What's Your Mission? (with Dan Mall)August 21
Dan Mall talks to Anthony Armendariz about his design apprenticeship program, his Philly based design agency SuperFriendly, and his new company SuperBooked.
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Welcome back to the hustle.
For those of you that know me,
you'll know that I spent almost all of my time obsessing about training designers and building design teams.
That's why I'm really excited today to be here with my new friend Dan Mall.
I don't know how many of you guys know Dan Mall,
but Dan is a CEO of his own design studio.
Sorry if I got your title.
They've worked with companies like Google,
New York Times,
Carnegie Mellon, about dot com, Oreilly, TechCrunch, Entertainment Weekly and many, many, many more On and on. Dan's also been a kind of a friend to refer work to my company, which I don't think I've thanked him enough for, And before that he was designed director, a big spaceship. Ah worked at Happy Cog and was a technical editor list apart? Uh, although he's accomplished a lot. I think what I find most inspirational about Dana's his dedication to elevating our industry in training designers. It's It's not an easy task. I know he puts a lot of work into it. Dan wanted to say hi and tell us about who you are, what
you're doing. Yeah. What's up, Anthony? Thank you for having me on the show. This has been I'm really excited for this.
Oh, it's my honor. I guarantee you
cools. What can I What can I tell you about?
Well, I mean, there's there's really three things you know first, you know, give us an overview of ah, you know, super friendly and and what you guys are doing there at your agency, Um, talk about you know, your new product, Super booked. And then let's spend some time talking about apprentices, apprenticeships and the super friendly academy.
So I run a small design collaborative out of Philly called Super Friendly.
it's a thing I've been doing since 2012.
So just about five years coming up in about a month now in five years,
and it's a little bit of a nontraditional kind of agency,
little bit different than most,
which is that the reason is that I'm the only employee of super friendly.
There's nobody else on payroll,
and what I basically do is for every project to try to bring together the right team of people.
And so sometimes those air freelancers,
sometimes those are people that have a full time job.
But maybe you're moonlighting,
and you know I can use them on nights and weekends.
Other times it's collaborating with other design shops or Dev shops or tech shops,
and really just trying to construct the right team for what we're trying to do. So sometimes I need, you know, people that have certain experience in a certain area. Sometimes I need people that can do a lot of production work. Sometimes I need people who are fast. Sometimes I need people who are cheap. Sometimes I need people who are experts, so really just try to combine. You know who are the right people to do this so that we're creating the best product and in the best way that we can so been running it that way since it started, and so far, so good. What? So that's what led you to write that? So there's a couple things I know. One of the things that,
uh, that I worked on when I was a big spaceship was the Crayola dot com redesign and which was a super fun project. I really enjoyed it. The client was great, but I remember this point in the sales process where we walked into Crayola to two pitch and one of the strategists on my team was formerly an elementary school teacher. And when we walked in, we did our intros, and the strategist on the team did his intro and he said, Hey, you know, said his name and said, I'm a digital strategist, a big spaceship. And I, um I used to be an elementary school teacher before that, and the client was like,
Wait a minute like you. So you used to be an elementary school teacher for how long? 10 years, 15 years, something like that. And you're gonna be the digital strategies on this project. Yeah, I was like, Well, basically, Well, then you guys win like that's it Like that expertise is something that every other agency that we've talked to they don't have that expertise in house. So the fact that that that happened was so coincidental for us, it wasn't intentional. But I started to realize then that like if I have the right expertise, then that situation could manifest more and more like I could just I could just win on that.
Now I'm not gonna be able to employ strategists that used to be elementary school teachers and strategist. That used to be marine biologists and designers that used to be in higher, like there's just too many different permutations to employ in house. But I actually know a lot of those people, you know, they work other places and that. But that shouldn't stop me from working with them. So my hypothesis and starting super friendly was well, I wonder if I could build a business without those people working full time, but still kind of bring them together for a short amount of time. That business models called the Hollywood model. I call it the Super Friend model because of branding, but the Hollywood model is is basically modeled after the way that that films are made, you know? So, uh,
movie studios don't employ directors and actors, but that doesn't stop them from making a good movie. So I thought, Well, I wonder if that would stop Stop us from making good digital products, and so far it hasn't.
That's really awesome. I mean, it also makes a lot of sense to when you're working on a project because the skill needs air. Gonna change over the curve of the project. In the beginning. You mean beginning a researcher strategist and he needs some with great U ex chops. And then towards the end, you need, like testing and production design. And if you're if there's only one dedicated designer on that, that entire product, I mean your project chances are they're not great at all those things. I mean, they're probably not right, but being able to rotate around it must be pretty awesome.
I know the other added benefit of that,
It's like I've been really fortunate to work at a lot of agencies and watch agencies grow and shrink and make mistakes and succeed.
And one of the things that has always been a pain for the agencies that I've been part of is having a bench,
like you don't have enough work to have two thio occupied people's time.
So you got people just sitting around,
and you're like,
we could work on internal projects or we could work on that stuff.
But that stuff starts to be a drain on the business.
So one of the things that I was really scared of honestly and starting,
super friendly was like,
What do I do if I have a bunch of people that are just sitting around and I'm running payroll every week? You know, it's not gonna stop me. They're not going to say, Wow, you don't pay us for this amount of time. And so I started. Think of like, Well, how can I get around that problem? Because I see that as a big drain that a lot of agencies have.
That's really interesting. So I need to ask you a question and, you know, I mean, answer. This is honestly as you can. Do you think I could ever find yourself, you know, thinking or dreaming about wanting to hire anyone full time? Or is that just like so in the opposite direction of of where you want to go. Is it hard to resist it
so hard to resist it?
like all of my experience has been working at agencies that have,
60 people 100 people,
and I'm like and one of the things I loved about having those jobs.
It's just having all those people around me all the time.
First of all,
I don't have a precedent for a one person agency.
I've never seen it before,
and it's like I don't like being lonely like sitting sitting by myself,
in my office. And so I like having. I like working with teams. And so there's always this temptation to be like, Well, let me let me hire somebody or let me let me work with somebody more regularly than that, then others, and the thing that sort of stops me from doing that one is that I'm just like I don't know, that I'm ready to be responsible for someone else's livelihood. That's that scares me, and I've seen other people get very, very stressed out by that and, like, I'm the kind of person who learns from other people's mistakes. I don't have to. I don't have to make mistakes myself to learn from them.
