The Corporation

The Calgary Probono Lounge Friday March 7, 2014

In 2010, while living in Washington D.C., I had the chance to partake in the inaugural edition of DC Week. Sandwiched in between this week long technology and social media festival, was an event called The ProBono Lounge.

As you can imagine, the metro D.C. area contains an active plethora of young tech savvy talent and a massive amount of struggling local, national and international Non-Profits (or NGOs or whatever you want to call them). The ProBono Lounge was designed to do dedicate one half day in the middle of the festival to pair up struggling local non-profits and organizations with web designers, web developers and social media experts for a little bit of a free workshop. The idea being that Non-profits and organizations would come into the lounge with their technical problems (usual web site and social media issues) and would then spend some time with a designer, developer or social media expert that would give them some advice with their issues. Sometimes they’d actually work on the issue that afternoon or work on something after meeting during The ProBono Lounge. Of course this was all a free service designed to give the tech community an opportunity to give back to the NPO/NGO community in the city.

Now the first rendition of the ProBono lounge was a bit all over the place, but I did manage to spend some hours in the lounge volunteering with a couple local DC NPOs that had signed-up. Out of that afternoon session, I ended up working with a small program called DC Food For All, which eventually turned into a three year working relationship with Bread For The City. As someone new to the city and looking for new projects, The DC ProBono Lounge was an amazing experience.

That experience has stuck in my brain for a long time. One of the things I promised myself was that If I was ever back in Calgary for a more formal time I’d try and set-up a similar thing here. Not only does Calgary have an equally talent pool of designers, developers and consultants, but it also has an amazing culture of volunteerism within the city itself. So this is really the perfect sort of thing for city.

Well, now I’m back and it’s time to get to work.

So over the next few weeks I’m going to putting together some information about the Calgary ProBono Lounge. But I wanted to write a quick blog post to plant the seed for the project.

If you’re interested in helping me get this idea off the ground, I’m going to be looking for the following:

  • Web designers, web developers, graphic designers and social media consultants that might be interested in volunteering an afternoon or some hours helping out a local NPO or charity.
  • I’ll be looking for local NPOs/Community Organizations that don’t have much money, are doing good work, but need some technical help.
  • I’ll also be looking for a place to hold this.
  • Coffee/Beer sponsors to purchase fuel for the afternoon/day.
  • And of course moral support sponsors.

I’m still tossing around the idea, but if you’re interested in helping me out with my little project or even participating, send me an email at cturner@armadillostudios.ca.

Categories: The-Calgary-Vibe, The-Corporation,

Three Pieces of Business Advice For Young Entrepreneurs Tuesday February 18, 2014

Earlier this month a group of management students from the University of Calgary students reached out to me to partake in a class assignment. The project was to interview an entrepreneur or someone tied to startup world to get their insight into process of starting a business or new venture.

Never one to shy away from sharing my own experiences or vomiting out advice, I gladly accepted the request. During the interview, I was asked for my favourite general advice I was willing to give the group. As usual, I spewed out my three pillars that I’ve based my own business process and deals. (They also happened to be the same advice that I give anyone who approaches me on business topics)

So out conversation, I decided I’d try something different this weekend and flex my design skills by posterfy these “quotes” and sharing them with the internets. Now, anyone who knows me already understands that I’m not really one for motivational posters and Pinterest quote boards, but I figured I’d share them in a visual manner would be a bit more fun.

So here we go. For all you entrepreneurs and budding young start-up gurus, here are the three pillars of business that I try and live by.

Fail In Obscurity

Fail In Obscurity

Now, in all honesty this is a direct quote from 37 Signals and software developer guru, Jason Fried.

The concept is pretty simple. In any business venture people will make mistakes and we all know that mistakes are the best way to learn. So rather than making those mistakes when there is angel/investment money on the line or a reputation at stake – it’s far better to make mistakes, when you’re small and nobody cares.

No business is perfect from day one of operations. So make your mistakes in obscurity. Fail when there is nothing on the line.

Share Knowledge. It Will Come Back in Spades

Share Knowledge | It Will Come Back in Spades

Everyone has heard the quote that in business knowledge is power. In the past, there was an outdated interpretation that to succeed in business you needed to secure your knowledge. To not share it and to lock it away in vault of secrecy. Well in the age of the internet and a new society where personal branding is almost as powerful as corporate branding, this concept is pretty ridiculous. See the most successful people in my industry (and others around the world) are the ones who are now openly sharing their own knowledge.

