.
Within eight months WDDG grew from the three of us to a group of 15 amazingly talented people (more about them later). The dotcom bubble was in full swing and we were running and gunning - doing sites and (yea - I admit it) Flash intros for crazy amounts of money. We were going to all the Silicon Alley dotcom parties and living up those crazy years.

Your name, plus your original "web name/handle" 

James Baker - originally I personally went under “WDDG” before that spiraled out of control.

Your first web encounter, year etc. 

Very Early: 

I grew up on computers, I remember going to programming camp in second or third grade.

My first computer was an Apple II that my parents bought for Christmas in 1981. 

I loved computers and video games and programming from an early age and was lucky enough to have a computer back when that was a fairly uncommon thing. 

Not as early: 

I can’t remember when I first was introduced to the Internet - but in the early 90s we had Compuserve and AOL (do those count as the Internet :) and I remember spending a bit of time on those services and on some of the BBSs and IRC and newsgroups - mostly trading computer games and ROMs and writing gamefaqs for Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.  Around that time was when I started to get into the visual side of computers - playing around with DPaint2 in computer lab in High School after programming class.

In college I quickly applied my nascent computer graphics skills to make fake IDs for all my friends in my dorm at Vanderbilt on my blazing fast, brand spanking new Gateway 286.  (I still have one of the better Florida IDs.)  Yes, that’s how I learned Photoshop and Illustrator... 

Javascript Hell: 

I concentrated on business and programming in college but I also took a few computer graphics classes in the art school where I eventually got hooked on this newfangled web design thing.  Designing websites took my love of visual creativity (I always thought that I was going to be a comic book illustrator) and combined it with my love of computer science.

I remember spending crazy hours hunched over a 13” mac in computer lab experimenting, designing, programming and just hating javascript - bashing my head into the wall repeatedly trying to figure out why my damn rollovers would work in Netscape but not in IE. 

Oh the hellish experience web development was back then before we had Google or JQuery or StackExchange or GitHub or any kind of sanity in the browser wars - trust me, it was hellish. 

What made it even worse was that the comp-sci tracks in college at the time didn’t have any web programming.  No HTML, no Javascript, no nothing.  COBOL sure - Pascal sure - Javascript and PERL - nada.  You just had to learn on your own in a bit of a vacuum. 

Flash:

Around the time FutureSplash came out I mucked around a bit with it - mostly making these crappy banner-ad type animations - I seem to recall that most of the demos that Macromedia was showing were banner ads.... 

I didn’t really realize the potential for Flash until I saw Gabocorp for the first time in 1996.   I was totally blown away that you could do a whole site in Flash.  I remember showing that site to everyone that I knew - saying “man this is the future...” 

Gabocorp loaded fast, it had music and sound synched to the motion and best of all the site (the whole site) worked on every computer and browser I threw at it.

So I dumped javascripted gifs like a hot potato and dove headlong into this Flash thing.  I spent the next year making just terrible stuff In Flash - hammering at it and pushing it as far as I could during those glory days of fscommand and telltarget.  (Actionscript was years away young readers).

Every night I would stay up and jam on something with beer in hand.  Admittedly I knew very little about proper graphic design or typography or animation but I was learning on the fly, taking my inspirations from anime, comics, video games, David Carson, what was happening with title design at the time, and of course what that first generation of Flashers like Gabo and Yugo Nakamura and Peter NRG were doing with Flash - not to mention the rest of the old FlashPad community.

What our readers might recognize you most for, when you first hit the web. 

There might be a few depending on how far you go back. :)  There was always the WDDG sites which I continuously designed and redesigned. 

I used to run a site called the The FlashChallenge which was kind of a directory / review site for Flash sites. 

The site that got me the most notoriety in the first generation Flash world and really started my business career was the “Bad as Shit Project” http://www.wddg.com/badd.

Someone at Altoids saw that site and contacted me to do a Flash site for the launch of their new Cinnamon mints. That site was called TooHot and officially launched my professional career. TooHot was one of the first two brand sites that were done in Flash (the other was Turbonium which launched The Barbarian Group.)

Both Turbonium and Toohot won a ton of awards and put Flash on the map for brands and advertising.  The site for John Mark Sorum was one of the best sites we did in that first year of WDDG.  (It was the pick for 2000 in the “FWA Most Influential Sites of the Decade.”)  And there was also the Anamorph project that was a groundbreaking motion graphics piece.   After those early years we were pretty well known for our work with Altoids.

Your digital journey since. 

Boom and Bust: 

After I did TooHot the work just started flying in - and the money too!  (it was the crazy dotcom years after all).  I grabbed a friend from college named Justin Galvin and a friend from my day job at PriceWaterhouse named Jameson Hsu and said - “lets give this thing a shot.” 

Within eight months WDDG grew from the three of us to a group of 15 amazingly talented people (more about them later).  The dotcom bubble was in full swing and we were running and gunning - doing sites and (yea - I admit it) Flash intros for crazy amounts of money.  We were going to all the Silicon Alley dotcom parties and living up those crazy years. 

But as we all know that was going to come to a cold hard end. 

When the bubble popped and the dog mascot was exposed as the fraud he was, our business went down right along with it. 

We had bankrupt fly-by-night dotcoms leave us with hundreds of thousands in receivables we would never get and new business immediately dried up.  Within a few months we laid almost everyone off and were just trying to make it to the next month without racking up even more insane amounts of debt. 

And then 9/11 happened and it was really really really over. 

Our office was south of Canal Street which, after the attacks, was the DMZ.  You had to show proof that you worked or lived south of Canal to get past the barricades.

We had no power for a month, no internet or phones for two months and the writing was pretty clear that the ride was officially totally over.  We packed up. My partners moved out of NYC and everyone started going their separate ways.  My plan was to move back to Florida and try to figure out where to go next. 