So I've seen how that affects other people. I think it would affect me in the same way. So I go. Okay, That's not a problem that I want to have to solve. So let me try to figure out a way to not have that problem and then also that I think the business model prevents me from doing that because what I've been pitching for the last five years is and this is why super friendly is gonna be better than every other agency is because we can pull together a team of experts. You know, we're not just giving work too well. Who on my team is available and you know, not doing anything right now. I'm not re sourcing that way. So the minute I have a full time employee, I have to change my pitch. I'm like, and then it makes me think like, well,
did I actually believe in my pitch? Then? If I'm actually, you know, changing the business model, Maybe Maybe it was maybe it was false that that that pitch actually works. So I actually do believe in it on. And I think that it works. Not all the time. It's not a home run every single time, but I think it gives me an advantage over a lot of the work that I'm, you know, all the other agencies that I pitch against. And so I believe in it enough that I'm like, philosophically. I want to stick with that, even if that means I don't get to kind of scratch that itch of hiring, hiring
I just I just thought I'd ask you about that.
it's something that I think about a lot.
And I suppose that model gives you,
ultimate flexibility and going in whatever direction you want.
If you wanted to put all of your effort on one marquee client for a period of time,
you could do that.
Or if you wanna use the super friendly network,
scale that up and you can go on a wide variety of,
um of directions without having,
constantly worry about playing the you know, the game. You know, quote unquote that a lot of agencies have. Yes. So I think that's that's pretty cool. And, you know, maybe one of these days I'll get you to Austin, and, well, we could have ah, you know, a deeper conversation about that. Um, So I think for a while I was wondering,
you know, what would you know? What were they doing over there? You know, because when you first started your business, it was like a a simple splash page that it wasn't really until we met an upper currents that, you know, I learned what you guys were doing, and I think it's super cool. Um, and so I will ask for more business about that. The super friendly model. Um, so, you know, because I talked to a lot of people,
some people are people that I want to hire it fun size, and I don't. Or maybe working with them. It's freelancers, but I always make sure that I have time to give advice to people that are trying to consult. What does it take to be a super, you know, a super friendly consultant,
Dan says there is no set plan for how one becomes part of the SuperFriendly family. Instead, he keeps a list of people he finds interesting, and when the opportunity arrives, he invites them to collaborate. The best way to know each other is to work together.
For example, there was a time when Dan met a guy who really loves sailing. Sure enough, when an opportunity to create a website for a sailing pro came up, Dan called just the right person.
Dan Mall says that giving someone a project that they are really excited about is the best way to encourage great work.
what do you look for?
You know it's it's so it's it's a weird one because,
like I get people that apply right there like I would liketo headed emails that I like.
I would like to submit a formal application to become a super friend,
and I'm like,
That's way too formal.
there's no application process.
There's not like people that are in or that air out.
So it's interesting that some people kind of read it that way,
and that's certainly my fault for not communicating well enough about it.
What I would I always look out for and this is a thing that I think I've just been doing since I started in this business.
Like I love meeting people.
I am very inspired by what other people do, and especially if they do something different than what I d'oh or even if they do the same thing as IDEO but differently. I'm like, I'm just so intrigued by that. So, like I, I look for people that are doing great work. I try to meet the MC conferences. I try to comment on their blog's. I try to tweet it. Tha might try to do you know all that kind of stuff, too, Just just because I'm curious. And I like to keep tabs on those people you know, just to be like, I want to know what they're up to.
I want to know what they're doing. Are they doing something different than me? What can I learn from them? And so everyone like that I'll generally just try and, like, keep tabs on what they're doing. And and so whenever I meet someone that I'm like, I would love to know, get to know you better. That's a good area for for collaboration. That's like a ripe area for collaboration. I remember reading this article about the About Queen and David Bowie, about how they wrote the song Under Pressure and Brian May, whose that was a guitar player, he said in an interview. After David Bowie died.
He was like, You know, one of the reasons we wrote that song was we wanted to get to know each other better, so we decided the best way to do that was to play music together. So it wasn't like they had this big plan to be like, Oh, we're like, Okay, we're gonna write this hit and then it's gonna it's gonna go viral or whatever, and we're gonna make a lot of money from it. Like the plan wasn't that the plan was like, Let's just hang out. And what like What do we do best and hang it out? We play music, so let's just do that. Let's see what happens.
And I think the same way about agency, collaboration or freelancer collaboration or whatever. Like I use work as an excuse to get to know people better. So if we want to get to know people, we want to get to know each other better. Let's do a project together and let's see how it works. You know, I'll try it twice and and see, see how it goes. And so so you know, whatever people email me and say, Hey, I'd love to be. I'd love to work with you on a super friendly project, My great, Let's get on a call and let's just talk about like I want to know what you're into.
So I ask a couple questions usually, and those questions are like, What do you better? What do you better at everybody then? You know, like what What? What is the thing that you do best in the world? No one else can can do better than you. And that question throws a lot of people off their like, Ah, like I like to write HTML like Yeah, but like you and other you in, like 15,000 other people, what do you do better than anybody else? And it's not. It doesn't have to be like,
Well, I write better Java script than everybody. It could be like, Well, you know, I talked to this one from and developer a couple years ago And what do you do better than everybody else? Like what? Give me the reason to call you. Give me the reason to go. Oh, I know exactly why I should call you. And he's like, Well, like I I'm really into, like, html CSS.
I'm like, Yeah, but that's not It's not deep enough. That's not That's not specific enough. And so as we got talking more, he was like, you know, I really love to sail. I was like, Oh, that's cool that we talked about sailing for a while. Like he takes his kids out every summer and, you know, sales with them, and we just, you know, we're talking about that for a while. I don't know much, but I
think I remember the story. And so tell me if I'm right. So he is an expert in sailing and one and in Ah, a client came around that was in the sailing industry. Like
I'm calling the police.
It's like it's like it was a luxury yacht company that they wanted a new website.
I know exactly who to call.
And it's so it's that kind of stuff that makes me go like,
I want to know what what people are good at.