In my experience, every time I’ve shared knowledge, whether it’s from a blog post, coffee conversation, presentation or media interview, I have always been rewarded far more than expected. It’s human nature for us to appreciate a hand or helpful advice. We always tend to want to reward or thank others who have helped us out. So by sharing your own expertise or knowledge with someone, they are more than likely to remember to recommend or reward you when another opportunity arise.

Let me put it this way. Let’s say someone comes into an auto repair shop with a frantic issue and they have no idea how to fix it. Unknown to them the issues is relatively minor and actually will cost less than ten bucks in parts off the rack and maybe ten minutes of work. As a business owner, you can either charge the client 100 dollars to fix it and try to up-sell them something OR you can tell them the truth and explain how easy of a fix it is. Nine times out of ten the customer would rather you tell them the truth and save them money then pad your own bottom line. Sure you may have just walked away from an easy sell and income, but more than likely that customer will remember that honest and knowledgable advice and recommend you to a whole slew of people. Which in the long run is far more profitable than hundred bucks.

While that’s a pretty rudimentary example, it does show you the difference between the old way of thinking and this new paradigm. Sharing your knowledge will provide far more rewards than not sharing it. It may not seem like it at first, but in the log run the rewards will be much stronger.

So share knowledge. It will come back in spades.

Never Stop Reading

Never Stop Reading

I personally struggle with this one, but my biggest advice for people is to never stop reading and learning. When I started Armadillo Studios, I used to digest at least one key business book every two months, which for me is a lot. But even though I don’t have the same appetite form business books that I used to, I do spend a huge percentage of my time learning – whether its through business books, startup blogs, articles or networking events.

I always find it fascinating when I come across someone in my industry who doesn’t know who Gary Vanyerchuk is, what 37signals and Basecamp is, where SXSW is held or even what is happening in the local tech industry. When starting a business, knowledge is key. So the more you learn and know, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

So it goes without saying, but *never stop reading, learning and evolving.

There you go. My three mantras to live by in business and for those looking to break into the start-up world.

Categories: The-Corporation, The-Blogosphere,

Where Is The 'Design' in Canadian Political Web Design? Thursday January 17, 2013

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but when talking about the advancements in campaign technology and design one cannot underestimate how much Barack Obama’s campaign team has brought to the industry. Whether it was the revolutionary techniques and concise planning employed by the campaign team in 2008 or the impressive data-driven objectives set out by the 2012 re-election team. Either way the ground work laid out by The Obama campaign machines in both elections has ushered in a new era within the political world and has essentially set the standard for the importance of a candidate’s online presence.

BarackObama.com

And since the end of November those of us who are engaged in this niche market have been lapping up the revealing blog posts from core members of Obama’s 2012 election team. Whether it’s discussing the lean start-up techniques implemented by the tech team or the advanced User data and A/B testing utilized to improve conversion rates or even reminiscing about the design philosophy behind the Obama brand through 2008’s quintessential Designing Obama there is a wealth of valuable information available at our finger tips. (Side note: Designing Obama is a must read for anyone looking to get in the game) So after digesting many of these posts and articles, I keep coming back to this question, why is Canadian political campaign web design and development so far behind our southern counterparts?

Now, I understand that there are some glaring differences between our two systems and one can’t start questioning this industry without acknowledging this. Yes, the American standardized election dates makes it easier for long term planning and budgeting in comparison to the fluid nature of our Parliamentary System – which sometimes needs to react to election calls on a moment’s notice. And one cannot discount the massive difference in population base and the unlimited fundraising advantages with American Campaigns in comparison to our system. But those elements alone do not explain why good design and good development is not front and center in a Canadian Political Team’s mind.

