Ask me your sanest or zaniest questions, and I'll do my best.
Thanks Cameron! Excited to have you doing an AMA. I've got a few of my own:
How long did it take you to go full-time on Authentic Jobs? When did you make the jump?
Did you guys ever take funding? I have the impression that you have been bootstrapped from day 1. Want to share some of your thoughts around that?
Accord to your TGD interview, you have four sons. How do you make time for projects?
You guys are awesome for granting the privilege to do it, Allan. Thank you.
(See my reply to Brent.)
No, bootstrapped since day one. I hope to keep it that way, and I'm thankful we've been able to do it. But admittedly, I've entertained the idea of funding recently, as I occasionally find it challenging to grow as quickly as I'd prefer when new development, which we're doing a lot of lately, is funded exclusively through profitability.
Soon to be five sons next month! And which projects—inside work, or with my family, as both are demanding? I work a fairly regular work schedule, and the rest of my time is consumed with sports practices most evenings and Saturdays, church activities, home maintenance, and everything that being a father and husband demands. Just this week I took off four days for spring break with my sons, and we did everything from go-karts to landscaping to woodworking and more.
Thank you, everyone, for the questions. And a special thanks to the team at LayerVault for the AMA invitation. High fifes all around.
Really great AMA, thanks for spending the time with us Cameron.
Let's really find out what kind of man you are: Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Ha, now there's a question. I'll take John Coltrane and Miles Davis (recordings from the same era) over those choices. I listen to these two far more frequently :)
Thanks for doing this Cameron, I'll start things off with a few questions.
1.What are some of your design influences? How did you come up with your own unique voice in design?
2.Why and how did you decide to start authentic jobs?
3.What are some of the tools you use in your day to day, what kind of setup do you use to create work?
Awesome, thanks Matt. Here goes:
I'm probably too easily influenced by other people and things, to be honest, and that's something I've tried correcting with age and experience. Not just work in our industry, but outside of it, too. I'm still a firm believer that imitating (and re-engineering) the work of others is the best way to learn design. But I also believe it's healthy to occasionally ignore the always-on influence so readily available in industry—especially as we gain experience—and instead explore ideas within the confines of the task or project at hand. (Easier said than done, admittedly.)
In a way, Authentic Jobs started itself. It was a response to requests from employers for help filling positions. Posting those requests publicly (with their permission) on my site was the easiest way to help with their search. Over time, it somehow managed to grow into a business.
I use a 27" iMac for design work and other work requiring a large screen (e.g. order fulfillment, side-by-side spreadsheets, etc.). I use an 11" MacBook Air for the rest, usually seated on the couch in my office. The most frequently used apps are in my dock, in order: Chrome, Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, ReadyShipper, Slack, Skype, TextEdit.
What was the tipping point in your career that lead to you starting AJ? What was the biggest obstacle you've faced between starting up and where it's grown to today?
Thanks, Brent. I'll answer your first question in regards to when I went full-time on AJ. (See my reply to Matthew on how it started.)
I ran Authentic Jobs on the side for the first 4 years. Evenings, weekends, that kind of thing. The tipping for making it a full time gig came when 1) it was almost generating enough income to support me full-time, and 2) I was ready to return to self-employment. It was a leap of faith to turn a side business into a full-time business nearly overnight. Thankfully, it panned out, and I've been running it for the past 4 years full-time. I still do all of the design for the site, and I now have Adam Spooner and Myles Grant who help with the coding, and Andre & Rui in Portugal who work on our iPhone app. The rest of my time is spent doing administrative, business-y stuff.
As for the biggest obstacle I've faced, I'd have to say the constant threat of new competitors or strengthened competition from existing ones. And the lack of sleep from all of that. Creating a job posting system isn't terribly complicated, which makes the barrier to entry low. But we've got a solid business that includes a solid brand, a commitment to giving back to organizations like charity: water, and a fantastic advisory board (Elliot Jay Stocks, Greg Storey, Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain, Khoi Vinh, Sarah Parmenter, Tina Roth Eisenberg, and Veerle Pieters).
That's an impressive advisory board!
As somebody who grew up LDS, I always appreciated the design that the LDS websites and branding had, especially in the earlier days of the internet. What was it like working there? How was it similar and how was it different to working at a more traditional design shop?
Thanks, Jamie. It shared a lot of similarities with traditional design shops and big businesses alike, surprisingly. I was the 16th full-time interaction designer to be hired at the time, and by the time I left three years later, we had close 40. Only the Googles and Yahoos had that many full-time web designers, so we were pretty unique at the time, and we operated much like any other shop.
I came in at a time when the organization was taking the web more seriously than ever before. Today that's even more the case, and great changes are in store under the leadership of Joe Pemberton (Creative Director) and many that work with him.