Because I feel like if I give someone a project that they're really excited about,
they're going to do better work.
if I'm giving them a crappy project,
why would I expect good work? You know, I would expect good work from them, so I want to know, like, all right, if a tech project comes in, or if art project comes in or if an installation thing comes in, like, who are the people that are gonna be really excited about that? And if I could give them really good money and throw them a project that they'd be really great on. They're gonna do excellent work for me, you know, It's like it's just a matter of time then. And so I like to keep tabs on as many people as I can just be like, so that I know when a project comes up,
I know exactly who to call. I'm not like I've never google searching like a PHP developer like, because that's not a good way to tiu establish trust for a client, right? If I don't trust the people that I'm working with, how can I say to a client? Yeah, we're gonna do good work for you. So instead, if I can trust these people, if I have a little bit of a relationship with them, If we have some rapport, then I know exactly how we're going to work together. Or at least I know enough to wanna work together. So that's one question that I ask, like how like what's what's your thing?
You know, I usually ask that, and then I usually go over logistics like you don't tell me about your rates and how do you like to build? You like to build for time? Do you like to do fixed fees? Like, what do you like to do? And and how would you like to work? And what's a dream project looked like between us? Like, what would we what would we work on? And that gives me a much better sense off. I know exactly when to call you on this thing, and I do the same thing when collaborating with other agencies. So it especially with other agencies, What I've tended to do recently is I just send them my essay like,
Let's let's let's write an essay together so and sign an MSC together without a work order attached so that when we get to a point where a good project comes up, we're not figuring out Okay, Well, how would we do this? And who subcontracts under who? And you know what are the terms gonna be here like we already have that stuff figured out so that we can hit the ground running on a work order. So? So I think that principle is one that I try to apply everywhere. So with a you know, with a freelancer. An individual. I may not sign an M S A quite yet, but I want to kind of get like Give me that. Give me the highlights with another agency. There's a little bit more, more terms to kind of workout. So having some paperwork behind it, I think it's helpful.
So do you keep a C R M of all these designers and developers and tagged him on what their skill sets Our adventures
it's it's funny that you ask.
I've kept notes for years and the notes file.
And then I transferred that to a Google spreadsheet,
and I forget who said it.
I'm sure a bunch of people have said it,
a great M v p for any app is how long you been maintaining a Google spreadsheet of it,
I've had this Google spreadsheet for years and I'm like,
I got to turn this into a thing,
and that's that's a part of what Super booked is. So super booked is a is a new app that I'm building with a friend. Uh, sorry for the plug here, but, you know, you were talking about earlier. So I'm still dying for a device, so I will get it to you. We'll talk about that. Our ah so super booked is really you know, one part of super booked is that is you can make lists and you can make any list that you want. So in my personal super booked account, I have lists of designers and developers and art directors and back and developers in front of developers and copywriter. So I have by skill. I also have by geography,
like Philly designers and Philly developers. I have that I have a Dream Team Dream Team list. Like who in my top one. I have agencies to refer, you know. So if I have work that I that I can't do or we're too busy or it's not a good fit for us, but it's still a good project who don't want to pass this along to, you know, so part of Super Book is having these, like little black books of, you know, who are the people that I want to talk to. And for each of those, you can even add personal notes so I could say what what their hourly rate. What might be or this person's in the sailing, you know,
or or, you know, on Lee works part time or moonlight because I have a full time job over here. You know, Minimum minimum project is this. So there's just kind of a notes feel that you can associate with each each person. And so that's that's part of it is like I wanted a place to put it that was more intelligent than a Google spreadsheet like Eventually, I want Super Book to tell me who should be on a project like I don't need to be looking through it. So it's all kind of that's that's like a big part of what Super Book is designed around.
That's really cool. And, you know, for the you know, you're hearing Dan talk about this, and it's it's clear that he spends a lot of time outside of his work like doing this stuff. And I just want to say this because a lot of people ask me, like, What does it take to start a business right? Like, how do you like How does a company like fun size or super friendly like start a business. And the one thing that I tell people and I think you would agree is that, well, it's because it's not. Doesn't necessarily because I'm talented is because I've spent my whole career meeting people.
the whole premise of Super Boat they're like the tagline that we came up with is Super Book connects.
You didn t to your next great gig through people you trust and like when I think about my work,
and I'm curious about about your side,
It's like if this is true for you,
when I think about the best products I've done,
they have always,
like 99% come through a friend of a friend.
I have a friend that either I used to work with somewhere.
Or maybe I met at a conference or at a workshop or something,
and somebody's like,
I work at this company and we were actually shopping around for a redesign. Like, would you would you guys want a bid on it? Or like, you know, Oh, I have you know, my father in law worked at this company, and they need a new website like would you want to bid on that thing or, you know, a person that I worked with at an agency that's now the head of product at some in house, too, you know, in house place and the like. We could use some help on this thing like all of the best gigs are through our that way. I mean, I'm curious to know if that resonates with you or if how if you guys get work, that's
a way for us. Absolutely. I don't I don't think we've ever worked on anything out of over the last four years and maybe 200 projects. I think maybe only two or three like weren't direct referrals.
There you go.
and I feel like that's a really common story,
And and it's crazy that,
there aren't more tools to kind of capitalize on that idea.
So I was like,
after a while it just frustrated that there weren't and I was like,
I guess I'm gonna try and build one,
and let's see how that goes.
And I feel like,
if you called me and you said I have a $40,000 project. We can't do it right now. We're booked up, but you know, I want to pass to somebody I trust. Would you take that between that? And if I got a cold lead for my website for $100,000 project, I would take yours hands down. Like because the qualified lead turns out to be way more valuable than a cold lead that might even be higher. How your priced. But it might fall apart, or the client might not trust in the same way. Like I much rather take the warmly than the cold one.
Yeah, yeah, that's that's that's really smart. Yeah, it's really true. Yeah,
that's that's so That's so we just kind of the lay of the land for
sale. So super booked is currently in an Alfa or a Private Beta. Or were you out with that right now?
So it's in private Beta right now,
like probably for another couple weeks.
We have got some people in there just kind of kicking the tires.
I think it's like there's good functionality in there,
but it's certainly some stuff that just isn't worked out yet,
so probably for the next couple of weeks,
maybe another month or two at most.