All the tools for Canadian campaigns to build a strong intuitive online presence for their candidates are there. Inexpensive content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, BuddyPress and even for larger campaigns – Drupal – have been around for years and are widely utilized by many professionals. There are also dozens of very sharp campaign examples from our southern counterparts for us to pluck ideas from and they’re all quite well known – many of them have turned into purchasable templates that can be easily customized. In addition, Canada has a wealth of design, development and user experience talent in each major city. So really at this point there is no excuse for why Canadian political campaigns sites are still so horrible in 2013. If you want an example of what’s going on in this industry, one only has to look at some of the candidate sites for the Ontario Liberal Leadership race. A good majority of these sites are either unappealing or “bland”:http://www.votesousa.ca/. Many of them almost seams like an after thought to the campaign and add little excitement to their candidate’s profile. Now compare them to the stunning and fluid design of Kathleen Wynne’s campaign site www.kathleenwynne.ca, which just shines in comparison to her competition.

kathleenwynne.ca

Now, in defense of the some of these campaigns, they’re not the only ones out there. I could have easily used other campaign examples over the past two years (Alberta’s 2012 Provincial Election, The Recent Federal By-Elections or municipal elections in Saskatoon and Ottawa over the past year), but the stark difference between a strong majority of Ontario Liberal Leadership candidates and Kathleen’s team shows a massive disparity in the industry. On the one hand you have a collection of sites that look and feel as though they have been hammered together in haste, while Wynne’s site acts and feels like a well throughout focal point of campaign information and activity. And I’m not even considering the parallax microsite The Way Forward which is just miles ahead of anything the other candidates are bringing to the table. Wynne’s site engages users from the get go, gives off the aura of a modern and forward thinking candidate and draws users to get involved. While the other campaign sites rarely invoke an emotion or instill confidence in the candidate, most end up taking away from the candidate’s true attributes and qualifications with small but glaring errors.

Again, I don’t mean to harp on these hard working teams, as there are dozens of examples across many recent Canadian campaigns that could easily prove my point. But what is the issue in Canadian campaign design? If we understand that money and campaign finances are a hindrance, but at the same time understand that there are many free tools out there and a wealth of available talent, what is the problem? Why are the majority of these sites so bad?

I’ll throw this out there and I’m open to counter points, but in my opinion, the problem with the state of web design in Canadian politics actually ties back to the recent success of Obama’s team. Whenever Obama’s success is discussed on a higher level the conversation ultimately focuses on the social media myth of that team’s success. While there is no question that Obama broke major ground with his use of social media, what is easily forgotten, even with the wealth of information out there, is that Obama’s online presence included the entire package. The iconic Obama imagery and the campaign slogans created a symmetry across all the campaigns networks. The web site was designed with users in mind and interwoven with an aura of modernization. All these elements were designed together to form Obama’s online presence. Yes, social media was a factor, but social media was only a tool to reach out to voters and supporters, ultimately it drove them back toward the main Obama web site to donate, interact, organize and learn about Obama. In most Canadian campaigns, I’m not seeing that sort of full package concept or planning, which is what I believe is wrong with the industry. There needs to be less focus on the myth of social media and more on the overall online package – ideas that Obama’s team have written about since the 2012 campaign ended.

Categories: the-political-world, The-Corporation, The Canada Vibe, The Social Media, The Southern Neighbours, The World

The Web & Data 2012: A Personnal Manifesto of Sorts Tuesday February 21, 2012

Without a doubt one of the biggest benefits of being in the DC Metro area is being exposed to a wealth of unique opportunities. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to partake in a handful of interesting events. As an example, last week, I was asked by a George Mason University professor to provide a guest lecture to his research class on the Web and Data. (As a side note, my wife was also a guest lecture and discussed her thesis work and research). Later in the same week, I was also able to catch a conversation during Social Media Week DC called The 2012 Election and The Fight For The Internet. In a seemingly serendipitous way, these two events are the cultivation of series of opportunities I’ve stumbled into which have inevitably lead to this post.

