• 10 Things the St. Louis Startup Scene Needs to Grow

    / Comments (2)

    Originally posted on Medium

    Last week on the Nine Network’s show StayTuned, several of my peers were on to discuss the progress the St. Louis startup scene has made over the last few months, as well as areas of improvement. From an outsider’s perspective, their answers were largely helpful to summarize the status of certain entrepreneurial initiatives. But as an insider, I was left surprisingly underwhelmed by the conversation. Outside of the construction of new bike paths to make St. Louis magically cool again, what did we need to do to really push the ecosystem forward? Well, I said, I should write a blog post about it. Happy to hear your thoughts in the comments!

    1. Better relationships with the creative and design community.

    This is a big one. In a lot of my casual conversations with creatives around St. Louis, a lot of them feel ostracized or turned away by the startup community, that they aren’t recognized or included in the fold. Well my friends, this is a huge mistake. Any successful startup hub has a good relationship with its creative sector. We need graphic designers to help us improve our posters, pitch decks, and sales sheets. We need product designers and UI/UX experts to make our products and mobile apps stand out from the crowd. We need web designers to ensure that our landing pages and info sites don’t look like shit (guess what, they do). I recently signed up for a up-and-coming Silicon Valley newsletter called Product Hunt that highlights cool tech products every day. All of these tools and companies have amazing and compelling online presences. Why is this important? Because they understand what they’re selling and to whom. If St. Louis’s startup websites aren’t doing a good job communicating their value proposition, then customers and investors alike won’t care to click through or reach out. But with any successful relationship, this doesn’t have to be one-sided, there are tons of benefits to the creative community like providing them with career or freelancing opportunities with startup companies.

    2. Build alliances between co-working hubs.

    A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Phoenix for the first time (spoiler, it’s hot), and was able to talk with a lot of co-working spots and incubators. One of the biggest takeaways was that although they were all competing for sponsorship dollars/members/press/etc, there existed a mutual sense of co-opeition (yes, it’s a word) amongst them. They even formed a loose alliance (they produced a single handout that listed all of the different co-working spaces with their respective websites and addresses) and began referring prospects to each other when there wasn’t a fit, ala “we don’t have space, but they do” or “we don’t have wet labs but they do”. Given that within the last year, we’ve seen several new co-working spaces come online like @4240, TechArtista and Claim, we need to do a better job of playing in the sandbox together so that our entrepreneurs can find the right workspace to fit their needs.

    3. Create a simple weekly newsletter specifically tailored for those outside St. Louis

    Alright, hold your horses people. I know we have great content producers like TechFlash and Tech.li, but these reach and serve a largely St. Louis-based audience. What I really, really like about the newsletters I get from Welch Avenue (Iowa startup scene) and Southern Alpha (southeast regional startups) is that they don’t inundate me with unwanted stories. They curate them and give me the top 3-4 startup stories that day or week. This is helpful for someone who is looking for an overview of the region. Our content is great, but the way in which it’s delivered could use some work.

    4. Start empowering newer, younger, thought leaders.

    There’s a new generation of startup founders and cheerleaders who’ve emerged over the last year and we need to do a better job of getting them plugged into the ecosystem and rallying around their ideas to improve our startup community. I’m talking about people like Marshal Haas (Need/Want), Tyler Mathews (Yougy), Steve Young (Synek), Dan Mirth and Sarah Carpenter (Artifox), Chris LeBeau (GatewayVMS), Ben Burke (Arch Grants) and Brendan Lind (LaunchCode), just to name a few. All of these young folks are smart and talented and could offer much more to the startup community if they are simply asked and included.

    5. Better include entrepreneurs for larger economic development and startup initiatives

    Along the same lines as point #4, I’ve been in the room when major initiatives for how to support the startup community are being discussed and there are NO (none, zero, zilch) entrepreneurs in the room, which is entirely backwards. You would be ill-advised to go into a community like Old North and start talking about how to improve their neighborhoods without getting input and feedback from their residents, so why wouldn’t you with the startup scene? Let’s get more founders at the table to shape the future of the region.

    6. Start a micro-seed fund for converting ideas into prototypes

    Feeding off an idea from my friend Tyler Sondag, I really think implementing a micro-seed fund like Start Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan is really important for St. Louis. Why, you ask? First, it converts more ideas into prototypes and gets more ‘wantrepreneurs’ off the sidelines. With the right resources and connections, you can build an MVP for $5K to $10K (cue startup resource link — The Ultimate Guide to MVPs). The more prototypes and products we have in the ecosystem, the better deals our investor network has, etc. These ‘seedlings’ become prime pickins’ for Arch Grants, and accelerators like SixThirty and Capital Innovators. Better deal flow, y’all!

    7. Create a startup house for short-term founder housing

    Talking with the recently graduated SixThirty Spring 2014 Cohort (three of the companies in the class were from out of town) — housing came up as an issue for them living downtown. Many of the options they had weren’t necessarily turn-key (they still needed furniture, bedding, towels, etc) and they were pretty pricey, even for St. Louis standards. Furthermore, most of the property managers weren’t okay with short term (less than 6 months) leases. Every year, we have dozens of companies relocating to St. Louis through Arch Grants, Capital Innovators, SixThirty, etc (with more accelerators are on the horizon) and we don’t have a system for ensuring they have a great place to stay while they are here. Kansas City already has a row of startup houses called Startup Village in place for just this and other purposes. In an ideal world a group of philanthropic individuals or developers would donate a house or row of apartments (city OR county) that would serve as a temporary home for these nomadic founders. It would be great to get ZipCar or Enterprise on board to provide the startup teams with transportation options for work and play.

