Original article published here
Experience. Just the latest marketing buzzword,…
My first job was in customer service. When I was a shaggy haired kid at 14, I took a job at the local canoe rental outfit on the Charles River, near my childhood home in Boston. I chose that job since I thought it would be really fun to be outdoors all day and to get paid for it. But for the next 4 years I helped thousands upon thousands of customers and I learned how awesome service made a huge difference to their experience, and also made them extremely loyal.
Learning happens in unexpected ways. I have been guided by what I can learn and by what I’m able to teach. What can appear as an eclectic lifepath that includes a science degree, an MBA, three technology startups, and now founding Hero Digital…is anything but random. I have made choices that offered the best learning experiences and the best mentors. And when I have the opportunity to serve as a mentor to others, I give that same advice: take the path with the best potential to learn and to grow.
Customer Experience is a massive transformation. I am enamored with the opportunity that Hero has to help businesses be more customer-focused. I was never a sales guy or a product visionary…I have been a customer service person my whole life. And now, businesses are transforming their models to be profoundly more customer-centric. I’m proud to focus 100% of my energy on making Hero Digital the best at improving the customer experience. I have been doing it my whole life, and now it’s just more important than ever before.
It all started with a chance opportunity. I got the technology bug with my first job in the industry, delivering computers. Little did I know taking a job to make extra money in college would turn out to be the start of my life’s work. I was mesmerized by the sales and marketing people. They seemed to be having fun and getting paid. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.
From delivery to deliverables. After trying for nearly three years, I finally got a chance to move into sales. When I started, a saleswoman took me under her wing. One of the most important things she told me was “remember, it’s not what you say, it’s what and how you deliver. In business, you live and die by giving your customer what they need.”
Marketing has always been about the experience. I learned that early in my career and being at Hero Digital, where we focus our entire firm on helping clients deliver the experience their customers expect, truly fuels me. Every day I have the opportunity to help our clients discover and deliver on new ways to raise the level of experience for their customers and their internal teams.
Being in a band is good practice for working with creative professionals. I played bass in a ton of bands all throughout my teens and twenties, mostly indie and punk rock. The dynamics of a great band are very similar to being part of a great design team: you need to have a point of view, be able to derive order out of chaos, and play well with others. For both music and design, the most interesting discoveries are when you cross traditional boundaries and break the rules.
I took the roundabout path to being a designer. I started off as a math major in college, because I was good at math. But I didn’t really like it, so I switched to something completely eclectic and impractical and went on to get an MA in media studies. This is right around when the Web was just taking off and that looked far more interesting than anything I studied. So I locked myself in my room for a week and taught myself HTML, moved back to the Bay Area, and sweet-talked my way into my first web design job. I’ve been doing this now for over 20 years and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Hero is entrepreneurial at heart. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But after being part of several successful startups, starting my own agency seemed like a natural progression. Joining forces with Hero, we found a group of people with a similar history and culture. Being practitioner-led creates a unique focus and work ethic that you don’t find at a lot of agencies. It also fosters a strong connection with our clients, many of whom are also building something completely new.
I started building websites for big companies right out of high school. After I finished high school, I found myself working at a leading San Francisco agency building websites for companies such as Stanford, Chevron, and TXU. I worked on many different technology stacks and enjoyed tackling any new engineering challenge I could get my hands on. The more systems I worked on, the more I wanted to not only build great systems, but also build great experiences. Tackling the user experience challenges introduced me to a whole new realm of problems that I could solve.
At Hero Digital, I love striking a balance between customer experience and complex engineering. Co-founding Hero Digital allowed me to find the balance of creating great user experiences while still building systems and software to meet the needs of our clients. I always pursue opportunities that allow me to grow and expand my skills, and I love tackling a difficult problem that few people would be able to solve.
As a teenager, I took an early interest in the internet and specifically in designing and programming websites. I taught myself how to program when I was 14, and my first job was building sites for local “mom and pop” shops. I spent these early years honing my development skills and also learning to engage with my clients and work with them to define a strategy for what they were looking to achieve.
I love the challenge of a complex project. A few years later, I started working with a San Francisco based agency, leading projects and building sites for much larger companies. My consulting experience became much deeper and the projects became much more complex and impactful. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the largest and most well known brands in the world. I’m especially proud of my work on TXU Energy, an account I was instrumental in leading for nearly 4 years. As a co-founder of Hero Digital, I’m extremely proud of the team we’ve brought together and the work that I get to do every day.
Coming to work is a family affair. My brother Adam is another one of the co-founders and we’ve worked together for over 10 years. We also employ three of my sisters and also my brother-in-law, which makes coming to work a family event in the truest sense of the word.
