.

Another huge factor in our ability to attract new clients is the willingness to decline work. It is not easy, but similar to sports - sometimes the trades you don't make turn out to be the best ones.

  Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

I was born in the summer of 1967 in the great city of Chicago. I grew up 15 minutes outside the city and spent most of my time obsessed with playing and watching sports. After 13 years on the east coast, I remain an avid Bulls, Hawks, Bears and World Champion White Sox fan.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison I moved back home and went to work selling professors on securing copyright permission for portions of books not included in their syllabus. It was a sales job but also served as my introduction to using technology (to be honest at that point I had never used a computer).

For a long time I was driven to live in Manhattan. In 1993 on a snowy St.Patrick's Day I finally arrived in the NYC.

I went to work one week later for a fabric company in the garment district. My job? Buying excess fabric from designers like Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren.. My training? Well it was simple, “Go to the top of that building, work your way down and don't come back until you have made a deal.”

After six months I found my groove and went on to learn a lot about running a business. By 1996 things were great - making money in NYC, met a girl, all was good with only one problem; I was working for a family business with a last name of Sokol not, Ferdman.

It was around this time that my girlfriend's father called me into his office. We had only been dating five months so I was prepared for the old, “What are your intentions young man?” Instead he made me an offer that changed my life, “Find a business and I will help you get it going by lending you the necessary capital.”

My first call was to my cousin Mark back in Chicago. He had just started working for a video production company that was dabbling in Web/interactive.

We had always discussed combining our skill sets and perhaps starting a small traditional agency but he was on fire with excitement describing what could lie ahead in the interactive space.

I give him a ton of credit for not only his passion but his vision. He would handle the creative side with the gifted Vas Sloutchevsky and I would set up the business, deal with the books and most importantly get the clients.

Late June 1997 we were incorporated, kicked-off our identity and began building a portfolio of work so we could really attack in early 1998.

We wanted to build a company that would last for a long time so we took our time before going after any billable work.

Fast forward to late August 2006 - I find myself running a 30 person full service interactive firm that has been in the black every year.

2005 was our best year and somehow 2006 has already surpassed it, so we feel good about what has happened and more importantly, what lies ahead for both Firstborn and this exciting industry.

I am also the co-founder of EMR Easy which is a Web-based electronic medical records and practice management software company.

To finish off my not so brief intro I enjoy gardening, birding and horse racing.

  What do you do for inspiration?

Firstborn has always been located in Hell's Kitchen; lots of inspiration to be found in our freaky neighborhood and the rest of NYC for that matter.

My true inspiration comes from reminding myself how lucky we all are just to be alive and kicking. Better enjoy it because to my knowledge you don't get a second trip around.

So with that in mind I spend as much time as possible with my wife of nine years Stephanie, our firstborn daughter Jordan and our two labs Aggie and Madison.

  Please list 3 of your favorite sites.

My daily addictions include ESPN, HowardStern, YouTube and some blogs (lately Mark Cuban's).

  What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

Outside of my family it has to be building this business with limited capital and navigating it through start-up, the Internet bust, key people leaving, etc.

I am extremely proud of the depth and consistency of our work. Take a look at McGraw-Hill and Fila or Malibu and Eccentris; very different types of projects but all high quality deliverables.

The fact that we have moved away from being known as just a design shop or flash house and are now being recognized for all types of interactive work, is very satisfying.

I make no excuses for being in this business to make money and I think in some ways it has kept us afloat when others sank.

Running Firstborn as a “non-creative” offers many challenges and it is paramount that I listen to our most valuable commodity... our people.

We have very few rules here. You have to be on time, need to fill out your timer and work hard. If that happens we will do everything possible to create an environment that is enjoyable, loyal and rewarding.

No we don’t have foosball tables or massages on Friday but we do offer tons of perks that hopefully make people feel appreciated. I am learning each and every day and will continue to make Firstborn a special place for special people.

Talented people will come and go but this place has always had the goal to be strong enough to weather personnel setbacks. So I consider it quite an achievement how many people have been with Firstborn for the long haul.

Our lead developer, CTO, VP of Business Dev and key producers have all been with us for years, some from the beginning, and it makes a big difference, not to mention speaking volumes about Firstborn.

  What software couldn't you live without?

My flash player, I-Tunes, Outlook Express (still can't break away), Microsoft Office, VPN Client, Broadband Access Client, Acrobat and IE.

  What projects do you have in the pipeline?

We have a lot going on and thankfully it is a nice balance of agency- led work as well as direct client engagements...

Some of the agencies we are fortunate to be collaborating with are Rodgers Townsend, JWT, GSP,Saatchi and McCann.

We also have four other mid to large scale projects launching in October. which include work for Qualcomm and a large construction firm.

We will continue our direct relationship with Borders, People, McGraw-Hill and Target with various projects slated for the fall.

And finally we have some exciting internal projects that we will share as our 10th anniversary approaches.

  Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?

Almost impossible to do but here goes. Number one is easy for me, Pentagram.

Here are a few others I like ...I am pretty old school with most of my selections but one group I wanted to dislike was Big Spaceship but they have won me over. Like us they focused on an industry early and have gone on from there.

A tip of the cap to Brooklyn WDDG, Barbarian Group, Huge, Domani, hell if I could I might even toss in Kioken!