    8. Launch a common resume site to apply to work at a St. Louis startup

    I recently came across this site/service called Underdog.io out of New York that allows candidates to bulk apply for positions at NY-area startup companies. They charge a nominal fee for startups to access to their candidate pool. Talk about a great business idea! Monetization aside, this would be great for St. Louis to facilitate the time-consuming process of sorting through resumes to find quality candidates.

    9. Add personal stories to the larger St. Louis startup narrative

    I absolutely loved reading the Medium articles written by Juney Ham and Jon Wheatley about their personal experiences in moving their startups from the Bay Area to St. Louis. These articles got a tremendous amount of traction through social channels and didn’t cost us a cent in PR. SEO benefits aside, this kind of personal-based storytelling can serve as additional ammunition in the ongoing battle to retain and recruit talent to St. Louis. And luckily, there are sites like STL Curator who are already doing this. Let’s collectively amplify their message and get more startup-focused stories told, like this one about Steve Marciniak and Sam Sullivan at Trackbill.

    10. Purchase / lease a bus for startup field trips.

    Okay, this is bit of a stretch. But a guy can dream, right? So, being a T-REX member, I interact with a lot of great startup folks, but, admittedly so, I end up talking and socializing with the same group of people. We need new and creative ways of growing community between entrepreneurs beyond the occasional happy hour. There’s this great group that I heard out of the valley called Startup Hike — they plan and organize regular trips outside of the workspace into the more outdoorsy part of the region. I think this would be great way to encourage interaction outside of our startup hubs and introduce people new to St. Louis to our amazing network of parks and greenspace just a short drive (most are less than 2 hours) outside of the city.

    So, what do you think? What would you change or add to the St. Louis startup community?

    Matt Menietti is a proud #Iowa native in #STL. Startup accelerator guru and #fintech VC. Venture Partner at @SixThirtyHQ. Co-Founder at @getgoodmap. Aspiring piano man.

  • Are We Just Jerking Off?

    / Comments (2)

    Any Blazing Saddles fan should know that reference. As the townspeople attempt to make a duplicate of Rock Ridge in one night, Reverend Johnson says, “Do we have the strength to pull off this mighty task in one night...or are we just jerking off?”

    That phrase has been running round and round in my head for the last few months, and it happens every time I see an ad filled with hyperbole and platitudes.

    As you can imagine, I’m hearing that phrase a lot.

    Advertising has changed. Anyone who refuses to admit that can basically kiss their career goodbye right now. It’s not just that everyone and everything is going digital. It’s not just that we’re becoming jaded with advertising messages. In fact, at Advertising Week many experts talked about the trade off millennials are willing to make; you give me something, I’ll engage with your ad, if it’s got something to say to me.

    This is about the way we are willing to receive our advertising messages. As a copywriter, it’s hard to believe that the kind of ads Neil French, Tony Brignull and David Abbott wrote are no longer relevant. But…they’re not. Anyone who knows me knows that is a really fucking painful thing to say.

    Am I saying copy is dead? Not at all. I’m not even saying long copy is dead. But what we’re dealing with now is a culture that, for the most part, wants to know what the hell you’ve got to say. And you better get to the point really quickly.

    So when you get ads like the latest Ikea “Bed” spot, or “Up” from Delta airlines, you have to wonder what the fuck the creative team was thinking.

    Let’s look at the script for “Up.” (Remember, this was a Super Bowl spot). Imagine lots of black and white images of planes, airports, and passengers, all with Donald Sutherland’s smooth and expensive VO over some inspirational music.

    “Up. A short word that’s a tall order./

    Up your game. Up the ante.

    And if you stumble, you get back up.

    Up isn’t easy. And we ought to know. We’re in the business of up.

    Every day, Delta flies a quarter of a million people, while investing billions improving everything from booking to baggage claim.

    We’re raising the bar on flying. And tomorrow, we will up it yet again.”/

    Delta: Keep Climbing.

    I can imagine the writer and art director patting themselves on the back for some of that. “Oh yeah, I love that short word, tall order line. Nice.”

    What does it mean to anyone watching? Jack shit. It means nothing. It’s a lot of pomp and puffery and not much else. Is anyone going to go online to book a flight and go “oh fuck, don’t choose United. They have that godawful Rhapsody In Blue song. I hate that. Let’s book Delta, they’re in the business of up. I like up. Up is good.”

    What will make the difference? Probably price and number of stops. If the cost is identical, then it will come down to prior experience. The ad is a lavish waste of millions of dollars.

    Instead of saying a lot of poetic small talk, the ad could have pushed a product innovation. What does Delta do differently? What makes flying Delta a way better choice than flying any other airline? If there’s nothing new to say, why not think of something inexpensive that could be rolled out across the fleet of aircraft?

    How about a section just for kids? Maybe use a service that uses something like Tinder to let singles find each other on the plane and chat for the flight? What if long flights gave you the chance to learn something? Offer free interactive courses that use the touchscreens in the headrest in front of you. When you get off, you’ve got a new skill.

