.

The first Geek Olympics, or Nerd Fest as some people have coined it, was held in early December. Basketball, Foosball and Ping Pong were the events and it was awesome. To me it was a sign of maturation and growth inside our young industry.

It's been almost two and a half years since we last interviewed you. Please update us on your bio and what you've been up to.

It has been a very interesting time for me personally and professionally. On the personal side Stephanie and I now have a two year old son (Cooper) to go with his big sister Jordan (five and three quarters as she likes to say). As some of you know, there’s nothing quite like being a father and it certainly puts everything into perspective.

Firstborn has had a terrific couple of years and we feel like we’re in a good position even with some tough sledding ahead due to the economy. I have learned so much from working with the gifted and passionate people who make up our firm.

I feel like I owe them a debt of gratitude, and I push myself to become a better leader because of them. When I go back and read old emails it is sometimes painful…I wasn’t always as open minded or fair as I should have been. But as the years have passed I am much more willing to listen and bend when necessary (see our foosball and ping pong table!).

I trust our group and love that somehow we have acquired and developed so much talent with so little ego. Everyone is on the same page…it is all about doing great work over and over. I have never felt more confident nor have I ever enjoyed coming to work more than I do right now.

How many hours do you work each week?

Thankfully, I can survive on limited sleep, I often find myself awake in the middle of the night thinking about Firstborn. It’s not uncommon for me to be sending to-do lists to Dan LaCivita and Kevin Arthur or thoughts to clients at very strange hours of the night.

So needless to say, Firstborn is always on my mind, but if I had to come up with a number of hours a week I would say 60-65.

How do you relax or unwind?

I’m a big homebody and spending time with my family is always a priority. I really try to stay active which means playing basketball 3-4 times a week.

I also play in a sick hockey league. What makes it sick? Games are played at a guy’s house. It is like the Field of Dreams for hockey - outside, under the lights. It’s unreal. Makes you feel like a kid again. I also listen to a ton of music and am really into gardening and birding.

Is there a particular moment in your career that stands out?

Fortunately I can’t pick out just one but recently we did something that was not only a lot of fun but left me and others feeling very special. Over a lunch in Hell’s Kitchen, Big Spaceship’s Michael Lebowitz and I came up with the idea to have our companies compete for something other than projects and clients.

The first Geek Olympics, or Nerd Fest as some people have coined it, was held in early December. Basketball, Foosball and Ping Pong were the events and it was awesome. To me it was a sign of maturation and growth inside our young industry.

We have so much respect for BSS and it was nice for both sides to peel away the curtain and just hang out. After all of the blood, sweat and tears everybody went out and had a good time in Brooklyn. More information can be found here.

It would be hard not to mention celebrating our 10th anniversary back in October of 2007. The night went by so quickly but it was great to get our friends, family and clients together to celebrate the last decade of memories. Some photos of the event can be found here.

And my final shameless plug can be found here.

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

I leave the software we use day-to-day (Flash, Photoshop etc) to FB’s talented group of designers and developers. Some of our producers have been using Google Docs as a tool, and it’s really great stuff.

You can use it to keep track of pretty much anything. And the fact that it is so easy for third parties to view / edit makes it an even more valuable tool to use.

Another really cool tool is the one that Zeh Fernando created for his thesis. Zeh (who many of you know from creating Tweener) has been working for us from Brazil for the last year, and now that he has finished his degree, he will be joining us soon in NYC.

For his thesis he created Fnk, which is an online visual programming environments that uses a dataflow approach for the analysis processing and synthesis of image, sound and other data in real-time. It aims to be an easy and fun way to create multimedia and music presentation prototypes that interact with a number of input and output devices. More information can be found here.

How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?

We have six dedicated producers and I prefer to keep the cap to two projects per producer at any given time. Sometimes it’s only one project (if it is a large enterprise build, complex application or just an insanely tight timeline) and sometimes it could be three projects if they are smaller, but an average of two per producer is what we strive for.

Consistently, we are working on 8-12 projects of varying scope. Keeping producers’ workload under control remains one of our keys to success. If you look at a project that has gone bad, my bet is that the breakdown occurs because of a communication problem. If you have producers juggling 4 or 5 projects at a time it just seems logical that problems are more likely to occur. I would rather have someone working on one project than three.

Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?

The last five years has seen so many great campaigns/sites it would be hard to name just a few. Of course the SOTMs / SOTYs exemplify some of the most prolific and well executed pieces of work.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

Absolutely. One part is the industry-wide recognition (and being inducted into the Hall of Fame was also an incredible honor), but I think we feel more of the benefits on the recruitment side.

We find so many great leads for talent by being exposed on the FWA, it helps us grow our team in a very selective way. We have always had a “farm system” approach, so young talent that sees our work on the FWA and reaches out to us could lead to an internship and then eventually a fulltime position.

We actually have five people right now fulltime who started with us as interns.

Anybody who comes to Firstborn carries the responsibility of delivering great work - and great work has become synonymous with the FW

When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?

It is always tough working with clients and trying to assess who their target really is. It is also challenging to not only develop a creative strategy geared toward the target demo, but also think about the appropriate channels.

Of course, everyone wants a Facebook application, mobile or iPhone app, but is it what you really need?

From the outside looking in, it may be easy to think of Firstborn as a company that executes high quality “production” work. At times, that is exactly what we do for certain projects. Executing at that level at a consistent clip is something only a few companies have proven capable of doing.

However, we also remind our clients that we want to think with them, and for them – from strategy, to creative to execution. To this point, the first meeting shouldn’t be about Papervision or how Flash is going to communicate with a backend system.

The first meeting with a client should be based on simple questions geared toward their business. We need to remember…it’s all about them!