We're just sort of having people,
test that people that we trust,
like in there and given a suggestions on what could be better and then sort of opening it up to the public,
that would probably be a staggered release.
It probably wouldn't be like, you know, flip a switch and office and anybody can sign up. But we're probably gonna do maybe something similar to what dribble did, which is, you know, give everybody that's in there. A handful of invitations. I just kind of let it spread organically that way. And that way we can sort of track its growth a little bit or b b a little bit more control of the growth, cause I don't know that we could handle, you know, like a great problem have would be like on day 1 2000 people sign up. I don't know that we could handle that s o I think it would be nice toe have kind of ah, little bit more controlled growth there never built a product before. In this way,
you know, I've heard help clients do that, but never, never actually built one in this way. So I don't know what I'm talking about, but I think that's kind of the way that we're gonna do. We're gonna
So it's It's clear that you spend a lot of time,
meeting people and thinking intentionally about,
building great teams so they can do great work.
But let's talk about what happens when you when you need to,
like pull the switch on a team.
you know what?
Let's talk about Let's talk about the Super friendly Academy because I really want to get to That is I think this the thing that the moat that I'm the most interested in asking about your apprenticeship program seems really amazing.
I I've heard I like it,
I've talked about it a little bit. I've seen some interviews with you, and I recently watched a video that you did it at a conference. I'm I'm sorry, I can't remember which one. But when I
when I had the 99
year, Yeah, it was awesome. So let's talk about apprenticeships because I think it's important. You know, like, um, there was, Ah on so many levels. I think apprenticeships are a great way to get in, you know, like to completely change careers. You know, your bartender and you want to become a designer. Or maybe you're maybe you're a senior designer and just want to go learn a new design industry. It's a great way to, like, tow level up and learn. But you you have you have you have made a program of this tell us about the super friendly academy.
So Superficial Academy is a nine month apprenticeship program.
I'm a word guy,
so I think that there's a big difference between internships and apprenticeships,
so I can talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes.
But it's an apprenticeship,
not an internship.
It's not shallow like an internship would be.
And it's generally four people who are like like you described,
people that have like Oh,
I heard this design thing is cool.
I heard this tech thing or coding is good,
but I don't know,
really. I don't know much about it. It's not for, you know, I'm a junior designer and I'd like to level up to be a senior designer. I think there are a lot of good programs that are already out there for that. What I found lacking was, you know, I'm a substitute teacher. How did I get into Tech? You know, so that Sze mostly designed
First of all, if you had a lot of success in life, chances are you had help along the way. It is important to pay it forward for the others to have the opportunities to grow and to gain in life.
Second, tech industry has a diversity problem. Helping potentially excellent candidates with outside perspective to get a seat at the table could improve the industry as a whole.
for that particular. So why do you care about that?
First of all, if you had a lot of success in life, chances are you had help along the way. It is important to pay it forward for the others to have the opportunities to grow and to gain in life.
Second, tech industry has a diversity problem. Helping potentially excellent candidates with outside perspective to get a seat at the table could improve the industry as a whole.
a lot of reasons.
So one is that,
like so many people did that for me when I started.
I talked to a lot of people who don't have mentors.
And I'm like,
I've had hundreds,
like I I don't know what it's like to not have a mentor,
and I certainly wouldn't like I'm I feel like I'm very fortunate to be where I am today.
I'm not really wanting for anything.
I have run a successful business.
I'm able thio have time to spend time with my kids and vacation and and also build products and experiment with things.
And like that's enough those opportunities that a lot of people don't have. And so I feel like I wouldn't have been able to do that, had other people not spent time with me to show me the ropes and show me how things how things work and how they could go and get better. And, like, really spending time with meat it toe to help me develop that. So one is that's just the idea of paying it forward. You know, I feel like if I didn't do that, that would be just total drag. Like if I was like, Great. I'm glad people did that for me. Now I'm not gonna do that for anyone like you just be so selfish. So I think that's that's one part of it. The other part of it is like,
you know, in our industry we have, we have a diversity problem like it is, it is incredibly problematic, and it there's it's no surprise why. I think the products that we build a really shallow it's that we have generally a very myopic perspective on what the world needs, and I don't think that that's malicious in any way. But I think that it's it's a thing that, um when we have a bunch of people that think a certain way we're going to get a one sided view of how the world works. And, um and I have seen this this gap. What kind of growing in that? There's a ton of people. I'm sorry. There's a There's a handful of people that are very, very good at what they dio designing coding,
product managing project manager like professionals in our in our industry, in Digital in tech that are, you know, that are just moving from company to company and their going from $60,000 a year to 8 to 100 to 1 20 to 1 40 toe, 202 to 50. And they're moving around Silicon Valley and Austin in New York. And look at all these all these places and these people get horse traded from company to company. They work at Google, and then apple poaches them, and then Facebook poaches them, and then Spotify approaches and, like an Airbnb poaches and then they just like they get better and better. And that's awesome. That's great for our industry. But then there's this whole other faction of people that don't that don't have any access into that and the better the people on one side get the wider that gap increases. So,
like, I think the stat from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was last year eight million people unemployed in the U. S. And also at the same time something like, Ah, 200. I don't have the saddle atop my head. I apologize that something like 200,000 vacant tech jobs or I t jobs, right? So like Well, there's eight million people that are unemployed. And there's all these tech jobs that are vacant, like can't one thing feel the other? Don't those two things match up in line up pretty well?
And the problem is, there's no one to help those people in that faction move into those jobs like nothing allows them to do that. So the only way that the tech companies can fill those vacant jobs as they go well, let's take the people who already know how to do it and let's put them in into those those jobs. And so that recirculation, I think, widens this gap between these two, these two types of people and in the in the unemployed type of people, there are a lot of stereotypes that exists a lot of generalizations that tend to be true. Those air generally lower income people. They're generally urban. They're generally they're generally people of color. And those are the people, not coincidentally, that we want more of in in our industry. So,
like, there's this whole gap between these two, these two groups of people, and I think that apprenticeship is a great way to bridge that gap. I think it's like apprenticeship is when you take somebody and you say I'm gonna show you the ropes like I'm going, You're going toe. If you think about the way that blacksmiths were apprenticed in the 18 hundreds, they would you know, You take a seven year old kid and you go, you're gonna move in with me for the next nine years and they move in with you and you teach them how to blacksmith. But you don't just teach in the craft. You teach them how to be a professional. You teach them how to wash their clothes and make their bed and be clean and cook. And how to charge a customer when they come in and howto do customer service. And how to speak to someone who wants a new horseshoe on their horse. Like all of that stuff,
whatever. But there's not a lot of Let me show you how to meet deadlines. Let me show you how to scope a project. Let me show you, show you how to make a client happy without compromising your own beliefs. Like that stuff like I've never seen a course on that you like. I've never seen a skill share on that. A lynda dot com course on that, and I don't think I don't think those things there for that. But I think apprenticeship is where we can put some of those those
There's so much there and what you just said.