    So maybe those suck balls, but what I’m saying is that fancy prose is not going to cut it any more. The modern consumer wants something tangible. You are fighting for their attention, and the fight is getting harder and harder every, single day. You always have to ask, what is in it for them?

    This must comes down to responsibilities. It is the client’s job to bring something worth talking about to the ad agency. If they have nothing, they must be willing to listen to ideas from the agency that include suggestions on a better service or product. This is not a new concept; Bill Bernbach was doing it in the sixties.

    It is also the ad agency’s responsibility to present ideas that go beyond hyperbole and tired old clichés. The client is usually not brave, and that kind of glossy shit is easy to sell in. Everyone loves a good-looking ad, but if it’s as empty as Kim Kardashian’s book shelf, what’s the point?

    Finally, it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to stop awarding these empty vessels the gold and silver gongs. Just stop it. We can’t keep slapping ourselves on the back for work that looks good but doesn’t move or persuade the target audience. As long as we keep on doing it, we really are just jerking off.

    Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

  • From Marketer to Coder

    / Comments (1)

    by Bree Thomas

    People always ask me why I made the switch from marketing to writing code.

    Often, when it’s coming from a Marketer, the question is posed with an obvious tone of incredulousness. Like why in the hell would I want to spend my days looking at that horrible black screen, tucked away in a dark room, just a hair’s breadth away from turning into Gollum. The fear and loathing is unmistakable. And then sometimes, when the question is posed by a Coder, there is an air of distrust and skepticism. Like I am out to eat their young, or an evil secret double-agent, or simply that I am just a hair’s breadth away from certifiable cuckoo.

    So here is the thing - I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, oh, I think I’ll go do that programming thing now. I’d already done with that law school and it only amounted to a law degree, bar certification, and annual dues I pay as a permanently “inactive attorney”. My desire wasn’t to change careers and become a full-fledged coder. As a marketer, with a solid career in brand strategy, digital communication planning, project/account management, and campaign leadership to name a few... I didn’t have that much to complain about. I had worked agency and client side both, and was focused on growing my resume and climbing the executive ladder.

    But to keep my edge, and increase my value in the space, I felt like I needed to brush up on my tech literacy, specifically in the nitty-gritty details of actual coding. I felt like I was losing my ability to communicate effectively with developers because there was so much that I didn’t understand about their actual day-to-day work, which was work that I desperately depended upon.

    Also - The Aha Method needed a website, and Kat and I were not in a position to bankroll that project. Fortunately for me, I had a host of very close friends who were developers and a few that were willing to mentor. And so I started slow. Just a little coding work and pairing sessions every week on building a tiny little static site. It took me three months at that rate, which was excruciating, because I knew my mentor could have built it in a day. But once it was done, and I pushed it live… holy shit. No past marketing campaign that I lead, not even three Super Bowl campaigns combined, could measure up to the feeling of satisfaction in that one little accomplishment. Because I had built it. Because marketing a product now paled in comparison to actually building a product. And I wanted to do more of THAT. So began my journey into a formal career change.

    Luckily, I found Jumpstart Lab, which is now Turing.io. Jeff Casimir and the rest of his crew developed a six month, highly intensive and immersive program for taking those with no prior programming experience and turning them into real-live coders. I enrolled and was accepted. It was much harder than law school. It was a kick-in-the-teeth-humbling-experience in which I was pretty much failing for the first three months. I’ve always been a quick study and good at anything I put my mind to, but programming wasn’t something to be ‘conquered’ as I would discover. In her post, “Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You Learning To Code Is Easy”, I think Kate Ray most aptly describes what it means to learn to code and become a legitimate programmer:

    “... there is no mastery, there is no final level. The anxiety of feeling lost and stupid is not something you learn to conquer, but something you learn to live with.”

    And for as many times as it made me cry and doubt myself in those early months, the fact that programming isn’t something to be checked off some proverbial list - is exactly its appeal. It is truly constant learning and constant feedback. Progress is incremental, tangible, and deeply satisfying. It is a lesson in keeping things small and celebrating the cumulative wins.

    And shit breaks - a LOT, which is a constant reminder to practice humility and don’t give up. Honestly - its made me a better mother if you can believe that. How I interact with and teach my son has been influenced by what I’ve learned in programming. We pair build legos in a whole new way, and it’s RAD.

    So here is where I’m really going with all this, and that is that we need more developers with diverse backgrounds, hailing from all professional walks of life. There are a lot of opinions about what it takes to be a coder, including logic, problem solving, attention to detail, to name a few. And while those are valid and true, cultivating other aspects like passion, creativity, and even humor, are incredibly important. And you don’t have to be a math or computer science major to write beautiful code that works. The marketplace is in need of more developers (desperately), but it is also in need of innovation, new design thinking, and some fresh perspective from people with diverse experience.

    I would challenge all of you in Ad-Agency-Land who don't write any code, to begin an investigation in writing code, even if just for the sake of understanding the world around you a little better, or to communicate more effectively with your coder-colleagues. Whether you simply task yourself with understanding how the internet really works, or you dive head first into writing your own applications, both are valuable and can be key to positioning you for growth in almost any aspect, be that marketing or parenthood. Seriously.