Biggest takeaway? I learned the difference between "slow" and "cautious". The organization was slow responding to its search feature, for example, which was pretty useless for years. And we knew it, but we didn't act as fast as we could to correct it. On the other hand, we proposed many ideas for Facebook-like features for younger users, and repeatedly (and thankfully) ecclesiastical leaders cautiously pushed back on those ideas to allow time for contemplation and counsel. In short, I learned to be okay with caution, while challenging slowness.
Craziest story from the 90s dotcom hoopla?
Nothing too zany, actually. We grew rapidly and then laid off rapidly like anyone else at the time, but nothing overly memorable. I do, however, have memories of the internet being down, which happened more frequently than today. We killed the time with Counter-Strike matches amongst our team. Not the best use of time in retrospect (obviously), but part of the hoopla from that period.
We killed the time with Counter-Strike matches amongst our team. Not the best use of time in retrospect (obviously), but part of the hoopla from that period.
In related news, there is a LayerVault counterstrike-go server that we sometimes use on Fridays: 188.8.131.52:27015. Password is "robzgrant".
How do you find the patience to wait until something is truly ready before you present it to the world? Is it easier now than it was when you were younger and (presumably) less confident?
Boy, that's a tough one, Chris. In part because there are several ways I could answer that question.
At times, I've gotten caught up in the give-us-your-email-address-splash-page when an idea wasn't fully baked. This happened with Funny Bugs (http://funnybugs.org/). Announcing our idea to the world really didn't gain anything for us other than undue pressure to get it done. And it still isn't anywhere close to done.
Other times, projects have taken way too long, as in the case of my Brooklyn Bridge poster (http://brooklynbridge.io). In hindsight, I probably won't spend that much time and effort on a poster again, as I'm finding it's difficult to recoup the time (and money) invested in a project that spans three years. That isn't to say I'm displeased with outcome. On the contrary, I'm extremely happy with it. It simply means I'll find ways to be more efficient with my next poster.
We're in the thick of a complete overhaul of Authentic Jobs, which we started last summer. 15+ years working in the industry and I'm still amazed at how long it takes to get something right. So, I guess you could say my patience is still challenged today, and I think that helps move the project along.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how would those you interact with rate your Will Smith impersonation?
Wait, Will Smith impersonation? Who said I can do that? :)
Maybe you're asking how those I interact with compare to the couple of days we spent with Will and Jada Smith? We had an outstanding time, and Will is just as fun and casual in person as he in the movies. But I wouldn't place that interaction above any others I've had. I'm lucky to know many wonderful people both inside and outside our industry. Above all, interaction with my family is most important.
I’m curious if you might give some advice to a web designer working toward full-time freelance. How much should one dictate their clientele/industry vs. going in the direction that is “working” or where there seems to be a need? Does it just depend on how desperate I am for work? :)
Maybe there isn’t one answer for this, but I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter!
Excellent question, Jeremy. No, there isn't a single answer. I hope others here will chime in.
My 2c: You can only be as choosy as your financial obligations allow. So I can't answer that without knowing where you stand, which you don't need to disclose.
Instead, I'll offer the same advice I've given others in your situation: Write. Write consistently and passionately. Write about the kinds of things you hope to be doing full-time as a freelancer. Eventually, and by "eventually" I mean about two years**, you'll find you've made a name for yourself, and the kind of work you hoped to attract will probably be knocking at your door. (I made the leap to freelancing full-time only after I had requests for work coming in consistently.)
** I think that period is probably shorter now than it was when I was freelancing full-time 8 or 9 years ago, as Twitter, Dribbble, and just the sheer viralness of the web today is greater than it was a decade ago.
Thanks Cameron! Sort of a personal question, but what impact does your religious beliefs have on your work, if any?
Quite a bit, actually. I believe it sharpens my decision-making regarding whom I follow on Twitter, what products I use, which companies I support, what sites I visit for inspiration and influence, and even how I craft my words.
I don't think I'm unique in this respect, as any individual's values and beliefs (religious or not) probably inform and shape decision-making for the things I just listed. But I attribute a significant portion of the success I've enjoyed, not just in business but in my family and other areas of my life, to who I am because of what I believe.
What does the future look like for Señor Moll? Also do you have anyone you are mentoring or coaching?
I don't know, sinceramente. But I do know my role with Authentic Jobs is morphing into a (largely) managerial role, and I may hand over the reigns on all things design to someone else, possibly this year. We'll see how that plays out.
As for mentoring and coaching? Not formally. But I do feel obligated to offer time here and there for brief Skype chats with younger designers and entrepreneurs. It's not uncommon for me to reply to an email inquiry with, "How about we hop on Skype and chat about this?"