But let me let me try to break down so excited about some of the bigger point in not in any particular order.
But there have been a prayer phrase here.
But you said,
choosing people to work with you that are not like you are is generally a great thing is for everyone.
that to me like,
is pretty much how we run our business.
Like if I If if everyone is an orange,
then all you're going to get his orange flavor design.
if you have,
people in my I don't understand why this is such a challenge for people because to me it's the default.
You wanna have the most diverse team, different walks of life, you know, seniors and juniors and people from everywhere. Put these people together and, you know, in their different shapes and flavors. And that's how you're gonna get great things that I I don't know how. I mean unless you're like a heavily funded Bay Area company, I don't know how you're able to always employ that. You know the top, you know, 10%. And if you're an agency, I don't know how you're making a profit without investing in in juniors, and then,
Furthermore, investing in juniors is not necessarily a burden. When you're training someone, you're thinking about how to do something. You're leveling yourself up. Um, I don't know. Absolutely. And, you know,
I add one.
because I think it's It's so the port,
the point that you make is so important about,
like you gotta work with people who don't think like you do like that's diversity,
like we think about diversity as you don't like.
and so diversity is somebody who's not white,
like somebody who's brown or yellow or black or purple or red or whatever.
That's diversity totally agreed.
But even if you have a team that is white and black and green and brown and red and yellow,
if all those people think the same way, then it's actually not really diversity, or at least is not in that way. So so Diversity includes all of those different angles that includes, like people, skin color. But it also includes where they're from. It includes, like whether or not like somebody who is suburban minded versus somebody that's urban minded, those air different perspectives, somebody that grew up in the hood and somebody that grew up in, you know, in on a farm, those air, different mindsets and like having all of those mindsets represented on a team makes for great, great product cause.
It makes for great debate and makes for a good discussion and makes for multiple points of view, like it's just It's just so, so good. They're like What? One example that I want to share is I was talking to Bob Baxley, who was the former head of Pinterest, the head of design. It pinches me also it apple before this story with yeah, he was admitted that dude is super smart. I could like I just want to eat his brain like he shared the story to me about. There was an app that was built at a hackathon that was like, I think, an urban urban centered hack a thon and and these kids built an app to help you schedule your court date right to like in their neighborhood. Everybody has a court date and people get arrested and thrown in jail for missing their court date. So they built an app to help remind you when your court date is now, I've never had a court date.
Luckily, I've never been arrested, have never been detained for anything what I would it ever has it ever occurred to me to build an app to help you remind you about your court date? Never. Never does it occur to, and I'm gonna stereotype a little bit here. Does it occur to, uh, you know Bay Area companies? Probably not. Does it occur to inner city Chicago kids? Probably. You know, and and I think that's the kind of my O p A. That I'm talking about. It's like if you don't have that perspective represented,
why would you ever think that that was a need? Why would you even know that? That's indeed, you know, and that's like that's like innocent ignorance. But it's still it's ignorance, you know, and I feel like that that that different perspective makes us go well, instead of building another to do AP, like maybe we should build a court date up, you know, and to some people, that sounds ludicrous. But then when you think about it like, Well, wow,
that actually provides a a great service for people like that's stopping people from going to jail like that is an important thing in our society. And and but there aren't There aren't as many people focusing on that problem as there are like howto get howto make a new calendar app, you know? So I think that's I think that's an important thing about, like, why something like an apprenticeship is a useful tool in solving
I mean it,
at least with with you and I,
there's no argument.
you gotta have these these kinds of this way of thinking in these kind of programs in place to do great work.
there's there's obviously a lot of other benefits for,
business owners that we don't necessarily have to talk about today unless you want to.
like there's math,
you've you've you've shown the math at a high level in your video.
Anyone wants to see it should look at it.
But you know, there there's there's a lot of things to consider when you're building a team from, you know, like if you have a whole bunch of senior people, for example, how long is it gonna be until Facebook, you know, like, steals them all right? Except all that money, exact all that money you spent in training them. And if you're not, you know, like built building up, then I don't know, like,
and I don't really know if no one ever gave me a guidebook. This is This is how you do it. But at our shop, we make sure we try really hard to make sure our team is balanced in super senior people make rare people in juniors, which include apprentices. So it's intentionally 33 33 33. And it's not just too nice build a diverse team, which is probably the most important thing. But it's also to make sure that we're that we're able Thio put, um, fulfill the needs of a wide variety of projects and budgets and concerns and area areas of interest, and I just don't think a lot of people and there's obviously lots of people that, you know, having building apprentice programs. But I think you're you're yours is probably one of them, one of the more,
um, thoughtfully constructed. So from what I mean, tell me from wrong. But from what I understand, it's a nine month program. The 1st 3 months are completely unpaid, and it's just about learning building the fundamentals and the the the next three months or paid. But it's more about putting those things into practice, like, you know, you know, starting at, you know, certain areas that are, you know,
low risk. And then in month nine there, um, they're working on like, you know, master projects and getting ready for looking for their next step because you don't employ them. So you're you're putting them out there And I know you've never said this unless I missed it. But is there is There is a part of the reason why you do this to, like, help your local economy, like are you? Is a side is a side gold here that liked you elevating the quality of design in Philadelphia.
I think like I love Philly.
I was just about born and raised here.
I grew out of love for it when I moved away to Brooklyn for a couple of years.
absence makes the heart grow fonder.
As soon as I moved to Brooklyn,
I was the Philly guy.
I was the Philly guy at my New York agency,
um and I love that and my family's in Philly.