    Here are some good places to start:

    • Jumpstart Lab Tutorials Online: Excellent set of Ruby on Rails tutorials http://tutorials.jumpstartlab.com/

    • Code School: Online courses https://www.codeschool.com/

    This editorial is cross-posted from Aha Method's The BRAT Blog & The Denver Egotist

  • Can Advertising Fix the Economy?

    / Comments (0)

    If a brief landed on your desk tomorrow with the problem, “fix the economy,” what would you do?

    It’s an interesting question for an ad agency to try and solve. What could an industry built on unfettered consumerism do to help fix capitalism? Does advertising have a responsibility in improving the economy around the world? And not in the “we help sell more shit to boost the economy” way, because insane levels of debt-driven consumption from the last thirty years have put a stranglehold on our world and is dragging us further into a recession.

    What’s wrong with what capitalism has become goes way beyond advertising. Radical changes in fiduciary policy are required, but if politicians follow the poets, might a new, sustainable type of business follow the creative technologist?

    Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream said,

    “…what many companies have been doing is to use PR and advertising and marketing — essentially paying money to agencies to come up with a made-up story to make customers feel good about their product or brand.”

    Advertising agencies — already facing an uncertain future themselves — have an opportunity to rethink what business for their clients should mean. Where are the advertisers focused on creating meaningful value for their clients? The few that are helping transform their clients and business, are the creative technologists and storytellers whose first goal is to provide meaningful value; not just short-term, move the needle quarterly profits that are here today, gone tomorrow.

    This new, new, new economy — or whatever version of ‘new’ we’ve arrived at — just isn’t working. And just as advertising of lipstick on the pig no longer is acceptable, advertisers cannot sit idly by schilling yesterday’s junk.

    There’s certainly the necessary option of advertising focusing on the growing class of socially responsible businesses who need help sharing their story. But more importantly, I want to see advertising that natively serves the betterment of the world. The stories of business initiatives that work to make the world a better place are powerful and can help shape the future of capitalism.

    Brands should look to projects launched by the likes of Patagonia and their reuse/recycle clothing program, Coca Cola’s trial work to use their distribution network in Africa to deliver aid or even an agency like School that is helping brands “do better by doing good.”

    Brands and products are slowly beginning to understand their role of a triple bottom line focus of people, planet and profit. How can advertising — a practice dedicated to unquestioned consumption — participate in helping change behavior to a more balanced life?

    Honestly, I have more questions than answers. But it’s time for designers, strategists and developers to align with brands and refine capitalism to the betterment of our world.

    Ryan Moede is Director of Client Strategy @14Four focused on building useful digital experiences with ad agencies.

  • Agency Insider: TOKY

    / Comments (0)

    Company Name:

    Year Founded:
    March 1, 1997

    Physical Location:
    HQ’d in the Midtown Alley neighborhood in St. Louis. We also have satellite offices in the South Loop of Chicago and in Boston.

    Online Location:
    toky.com - We got to the web early, and that four-letter URL attracts lots of offers from would-be buyers in China.
    twitter.com: @tokybd

    Company Philosophy:
    Work hard, work smart, find time for joy. We all volunteer for causes we believe in.
    Logic should drive great design. We research and write as much as we design and code.
    Work with good clients who are doing good for the world. Polluters, poisoners and money-grubbers are not welcome here.
    We’d rather be smart than cool any day.

    Client List:
    The National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), Centene, MIT (Boston), The University of Chicago, National Geographic (Washington DC) Washington University in St. Louis, The Catholic Health Association, John Burroughs School, HOK, The Phillips Collection (Washington DC), a bunch of musicians, artists, architects, fashionistas, museums, galleries, outsiders, assorted charitable organizations — and one very cool cemetery. Circle of life, man.

    Personnel Count:
    28, but we have two more print designers and another social media expert joining us in the next month.

    Best Achievements from Last Year:

    • There were eight babies born to TOKY staff in the last 12 months. That’s just crazy.
    • We have great clients from New York City to San Jose, California. And the opportunities we are getting are better than ever.
    • We had work in this year's CA Design Annual, the CA Typography Annual, the Type Director’s Club Annual, the Brand New Annual. Very fun.
    • Eric was asked to judge the CA Design Annual this year, and got to judge the San Diego and Louisville design shows.
    • We have had at least four kick-ass, teeth-rattling parties and lived to talk about them.

    3 Things The World Doesn't Know About TOKY That It Should:

    1. TOKY people co-founded Pecha Kucha in St. Louis, Crappy Hour, The Not Just An Art Director’s Club (which became the AIGA Chapter), St. Louis Design Week, and helped to conceive and organize the Midtown Alley creative neighborhood. We like to create ways to get this great design community together.
    2. We sometimes play washers on the roof. The view is pretty darn nice.
    3. Pappy’s Smokehouse was named by Mary Thoelke after her Uncle Jim “Pappy” Emerson, and she’s Mike Shannon’s niece.

    Our Space

    Our Work

  • Making Great Stuff is the Best Way to Meet Great People

    / Comments (1)

    *Originally posted on the Need/Want blog.*

    The below painting of a cat as Napoleon Bonaparte helped me get my startup team acquired, become a partner at MetaLab, and meet Jon to start Need/Want together (which produces SmartBedding, Mod Notebooks, and more).

    There’s a million books on how to “network” and meet cool people. I think they’re all mostly garbage. The single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to make great things.