Few more... Odopod, Hi-Res, AKQA and Fantasy Interactive.

So many firms doing good stuff, to me it is all about consistency.

  What effect on traffic do your new designs have?

It all depends on the project but to me, the entire concept always revolves around solving a problem through ideas, solid design and different forms of technology. If driving traffic is a priority then it will be addressed.

  Who is your target audience?

I think this is an interesting question; the easy answer is seeing the answer to the previous question. Of course it depends on the project but I will try to describe our ideal scenario.

We thrive on the challenge to create something special, to deliver a little bit more than expected for our client and user. Take a hint of an idea and bring it to life.

We want the projects and the clients who dare to think big and allow us to think creatively. Nationwide with TM, Sith Sense with Crispin, Edison and KPF are perfect examples.

One thing I really try to avoid is making our target audience all of our peers. Of course we want to impress and keep our reputation at a high level but it is important to deliver what your client needs/desires. The real win lies in doing that AND getting recognition from our contemporaries.

  What area of web design lacks the most?

I take issue with sites that are poorly executed. Sometimes the blame goes unfairly to the developers but I have often seen the design back everyone into a corner which leads to a less-than-impressive final product.

I prefer to see sign-off on clean and simple comps and then let the magic happen with seasoned project management, crisp programming and some design tweaks. Most of our producers have either worked as artists or programmers which really helps the process.

  What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?

Our first site, 'The Package," is still live. Just go to firstbornmultimedia.com and play around a bit. Boy was that a long time ago!

  Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?

Closest I get to being an author is writing in my journal. I am more of a behind the scenes type, I would rather see our talented crew get the ink.

I do however have a few favorites: The Fountainhead and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Right now I am reading Juicing the Orange.

  Do you think Flash is here to stay?

Clearly nothing is forever but my feeling is Flash will continue to evolve. Microsoft (Avalon) may be the best thing to happen because it should push Adobe/Mac.

  What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

Bottom line is if you have talent and are willing to work hard you can succeed.

But yes we are always looking at schools and have enjoyed a lot of success with this route. Firstborn has offered paid and non paid internships since 1999 and we have had the good fortune to work with students from all over the world.

Recently, we had a young man from Denmark (Josef Kjaergaard), who was a star and I will outbid any of you if he ever returns to NY/LJosef had very little experience but was long on talent and an incredible work ethic.

If you are passionate, have some talent and work hard then we are willing to look hard at you. We have a saying here and that is “Firstborn will expose you very quickly. So it is great if you can hack it but not so great if you don't have the goods.”

  When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?

I did it the old fashioned way…a combination of endless cold calls and a ton of research that made for many a late night.

The easiest place for me to start was the fashion industry where most of my contacts presided. Unfortunately the fashion companies really were not ready to push it so we shifted gears towards the cosmetic industry.

When you are just starting out you have to be careful not to over extend yourself and sometimes it is necessary to take on less than ideal projects.

We did PowerPoint on steroid type projects just to get face time with the real decision makers. This was a real challenge and not only because the work was a bit beneath us, but the larger challenge was smiling through it so that we didn't piss anyone off on the way to our goal.

More times than not we handled ourselves with poise and professionalism which led to greater things. If a banner project with a decent budget can give us a chance to show a client that we are the real deal, I say bring it on (just no PP please).

Another huge factor in our ability to attract new clients is the willingness to decline work. It is not easy, but similar to sports - sometimes the trades you don't make turn out to be the best ones.

So we try hard to make sure the project is as good of a fit as possible. This remains a key factor in us getting clients back in 1998 and now in 2006.

One last thing worth mentioning here is our desire to stay small enough that the dynamic inside our walls stays vibrant. Our LA office has allowed us to add a few people but we keep a very close eye on hires.

Not sure what the number will be (31, 35, 50) but eventually we will reach it and then we need to be smart enough to back off.

  Of all your projects which ones r you most proud of?

That is a very difficult question to answer because in many ways you are only as good as your next project, but some favorites are Malibu (first real global site), Atlantis (huge undertaking) and the McGraw-Hill Prepcenter (all can be found on our site).

We are looking forward to some video heavy projects going live in September and I can envision some of those being fwa bound.

  What is the most expensive thing you've bought in the last week?

Well you caught me during a decadent time. I just purchased a small tree, a Crepe Myrtle. It is a challenge to grow in Westport but the payoff is sensational.

But the best gift was my trip to Vegas for Michael Jordan’s Fantasy BBall Camp. Playing ball all day, being taught by Hall of Fame coaches and hitting the tables at night. What a trifecta!

  What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?

The only Flashing I did was streaking in High School...no need to elaborate.

  Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

This is the part of the interview when you see a lot of quotes tossed around. I will use one of my favorite lines from the Godfather.

It is when Hyman Roth tells Michael, “This is the business we have chosen...”

I find myself thinking about this and how it rings true for us or anyone in a service business.

Are the clients going to be difficult from time to time? YES.

Will assets dribble in slower than molasses? YUP.

Will there be hiccups internally? NO DOUBT.

But as I remind our responsibility ridden producers, this is the business we have chosen. So let’s find an answer, execute and deliver.

  It's been a privilege, thanks very much.

The pleasure was mine. Keep up the good work Rob.


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