Being a high-school dropout I'd likely be washing cars or flipping burgers somewhere... otherwise, I think I'd be making "something"... I seem to constantly be making things on a whim or a tangent, from t-shirts to bitters to tech accessories, I just like the make new things.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
Self taught web developer since 1996, development support for many of the late '90s web portals, co-founder of Cuban Council since 2002, husband to one, father to two, bay area resident since 2000.
What do you do for inspiration?
Personally, I embark on weekend adventures with my wife and kids, usually involving a skatepark, some bike riding and a bit of travel.
At work, we have what we call "Richard Branson Friday, Platinum Edition", which usually happens once a quarter. The format is that there is no client work and people must group themselves into collaborative teams of either two or more. The goal is to create something that same day and present it at to everyone at happy hour. Sometimes these ideas carry on beyond the RBF/p and eventually end up as products, like our "This Spot" iPhone app, which was really just an excuse to play with the iOS SDK, but offers some interesting content from weather info to nearby photos to regional sentiment reporting.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
Maybe the ones I am most dependent on... Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Mail–that's somewhat scary, no?
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I would say awareness of balance. I feel that I have been careful in my efforts to balance my work life with my home life, balance the financially relevant clients with the inspirationally relevant clients, balance the experimental development with the low risk development, and most importantly, balance the personal and professional needs of our co-workers.
How many hours do you work each week?
On average? Last week? Last year? I don't know, I'd guess somewhere between 45 and 55.
How do you relax or unwind?
I try to get out on my skateboard as often as I can, whether it means going to a local skatepark with my kids or inviting myself over to my neighbor's backyard park... not matter what's wrestling around in my head I can instantly escape myself and clear my mind with as little as 30 mintes of pushing around. I also make bitters, as a result of making cocktails, which also tends to work well for unwinding.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
If it were up to me or up to my guidance counselor? Being a high-school dropout I'd likely be washing cars or flipping burgers somewhere... otherwise, I think I'd be making "something"... I seem to constantly be making things on a whim or a tangent, from t-shirts to bitters to tech accessories, I just like the make new things. If it were at all up to me it would have something to do with coffee, cocktails and skateboarding... know anyone looking to fund such a venture?
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
My favorite part of the job is constantly facing new challenges, both in understanding a client's problems and needs as well as our own operations. I like being forced to respond while making facial expressions that shout perplexity.
The hardest part of my job nowadays is travel, it's painful to be away from the family, and as a result I find myself forcing too much into any one day on the road just so that I can get home sooner.
When I get stuck I call on one of my friends who I know will have rich insight, from CEOs to investors to family members to neighbors to retirees, I feel that one of the most accidentally brilliant things that I have done is surround myself with incredible people that I can trust and rely on.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
33 hours I believe, for a Newstoday release if I remember correctly. If it wasn't for Jason Kristofer coaching me through the last hours of the morning, I wouldn't have made it. Thanks JK!
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Don't be afraid to get buried in exploration and experimentation, you never know what you'll find as a result, both in the outcome as well as yourself. Similarly, don't be afraid to provoke a friend or colleague to assist you in your whims, this often seeds lasting relationships for collaboration, which can be the most satisfying works of all.
What software could you not live without?
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
Usually between 8 and 12, depending on their size and complexity and how we manage to overlap skill demands.
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
Far too many to choose from, next question please!
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
I believe that the FWA awards are a great validation of hard work. I also believe that the FWAs are still very pure in their approach and sincerity, so it's quite satisfying to receive acknowledgment from such a genuine source.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
Hell no it's not online! It was 1996 and my father had a domain to compliment his software consulting operation... for me it was like digital Legos(r), I would build something, tilt my head at it, tear it down and built it better. That quickly grew old so I began to learn how to make the pages more sophisticated on the server side, which reduced the frequency of tear-downs a bit while increasing the complexity of challenges. How'd I do at dodging that question?
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I have co-authored a book about some nerdy subjects back in the early '00s with a couple of good friends. Aside from working with my pals, it was a bit of a cursed experience, but we managed to finished and it was published. I don't have plans on writing another book, but come to think of it I didn't really plan on writing the first one.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?
Yes, of course... I am constantly trying to balance myself. Tonight I'm having a drink with a friend/colleague, tomorrow I might read a book, and the next day maybe I'll take my son on a bike ride so that we can talk about the many reasons that he doesn't like Darth Vader, or something along those lines.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
They're still printing those damned phone books, right? I think at some point the term "website" becomes a bit more abstract and encompasses electronically delivered interactive content to a remote device, it's less about a "site" than it is about an exchange, and that will surely continue in many forms for much longer than I can imagine as it has for quite some time already. But as long as such exchanges are taking place, the need to make them usable and enjoyable will also persist with ever increasing sophistication, and so the FWA will have all sorts of goodness to help promote, well into it's torch passing generational future.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
Honestly, I am most proud of our current site... we worked and reworked every little detail out over a 2.5 year period before finally launching at the beginning of 2011. It was a very trying experience, but also very satisfying. We put a tremendous amount of thought into the content, the curation and the experience... it's a true reflection of the blood, sweat and tears that were invested.
I'm also proud of the work that we did on the Tom Waits site, being that we did the first and only one of his websites to date. I feel that we truly delivered the essence of Tom and provided his audience with that impression as well.
I'm also quite happy with the Coppola work... meeting the conceptual and creative expectations of such an innovative and legendary artist is no small challenge. Getting paid to hang out on his estate, "researching" first hand his passions for food, wine and media were seemed to ease the stresses a bit though.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
It's very difficult to find great people that fit well. I think we have gotten better over the years at asking the right questions and identifying great candidates that fit our culture and flow, but it hasn't been an easy learning process and we're constantly looking for great people, so I'd say it's one of the toughest challenges that we face.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, just for everyday errands and such.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
For us it was always about focusing on delivering great work, that simple ideal has seemed to perpetuate referrals and inbound cold calls which allow us to "continue the dream".
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
I keep one eye closed, one foot on the ground and I try to breathe calmly when fingering the pulse.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
We've been consciously approaching the business challenges more proactively these days, and having 10 years of history behind us that also means that we have a rooted culture and process that we can build on, so we're looking to continue down the path of growing our company.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
In recent years we've made the switch from writing mostly PHP to writing mostly Python and we're loving it, but there's certainly a learning curve involved. We've also been fooling around with some iOS development and even launched our own iPhone app back in September just to feel out the whole process.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
Holiday gifts and Gin.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
Not so much, if you have to ditch and run you don't want to leave the fuzz anything that could be used to track you down... I like to keep it simple with a classic Sears black wool double breasted four button.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Drive fast, take chances?
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
Likewise, it's been a lot of fun and I'm grateful for the interest.