And so certainly anything that I can do for Philly I will do like I've worked on Philly dot com and it was one of my favorite projects in the last couple of years just because,
I've used it every day, like I read Philly dot that's where I get my news. How awesome is it that I get to help improve that experience for myself and for other people? So, like, certainly helping local agencies of local product shops by helping to foster talent and grow talent that is like grown here and harvested here and put to good use here? That's definitely want. That's definitely important, but it's certainly not exclusive. I think you know, I don't encourage any of my imprudence is to stay in Philly unless they want to stay in Philly if they want to go elsewhere. I think it's a good excuse to go elsewhere like I've had had one apprentice. He was like his dream was. Thio was to ski, you know, he's like,
he's like, I just want to ski like I want to have enough money that I can ski and I can't do that work in a convenience stores. And I was like, Great. So learn to be a developer freelance, you know, like, and work for six months and go ski for six months, you know, like, and he's not gonna do that in Philly. There's no good skiing in Philly, but he can go. You know, I have a bunch of friends that do the same thing. They go and work for six months of freelance with natives.
See, then they go up to Whistler for six months, or then or then they go to, you know, to thio, Utah to Colorado or wherever you know, and just ski for six months until they run out of money, and then they and then they freelance again like that's a pretty good life for somebody who wants to do that, like, that's pretty much awesome. So So if that's something that apprentice wants to dio, I certainly I'm not gonna stop them and say no, no, you gotta like this is for Philly. Like, you got to do it for Philly.
When Dan was moving into a new house in Philadelphia, his brother in law offered to help with house renovations in exchange for Dan teaching him to design. Nine months later, Dan had house, and Greg had a new job!
Well, um, just to kind of put this in perspective, maybe you could just tell us really quick this story of your apprentice, Greg.
When Dan was moving into a new house in Philadelphia, his brother in law offered to help with house renovations in exchange for Dan teaching him to design. Nine months later, Dan had house, and Greg had a new job!
So Greg was my first apprentice.
Greg was also my brother in law and the when we moved back to Philly,
we moved into this old church that was,
pretty run down.
you live in a church too?
it's not as glamorous as it sounds.
It's like it's not like a like a church with a steeple or anything like that.
But it's like a a building that used to be the community trip.
maybe when they had 30 people here, then they outgrew it and they moved to a proper church building. And then they left this one. But But you would drive up to it, and you'd be like, What's that weird purple triangular window? Just like stained, glassy looking window in the front. Like a lot of people. If I order pizza people, the delivery person will always be like, What is this building I'm like? Well, it's my house, but it used to be a church like, Okay,
now I get it. It's kind of weird looking. It looks a little bit like a house, but it looks like, uh, something else Weird, too. So we moved into this place is pretty run down, and I'm terrible with renovations or home improvement. Like I'm just awful with my my hands. But my brother in law, he's kind of worked all these odd jobs every year, like he worked in roofing one year, and then he worked at a convenience store, and then he worked retail, and then he worked building pools,
and he was just tired of doing that. So he's like, Look, let me make you a deal. If you like, I will renovate your house for you. Enough that you could live in it. So I'll do demolition and I'll put up new drywall like like just get it in good shape for you to move into. If you teach me how to be a Web developer. House like, Yeah, that sounds great. Like that's a great deal. It's a great deal for me is a great deal for him. So he and a few friends kind of got our, um,
our house in good shape. And then he spent nine months with me, and we didn't know it was gonna be nine months of the time. It was more like, Well, just, you know, hang out a couple days a week, bring a laptop, I'll give you some books. So you know, we'll do some lessons and when to get to the good point, maybe, like, pull you into a couple of projects that I'm working on. I'm so is very organic,
like No, no real curriculum or anything. And then around the 99 ish month mark a dish months, Um, you know, we looked over his past work and I was like, You know, I think you have seven or eight solid portfolio pieces. You could probably pull together a portfolio that shop around. So he spent a couple weeks making a portfolio, shopped it around and within, I think, six days of when he first sent it out, he got a job offer from an agency in Philly. So now he's, you know,
he's a developer. It up on an agency in Philly called Blue Cadet. And he's building, like, touch screen kiosks that if you go, you know, if you go to any museum, they work on that kind of stuff. So, like all the touch screens that you see in these in these museums, all these installations, he's building all of
that stuff. That's really cool down, man. And so how many? Um, you just recently opened this up, right? For app for people to formally apply, like Hominy. Hominy did. I'm sure Inbox is full. I mean, how do you like How are you gonna How are you deciding who makes the cut and how many do you have a time?
I've had up to five at a time.
and that was in one way more taxing than than having one.
I guess obviously,
but in other ways,
that was like,
this kind of solved itself a little bit,
because if I have wanted a time,
I'm teaching that person,
one of the time.
But if I have if I have five at a time,
and they're not like a cohort That's not like five who start at the same time.
It's more like,
you know, a person starts and another one starts two months later, and then another one starts a month later, like the more advanced ones can help the one that air, what the ones that are behind because my time is still limited. Like I still do client work. I'm on phone calls all the time, and oftentimes I'm on a phone call when somebody's having a problem debugging a browser bug or something, and I can't always be there to kind of help talk them through it. So instead, some of the other apprentices are like I got this one I'll help out. And so it's nice to kind of have that staggering. So I've had up to five at a time. One of the things I want experiment with with is like what happens if I have 10 at a time or 20? A timer like What's What's the cap like, Where does it stop scaling, or where does it get to the point where it scales like out
of control? For then you, then you get to bring
exactly and which,
I don't know if that's a bad thing.
maybe that's maybe that's what it should be.
Or maybe it's not so I'm not sure.
I just haven't quite figured that out yet,
like you said,
I opened it up.
when I did that talk in 99 year,
I kind of opened it up and said,
anybody can apply and I'm sitting on,
50 or 60 e mails that I just haven't gotten back to you And like so anybody listening that applied. I'm sorry. I promise I'll get back to you. It's just like it's just on the list of things to Dio, um, and so really, the bottleneck that I'm finding, which is obvious in hindsight, but but the bottleneck I'm finding, it's just like how quickly can I get back to people about us about some of this, because not all of them are are going to go through with it. You know, like I've had people apply from India and the U. K. And New York and Philly. And,
you know, I haven't quite figured out how to do a remote one yet, so I kind of required that they have to be in Philly and be in the space with me. And a lot of people said, I'll move. I'll move to Philly for nine months. I'm ready to do this. But what I find is that there's a good majority of people that are already over qualified for it, You know, like there get a bunch of people that apply that I like. You don't have a little bit experience with WordPress. I've been kind of hacking sites together. And I've been, you know, I've been designing a little bit on the side, and posting was up some stuff to dribble.