    Over the last couple years, I’ve met some really amazing people, and am fortunate to call many of them friends. A few of my most cherished and successful relationships have all stemmed from a single project I made.

    The Project

    In October 2011, I was living in Santiago Chile for Startup Chile’s round 1 program. It was late and I was surfing Reddit and drinking wine with my buddy Amir. I don’t remember quite how it happened, but while intoxicated I had the idea for what became 18th.me.

    18th.me is basically face-in-the-hole with real paintings. I found a team overseas with some amazing painting talent. They can re-create any classic painting (think Mona Lisa) but using anyone’s face I give them. It’s been a fun side-project, and has turned out to be a really great way to meet some really interesting people.

    Building 18th.me

    Once I had the idea and sourced the painters, I began brainstorming names, domains, and wireframes. I eventually settled on 18th.me, and snatched up the domain for $10.

    Intense wireframing then followed. Here’s  the final design I came up with:

    I then hired a great designer off of Dribbble that turned my wireframe into something great.

    Cost to build

    18th.me domain: $10
    Test paintings: $287.70
    Website design: $450
    Website coding: $328.77
    Shopify hosting: $87

    Total cost to launch: $1,163.47
    Total time taken from idea to launch: 3 months

    Meeting Great People

    After 18th.me went live, I began reaching out to people I admired. Looking back, it helped me to stand out during these interactions.

    Meeting Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab

    When I first launched 18th.me, I sent out several paintings to some people with good blog followings to draw up interest. One of those was for William Wilkinson, a designer at MetaLab. He also happens to be Andrew’s younger brother. William posted this to his blog:

    You know when someone asks if you want a free painting from their new service and you forget about it for three months, then it shows up at your work?

    Not long after launching, I noticed an order come through from Andrew. He commissioned us to paint his cat as Napolean Bonaparte. I had been following MetaLab for years, and was a fan of Andrew’s work.

    Several weeks later, MetaLab launched Design Capital, their hybrid investing approach. Essentially they invest their resources in startups. This could include design, dev, cash, or a hybrid of all three.

    At the time I was still working on my startup, Obsorb. We needed some additional capital, and maybe help on our design. The day they launched I reached out with this simple email.

    To my surprise, Andrew responded, citing 18th.me!

    Eventually after many back and forth emails and calls, Andrew and I worked out a non-typical Design Capital deal. I proposed a joint venture between Obsorb and MetaLab to build a new product together.

    My co-founder and I went up to Victoria for 2 months to build out the prototype with Andrew and his team. By the end of the two months, it was obvious we worked well together. Andrew eventually made an offer to have us join MetaLab.

    The product we were working on became Peak, and I’m now a partner in MetaLab’s software business.

    Meeting Jon and starting Need/Want together

    While much of the deal above was happening, I was tinkering with a new bedding concept. My interest in physical product design had been growing and after a few prototypes, I started to make plans to Kickstarter a project.

    Jon was a tech guy that had just launched an iPhone case company, Peel. I found it intriguing that Jon was going from software to physical products, a rare occurrence.

    There’s something interesting that I’ve noticed in the world of startups – most tech guys just don’t want to deal with designing and selling physical items. It seems like manufacturing, large upfront costs, and the lack of infinite scalability intimidates many.

    Jon’s move from tech to physical products resonated with me, as I had started to dabble in the same. So, I reached out via Twitter.

    If you’re curious what those first two emails between Jon and I looked like, you can read my original reach out email to Jon here, and his response here.

    Jon and I kept talking via email and learned we had a lot of shared interests. Eventually I pitched him on doing SmartBedding with me. In the following months we went on to launch the Kickstarter campaign, raising $57k+.

    Due to SmartBedding’s success, we decided to create Need/Want and build a portfolio of  products together. This blog also followed.

    Lessons learned

    When you execute on ideas, you are forever associated with a tangible thing. People remember tangibles, not ideas.

    Looking back and connecting the dots, I’ve realized that any big career advancements or opportunities that came my way were always linked to something I made, or built.

    And so, the single best way I’ve found to meet interesting people is to…

    Make things, and then share them with the world. You’ll be surprised with who you meet along the way.

    If you found this post interesting you can follow me on Twitter @Marshal and Need/Want @NeedWantInc

  • A 3-Step Process for Naming a Project/Product (And Some Resources)

    / Comments (1)

    Naming a project is always an awful experience.

    An earworm that won’t stop tapping your skull from the inside. A tenacious pop jingle with teeth and a paycheck.

    As a freelance designer, I do a fair amount of this for clients. Generally, my process has been a garble of notes and trips to thesaurus.com, but lately I’ve noticed a fairly simple pattern emerging, a 3-step framework for cutting through the fog.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    3-Step Process
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Step 1.
    Identify the feeling you want the brand to convey. A great brand communicates on an emotional wavelength, so make that feeling your bedrock.

    One way to identify what feeling you’re pursuing is by figuring out what you’re not. A great brand is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not. So if you’re entering a certain market that is a certain way, identify that point of frustration and invert it. For instance, if your market is confusing, you could pursue ‘Relaxed', or ‘Lucid'.