While these two recent events are seemingly tied together, one of the most catalytic events, was a presentation put on by JESS3 founder Leslie Bradshaw called Understanding The Agency of The Future in November of 2011. And while, I won’t continue to name drop talks like some swanky car salesman, this talk in particular was about the power of data and how social data is going to be one of the driving forces for Web Agencies in the future. It was a fascinating talk, which of course discussed the emerging trend of visualizing data. In essence, it was the seed that was planted in my mind and that’s be cultivating over the past couple months. (For your enjoyment, I’ve also embed the slides below)

Visualizing the Agency of the Future
View more presentations from JESS3

Anywho, the more and more I wrap my head around this concept, the clearer it becomes – data and data interpretation is really going to be the future of the internet. I personally believe that that as an industry, there are going to be two big pushes in the upcoming years. One towards design and client web site development with a multi-focus on mobile development. (Not that this is a secret by any means. Just quickly look at the emerging trends of responsive design to see where we are going) And the second big push will be towards information visualization and the interpretation of data. The app and mobile design movement, will easily be the path that most design firms move towards. In essence, of the two paths, the mobile design/app functionality is the most linear of the two options. While a select handful will move towards visualization and the understanding of data. Which to me seams like a far more daunting task.

Of the two paths, the second path intrigues me the most.

While this concept of data visualization and interpretation may sound like a flash in the pan new trend. But as I said to the students at GMU, think of it this way; as the more social elements of the web become more ingrained in the everyday routine of society, it’s becoming clear and clear that the data associated with these interactions is becoming more important to analyze. We all know that services like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Linkedin are really financially driven by the amount of data they have been able to collect on users. And yes, I acknowledge that there are obvious concerns about privacy, but that’s not what I’m interested in. Networks like Facebook aren’t valued based on advertising revenue alone, their valuation is based on the potential amount of data they provide businesses and society on clients and client behaviour. Similarly, Twitter isn’t based solely on it’s potential advertising revenue; it’s a combination of being a new medium of communication tool and also having the ability to provide instantaneous data and client feedback. (Of course, if Twitter can ever find a way to monetize both of these ideas at the same time, then it’ll be laughing). Similar services like Pinterest, Instagram and the like are all trying to find ways to take their invaluable social niches and transforming that information into revenue streams.

So where am I going with this?

Essentially, the next steps for many interested in this element of the web is to find a market and an opportunity. So how does one get involved with data visualization and digital interpretation. For a small studios like Armadillo, it’s a bit of a daunting task. The clients who can afford such endeavors aren’t within the reach of the small design firms like ours and the clients of our sized design firms typically don’t have the financial wherewithal to make such a leap.

Luckily for us, there are opportunities out there. The added benefit of the social web is that much of this data is somewhat available for anyone. With the exception of Facebook, much of this information is publicly available data and can be easily collected and analyzed. So the only question is opportunity.

And as we know sometimes it’s time to craft your own opportunities. Which of course leads me to AlbertaTweets.ca.

AlbertaTweets.ca

AlbertaTweets.ca is a new project that Armadillo Studios will be undertaking for the duration of the upcoming Alberta Provincial election. (Yes, I know it hasn’t been called yet, but it’s good to get one’s ducks in a row).

The idea is to take the publicly available twitter data regarding the Alberta election and analyze it (in an impartial way), and then craft useful infographics for public consumption. The concept of this idea is to get a sense of what’s being said online regarding each political party and to see how they (the parties) are using social media to reach an audience. Over the course of the election, Mr. Boley and myself are committing to publish two weekly infographics showing different online trends. Our goal is to provide simplistic analysis of this information as a way to test the waters on this sort of market. It’s also our hope that there will be some exciting by-product of discussion, either between Albertans or by the political parties themselves.

Now with that being said, this could be the most foolish endeavor we’ve ever undertaken. But it is something that we are excited to take on. So have a look, provide some feedback and give us a follow. There will be more news coming about the project when we officially go public in the upcoming weeks.

Categories: The-Corporation, The-Personnal, The Future

So You Want To Start Your Own Business: The Catch 22 of Free Wednesday March 2, 2011

Ah yes, I’m finally back with my So You Want To Start Your Own Business series. This time I’m talking about The Catch 22 of Free.

And while I do get into a bit more detail about my philosophy on working for free when you’re starting out in the VBlog, there are numerous good and bad things about the concept.

Over my time, I’ve had the chance to work on some fun and exciting projects with people for free and I probably wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But as I mention, I do believe that it is a better option to find a project, a cause or idea that you are personally passionate or invested in – rather than to offer _free work for another person’s idea_.

Generally, and this experience isn’t universal, but the promises you receive from others never tend to pan out. What I have found is that a project you are personally vested in will be more beneficial in the future and your career.

Categories: so-you-want-to-start-your-own-business, The-Corporation,

« Older