And I'm like, Well, you already have, like, what an eight month apprentice would have, you know, like you already have that stuff. So rather than moving to Philly for nine months and really not getting paid for most of it, you know, you're you're not gonna make a lot here. I pay a little bit, but I don't pay a ton. Uh, rather than doing that, why don't you volunteer to take an unpaid internship at a local agency, right?
If you're already willing to give up nine months of your time for free. Just about. Why don't you do that at an agency that you could get a full time job with afterwards, right? Just get your foot in the door, call him up and say, Hey, I'd love to do a three month unpaid internships where you just get to learn from you. And I'd love to talk to you about after that about if I do well, whether or not I can stay and you pay me as a junior person or as a paid intern or something like that, that's much more viable because after the apprenticeship here, like you said, I don't hire people full time, So if I don't hire people full time, you've got to start that thing all over again after nine months. Right now,
you have to apply. Now you have to find agencies and get your foot in the door there. So you might as well get a nine month head start on that. If you've already tinkered around with WordPress or designing or whatever, Well, great. You're already ahead of a lot of where a lot of apprentices start, you know, So If you're at that point, call your local agency and say, you know, I'll do for free. I just wanna hang out because that's what you'd be doing
I think a lot of people just forget that That's an option.
I think that you know,
not to discount some of these other programs.
some of them are really good for the right people.
But some people are spinning,
12 grand till I go through General Assembly or something.
And they still needed a like apprenticeship,
Like I think,
for sunlight people,
it might be better just to go take an unpaid or paid apprenticeship and learn and,
you know, and learn that way. And or maybe, you know, maybe there's a chance you'll get, you know, get paid a small wage. But that's sometimes better than like, you know, going into debt, toe learn, you know, like I mean for everyone. There's exactly for an options at our company. We've always had an apprentice program, but it was never It didn't really start as like Oh,
this is didn't start out as a We wanted train designers. It was out of necessity because we knew that in Austin we're gonna need to train designers to be effective at product design. That's changed in the last five years. There's the, you know, the you know, there's a lot more designer, sir. Now that used to be. But we've always we've always done that. We always knew that it would be a n'importe way to make sure we're the growing the team because we don't. We know we can't always, you know, hire senior. So, you know,
we hire is many of them as we can, but I don't know, I Sometimes I wish that young people would, um or even if they're just interested in You know, what the difference of, like working at your company versus my company is it's very low risk to take an unpaid internship and go find out.
Because you're not.
If you ask somebody to pay you,
you're asking them to take a risk.
If you say Look,
I just want to be around,
take no risk,
Don't pay me.
Just let me let me hang out for a bit.
I would be like,
that's a no brainer that you want to come here and hang out and see what we d'oh and then one day you might be able to contribute to it.
that like this, there's very little downside to that. I mean, there are a few, but like, the upsides outweigh the downsides. And you know, Anthony, I'm sure I'm sure you've seen this to like. It's hard to talk a client into $100,000 project. It's much easier to talk them into a $10,000 discovery project and then parlay that into the next $90,000 gig. Once you got your foot in the door, it's It's so much easier. And so the same thing applies for interns or getting your first job volunteer like If you want to do that, you know, do it like that.
That's a way to get your foot in the door. But you can be upfront about what your expectations are, too. I'd like to do it unpaid for three months, and then I'd like to talk to you about what it looks like to be paid for. After that, I like I would respect that. If somebody said that to me, you know it shows initiative. It shows that you have a plan. It shows that you're willing to work toward something. It shows that there's an end date like it creates accountability, like there's a lot of good that comes from that. And honestly, that's the kind of stuff that I try to teach. My apprentices is like.
Here's how you negotiate a thing, whether it's negotiating with a client or a freelance rate or, you know, or negotiating a design review or something like that, like it's the same skill, you know. So if you if you're already willing to do that up front, that's a great sign for any employer.
I think another quote you said was,
tell me from wrong,
but it's something like I'm gonna teach you design,
but you can apply that to life,
and I think that's right,
there's a lot of opportunities for people to get in.
I think there's a lot of opportunities for people to get into design.
Not everyone is going to be successful at it,
but there's ways to get into this field,
from my perspective and where I said like I look more at the culture fit like,
the way someone's wired and and and you know and what they feel like, you know, hanging out with, you know, I I know that I have toe make sure that someone is prepared before they get staffed under, You know, our design directors toe, like, you know, be responsible for client work, but and we don't have, like, a You know Avery, you know, formal program. It's it's pretty much sink or swim, but we've We've found a way, I think, to make make it happen. I probably need to get your opinions on the way our program works sometime and see if we can figure out a way to make it better.
like one of the things specifically with my program.
it is a It's a thing that I did to challenge myself,
to see if I could figure it out.
So I'm like,
I see a problem here.
I would like to see if I could fix it,
and that the problem is the idea of self starters,
So many people say well,
what you're looking for.
self starters well,
if you got self starters and really you have little role as a mentor because a self starter can can go through it like that's the whole point of them being a self starters,
that they can do it on their own. There's not. They don't really need that mentorship. Will it help? Absolutely. But they don't actually need it. So for my version of the apprenticeship, I'm like, Well, these aren't self starters like that's the point. The point is they do need help. They need handholding. They need training, you know, in order to do that. Some people learn that way,
and that's okay. Like I don't I don't buy the mentality that self starters are the only people that can make it in this industry, I believe you know, and I could be wrong about this. But look, my hypothesis right now is that you can create self starters. You can turn someone who is not a self started into a self starter, and I have some evidence of that. I also have some evidence to the contrary, some sort of baton 500 on that one. I'm not sure
how it's gonna met out yet, Yeah, I, um you know, I think I almost wish you and I lived in the same city because I feel like we could hang out every night and and have some wonderful conversations about this. When I was when our company started to grow and I was going to the transition of figuring out well, am I really a designer anymore? And my creative director of my CEO, like, what am I? Hey, um, when I did, when I really thought about it, I realized that the only thing that really cared about was training designers and
interesting. Wait. What? So why is that important for you? I'm curious. Like I'm always curious about why other people do it because I'm like, I know why I do it. But that doesn't mean it's the same reason for everybody else. So, like, why is it important
there's There's really two reasons.