    Step 2.
    Embody that feeling in a list of persons, places, things or phrases (etc) that communicate viscerally. For instance:
    Relaxed = a picnic
    Exclusive = Studio 54
    Cool = Paul Newman

    Step 3. Final
    Identify a detail that represents the [embodiment] of [your feeling] in a non obvious but compelling way.
    Relaxed = a picnic = Sunny Nap™
    Exclusive = Studio 54 = Velvet™
    Cool = Paul Newman = Ben Quick™ (a character he played)

    New insights gained from the process should help you get a better handle on the unique feeling or value your brand has to offer.

    the name should have a ‘special wrongness’* to it. An unforgettable newness. A new shape. 1+1=3. If your name lacks this, the product itself may have a hard time differentiating itself in whatever market you’re entering. Why are you different than your competitors? That difference should be reflected in the brain jam your name causes in its audience.

    *"Special Wrongness” is a term I’ve stolen and adopted from Peter Mendelsund from this amazing interview: http://portersquarebooksblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/interview-with-peter-m...

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    As for credentials, here are some of the things I’ve named:

    Svpply (snobby social shopping)
    Varsity Bookmarking (link-based interview magazine)
    10,000 (TBA athletic apparel)
    General Projects (design studio)
    Work Of (maker community and store)
    Mined (TBA digital marketplace)
    Lookwork (visual RSS for professionals)
    Lunch League (foodie clothing line)
    Embrella Group (design consultancy)

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Some of my favorite brand names of all time, the ones I aspire to matching, have the appearance of having emerged from this kind of process. Names like:

    Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
    Dress Code
    The Quiet Life
    Public School
    Free People
    Girl Skateboards

    These names emerge from the fringe of their vibe. Familiar details that've been blown out larger than life.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Pretty Good Tools & Resources
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    http://www.Phrasefinder.co.uk — A robust database of slogans, phrases, idioms and such. Annual fee for this one.

    http://Rhymezone.com — Rhymezone is great for finding rhymes, but even moreso, it’s great for a feature it calls “related search”. Like a drunk cousin reading the dictionary, it often yields connections you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

    http://Thesaurus.com - Yep.

    http://Niice.co — Visual search engine. Good for non-linear, non-verbal associations. and its “Surprise Me!” button is great for knocking you out of a loop.

    http://iwantmyname.com - I use this for domain name searches because it has the most comprehensive list of TLD results that I’ve found.

    http://domai.nr - Domainr will cut your name up into chunks and tell you if there’s any odd domain combos available. Think: de.licio.us or days.am

    USPTO Trademark search - Once you’ve landed on a name, you’ll want to check for existing trademarks in your product’s space.
    USA: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
    UK: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-os/t-find/tmtext.htm

    USPTO class list - When doing a trademark search, you’ll want to know your product’s class so you can tell if you're rubbing elbows with a trademark holder.

    Don’t Call it That!: A Naming Workbook - Folks I trust have recommended this book.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    That's all I've got.

    I hope it's helpful.

    If you do wind up with any success because of this, I'd love to hear about it. myfirst@lastname.com or @pieratt

  • Lessons From the King of Agricultural Advertising

    / Comments (0)

    Originally written for Forbes.com
    This article was co-written by Dan Callahan

    If you have lived in the Midwest in recent years you have probably noticed billboards and television ads sponsored by Monsanto on behalf of America’s Farmers. It was an idea nurtured over nearly a quarter-century by advertising veteran, and perhaps the king of agricultural advertising, industry legend Joe Osborn.

    Never heard of Osborn? No, you probably have not unless you sling soybeans or corn for a living. That’s exactly the way he and his ponytail would have wanted it. You see, Osborn passed away this month, less than four years after retiring from an agency he co-founded in St. Louis, Osborn Barr, and his legacy literally changed the face of one of America’s most vital industries.

    “Joe was an incredibly creative, talented man with very high standards, but he had the temperament of a man at the beach,” said Brad Chalk, who worked with him in New York at the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald in the mid-1980s. “Never yelling, always calm, even when faced with difficult clients.”

    Monsanto’s America’s Farmers campaign had its roots in a very similar – and beloved – campaign that Osborn, Chalk and others at Dancer Fitzgerald created for Ciba-Geigy in the 1980s. The ads, the first to put an agribusiness company on network television shows like NBC’s “The Today Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” were the company’s bid to enhance its reputation with farmers (Ciba-Geigy has morphed into ag giant Syngenta ) featuring the folksy voice of John Bartholomew Tucker reading copy written by, you guessed it, Osborn.

    “It was a tough sell with the client, but they were very successful,” Chalk said. “The farmers loved them.”

    Twenty-five years later and now out of the bright lights of New York, Osborn was working at his new agency in St. Louis and pitched what was in essence the same idea to Monsanto.

    “When I saw those ads, I turned to my wife and said, ‘that’s Joe Osborn,’” Chalk recalled.

    In remembering his days working closely with Osborn, Chalk recalled exploits similar to the story of New York advertising depicted in AMC’s immensely popular “Mad Men,” noting a parking lot accident that convinced a client to discontinue hard liquor at company meetings. Indeed, those were the days – clients insisting on being wined and dined when they got to town and as the clock ticked for meetings the next day, which explained why, by the time we became friendly in 2009, Osborn no longer favored the drink.

    “Joe would ask, ‘how long do we wait before we call for dragging the East River?’” Chalk said. “And when the client came in, he looked like he had climbed out of the East River.”