Micah leads Experience Design for HERO LABS. Prior to HERO LABS, he was a co-founder of FuturePerfect, where he led product design for enterprise companies in the Big Data, Analytics, and Security spaces. Micah was also an early employee at Splunk, where he led design teams across a range of products and platforms. As a consultant, he has worked with clients from early startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Good design is unforgettable. After college, I spent several months backpacking solo around Asia. A good five pounds of weight in my pack were taken up by cassette tapes, a Walkman, and batteries. Shortly after I returned to the US, the iPod was released. I was an early adopter, and traveling after that, with thousands of songs in a beautifully designed, lightweight portable device changed my life.
Collaboration is everything. I believe the best solutions come from diverse minds working together. Hero’s culture fosters idea sharing, and there is palpable excitement for creating industry-defining customer experiences for our clients.
Change is constant. I firmly believe that companies can’t stay idle if they want to succeed in our digital world. I also feel the same way about my life, and place an emphasis on continuing to learn. My educational background contains a mix of communications, business, and design, which has made for ability to understand the business world, but also the importance of knowing users as people and putting design first. Hero is giving me an amazing opportunity to work with the best of the best—leaders who stay on the cutting edge of digital—to make sure companies near and far know that we are the partner for CX success.
I’ve always been fascinated by the relationships we create with the technology we use. Whether it’s “calming” your computer or being “mad” at the television, technology has a profound impact on us emotionally. While in college at Stanford University, I explored this curiosity by working in various labs, studying the effects of our relationship with technology and media and the impacts both have on our emotions and lives. I especially loved geeking out in the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, where researchers were exploring the ways in which augmented and virtual reality technologies could literally give us the experience of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Designing a Customer Experience is about empathy.I’ve been fortunate enough to continue to pursue this interest in my professional life by leveraging what I learned to design and deliver experiences for clients that incorporate context (both physical and digital) and seek to demonstrate empathy toward their users. Whether it’s products that help in-store staff better service their customers, or measurement strategies that help us understand what information and content are of value to prospects, everything we create aims to make the end-user experience as meaningful as possible.
Our job is never completely done. Context and user needs evolve, and the solutions we deliver need to keep pace with that evolution. As our ability to measure and learn from user behavior grows, so does our need to leverage this information. I’m excited and humbled by the opportunities that our clients entrust us with: to create and improve experiences for their customers.
Design is creation. I’ve been making things since I can remember. I wanted a bespoke suit so I designed a pattern, and when I needed a sofa to suit my city apartment, I whipped up a CAD model and had it built. Professionally, I’ve focused on technology— designing software, websites, mobile applications, and consumer technologies. And although design school taught me some universal principles, the real essence of design is a fundamental human ability to shape our world with what we want and need.
Design is communication. I started my career in psychology, which set the stage for my relentless drive to understand human behavior and effective communication. My love for design emerged as I observed individuals’ visceral responses to advertising, websites, and products. Design communicates at a personal level and impacts our behavior, regardless of whether or not it’s “good design.”
Design is function. While I love the notion that we design for “experiences,” in reality all design is experienced. I believe that we must first listen to our audiences and make things usable and engaging. Hero Digital’s focus on customer experience takes this proposition further, with a proven methodology to design for the various environmental, interpersonal, and empathetic aspects of experience. I lead our design team with the idea that an own-able expression of a brand through all channels establishes a deeper connection with a user, and results in memorable moments—an experience.
There are multiple angles. As a Computer Science undergraduate I received some of the best advice of my career. “Get a minor in business, because you need to understand why the software is being built, not just how you are building it.” Following this advice allowed me to understand multiple perspectives to get to the root of a challenge.
If something is challenging, it is probably worth doing. Throughout my education and career, I have come to recognize that the more daunting a challenge is the more worthwhile it will be to do. This has guided the decisions that have shaped my professional career. Some decisions, like earning my MBA while continuing to work full time, have a clear impact on my career. The impact of others, such as taking Differential Equations as a free elective, have less of a direct line of sight to my current responsibilities. Regardless, tackling these challenges shape how you approach a problem and expand your viewpoint on how it can be solved.
Users are more savvy than ever before. One of the most exciting parts about working for clients at Hero Digital is seeing how CX drives efficiencies for both their organization and their customers. Users are drawn to the experience that most effectively meets their needs. It is imperative that organizations maintain a constant focus on how their users interface with their brand in order keep up with the marketplace.
It Takes a Diverse Village. I love music. I love jazz, alt-rock, EDM and everything in between. I love how music comes together. It takes a diverse village to write a song, put music to it and then release it to the world. The lead singer provides amazing vocals. The drummer bangs out rolling beats. The bassist thumb slings out the beats for the song’s backbone. The lead guitarist adds the melody and layers to make it all come together. It’s like building a digital customer experience. Strategy develops a vision, creative turns that into the customer experience and technology makes it all work. Hero Digital – the next great band!
