.

After launch, it was always fun to hop on Flashkit.com and watch the forum debates heat up between our site, 2advanced, and the other full-throttle Flash sites. From that point on - we started getting the kind of work we wanted.

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

Ken Martin - “eStudio”


Your first web encounter, year etc.

Having teethed on a TI-99/4A in the early 80s and then self-affixing myself to each new Atari home computer we upgraded to - a short stint in Amiga-land and finally working my way up through 8088s to today - I was ultimately determined to be muscle-less and pale. (Working currently on turning those last bits around finally.)

In reality, my dad and cousin are to blame - there I sat perched behind them in dark 70’s themed rooms absorbing everything I could and then sneaking back in to see what damage I could do on my own.

When BBSes were in full swing, I became addicted to acquiring new software and because there usually wasn’t any manuals with these acquired “versions” - it was kind of an adventure.

It was - learn these programs through pure trial and error and make something exciting. (I also learned that putting someone’s home phone number as a hot new BBS was a cruel but effective revenge tactic.)

Fast forward to high school, where I started a commercial sign shop with a early Roland CAMM-1 plotter (My parents took it over from me when I went off to college and have turned it into quite an operation).

I had planned on attending UCSD for Computer Science but then after seeing Toy Story my senior year - decided to head up to the Bay Area to combine by love of art and computers.

It’s at Cogswell College in Sunnyvale where I was determined to become Pixar’s newest star animator. It’s there where I also would meet two of my future eStudio / BLITZ business partners, Ivan Todorov and Mark Cohn.

It was great - I loved the focus - until I grew impatient in my second year.

Ultimately I convinced my parents to let me drop out, save their tuition and help me buy the fastest computer I could find (Imagine would I could do with a gig of ram!). From there I would lock myself up in my apartment and get the job done.

Late one night in ’97, my roommates were all giddy about this new “HTML stuff” - especially what companies were willing to pay for young code monkeys. I remember spinning around in my chair, taking a quick glance at a print-out they had affectionately taped on the wall of the markup tags - I rolled my eyes and went back to staring at my render bar.

One month later, in need of extra cash I decided to look into this web code monkey thing. So I took a quick trip to the local bookstore on a Friday afternoon, left with a “Learn HTML in 3 days” book in hand, and setup a job interview for Monday morning to apply adequate pressure.

Later that Monday afternoon, my web career was born as the newest web designer / developer at Autoweb.com.

Being at a successful, dot-com start-up in the early stages was exhilarating - very different from the family business stuff I was used to. Autoweb.com was a lead referral site for car dealerships, so when a new dealer was signed up - I got to design and build a site for them.

I’d do about 3-4 new car sites each week - each time trying to craft something completely different and, in retrospect, this turned out to be a big factor in immersing myself in HTML and trying to find ways to break it.

It was at Autoweb where I met my first business partner in what would be called eStudio. Sherry Zhou and I started building sites and eventually we both left to focus full-time on eStudio.

Fast forward a year, and Ivan Todorov (my current longtime business partner and CEO at BLITZ) and Mark Cohn would join forces bringing together a, at-the-time, odd but exciting mix of HTML, CG and music skills. Broadband was just around the corner so they say.     


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

We received VC funding from Hong Kong and decided to start three divisions within eStudio.com, an e-commerce business, a web-dev division and an episodic animation studio.

At the time I was splitting my time between the animation studio, producing our own show Regurge on Shockwave.com (Internet Killed the Video Star, I Want a Fat Babe, all the classics) and web development projects as they came in.

One day I got frustrated that we couldn’t get some of our clients to pay for what they really needed - something full of life, interactivity and personality - something that people would actually share. So I decided to focus on designing, animating and building the best representation of what I thought Flash could do - for ourselves.

The eStudio.com site was a playground for me - I treated each area as if you were stepping into a different room - leaving you not quite sure what to expect. It included everything from a lab area that had a Labrador retriever you could play catch with to a music section manned by a resident gorilla.