When you have a clear understanding of your client’s needs, you can think about how what you offer as a company can help their business grow. This means ensuring you are talking to the right target audiences and not casting too large of a net.

For one of our more recent direct clients, we created their brand identity in addition to the initial site where we used the metrics gathered to create a more detailed and strategic brief for the full build.

Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?

If you define a website as some sort of experience or application that lives online, I think it can, and will go incredibly far. What will be more interesting is to see how other devices and touch points will be involved.

The web really isn’t the final destination for a lot of campaigns even now, and I think the way handheld devices, physical installations and other areas for how and where people “connect” will be huge in the years to come.

Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?

This is a tough one. I think I’m going to be biased and say our current website (http://firstbornmultimedia.com/). Partially because I love the design and simplicity of how it presents our work.

Joon, our Creative Director, did an amazing job with thinking through everything. But another part of it is what we had to do in order to actually make it happen. Taking months of time from some of the most senior people in our company, it was tough to rationalize not having them on billable client work.

We spent so many hours on this project from a planning, design and development standpoint, it easily totaled more than $500,000+ of billable hours.

The other part of it that came a bit later was fbCMS. Not only is the CMS for our own website, but it allows us to show our server side capabilities and how we approach the design and development of tools and applications for our clients.

Another site that received a SOTM award was the Nokia Music Almighty site we created with W+K London. The site got an incredible1 million hits within the first 6 weeks of being live.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?

Reading a lot of the industry trades and blogs, lengthy discussions with other CMOs, CEOs, our clients and other thought leaders in the digital space.

A great asset has been the access to so many talented people that make up SoDBut the most relevant information comes from listening to the teams we have here at Firstborn.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

I guess it all depends on what type of innovation. There are countries making interesting discoveries in medicine but they may be very behind in interactive design…so it’s tough to say!

I hope one day the US market will be able to be where the Asian market is in terms of mobile. So much untapped potential there.

I think for mobile and electronics in general, Japan is a pretty amazing country. You also have countries like Korea, where their size is really a benefit in some ways. When Korea wants to wire the whole country for high speed service, it doesn’t take decades upon decades to implement.

If they want to make a change in a country-wide system, it will take far less time than it would in a larger country like the US.

On the flipside, I think you see amazing innovations coming out of the US all the time. The opportunity here is so great it becomes a huge magnet for people.

There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

Maybe the absolute ultimate fantasy league website! I am a sports junky and that would certainly be a labor of love. A close second would be something for the NHL and perhaps my beloved Chicago Blackhawks.

It is promising that we no longer have to “hope” or “dream” to be more involved in the entire lifeline of a project. More and more direct clients and agency partners are bringing us in earlier in the process, which is something we have been working toward the last few years.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

It really is one of the hardest things about our business – finding great talent. We rarely use headhunters (we probably hired two people from headhunters in 11 years).

Instead, it takes a lot of work from the inside. It is a balance of going to speak at schools with great curriculums to try and attract young talent and also working hard to bring in seasoned, senior level people.

We are lucky to have so many talented people here already, many of them very well known in the industry. It is like having Michael Jordan or LeBron James…. they not only deliver innovative work but their mere presence just attracts special people to Firstborn.

Once you have a great team, you have to work even harder to keep them happy. We do this in many different ways. Of course it all starts with the work - keeping people challenged and allowing them to have real impact on how our company grows. But we also work hard to bring our team together outside of our Hell’s Kitchen office. Events like a day at Belmont Racetrack, skating at Chelsea Piers or our annual Peter Luger event have a lasting impression that is hard to quantify.

To me, one of the things I am most proud of is how we really do open a door of opportunity for everyone here. It is all for the taking, and for the right people, they have a chance to make a huge impact on Firstborn and on our industry as a whole.

For the people who are selfish or just can’t hack it, I make no apologies about leaving them behind. My biggest responsibility to all of our talented people is to make sure that this isn’t just rhetoric.

A big part of the puzzle is keeping the right people and equally important is to quickly move out the poor fits. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from my mistakes in this area and remind myself daily not to repeat them. I think this philosophy has served us well and sends a very positive message to the people who truly give a shit about Firstborn and our reputation.

How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?

I definitely rely on our team for this. Our dev team is always staying up on the latest “trends,” and we even have meetings (we call them Group Therapy sessions) where anyone in our company can present ideas – related or unrelated to our industry.

We’ve found it’s a great way to keep everyone communicating but it also allows people to learn things outside of their comfort area. Everything we do is truly a team effort.

Do you have any links to photographs of your offices you could share with us?

For sure. A lot of our photos can be seen on our Flickr page:

http://flickr.com/photos/firstborn

What does the future hold for your company?

Hopefully a lot of excitement! I have never felt better about Firstborn than I do going into 2009. We have 50 wildly committed and gifted individuals who are all striving to deliver great work.

I think we will continue to extend the platforms and channels we work within, but our goal will always be pretty consistent – come up with creative solutions for our client’s business problems.

That may take us into more live action and 3D work, more software development work and more work creating experiences outside of the browser. Part of the fun is having a flexible plan…but also keeping the excitement of not knowing what is coming next.

We have turned down acquisition offers and I am proud that we've remained independent. Hard to put a number on turning the lights on and off. One thing I am confident the future will hold is our dedication to consistency.

It is one thing to get on a roll and deliver interesting work but it is a different story to do it year in and year out. So what we deliver might change here and there, but what won’t change is the attention to detail or the polish we have brought to the table for over a decade.

Once again, it's been a privilege. Thank you very much indeed.

Always a pleasure, Rob. Healthy ’09 to you and yours.


Links

hr










All rights reserved © 2000 - 2014 Favourite Website Awards (FWA) -  Terms & Conditions -  Privacy statement -  Cookie Policy -  Advertise -  About FWA -  Contact