Customer Service is My Thing. I’ve been doing it all of my life. As a young teenager, I served my first customer by babysitting in my neighborhood just north of Boston. A few years later, I started working at my first restaurant starting as a busboy and working up to being a waiter. My college years continued the customer service trend with my memorable tenure as a waiter at the Cheesecake Factory. On the digital side of customer service, I’ve been building digital experience for clients since I was 20 years old. I love understanding my customers’ needs, building a solution for them and then exceeding their expectations.
I’m an Entrepreneur at Heart. I started my own company at 20 years old. The company was named webbedfeat. We built “webpages” in Washington DC during the early days of the .com boom. While I moved on from running my own company for the land of bigger agencies, I always treated my projects like mini start-up. I’d pull a small team together and work together while pointed at a north star goal. We’d then expand to a bigger team once the strategy was defined. We’d design, build and launch. The project would end and I’d start all over again with a new team and north star. I love building teams and things. Hero gave the perfect opportunity to do this with an amazing team.
Customer Centric is easier said than done. When I took an internship at Walt Disney World in college, I never imagined that the lessons learned from studying the Disney principles and seeing them play out in the park everyday would stick with me for the rest of my life. Today everyone is boasting about how they are customer-first and it is easy to see that many companies just TALK about it rather than actually do it. It is extremely difficult to retain a customer centric model throughout the various channels and touchpoints. Just as at Disney, the entire organization must buy into this philosophy. I am excited to be back to be back at a digital agency so that I can help clients refocus on what truly matters most: The Customer.
This is truly an exciting time to work in the “Digital Playground.” When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t say I build digital customer experiences. I say that I get to play with some of the coolest technology on the planet. Helping clients decipher the ever-changing technology world means that I get to play with cool toys every single day. Whether it is Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, machine learning, or autonomous driving vehicles, my days are filled working with great companies and great clients trying to figure out how to design and build world class customer experiences.
“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This is the mantra of productivity guru Dave Allen that encapsulate what we at Hero are trying to accomplish with our clients. We are all in information overload, and many times our clients come to us not with a specific ask, but with a general question of where do they go from here. It is easy to get overwhelmed and become trapped in trying to do too much, fearing getting left behind. That is why this quote is so important as it helps to remind everyone to slow down and focus on where the biggest impact can be made.
I have always wanted to help people solve problems and reach their full potential. And though I could never have anticipated the career path which unfolded, this driving factor led me to pursue a degree in psychology, a master’s in counseling, and a pathway to leadership through counseling, training, and managerial roles.
In my first job after university, I had the “aha” moment which led me to pursue HR. While leading, training, and hiring teams to support weight loss, I learned an important principle: passion for helping others makes a great employee environment, which in turn makes a happy customer.
Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with a great variety of organizations — small and large companies; domestic and international teams; “on-site” and “in-house”. Every situation has been a learning experience, but the basic principle has always prevailed: when people love what they do and who they work for — magic happens for the customer.
HERO Digital has incredible diversity in clients, leadership, and talent and expertise; yet we share a common goal — to provide an amazing customer experience. I am humbled and proud to play a small part in fueling the efforts of HERO employees toward that goal.
Digital maturity is a marathon not a sprint. As a competitive runner, I appreciate the need to push oneself to finish as quickly as possible. However, running too fast risks early fatigue, injury, not finishing at all (the worst!) or missing a turn and heading down the wrong path. Parallels exist in the work we do here: We are regularly under pressure to reach high performance marks under aggressive deadlines, and the fastest path to the end rarely returns the winning result. The good news for our clients is that Hero Digital’s team has run enough races to know exactly how to pace ourselves and get you to the finish line.
One of my favorite quotes is “dream out loud!” To me, the most exciting thing about living in the times we do is watching predictions become reality. I grew up in Silicon Valley at the end of the analog era. My ham radio equipment was solid state, I learned how to fly a plane using VOR navigation before GPS became pervasive, and I remember when a 33MHz CPU clock speed was enviable. Digital technology then arrived as the great catalyst, and though people are still talking over the radio waves, flying, and using computers, they are doing so in a multitude of new ways. We are finally on the cusp of advancements in artificial intelligence that will make our daily routines seem as dated as the standards mentioned above. It’s all on the table now as it never has been before, and it’s the dreamers who will reap the big reward.
Hero Digital is a magical moment. With nearly 20 years in agency business experience, when I heard a team of the best and brightest agency folks I had competed with over the years were joining forces for the first time, I knew I had to be a part of it. World-class designers, engineers who innovate, and a relentless focus on delivering beyond clients’ expectations. The unique value proposition of such a team, constructed to create better customer experiences, was magnetic to me and I knew I had to be a part of it.