    In 2008, while looking to launch Elasticity as a new kind of hybrid digital content marketing and public relations shop, we met Osborn’s business partner of 20 years, Steve Barr (ironically, in a bar). Together, Osborn and Barr had founded an ad agency that became a powerhouse in agribusiness, providing a welcome home to ag companies big and small — many of whom felt looked down upon by the Madison Ave. agencies.

    We first pitched Barr on the idea of funding our startup. He then brought us to Joe, and at first we really had no idea what to make of the silver-haired war-horse sporting a long ponytail and black jeans. Joe was virtually impossible to read, armed with a series of wry remarks and an endless smirk, yet we hit it off in the most peculiar way.

    “We were going in to meet with you guys and Joe thought this would be a waste of our time,” said Cheryl Bergeron, one of Osborn’s protege’s who worked under him at the time. “We walked out after the meeting and Joe looked at me and said, ‘Well that was a pleasant surprise.’ He felt an instant connection.”

    They ultimately adopted us, taking a 70 percent equity stake and catapulting three dreamers with no revenue and an idea, into what today has become a 20-person agency with nearly $3 million in revenues. Joe became a mentor, a trusted sounding board, and it was no coincidence that when he retired some 16 months later, Elasticity and the agency he founded parted ways and we purchased our equity back.

    “Steve brings home a lot of stray puppies,” Osborn told us on several occasions. “And you were by far the best one.”

    Osborn never sought credit or to be the center of attention. Perhaps that is why you cannot find any mention of him on the website of the company he built with Barr. I remember speaking to him quietly in a corner of the Kemper Art Museum during his retirement party and he was pained at being the focus of the event. Typical Joe, a brilliant man, singing his swan song, yet seeking no credit for songwriting.

    “Joe was the first man I ever worked with for whom gender was not an issue and I felt truly respected,” added Bergeron. “Because of that I developed a very good working relationship that became a deep friendship. He was my mentor, but more than that, a dear friend, and I miss him terribly.”

    After retiring, Joe left St. Louis and we continued to speak every few months. He moved with the love of his life, his “sweetheart” Leslie Kahl, to Portland, a city he wryly noted was ultra-hip, but did not fluoridate its water.

    Farewell Joe. We will miss you.

  • What I Learned in 2013 #23: John Hendrix

    / Comments (0)

    Over the last few years, twitter has become my virtual studio. As an illustrator who works alone in my studio most of the time, I have become marginally obsessed with the community of artists and illustrators I follow. After I reread my twitter feed from the last year, I was reminded of a few things I learned over the last year.

    What I learned in 2013 (according to my twitter feed @hendrixart)

    1. Easy solution for enjoying your illustration career: Don't draw things you don't like to draw.

    I draw in my sketchbook every week during church, just as a reminder that I need have fun and explore the stuff I'm interested in making. My sketchbook is more like a playground than a to-do list. Regularly drawing 'just for fun' is essential to making your best work.

    2. Every new project is an opportunity. Whether it is a good opportunity is pretty much up to you.

    My newest kids book, "Rutherford B. Who Was He?" is a project I initially turned down, because I thought drawing U.S. Presidents seemed liked it might be tedious, or even cliche. My wonderful agent talked me into it, and I'm so glad, I made some of my best images for this book- the constrictions which I feared set me free.

    3. You can't be a great artist if you are regularly impressed with your own work. Disappointment is one of your most important artistic tools.

    We all have to make bad stuff. My students often confuse 'making bad work' with 'doing something wrong'. Disliking your work proves that you have taste, and a longing for something better. I wrote 8 failed book proposals, had many jobs killed during production and redrew hundreds of sketches.

    (Imagine the worst image I made last year posted here)

    4. The only people who don't feel like frauds are actual frauds.

    I started a web comic this year which has no other purpose than to bring me enjoyment. I have no credentials to make real comics, other than I read them. But I really wanted to draw these little stories about what this very mysterious part of the trinity does during his days. It can be found at adventuresoftheholyghost.tumblr.com

    5. As much as an illustration style is a lens, it is also a vice. Without new risks, the tropes that once set you free will turn into a veil.

    I did this image for a Star Wars tribute show at Gallery Nucleus in Los Angeles this May. I simply could not decide what to draw from these movies- the films were so important to me that I was fearful of not doing the image justice. As I looked over my sketches, I realize the idea was right in front of me. I was going to draw everything I could remember without a sketch, without reference. The risk was thrilling, and I made my favorite image of the year.

    6. This sounds feigned for effect, but everyday I'm truly astonished that it takes a lot of time to make something really good.

    This giant map for Sports Illustrated was a mash-up of Game of Thrones and the sports world. Spent three weeks on it, had to remind myself everyday that doing something right isn't a waste of time. In the digital world, it feels like everyone is working fast and without errors. But, good word takes time, a lot of it.

    7. Got an email from a former student, gushing about her first job- teaching never gets any better than truly enjoying another's success.

    I teach illustration, hand-drawn type and design in the Communication Design department at Washington University in St. Louis. I've had so many wonderful students over the years, but this year, there were a few that really came into their own as professionals. Really proud of their success.