The 1st 1 is pretty much what you said.
Like my I've always had a mentor.
but I've always sought one out,
someone to learn from for,
for different reasons.
But the 2nd 1 that may be a little bit more more powerful to me is that,
um I just,
here it is.
So I was going through a really rough time.
Just battling with where Where am I, right, you know, because I went from the guy. That was that thought he was responsible for, like, 98 90% of the pixels to the person that was just doing sales. And I started going through these periods of time, like, why am I even valuable on this team anymore? Like, should I even be here like, do you know, like, do I do I deserve to be all in this company that created and I really struggled with that and then I'd really thought about it. And I started to notice and patterns throughout my career,
no matter what I was doing. Like I first started out freelancing And what did I do? I went and how you know, training my brother howto do html because I needed someone to help me, like with my little freelance business. And then when I went when I worked at behavior, I wasn't like I was not like the best design I would definitely not the best is under there. But I made it a point to, like, train Up the junior designer so that we could all do better together and, you know, And then I met my wife, and I realized that most of the people that I surrounded myself with, where people that I that I was training on how to do design and in that in all those years that I thought I was doing the design myself, I really wasn't. I realized that I was the kind of guy that was better at assembling the right team and setting that success, not necessarily the best designer in the room.
Interesting. It's scary to me how how closely our our mentality is a lot on that one, because I've always felt the same way, like I've always been okay, designer and ah, but just okay and what I am more passion about and what I think I'm better at is helping other people who are already better than me eat, get even better than that, you know, And so, like, I feel like that's that really is my chief skill. It is being able to do that, and I think that there aren't a lot of people that do that. So I figure, well, if you know if they're, if they're more people that are actually better designers. But they just need a little bit of unlocking and and I'm a person that can do that for them. Maybe that's the way that I can provide. Value is is in that way. So it's curious to meet it always to kind of meet people that have that kind of same skill set.
I think there's nothing that makes me feel better than seeing people leave our studio and go go do amazing things.
obviously I don't want people to leave,
but but But I feel the same if someone is successful staying in our company and if someone is successful outside,
so I don't know,
I just try to look at that and that way,
and I think that's what you know.
That's what keeps me ticking.
That's why I was really That's why I'm very excited to have you on the show.
I know we're supposed to have this conversation months ago,
but I really appreciate you making time toe,
to talk about all these awesome things that you're doing.
That's my plan. I know you got a lot going on, but like, what? You know, what do you hope to accomplish this year? Ah,
that's a good question.
so super booked is on my mind a lot.
it I just wrote a post that's gonna be published probably in another day or two about,
there's this There's this great site that Alex de Los used to run the pastry box.
He now has a new site called Super Yes,
And it's all about productivity.
So he asked me to write something for him.
And so this is like,
fresh in my mind and one of the things about productivity for me in a lot of the reading that I'm doing is ah,
lot of it is based on,
you know, what's what's my mission and what really setting aside time to accomplish that mission. It sounds like, Well, oh, man, I don't know what is my mission, and what I come would have come to and arrive. That so far is I think that my mission, at least when it comes to work, is connecting people to opportunities that they would have had otherwise like. I feel like that's the thing that I'm good at, and that's the thing that I can do for people. And, um and so that's what that's kind of what's been on my mind, like from a high level in a taste for the next quarter.
So I've set some quarterly goals for myself. Is this like a handful of them? And they're all kind of centered around that thing. So, like so one of them is just getting Super Book Live, because I think part of that is Super Book can help people get gigs. You know what help can help freelancers and agency owners and and like that whole feast or famine thing that comes with freelancing or to client service? Maybe we can reduce that scariness and that fear so that more people can do it, or that the same amount of people can do it more effectively. So so that's that's one thing. And the same thing is true for super friendly. I think super friendly counts as part of that is that that it's about connecting clients toe opportunities that they might have had. And to be honest, some of that opportunity might be better revenue, you know, or some of that might be just making more money.
But some of them, they also might be reaching an audience that I might not have been able to reach without, you know, that app for that site? Or that you know, that social strategy or whatever it is. So So I've been trying to focus, focus on, you know, very tactical things, but also through the lens of not gonna help people. How can I help connect people to those opportunities that that maybe it's like just a little bit out of reach? And certainly the apprenticeship kind of applies in that in that same vein to is, you know, people that are like super smart and really ambitious and passionate. But they just need that little bit of like, extra skill set that they weren't able to have on their own. To be able to go on do do great things. So what's next for me is really just figuring out how that manifests like in APs and Service's and training and talking and conversations
Well, Danna, you know everything that you you've done is awesome. I mean, what you do for the industry is awesome. I love watching you speak, um, love to hang out some more. So if you ever find yourself in Austin, give us a holler. And maybe if I'm out your way well, together, hang out more often.
That would be awesome. And you said, you know, I would love it if you if you lived nearby. So if you ever want to move to Philly, I can. I can do something to scare my neighbors away and make some of those houses
vacant. I'm sure we could probably do something to make get one of us on a plane. I think
we could probably Yes, I'm all for
that. Well, Dan, how can people find you on inter webs?
Ah, the best way is Twitter. Eso I'm dan mall on Twitter d a n m a l l Molik the shopping mall. That's probably the best way I keep g m's open. So anybody condemn me. That's probably the easiest and fastest way to get a hold of me for anybody that prefers email Dan at daniel mall dot com Oh, man, Those are problems that the best ways.
Thanks, Dan, for making time. Thanks everyone for having opportunity of the House of Caste will see you next time vessels made by Fun Size, A digital design agency that works with inspiring product teams around the world. Learn more about us at fun sized dot CEO Season of hustles Brought to you By Design Inc. Best place to find creative talent and receive free proposals for your project. Go to designing dot com slash hustle and get started today. If you're a designer and you'd like to join, you can apply it designing dot com slash Apply also thanks to graveyard teeth for the Music and Black River Audio for mixing the show.