Awesome. Looking forward to see what happens.
Glad to hear that you are open to chatting.
In regards to AJ, where do you draw the line between a traditional job board and a full ATS? More and more clients utilize an ATS and ideally and ATS is tightly integrated into a job board. What's your vision on that?
What do you do when companies are not happy with the return (number of applicants) on AJ? What if this is because of the quality of the job description. Do you provide advice on job descriptions, or do you simply reimburse unhappy clients, although you know the reason they didn't attract enough applicants is because of their job description.
Do you see LinkedIn as a competitor to AJ? Do you think in the future there will still be room for niche job boards? Do you think LinkedIn would ever approach AJ for an acquisition?
I'd even say most companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). As far as Authentic Jobs is concerned, we're "compatible" with just about any ATS out there, as our customers can choose to send applications through their website or third-party service—wherever the entry point is to their ATS. As for an ATS tightly integrated into a job board, I think it's helpful, but bear in mind many employers use more than one resource for finding candidates.
We happily grant a free reposting or full refund if a customer isn't satisfied with their results. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of running Authentic Jobs (even though it's financially painful), as we really try our best to make sure everyone is satisfied with their AJ experience. In many cases where a customer isn't satisfied, we also try our best to assess with the customer why the job is underperforming, and we try to do this by phone when possible. We'll carefully review the wording in the listing, chat about job location challenges, inquire if they've posted elsewhere with greater success, and so forth. (Sometimes we find we've done a poor job referring sufficient traffic; often we find it's simply a tough job to hire for.)
We compete with LinkedIn inasmuch as we compete with anything that connects job candidates with employment opportunities. I do think there's value in niche job boards, as aggregate boards generally produce lower quality results from what our customers tell us, as well as my own personal experience. As for approaching us for an acquisition, I can't speak on their behalf for that :)
How do you stay motivated?
What is your spirit animal?
Favorite Character on Full House?
What is a non-design/tech skill that you learned that came in handy in what you do now?
EDIT: Looks like Cameron didn't like my questions as he skipped mine. :(
I assume you're turning a good profit now, but how did you bridge the gap when you started?
The first four years I ran the business on the side, so that wasn't much of concern. The last four years, in contrast, are a constant concern. I've discovered that being a business owner means you spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not your business will be around in 6 months :)
But to bridge the gap when I made the leap from running it on the side to running it full-time, I took on some client work as a safety net for income. Within a few months the business was doing well enough that I no longer needed to do client work.
Thanks for taking the time Cameron!
Have you ever thought of taking on client work again? If so, then of what kind or for what purpose?
No, haven't thought about it actually. And having called the shots on Authentic Jobs the past four years, it would probably be difficult for me to be in a position where someone else is calling the shots. I can see myself as a creative director who is still subject to upper management, while still having significant control over a project. But I can't see myself returning to be a freelancer doing design work for clients.
I'm headed out to a fathers & sons outing tonight. I'll answer questions later this evening. Thanks for the banter thus far.
I always loved fathers & sons, was there Dutch oven involved? Ok my real question is: are your kids interested in web design? What advice would you give them on being a good designer / finding fulfillment in it if the majority of their day requires being behind a computer screen?
Ps: I gleamed from the great discontent article you served in Mexico. What part? (I served in Guadalajara.)
No Dutch oven this time, though one of the dads was making cookies on a cookie tin over the fire (for reals).
Yes, my sons have an interest in web design. All of them have their own websites. It remains to be seen which of them will have enough interest to pursue it as a career or serious hobby.
It's impossible to do our work without screens, just as it's impossible for a surgeon to work without tools. But what my wife and I are trying to teach them is that screens needn't dominate life or our working hours. Coincidentally, this week was their spring break. I took a few days off from work, and aside from a family viewing of "Frozen" on Tuesday, it was a screen-free spring break. We were outdoors or in the garage working together for most of the break.
I served in the Torreón Mexico Mission and had a super fantastic experience.
Thank you for some very insightful answers.
My question is on your business model and customer acquisition. How did you go about acquiring job listings as well as traffic for AJ?
As you know most entrepreneurs struggle with the classic "chicken vs egg" problem and any advice on this would be very helpful. -- Thanks!
Traffic originally came as a result of writing on my personal blog. (See my reply to Jeremy D. about this.) Somehow I got lucky and made a name for myself as a prominent web designer, readers eventually became customers needing to make a hire or customers referring us to their hiring managers.
Also, as I mentioned in my reply to Brent G., we have a fantastic advisory board whose websites and Twitter accounts have significant traffic, and they refer traffic to us (for which they're compensated).