    Vidya Nagarajan, http://vidhyanagarajan.com/
    Sam Washburn, http://www.washburnillustration.com/
    Noah MacMillan, http://cargocollective.com/noahmacmillan
    Morgan Schweitzer, http://www.morganschweitzer.com/
    James O, www.facebook.com/jamesoart

  • What I Learned in 2013 #22: Jake Edinger

    / Comments (8)

    I look forward to ADDYs night every year. 2013 was no different.

    Actually, I take that back. It was very different. As different as an annually recurring event could be. The ADDYs were supposed to be bigger this year.

    A whole week of activity was planned around the show. We added an entire lineup of educational panels. We booked social gatherings on three of the nights. We brought back a printed book of winners. We made it a live presentation of awards instead of a reel. We created a microsite and some pretty extensive branding around the week and the show. The whole enchilada.

    It was an all-in kind of approach, led by David Johnson, Jen Oertli, Jamie Keim and Ellen Legow, with the goal of revitalizing an event that had lost some luster in recent years. And I was part of the committee that helped pull it all together.

    Up to that night, it seemed as though the week was going strong. We had great attendance and participation at the panels, and people seemed to enjoy the social events. All was going according to our hopes when we started planning the summer before.

    Then, we got snow. And when St. Louis gets snow, everybody freaks out.

    Should we postpone the show? Would the food keep for another week? Will the venue hold a slot for us? We didn’t want all of this preparation to fizzle because no one showed up to the main event.

    Luckily, I didn’t have to make that decision, but the right one was made. And somehow all the stars aligned for the event to take place the following Thursday.

    Bullet dodged.

    But we still needed the event to go off without a hitch. And we needed people, who may or may not have had other plans that following week, to actually show up.

    Coolfire hosted a pre-show happy hour at Plush, the same venue that was hosting the actual presentation. And by the time my wife, Toni, and I got there, the place was pretty full.

    I was relieved, yet still anxious.

    This was my first full year of creative directing at HLK. I was proud of the work we had done and grateful to have had the chance to lead the teams who made it all happen. I thought it was award-worthy. But more importantly, I was glad we had a decent number of entries that made it into the show, and everyone from our department had a piece that won something. All of our clients were represented. And my boss, Joe Leahy, was his usual optimistic and supportive self.

    Anything beyond that would be gravy.

    First stop: the bar. Toni, my designated driver, was 8 months along and was deeply involved in a lot of the work that was entered. (We work together in case that last sentence seemed strange.) But as she always does, she seemed to keep things in a healthy perspective and made a joke about how I was the one who needed to take a deep breath.

    She was right.

    I introduced her to the first person I recognized, a former a coworker of mine from Rodgers Townsend. He quickly noticed that she was—we were—expecting. And at this point, he didn’t need to be careful about pointing it out. We were giddy and thrilled to tell people we weren’t finding out the sex. As if we were the first people to ever make such a non-traditional choice.

    He was happy for us. Who isn’t when they see a happy couple on a happy night? We thanked him, grabbed our drinks off the bar and started to move toward the rest of the night.

    But he wasn’t done. As a father himself, there was more ground to cover, and our conversation was just getting started. Our pleasantries quickly dissolved into a real conversation.

    I’m paraphrasing, but I’m going to use quotes just because I can’t take credit for the next bit of wisdom that would come with a complimentary Anheuser-Busch product and a water with a lemon.

    He said, “You know, a lot of people are going to tell you that your life will never be the same. They’ll tell you to ‘just wait.’

    “Just wait until that baby comes. They’ll tell you to just wait until you’re up three times in the middle of the night. Oh, just wait. Wait until the baby starts crawling. You’ll have to baby proof everything. Just wait. Then they start talking. And they never stop. Just wait. Potty training is next.

    “You’ll hear this all the way through. Just wait until they’re going to school. And the homework. And the practices. And just wait. Your life is over. It’s now their life. Just wait until they hit puberty. It goes on. People always want to tell you just how much things have changed. And that you should just wait. Just wait ‘til college. Just wait for the next phase. Just wait. You have no idea.”

    I was listening. And all of this was ringing true. As one of the last holdouts among my friends to have a child, I had heard this very warning on several occasions. And, honestly, it kind of made me cringe a little each time.

    Then, he said, “They’re right.”

    He went on, “Your life won’t be the same. It has forever changed. But don’t just wait.

    “Don’t dread what’s coming next. It’s all amazing and absolutely unique. Each stage comes fast. And afterwards, you’ll look back and see that it went by even faster. And the next phase will be right there, completely new and unexpected and incredible.”

    We talked more about how I should record the sounds the baby makes while taking a bottle at 3am. Because soon he’ll be sleeping through the night. He warned me about growing out of onesies and when the first semblances of words finally arrive. (Dada is easier to say in case you were wondering.)

    Now, I’m sure Erik Mathre isn’t the first person to feel this way. But he was the first to look me in the eye and know exactly where my mind was at that stage of father-to-be-hood. He may have wished someone else had told him that, going in. Maybe not.

    I don’t know. He and I haven’t talked since that night. But I left that conversation with a verbal shot in the arm and even more confidence and excitement for the coming days, months and years.

    I couldn’t wait.

    Wesley Calvin Edinger with his mom last weekend, 9 months old. (Erik was right.)

    If you’re interested, and since this is an advertising blog, here’s a Coke spot from Argentina captures what I think Erik was trying to tell me.

Rocket Fuel