The opening experience was an “Enter” button that would get torn off the screen by two very Dr. Seuss-ian hands thereby making the visitor earn their way in. This was completely counter to everything every web expert was preaching at the time (I’m looking at you Nielsen).

Yes - it took a full week to get that damn button right - and yes - I received plenty of mockery from Ivan. In the end, it demonstrated exactly my point - UIs demand a personality and people responded in kind.

[FWA's note: See the original Blitz website with that "damn button" here]

After launch, it was always fun to hop on Flashkit.com and watch the forum debates heat up between our site, 2advanced, and the other full-throttle Flash sites. From that point on - we started getting the kind of work we wanted.


Your digital journey since.

By the time the dot-com bust hit - we had learned there was no money to made in webisodic animation (at that time) and that LA was looking pretty good at this point.

You could start to see the tumbleweeds on the 101 as the bust started to thin out the usual parking-lot traffic. So we decided to get out - we already had an agent at United Talent Agency so we figured we we’re all set for our big entrance into LA.

We landed in Venice, ready to strike it rich working on entertainment / movie sites. It only took a couple meetings to realize that train had passed and we’d need to nestle up to something else.

Luckily the video game industry was ripe for similar digital storytelling and a healthy dose of technology - that became our focus. BLITZ was born.


Our big break.

In late 2001, we got email through our site’s biz dev form from Tim McCleary, Global Director, Brand and Advertising at General Electric. He loved our stuff and wanted to see if we’d be up for a massive, short-deadlined challenge.

Turns out it was the rebrand from “We Bring Good Things to Life” to “Imagination at Work” - and although BBDO was on the job, no thought had been put towards anything digital.

The goal was to create a digital experience that shed a massive spotlight on all the innovation that GE globally was doing. Most consumers only knew them for microwaves and toasters - not jet engines, indestructible plastics, wind energy, etc.

Our vision - create the “Epcot Center” of online destinations to allow people to learn, play and share. The site launched with big fanfare and began a long running relationship with GE that spanned physical installations, gamified internal communications and the Ecomagination destination “Geoterra”.

In retrospect, what was great about working with a large corporate client so early in BLITZ’s beginnings was it forced us to establish practices on the client service and project management side that some of our competitors at the time we’re light on - due to their working through larger agencies vs. direct-to-client.

We learned very early on it was the only way to really sell in the ideas we wanted to do - otherwise your ideas got highjacked or you became the scapegoat. Good times.

After GE came Microsoft, Ballmer had seen what we’d done for GE and there we we’re again - this time competing with IDEO, McCann, etc. for the innovation work for “Your Potential. Our Passion.” We fought hard and won - thus turning Microsoft into a now 12 year relationship.

For the next five years we continued to shape and groom BLITZ as an agency that could lead clients and solve real business problems. We were still very deeply rooted in Flash - building specialized frameworks, innovating with early AR (AR music video with John Mayer) - always trying to push the interactive Flash experience to it’s breaking point.

With the early start of social and the buzzy echoes of Web 2.0, we began to cross-train our development teams on HTML development. We were ultimately lucky we did - for a year later - Flash became a rarity for us almost overnight.


What are you up to now?

Now thirteen years young, BLITZ has grown and is stronger than ever. As Chief Creative - my day to day continues to span from 3-ring circus pitches and client brainstorms to huddling with the team to plot our next moves.

In 2011, we were named an AdAge Small Agency of the Year (though today we’re too big to qualify for small again).

Throughout this time I’ve also built up a small army on the homestead as well. Four kids keep the house just as chaotic and exciting as the office.

As we all know, the work / life balance is always an interesting dance. I often wonder if I’ll ever be able to break the addiction of variety that an agency offers.

To have access and insight inside of so many businesses - affecting trajectories - seeing the patterns - I don’t know of very many other professionals that offer that intimate of look into such a large cross-section.

Only other interesting equivalent would be working at the patent office. For at least a couple days.


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