Architect Zaha Hadid has her undergraduate degree in Mathematics.

Interview with a Writer & Investor

Nate Bolt & Mo Mo Mo "Who Needs Books?" 2011

NAME: Rick Webb

JOB TITLE/OCCUPATION:   Writer & Investor

PROFESSION/INDUSTRY:  Tech

EDUCATION:  B.A., International Economics, Boston University (1992). Board of Directors of the VCU Brandcenter, a graduate business school in advertising and communication. 

ADDITIONAL PURSUITS & AREAS OF INTEREST:  Weird noisy rock music, going to rock festivals, economics, advertising, collecting things, helping people with their businesses, Sarah Moon, Nabokov, Ellen Von Unwerth, Anaïs Nin, Bill Drummond, internet culture, all natural colas, thai food, peter saville, factory records, bourbon, sci fi, electronic cigarettes.

WEBSITE:  www.rickwebb.net

What is your educational background, specific to your profession?

I originally wanted to be an architect, and got a number of scholarships to prestigious architecture schools. I freaked out at the last minute and decided to go into computer science again, at Boston University. I switched to International Relations with a concentration in economics. All of these things interested me. Generally I’ve always had a creative side and a nerdy side, so naturally I fell into the internet when it came around, and, from there, advertising for 12 years. I recently left advertising to pursue writing and working with tech startups. I write fiction and non-fiction, and the startups are a good mix between tech and creativity, so both sides are satisfied now. The economics is being used again as I write a book about advertising & economics, and the international relations part has come in handy when I sold one of my companies to some Koreans. The computer science has come in handy throughout. So though I never went into a field explicitly linked to any of my concentrations in college, they’ve all been relevant.

What was your most valuable experience, that gave you the tools and insight to working in advertising?

Picking any one thing is hard. It would have to be running my own company for ten years, though of course that’s a bit of a copout. But running the company for ten years let me get to know and work with almost every major ad agency in the US as well as many major brands. I saw a million different ways of working and rapidly learned what works and what doesn’t both from an agency management POV and a specific campaign POV. I also had the benefit of working on maybe 40 projects at a time for ten years, so I have literally launched thousands of websites, and I have a really good instinctive understanding of what’s going to “click” and what’s not now that helps immensely when considering investments in tech.

If I had to choose one job where i learned the most, it would have been at Arnold Worldwide, when it was one of the best agencies in the country, on the Volkswagen account, under Lance Jensen and Alan Pafenbach. It was my first real experience working in an organization that valued creativity and organized itself around supporting it. I had also worked at agencies before, but it was the one where I really learned about the account side, and the clients. It was eye opening and highly educational.

As a working professional, what changes have you seen in your industry that have significantly affected how you work?

Haha oh man it is so different now. When we started there was no Friendster, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter. Social media didn’t exist. iPhones didn’t exist. Mobile was a distant dream. We had “send to a friend” functionality, “e-cards,” and AOL instant messenger. That’s it. Every campaign not only had to have a  great idea, but literally had to invent how you were going to get the word out. I had a realization the other night that right now, personally, with the number of twitter, tumblr followers, etc., that I could just send a single link and get more eyeballs than we could have gotten with $50,000 of marketing ten years ago. It’s insane how much more geared towards sharing links and moving traffic the web is compared to ten years ago. That’s the big one. The other one is that there are so many more people doing it today. There are literally hundreds of great digital creative shops. When we started, there were maybe 5 or 10, tops.

With regards to the new generation of ad people, what are the skill sets that you are seeing?

The kids today are awesome. They are driven, smart, passionate, hard working. However, I recognize that this is probably because these are the kids I come across: the ones who care about their careers and work hard. That is, exactly opposite of the kids I hung out with when I was 22. My opinion changes of them when I got to a concert. Ha. No, but I have no qualms with this generation. They’re great. They do less coke than our generation, which is a big plus. The men have more beards and less hair product, which is great too – we are seeing a countercultural movement against metrosexuality, at least in some of them. However, they all seem to wear the same button down plaid shirts, and don’t wear enough black, but i guess we can’t have everything. The music is better too. We had the cure and new order and maybe 20 other great bands, but these guys have thousands. It’s amazing.

When I was a kid, maybe 1 in 500 of us, if that, could write code. Now it’s probably 1 in 50. That’s awesome. I like that.

Specifically to advertising, what i love about the kids is they’re not in it to make TV spots. They don’t aspire to be film directors or novelists – well, not very often. They want to work on the internet, they want to make cool shit on the internet. I like that a lot. They don’t treat the internet like it’s a ghetto.

What would your advice be to someone who wants to work in advertising &/or to the institutions and instructors that are providing them with the education & “tools” they need to work at an agency?

Most of the deficiencies I find in the kids often have a mirror image to management. I admit I occasionally find myself thinking the “old person” thoughts about “god, this kid is eager for a promotion” or something like that. The old cliche’d criticism about impatience. But then I remember I started an ad agency when I was 29, having worked in advertising for a total of 3 years. And it was my third company. So that’s probably always been the case. I do think, though, that they wear their impatience a bit more on their sleeve. They don’t have terribly good poker faces. Also, in the aggregate, speaking as a man who makes a living doing favors for people, they are less prone to remembering payback than older people. I can count on one hand the number of kids I’ve helped out who have made any effort to make it up to me. Of course, maybe they are still working on it.

Speaking specifically about internet ad agencies, there are two broad ways to get in: go to a great ad school like the VCU Brandcenter, or so some crazy awesome shit on the internet and be highly creatve. It doesn’t matter what it is. Start a tumblr that takes off. Make a dumb game. Write for an awesome blog. make crazy info graphics. Do what you love in your creative personal life and the agencies will recognize it. Just make shit for the internet. Make make make.

About Me

My name is Rick, I co-founded The Barbarian Group, and served as their COO for the first ten years. I am an investor and writer, and own a record label called The Archenemy Record Company. I used to be in a rock band. A real one, not the video game kind.

I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska.

My investments

Advising

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