Business is like baseball. I have had a passion for baseball my entire life and in my playing days, predominately played catcher. Catchers are responsible for the defensive formation, calling the pitches, and generally managing the game on the field. I equate the CFO role to playing catcher on the baseball field. At Hero, my job is to ensure a solid foundation with financial and operational excellence so the other “players” can focus on their areas of expertise and knowledge to take the business further. With proper coordination and flawless execution, together we generate a winning formula.
A diverse background leads to a diverse knowledge base. I find that Hero has a group of individuals with very diverse backgrounds. Mine is no different, having gone from the graveyard shift for a paving contractor in high school to owning a hotdog stand in college then to a long stretch in public accounting and finally to the agency world where I haven’t looked back. Being exposed to a variety of areas over the years has provided me a unique perspective where I’m able to view a problem from multiple angles and work with others to find the best solution.
Pelé once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” At Hero, with the entrepreneurial spirit in which we operate, we breed success by embodying all of these qualities in everything that we do. Plus – we have fun doing it.
I started programming when I was 13. I always had a passion for technology, way before it was mainstream. I started out creating interactive experiences and video games and I loved how it brought together the best of storytelling and problem solving. I got my first real job in the industry in 1985, working for Sybase when I was 17 and studying at UC Berkeley. It was a small startup in Berkeley at the time, filled with smart, passionate people, and I knew I had found my calling.
Great leaders build great leaders. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have great managers. At Sybase, Oracle, and CKS, I worked for people who listened, taught, inspired, and understood how to build teams. I brought that passion for leadership to Razorfish as their CTO and to my own agency, ThoughtMatrix. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than watching people from those teams go on to become CEOs, CTOs and industry leaders.
Customer experience at the forefront. Since my early days at CKS in 1996, my job has been helping to build experiences with technology. The biggest change has been the rise in the importance of customer experience in the industry. More than ever, experiences are driven by technology, but the greatest technology solutions are the ones you don’t realize are there. I still bring that 13-year-old’s excitement and passion to building experiences and to building the teams that deliver them. That’s what Hero is all about and why I love what we do.
The entrepreneurial spirit is in my DNA. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, my family ran a diner and my father ran his own independent bookstore. At the age of 13, I went to work running the cash register and selling and managing the books. So most of what I learned about business, I learned from my parents at the kitchen table – it literally is in my blood. While I love food and books, neither was a long term fit for me, but I did discover my love for marketing and growing a business.
People fascinate me. In my college days, I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but ultimately was drawn to marketing and the power it has to drive and shape attitudes and actions. Throughout my career, I have had the honor to work with some of the largest brands on the planet, and the core marketing challenge is the same – how to create experiences that connect people with brands in meaningful ways. Technology drives tremendous innovation in the experiences we can deliver for this purpose, and today, that is where the action is.
The only constant is change. Change is a constant and boredom is my worst enemy. That is why I love working with clients: to wrestle complex challenges surrounding the mash up between marketing and technology. I have been steeped in marketing and technology my whole career, and now is the time that this combination is most needed by my clients. I feel incredibly grateful that I am in the right place, Hero Digital, at the right time in MarTech evolution to put my skills to work in creative and interesting ways for our clients every day.
For me it all started with headbanging. When I was in high school, heavy metal was what I lived and breathed. It was then that I decided to build my first website – a fan page for my favorite band. I got hooked on it, and before I realized I was talking with local CEOs about the value of online presence, e-commerce and digital advertising. It was 1999 and I was 16. Having earned my stripes at a number of agencies and software houses in the US and the UK, in early 2007 I founded my own technology services shop. I grew it to a team of 50 people, merged it with an international consulting group, and then finally moved to the US to spearhead our transatlantic expansion. Things have never slowed down ever since and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s all about the execution. If doing business was about having the best ideas, the world would be full of billionaires. Instead, what drives your and your customers’ success is all the hard work that happens behind the scenes when nobody watches. This is exactly why I am excited about being a part of Hero Digital – a practitioner-led agency that takes pride in its ability to execute. Never before had I been surrounded by so many fellow entrepreneurs.
It’s happening now. As cliché as it sounds, we are witnessing the next industrial revolution. The digital revolution transitions the world from the era of mass manufacturing to the era of customer experience. As industries are being turned upside down and new winners and losers emerge every day, I can’t imagine a more exciting time to live.
The founders of Hero have spent the better part of two decades helping clients solve really tough digital problems. Our team lives and breathes CX and leads the industry in defining how new technologies and trends impact the customer experience. Here’s a look at what we’re obsessing about lately.