It was just collecting dust in the corner of my hard drive. And then in 2009 I developed this idea for how I could release it online — in serialized installments, incorporating the real art and artists from the west coast culture that inspired the story. So that was when I really got serious about finishing it and bringing it to life. It’s got 12 chapters, and with one released each month this is basically an experiment I’m committing to for a year. I’d love for it to get published as a graphic novel. We’ll see what happens!

Sarah: In your day job, what’s your favorite project you’ve worked on over the last year?
Jenka: My favorite project from last year is something that I worked on with a music client of mine. Last summer I saw a beyond-epic 9-minute video, called “The Apple Tree,” featuring VFX shots, action clips, and dance sequences from like 700 different movies in a mind-scrambling montage scored to music by The Glitch Mob. The first time I watched it I had to hit pause every 30 seconds just to catch my breath. Among the clips used in the video were a handful from Tron: Legacy. So the Glitch Mob and I teamed up with Khameleon808, the auteur behind the Apple Tree, and the result was this video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98HvZZHA81M]

It got picked up by Wired.com, and singled out by the Sean Bailey, the head of production at Disney. I hear there’s talk of The Glitch Mob doing something official for Disney soon. For my crimes in coming up with the idea for this whole thing, Wired called me a “social media maven.” Which is kind of embarrassing, but it’s Wired. So you gotta take that and rub it all over yourself.

Sarah: If someone was looking to follow in your digital and transmedia strategist footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Jenka: Well, I’ve had a really circuitous route to get to where I am now — from managing a circus, to promoting festivals, to working with bands. It’s hard for me to direct people in my footsteps since they’re really kind of all over the place. But ultimately all that weird experience has contributed to getting me here. And furthermore, it’s an asset. My perspective and my frame of reference are so much broader because of the experiences that I’ve had and what I’ve gotten to learn through them. I think that’s probably the key. Being able to learn something new from all the work you do. Curiosity is probably the best asset you can have in any creative field. Exploring and synthesizing diverse ideas. Not a lot of ways to go wrong with that. I think if you really want to do what I do, you’re probably already involved in some aspect of doing it. You probably can’t help yourself. Other valuable advice for the road: the trick to sounding like an “expert,” is just having a unique opinion. Also, don’t get good at something you don’t want to do.

Thanks to Jenka for answering all of my questions! If you’d like to read more from her, you can check out her blog, read her graphic novel or follow her on Twitter