Reboot: 

At that darkest moment I didn’t know that things were about to turn around. 

In December, only a week before I was about to leave New York,  Altoids called and asked if we could redesign Altoids.com. 

Of course I said that “we” would love to do it - after all I was still sitting on pretty big credit card debts from the crash and there was no need to tell them that we were bankrupt and had no employees.  Then a few days later Lego called and asked if “we” could come in to meet with them for a project.  Hell yes. 

Those gigs lead to more gigs and so I began to dig out of debt and rebuild the company.  This time I was going to do it a lot slower though.  WDDG would come back and come back strong. 

A few guys that hadn’t taken new jobs came back on board, a few of the talented people from Kioken joined us (Mike Sheppard and Dan Ravine), we rebranded (the inspiration for the logo was a phoenix rising from the ashes as if designed for the US military), we got a new space and we did a lot of groundbreaking, award winning work for some awesome clients. 

Meanwhile: 

But only doing client work was something that I wanted to break away from.  On the side the crew was obsessively playing video games and I always wanted to break us into the gaming industry. 

In 2002 we started developing a GameBoy Advance game heavily influenced by my favorite NES game - “Mike Tyson’s PunchOut”.  It took us a while, but we finally finished it and it hit stores as “Wade Hixton’s Counterpunch” which we did under the name Inferno Games.  It had great reviews (I think around 86 on MetaCritic) but alas it wasn’t the blockbuster that we were hoping for.

We did a number of casual games as well under the name Funtank, but the casual games faced the same fate - critical darling, great reviews, not the best sales.  But we still loved making and designing games and soon that became one of the things that WDDG was best known for. 

In 2005 we landed the AOR for Candystand.com which was then owned by Wrigley.  Candystand was a huge property - it had over a hundred games and millions of users a month marking it one of the top free game sites online. 

We ran the site like it was our own for a few years until I eventually had this crazy idea to make it our own - we would buy the site from Wrigley.  

As crazy as it seemed it worked and soon we were the proud landlords of Candystand.com.  I took the team that was running the site, officially founded a new company called Funtank along with my new partner Scott Tannen, and we started building everything for the site that we had been itching to do.

Back to WDDG: 

If you’ve ever run an agency you know that you’re a string of bad luck away from running straight into a brick wall. 

The recession of 2008 took its toll on the WDDG side of the business but it really hammered our clients. 

Two of our largest clients put a hold on all new business, RFPs slowed to a trickle, we lost a few pitches that we thought we had nailed, and budgets were slashed everywhere. 

It was a super-challenging year but the Funtank side was kicking ass so we shifted a bunch of people from WDDG to Funtank.

The bad luck kept rolling in.  So at the end of 2010 right after winning an Emmy for our work on “The Electric Company” I finally pulled the plug on WDDG - or in today’s terminology you could say we “pivoted into gaming”. 

It was painful but it worked - Funtank thrived.  Candystand was soon seeing 7 million uniques a month, we had games on Facebook and the iPhone, and the PSP and Android.  With all that success we soon had suitors and in 2010 my partner and I decided to sell Funtank. 

What are you up to now. 

I left the Funtank team in January. Right now I’m taking some time off, working on new ideas and doing some angel investing.  But that’s not that interesting. 

I think what’s more interesting is what some of the incredibly talented people that passed through the doors at WDDG/Funtank have done over the years and are doing now. 

WDDG won a fair amount of accolades during our days, but the number of awards that our alumni have collectively won is pretty mind-boggling.  Tons of Clios, FWAs, Cannes Lions, ADC, One Club, ADDYs, and two Emmys! 

WDDG/Funtank graduated people to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, MTV, EA, Disney, Nike, Frog, Cartoon Network, The Designers Republic, Rockstar Games and Popcap plus just about every major branding/interactive/advertising agency out there.

A number of our alumni have gone on to start their own businesses and agencies. 

To name just a few:

Jameson Hsu (WDDG co-founder) and Bob Ippolito (first CTO) founded MochiMedia which sold to Shanda Games and then founded Pieceable Software which they sold to Facebook.

Matt Anderson (Anamorph director) just finished his first full length documentary called “Fall and Winter” which premiered at SxSW.

Austin Chang co-founded The Fridge which was acquired by Google and is now project manager on Google+.

Celia Chang went on to found the food blog Cravings - findyourcraving.com. 

Nando Costa has gone on to found a number of motion graphics companies and has had a legendary career in motion graphics and design. 

Phil Rynda (character design on Counterpunch and animator) has won an Emmy and was the lead character designer on “Adventure Time”. 

My sister, Courtney Baker (managing director) is a client services manager for the Dolphins. 

Constantin Koumouzelis (CTO) is now a product manager at Facebook. 

Len Wilson founded his own agency MyMyStar. 

Jon Schmidt runs mobile development at Soundcloud. 

Jacob Cohen founded Stackhouse and Zackary Thatcher founded Thatcher Interactive. 

WDDG/Funtank was lucky to be graced with amazing talent - I’m very honored and proud of what we have all accomplished and excited to see and do more. 

And hey - over a hundred million in exits ain’t a half bad start!
 



hr
James Baker, Then and Now
James Baker, Then and Now

Apple II
Apple II

Badd as shit
Badd as shit

Too Hot
Too Hot

WDDG 2000
WDDG 2000

John Mark Sorum
John Mark Sorum

WDDG 2003
WDDG 2003

Altoids works
Altoids works

Game collection
Game collection

WDDG Divisions
WDDG Divisions

Candystand
Candystand

WDDG nuke
WDDG nuke

WDDG logo
WDDG logo

The End
The End

WDDG | Funtank | Doors
WDDG | Funtank | Doors

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